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The good and the bad of the Leafs on display as they keep their season alive…

I’m not sure this game was radically different from many Leaf encounters this season. I thought we saw the good and not-so-impressive sides of the Leafs, as a team—and individually.

One of the kids got to play a bit (D’Amigo) and contributed an assist.  I thought Ranger looked confident.  Franson struggled at times but almost made some fine plays and managed to contain big Chara in a key power play situation, which not everyone can do.

I didn’t notice Kadri much (maybe it was just me) but there he was, pouncing on a chance in overtime and making no mistake.  As we often see, van Riemsdyk showed his deft touch and quick hands around the goal, giving the Leafs a 3-1 second period lead.  Gunnarsson, pretty steady in recent times despite the recent Leaf slide, was generally solid again, but couldn’t clear the crease on the tying goal in the third period.

It was kind of that way all night—some good moments, then some uncertain play that created opportunities for the Bruins.

The Leafs kind of stopped skating in the third period, or the Bruins woke up when they should have been tiring after playing the night before.  Whatever happened, Boston started crashing the Leaf net, or at least spending a lot of time hovering around Bernier (and then Reimer).  In fact, it was that aggressive style of play that created the two goals that sent the game to overtime, because both the second and third Boston goals were screen shots that Bernier and Reimer couldn’t seem to locate.

Some Leaf followers will understandably think this is another late-season deception—as in, the Leafs winning when it’s too little and too late.  But a quick look at the standings tells us that they are in fact within shouting distance of the Blue Jackets.  And while Columbus has games in hand, they will likely have to win some games down the stretch, too.

It’s not a question of getting excited, but recognizing that there is still time, and a playoff spot is still a possibility.  It looked like Bernier was struggling to get off the ice after his injury, and that’s not a good sign, given the Leafs have relied on him all season.  But Winnipeg, Tampa, Florida and Ottawa is not an impossible schedule—especially not if the Leafs are feeling more confident than they did just a few days ago.

Too optimistic?


  1. "Too optimistic?"

    No, you seem fair and well balanced. Columbus has a tough schedule and play Chicago on Friday. Philadelphia plays Boston on Saturday and the Leafs are only 3 points behind the Flyers. On the same day, Detroit plays Montreal
    We have to cheer for Chicago and Buffalo on Friday.

    The Leafs need to beat Winnipeg on HNIC and if everything else goes well, they could be in 8th by 10 PM on Saturday....or it could all be over.

    "I’m not sure this game was radically different from many Leaf encounters this season."

    Even though there were only 11 forwards, that seemed much more like a four line game than what we usually see. D'Amigo had the least amount of time of any forward and he played over 8 minutes. The next lowest was Clarkson at over 12. Bodie had 20 minutes.

    I really think we wasted some points by having Orr and/or McLaren play under 2 minutes in some games this year. Bodie, Clarkson and Gleason were enough against a tough Boston team.

    I also think we wasted some points by not having D'Amigo up. He certainly looked like an NHL player and was easy to notice every time he got the puck out of the zone...nice simple plays that more veterans should be making.

  2. Hi Michael
    Until 2 games ago I had all but given up on this team as most of us had. But with 2 wins now it is still a long shot but we are still in it. Columbus has to lose 3 more games than the Leafs lose. So if the Leafs run the table then Columbus has to get 7 points in their next 6 games to get in themselves. It'll be tough but if it is done it could set up the Leafs blazing hot going into the playoffs.

    When teams win the Stanley cup they almost always need to depend on players who were never counted upon to step up and deliver. With injuries, the new guys plugged into the lineup are counted upon to make a difference. Mario Lemieux said in the Penguins cups that if it wasn't for their callups from their minor league roster they wouldn't have won their 2 cups. So here is the chance for D'Amigo, maybe Holland and let me say it again ... Reimer's chance to deliver.

    How funny the game works. It a game of redemption and here yet again another chance presents itself for Reimer.

    Interesting how we are looking back at the season and wonder a game here or their especially during the 8 game losing streak, if we could have squeeked out an extra win or 2. But all we have now is to win our own games AND pray that the things we cannot control (scoreboard) go our way.

    This year introduced the new Conference layout that has the Eastern Conference having 2 more teams than the Western conference to compete for the playoffs. It is interesting that the 2 teams that crossed over this year are Detroit and Columbus. The same teams that currently hold down the wildcard positions.

    Although some of the Leaf players have struggled as of late, the last 2 games shows that good teams find ways to win even when they don't have all their players firing on all cylinders.

    Our game has holes for sure but withstanding if we can find ways to win like we did tonight against one of the better teams in the league, we should not find it impossible to win the remainder of our games this season.

    My hopes which were slim to none a couple of games ago just reached to the level of at least possible. The Nyi did make it one year with being 4 points out with 2 games left.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Yes, you are being too optimistic. When there is less pressure on this team to play well, they can manage. Especially, when the team they are playing, is playing the second of a back to back, and starting their backup goalie.

    The Leafs have some injuries, and who knows about Bernier. If Kessel can keep using Bozak as a backboard and score his bank shots, sure this team is going places. Otherwise, this will just fuel the wheel of excuses as to why no changes are needed this summer, and that is the most depressing thing I can think of. Ignoring of course, that in a middling Eastern Conference, the Leafs are still very unlikely to even make the playoffs, again.

    1. The Leafs did catch Boston's back up and a tired Bruin team. And I well understand that winning now may not be as valuable as having won during the recent skid. But I'll choose to believe they are playing for something. We'll see!

  4. Other teams know they're in a race, too, for sure, DP.

    The whole fourth line thing has been baffling this season. I've tried to defend Carlyle, believing he knows his personnel and their work habits and capabilities best. But when I see Ashton or D'Amigo or Holland, it makes me feel like we had a fourth line right in front of us all year.

    1. You're so right about "redemption", BlueANDWhite. There is an opportunity right in front of the Leafs.

      I'm not in the shoes of the Leaf players but to me, the next four games are simply one-game elimination games. If they play their hearts out every night, let's see what happens. if they run the table, who knows?

  5. This team is without a doubt the most enigmatic one that I have ever followed. It seems that there is never an even keel with them but instead a series of depressing lows followed by euphoric highs or vice versa.

    Last night was typical. A choppy first period with an opportunistic goal by Ranger followed immediately by an inexçusable giveaway by Franson and a very stoppable shot by Marchand that turned into the tying goal. There were also 10 giveaways in the 1st period, hardly the mark of a solid playoff team.

    There was cause for optimism after the 2nd period but they reverted to their old rope-a-dope ways when protecting a 3rd period lead. Just once I would like to see them go for the jugular instead of letting the oppisition dictate the play.

    There were some encouraging signs last night. The penalty kill was solid. D'Amigo is a definite upgrade to the bottom six. Ranger played steady no nonsense defense with excellent positioning. Gardiner is morphing back into that puck moving defenseman that we saw in his rookie year.

    The heart is still beating, though ::faintly. The heavens are going to have to align perfectly and somewhat miraculously for the Leafs to make the playoffs but I guess stranger things have happened.

    1. We've talked all season, Pete Cam, about the Leafs rarely seeming to put together a full 60-minute game. I guess this is an issue for a lot of teams, but the Leafs certainly struggle in this regard. Last night was another example. And yes, "rope-a-dope" is rarely a good strategy, as opposed to playing the way that got you the lead in the first place.

  6. Yeah, a bit too optimistic. Columbus is 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and playing from decent to good. Leafs are currently 9.9% to make the playoffs and 'Lumbus is 88.3%. So the odds are not even remotely in their favour to make it.

    I only caught the first period of the game and the last part of the 3rd period and OT as i was on a plane back from Vegas. What i did see I liked in Ranger. I thought right before his injury he was playing well too. He has figured out what he needs to do to stay in the NHL and I would like to see them sign him to a 2 or 3 year deal for realistic 5-6 dman money. He fits that slot for us very well now.

    D'Amigo didn't look out of place. Which will surprise Carlyle of course but none of us around here. The team is much better when it has a 4th line that can play 8-10 REAL minutes.. We saw that in the playoffs last year too when RC benched his face punchers and dressed guys who could actually skate without bobskates tied to their shoes.

    1. Having a fourth line that can skate, hit and occasionally make plays seems like it's the way to go. Why we have persisted in playing one-dimensional guys, I don't know, Pep.

  7. I like all this discussion of a fourth line initiated here by DP. I couldn't help but notice half way through the game that we had what appeared to be a fourth line, working hard behind the opposition net, wearing them down, and ultimately setting the table for our top lines. It looked kinda like, I dunno, Boston? For the life of me I don't understand why it's taking Leafs management so long to figure out what works for successful teams like the Bruins.

    My optimism is still very tempered here. I haven't bothered checking the out of town scoreboard, as much as the Leafs need help now. They need to run the table, and if they don't get in, well they can't blame Scott Clemmensen this year.

    Word is Lupul is out for Saturday, and Bernier is having an MRI this morning, so they know what they are up against. It sure was nice to see the standing ovation given Reimer when he came in last night, that was a classy gesture toward him. He will need all the confidence in the world to get the team through this last stretch.

    1. Has more ever been written about a team's fourth line I wonder, Pete? But in this case it is merited, because it does matter. The Leafs have, as DP noted, seemingly wasted time and points sticking with the "tried and true" when it simply wasn't necessary. Holland, D'Amigo and Ashton were in front of us all year and we rarely took advantage of the energy they can bring.

      I liked the response to Reimer as well. It seemed genuine and spontaneous. For all the criticism he has received (and some of the performance criticism has been fair), I think most thoughtful fans see that he has done nothing but try his very best in Toronto (not that we should expect less) including throughout what had to be a puzzling summer and regular season since the trade. Thanks Pete.

  8. If it is optimistic to recognize the possible, then perhaps a fan base getting behind it's team (with a good start 'filling up Reimer's cup' when he stepped up in relief of Bernier) is worth the risk of 'hoping'. Why not?!

    This group had more positives in their play during the slump than negatives, yet the losses trumped the positives. Even though I thought they played better than during many of their wins this season. It is not a ringing endorsement of the team, yet does leave room for some possibilities still being on the table for our team. Flaws and all, they are our team and I prefer 'little' hope to make the playoffs over tank and draft 'hope for the future'. In the latter case, I'd rather hope that the 1/2 percent chance of a draft lottery balances out any hope created by tanking failures... in the long run, whoever remains on this team will be impacted by the positives of a good finish, more than the hope of a higher draft pick. I choose to encourage whoever remains with the club with my 'hopes'.

    I believe that the flaws are apparent to everyone, but failure diminishes our hopes of a good return on any of the players that may be traded. I think it makes the job harder and more desperate than if we succeed. Even contract negotiations will allow for some downward pressure, given the bad streaks on the year... since consistency is highly regarded in that realm.

    I hope that Reimer will rise above the situation and the narrative that's been heaped on his shoulders (when I fully agree that the team did NOT 'give HIM a chance to win' during many of his starts. Perhaps the recent games gave James a chance to find his game and management can spin the story that this is exactly why they kept 2 goalies of this caliber (even if we all know James never had a chance to be the guy with Bernier in the fold). I hope we are able to enjoy the remainder of the season while we watch our team 'bring it home' even if results outside 'our' control don't bring prized playoffs into our experience.

    I wonder if Drew McIntyre will play tonight then be called up for a Saturday backup role, since the Marlies can clinch a playoff spot tonight?! Wouldn't be surprised if that happens followed by a Sunday demotion to play the 3rd in 3 nights for them, before returning if Bernier (as I suspect) looks done for the regular season (if not longer). I hope the injury is not major, but it sure looks longer than a week from my perspective.

    It was good to see some of that cycle time in the offensive zone provided by McClement, Bodie and Kulemin, with D'Amigo and Bolland providing some good minutes, too. Wonder if we'll keep going with 7D (that seems to be helping) or bring in Ashton at some point (which I doubt, unless somebody like JVR can't play through his 'padded' injury).

    1. I'm not a fan of cheering for a lottery pick, either, InTimeFor62, though we all do it if that's all there is to root for. While it won't be easy, a playoff spot is still do-able. The Leafs can control what they do.

  9. Michael, the Leafs will not make the playoffs. Done like dinner, as the saying goes.
    I have been fooled too often over the years to believe otherwise. It would not surprise me if they take it right down to the final game of the season, but at this point there is too much that has to go right for them in terms of other teams losing.

    1. I understand, Steve. It's always tough when you have to rely on other teams losing.

  10. Hi Michael.

    That was an impressive effort by Kessel and JVR, both playing injured. Kessel's has taken 4 shots on the same foot, JVR spent the night sitting on a cushion--back or tailbone?

    I had been wishing for Holland in place of Kadri (missing in action) the past week or more. Then ,of course, Kadri shows up, wins the face-off and puts in the winner. He made that look easy. Sitting him for part of the game may have woken him up, but I think the organization will be looking closely at Kadri this summer. We may see Holland in his spot next season. We can defend youthful mistakes, and the usual sophomore drop in production as a player is placed in ever more difficult on-ice situations, but there are games where Kadri doesn't seem focused on making any type of impact at all. Kadri's skill has never been in question but will it always take an "event"--losing his grandfather, trade rumours, suspension, benching by the coach- to motivate him to play to his capabilities? I like Kadri but I still see him as the player most likely to be moved.

    Losing Bernier - Reimer played well, he didn't have time to think about it. He'll have time now. There's nothing that would make me happier than for him to play well but, while he's received support from fans and certainly deserved it, I don't know if that makes any difference as far as his confidence in his game. We'll have to wait and see. C.N.

    1. Kadri will be part of an upcoming post, Colleen. He has tantalizing potential, for sure.

      Hard to know where Reimer is at. The will is there, but not sure about confidence, though as I mentioned above, I did like the fans response last night.

  11. I don't know if it's too optimistic to think we have a chance, since we do... mathematically. And heaven knows that even at Castle O'Malley, where the Leafs glass is about two-thirds empty, it's important to note that it hasn't been completely drained.
    However, the odds are against us, for all the reasons we saw last night. The inexplicable inability to hold a lead, the tendency for three Leafs to cover the same player in the D zone, the difficulty in clearing the puck from our zone (compounded by lazy or inattentive passes), giving up odd man rushes all night long, and our tendency to get outmuscled and outhustled - these are traits that have bedevilled us all year. And it appears no one knows how to deal with them. As a side note, both Bruins' third period goals last night were scored with Bolland and Clarkson on the ice. Not encouraging when you think they were acquired precisely to stop the kind of third period meltdown we had in Game 7 last year.
    Overall, I think there's too much stacked against us to make the playoffs, and I couldn't honestly say we deserve to make them, either. I expect we'll find out that Phaneuf got injured just after the Olympic break (on a hit from behind he wasn't expecting), that Reimer was concussed in that LA game, that Bolland's about 85% (he sure looked awkward last night), and probably that Kessel was significantly injured as well, somewhere along the line - all contributing factors, to be sure. If our coach can figure out that it's important to have a fourth line you can actually deploy throughout the game (as per the discussion above - and throughout the year, here), then I'm actually hopeful for next season. I just hope THAT'S not being too optimistic!

    1. Those are all fair observations, as always, Gerund O'. The key phrase being, "it appears no one knows how to deal with them" (the ever-present issues).

      I also agree that there are injuries the team is dealing with that are much worse than we think. That said, I know you would agree that if the Wings, for example, can fight for the playoffs without two of the best players in the world for weeks/months at a time, the Leafs have been no worse off injury-wise than many clubs. Thanks Gerund.

  12. This scoreboard watching, the anticipation and uncertainty is killing me. Why can't our Leafs just play well and consistently and not put us through the grinder every season? I think I know the answer - it's simply because they are still young and inexperienced - it's not the coach, it's not the captain, it's not Reimer. They need another leader or two who've been 'there' and won. Most importantly, they don't have the culture of winning that some of the other teams like Chicago, Boston, Montreal and Detroit have. The only way to build that is to start winning. Or, perhaps, the success of TFC and Raptors can rub off on them or at least embarrass them enough to start wanting it more. Speaking of which...

    I know your thoughts on Leiweke and I should probably defer to you on this as you seem to be getting things right more often than not (which is also why I'm, despite my pessimism, somewhat encouraged by your optimism in regards to the Leafs' chances of making the playoffs this year) but I can't help but buy what he's selling. A few things stood out in his recent interview on 'The Hour' with George Stromboulopolous. He identified the lack of faith in the ability to succeed as one of the major obstacles plaguing our team and, more importantly, the need for a special 'type' of personality that can withstand and even thrive in the atmosphere of constant scrutiny an abuse from the media that players face in Toronto. I don't think we've valued this trait in prospective draftees and free agents as much as we should have in the past. It looks like that's about to change.

    The most encouraging part about what Leiweke revealed, however, is that he still talks to Burke once a month. Whether that means that Leiweke found it important to mend what could be a very discordant relationship between the organization and its former GM, or perhaps that Burke may even be invited back, I find it very encouraging to know that Burke is still 'on our side'. Who better than the man who brought both Sedines to Vancouver and Kessel, Phaneuf and JVR to Toronto, to orchestrate that one last blockbuster trade for a Crosby, Stamkos, Tavares or Shae Weber that the big boss so covets? My crazy dream of The Leafs winning the cup with Burke as GM and Don Cherry behind the bench may not be so crazy after all. With Leiweke and Burke on the phone and the Rogers deal taking out CBC who knows? Crazier things have happened. Oh wait, maybe not... Anyway, there's your token dreamer's crazy dream-scenario for today :)

  13. Anyhow, to get back to your question, my answer remains, as you may have noticed from the above (off season kind of) musings, negative. I do think you're being too optimistic and here is why: it's not because Columbus is not going to lose enough (they've already lost on to the Crawford-less, Kane-less and Towes-less Hawks who have nothing to play for), but because Leafs cannot win all of their remaining four and because they (for a good reason) do not hold a tie-breaker against any of the team around them. Philly, I humbly submit, may actually be the easiest to catch due to their propensity to go on Leaf-like slides, but alas, the tie-breaker... The reason Leafs have so few ROWs is because they haven’t dominated anyone this season – they haven’t been able to win convincingly all season – they played so many one-goal and overtime/shootout games – their best, in other words, is just good enough and that is not enough to compete for the big prize or, I’d say, to win 6 in a row.

    The team, as it stands, lacks faith in themselves and the type of leadership that can withstand the pressure that comes with the Toronto market. They break under pressure and they are too used to facing the cameras after losses. Even if they squeak in, we should remember Burke's words (which I don't need to quote) when they are unceremoniously, again, eliminated in the first or second round. It's not gonna happen this year.

    All I'm gonna say is I hope they keep Bolland (who seems to me the only guy that knows how to win on this team) and get that superstar centre or, even more so, a stud defenceman in the offseason that will take us to the winners' club. Two years is long enough of a wait for that guy – we need him – it’s as simple as that.

    1. I hear you on the difficult spot the Leafs find themselves in right now, leafdreamer. We'll see how this plays out but your points on leadership and self-belief ring fair.

      As to your reference to Leiweke above, I received an e-mail from a longtime, thoughtful VLM reader on that subject (and that interview) as well this week. I have no listened yet but will. Leiweke has business acumen and may have experience that can help the franchise, but he took, in my view, a misguided way of expressing it in his first year on the job.

      Ultimately most fans will only care about winning and if Leiweke helps make that happen in some way, they'll be happy. For my part, I also tend to care about how an organization goes about winning. I like executive leaders who do their job, speak when necessary, show real (not phony) leadership, treat those around them with respect, hire outstanding managers/coaches and then let those who know that they're doing do their jobs.

      I think the jury is still out as to whether Leiweke has "answers" or is just another guy that talks like he invented excellence.

  14. The problem I have with what Leiweke said is that I believe many Marlies are already used to the media and fans, and know what to expect yet they seldom get a chance. In the off-season I fully expect Nonis to let several players walk while grabbing players from other teams from waivers or unsigned UFA's.(Smithson, Bodie, Raymond)) Those players may end up on the Marlies at first but they often get a longer look, and have a better chance of making the Leaf roster, because they have NHL experience.

    We have some promising players in the system but, unless they are high 1st round picks (Schenn, Kadri, Rielly, Gardiner,..) they don't get much of a look even when they've played well filling in for injured players. ( D'Amigo, Smith) 2nd and later picks know they have to work harder to make the NHL. Maybe that builds character. Boston has sent somel of their 1st picks elsewhere but have built a fine team using several 2nd rounders.Who wouldn't want Lucic? C.N.

  15. I wonder if this is just another way for Leiweke to deflect some heat off the Organization. Media and fans, while being an added distraction, are not the problem. If Leiweke and the organization put together a successful team who can be contenders for the Cup, media and fans will be more positive. Toronto may be a hard place to be when you're losing but it would be a great place to be when you're winning. C

  16. I wonder if others might find the following to be a topic of interest, given that Tim Leiweke spoke about the importance of players having the right temperament for the Toronto market. Is it actually just 'temperament/personality types' or would other elements of media training/sensitivity be in order (you know, the old nature vs. nurture argument).

    Michael, I would be very interested in hearing your professional opinion/perspective on the Leaf management/plalyer/organizational media awareness, not so much as a critique, but just your observations about how everyone has been trained to interact with the media.

    Perhaps, some of your teasers about what else they could be doing in this marketplace might provide a bit of a commercial for your business, to boot :)

    Of course, you may not want to mix your hobby with your business interests, and I fully understand if you choose not to do that, I just feel like it would be very interesting subject to 'bat around'... (oh dear, did I just cross into other sporting metaphors?).

    1. I won't venture too far afield into my professional work (I did do some seminars/talks for Leaf prospects a few times years ago, but not this era of prospects...). My overall observation is that this is as good a place to play as anywhere in the hockey world if, as a player, you work your tail off. Most fans, including Leaf fans, respect and appreciate any player who delivers that.

      The Red Sox went forever and never won a World Series title, but came close in '67, '75 and in '86, I think it was. Then they broke through in the last decade. The Cubs have also come close, like the Leafs, but never quite got to the finish line.

      I would say that the Boston baseball market is a lot like Toronto and hockey- every little thing is debated and players are heavily scrutinized. Expectations are high.

      I'll leave it at that. It's not impossible to win in Toronto, but there's no question this is a unique hockey market.

      I'm sure there are some personality 'types' that may not revel in this kind of environment. A hockey player can be anonymous in Florida or Columbus; not in Toronto.