Custom Search

10 “pre" pre-season Maple Leaf observations…

While none of us want to see summer slip away, those of us who have a passion for hockey usually long for a new season to begin by the time the end of August rolls around. This year is likely no different for most Maple Leaf fans.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I always remember longtime Leaf great Dave Keon, early in his career, commenting that the only time of the year that dragged for him was the last two weeks in August.  That was when he was anxious to get back on skates, and for training camp to begin. 

Nowadays, athletes train year-round, and a lot of guys are skating already, well before training camp officially begins.

Regardless, fans are keen for training camp to begin every September, because a new season—especially in Toronto—brings hope.  New players, rookies, new line combinations and this year, with a new team President in place, there is a lot of anticipation.

With camp now around the corner, here are a few Leaf-related thoughts to get us warmed up:

  1. Like a lot of Leaf followers, I usually wait until about the 20-game mark to make any serious assessments about where the Leaf team is at.  This year, however, the window for fans may be a little narrower.  Carlyle is on the hot seat, at least in the minds of a lot of Leaf supporters.  So getting off to a good start will matter.
  2. As much as I continue to believe that the Reimer/Bernier “tandem” approach can’t work and Reimer will inevitably end up elsewhere, I’d like to believe that for this coming season, at least, it could somehow work.  A year ago, Reimer was the guy clinging to his old job as the “number one”, but he surely knew he didn’t have much of a chance to keep the job.  That’s a lot of pressure, and things were bound to collapse around him.  Now, while he signed a new contract, he is clearly the back-up, and Bernier is indisputably the top guy.  But Reimer’s competitiveness may work in his favour this time around.  My hope is he will become a ‘super sub’ and respond to the challenge by filling in well when Bernier needs a rest.  And if Bernier stubs his toe or is hit by an injury, the hope is that Reimer can do the job in his absence.  Long term it won’t work, but for now…
  3. I have no idea which direction Jake Gardiner will go.  With a new, long term contract in place, though, he should have the piece of mind to settle in, feel secure and play well.  He certainly doesn’t lack confidence.  I just hope he is coachable enough to combine his raw skill with learning his position so he can be reach his significant potential.
  4. I don’t see Morgan Rielly as the kind of young player who will have a sophomore slump.  I could be wrong, but he just seems to be a player that will get more and more comfortable at this level.
  5. As I mentioned the other day, I’m not as concerned as some fans and media observers are about Tim Leiweke’s departure.  He certainly changed things up around MLSE and brought in some notable leaders for the Leafs, Raptors and TFC.  And yes, he has personality drawing power—and connections.  But I don’t think the door suddenly closes for hockey players who might consider Toronto as a destination. I believe that Toronto still has appeal, though it has not been, historically, a free-agent destination for the Leafs. Hey, Leiweke may be a loss.  I don’t really know.  But there are good executives out there. And the three franchises—TFC, Raptors and Leafs—are seemingly in capable hands now.
  6. While I am not over the moon about it, I am interested to see Polak and Robidas in Leaf uniforms. Sometimes players don’t measure up to what you hope/think you’re getting, but neither of these guys comes in with fanfare.  If Komisarek had come into town years ago with a lighter contract and modest expectations, his career here may have turned out just fine.  Same with David Clarkson (whose career may still go well in Toronto).  I don’t see either Polak or Robidas starting their time in Toronto with unrealistic expectations, so maybe they’ll contribute nicely, and make the Leafs a little harder to play against along the way.
  7. When it comes to the regular season, I think we have plenty of depth at the center ice position now.  (Bozak, Kadri, Komarov, Kontiola, Santorelli, Holland , maybe even young Nylander…) I just don’t know if the Leafs have enough quality at center to make a significant playoff run. We have guys who can play, but are any of our pivots difference-makers against really tough opposition? Will anyone have to game plan to neutralize our centers?
  8. I expect some young prospect (at least one) to turn heads at training camp.  I don’t know if there really are jobs available up front or on the blueline, but someone (Granberg?) may just catch the eye of the Leaf brass and earn a roster spot somewhere.
  9. It will be intriguing to see precisely how the analytics-oriented approach Leaf management now subscribes will impact decisions, beginning during training camp.  What will be, I wonder, the first outward, visible “sign” that things will be different?  Will we see it in Carlyle’s approach and decision-making?  Will it impact roster composition?  Line configurations?  Just curious.
  10. Matt Frattin was a guy I believed had a higher ceiling than some thought when he was here before.  Though he seemed to struggle in his one season away from Toronto, he’s still only 26. I thought he had the makings of a mini power-forward. If he can find the form he flashed at times during his first tenure in Toronto, he could help. Consistency will be the key, I guess.

There are plenty of other points that could be raised, and lots of questions to ask.  So by all means share your own pre pre-season thoughts.


  1. Your observations regarding Polak and Robidas are very insightful, Michael. It strikes me that our usual expectations and hopes are so 'inflated' (given the TIME we've been waiting for success) that it's hard for many players coming in to take on the mantle of that burden. I suspect this is the case with Clarkson (amongst other earlier iterations). If the expectations of Leaf fandom are held in check (to realistic hopefulness), then the new players may well rise to that level, conversely, our regular desire to land that big name 1C permeates the likelihood that (even if we obtain one somehow) he would have to have the make-up to survive the expectations (let alone thrive therein). We may be better served to temper our communal expectations and give players a chance to thrive here.

    I'm looking forward to seeing which prospects will also 'rise to the occasion' and agree that Rielly seems to be the kind of character guy who should continue to show us more and more of what he is capable of producing in the future! I'm also hopeful that Frattin will 'find himself' with this second chance in Toronto.

    I, too, will be watching to see how Randy deploys his bench and what strategies will be implemented (or at least attempted) in the early going. Perhaps there will be something to 'believe in' that can be attributed to the broader perspective that the analytics affectionados will bring to the mix. It will surely be interesting to consider all the 'moving parts' that lay before us for the coming season.

    In keeping with the foregoing, we do have quantity at centre and my hope is that someone will rise beyond the level that is expected. Perhaps 'growth' may provide better options than the hopium of a bright shining star on the horizon of free agency.

    1. You raise a goods point about expectations fans would have around a new "number one" centre, InTimeFor62. As you say later, maybe it will be better if some of our current roster pivots simply keep getting better!

    2. Hi InTime for 62,

      I accidently saw your comment on my comment to yours on Michals post from the 22. July.
      I wrote an answear. I thank you very much.

    3. I really have high hopes for Kontiola. He can suprise us all.

  2. Hi Michael,

    last week I was a bit grumpy, I apologize.But this one is really for me. Good one!

    1. I agree. I don't know how hot Carlyles seat will be, perhaps he has more credit than we think but
    it won't be to much.

    2. We talked about it before I agree completely.

    3. Gardiner is one of the guys who really has to show something. Being good in the last twenty games of wich the most are losses and the rest of the team plays lousy, won't be enough this time.

    4. Rielly will grow again this year. A sophomore slump would suprise me. His breakout year is not that far away. perhaps not this year, but in the next three seasons.

    5. Man! Am I glad this guy is gone!

    6. I really like that no one comes in this year with high expectations on him.
    They will both be fine. Robidas is excellent. No concern because of his knee. He will really improve
    our D. Polak will be fine too.

    7. Do you really see Komarov in the center pool? But you forgot Winnik.
    At least we have depth here. I am not concerned about the playoffs know. I am concerned about
    getting there. We will see what happens then. I can only say two words: Rangers and Montreal.

    8. If somebody sticks out, there will be spots. I don't know about Granberg. I really lke him but he
    seems not to fit in our roster right now. I think there is no need to rush him, but if Nylander
    turns heads he will get a spot. I really like what they have done in the summer, but there are so many question marks right know that there are spots for shure. But I do not see so much guys who
    seem to be ready. I hope Holland can establish himself as one of the centers. He played well last
    year. I hope he will continue there.

    9. To much is made of the analytics stuff. I think it is useful but the impact won't be as high as some
    reporters try to make it.
    On their last podcast Myrtle said the Ehrhoff hire for Pittsburgh was strictly a posession stats hire.
    No one needs "posession stats" to know about his value. He was clearly the best UFA defense
    man by far and he was cheap because of his buy out. He fits in well with a team like the
    Penguins. Imagine there would be no Corsi now. I hear Rutherford say " Corsi is not invented
    now. Damn! Now we can not hire Ehrhoff and he would fit so well!"
    Siegel crowned the stats mess with a coment about the worth of Franson. Some people are
    concerned about his value because of his bad +/-. But they should not be. +/- is highly overrated.
    Thank god he has nothing to say on my team. If the highest scoring defenseman on a team has
    by far the worst +/-, there is a big reason for concern and to look closer into it. But I am glad they
    figured out the analytics so well.
    Corsi is a plus minus of shot attempts. Harder play with a higher compete level will limit the
    opponents shot attempts and will increase our shot attempts and that will lead to a higher Corsi.
    They always talk about posession in that regard, People get a false Impression. It sickens me.
    Are the Kings soft? Or Chicago? St. Louis?.....
    Rob Vollman (analytics Guru) said:"I don’t often talk to coaches. It’s two very separate things, what they do and what I do. There’s not a lot of overlap between us."

    10. Surely Frattin is one of a bunch of guys in the bottom six who has the potential for 40 Points.
    But I really do not know this time. He can end up anywhere between line 2 and waivers.

    1. Hi Marcus- Camp should certainly be interesting. The bottom-six battle will see a lot of guys fighting for ice time. I don't know who will stand out at camp, but one of the kids likely will.

      Stats do play a prominent role now, but as you suggest, coaches and GMs still look for players with attributes that they believe will help the team win beyond certain types of statistical analysis.

    2. How is Corsi +/-? Plus minus is a pretty useless stat on an individual level (I consider it to be useless on any level), where as CorsiRel can tell you quite a bit about a player on individual level. +/- does not consider the luck aspect of the game at all, where Corsi tracks shots that don't go in the back of the net.


    3. I never said Corsi is +/-.
      +/- is as usefull and limited as any other stat too.
      But you missed the point completely. Read it again.

      If the comment below was to me too and not to Oliver, you merely repeated in other words what I said in that post.

  3. "8.I expect some young prospect (at least one) to turn heads at training camp. I don’t know if there really are jobs available up front or on the blueline, but someone (Granberg?) may just catch the eye of the Leaf brass and earn a roster spot somewhere."

    I am not sure if he will be here, but Andreas Johnsson?

    He won Rookie of the Year this past season in the Swedish Hockey League, just beating out another Leaf prospect, Tom Nilsson

    He is playing right now and currently leads the Champions Hockey League

    Watch the highlights, pretty slick:

    If he does not come to this camp, then we will see him next year.

    Sam Carrick might impress with his grit and two way game: 207 lbs, 35 points, +17 and 105 PIMs. He had 9 points in 14 playoff games during the Marlies run last year and he is only 22.

    Maybe Peter Holland finally puts it together.

    It's so nice that the Leafs no longer trade away most of the their prospects.

    1. For me, DP, (and I'm guessing for a lot of Leaf/hockey fans) training camp is fun to follow because there could be a surprise. Whether the guys you mention, or someone else, take a run at a job, that's part of why we look forward to camp.

    2. Johnsson is staying in Sweden for at least another year.

    3. We won't even see an appearance at training camp?

    4. Johnsson will not be participating at the Rookie Tounament. Official now.

  4. You raised a lot of good points for the upcoming season Michael.
    1) As you say the fan base may be impatient, especially if the Leafs struggle early on. With all the changes this coming season, I worry a bit that some players (new and old) may push too hard to impress management (when they are yet in mid-season condition), and thus injure themselves. Hopefully everyone comes to camp fit and ready to compete hard.
    2) Totally agree with your assessment of Reimer & Bernier. Again injuries may come in to play!
    3) Obviously Carlyle has had difficulties "coaching" Gardiner. Should be interesting to see if Horachek and Spott can help build Gardiner's overall game.
    4) Reilly has tons of confidence. I don't expect his game to drop either, but like Gardiner he still will have some situations where he will need to learn from his mistakes. We really haven't seen Morgan in tough physical situations as yet. So much upside with this kid.
    5) As for Leiweke, it would seem he brought in good people to manage the components of MLSE. I dislike that he just floated in, and now will float out, but on paper the franchises look improved. His replacement will either live in the shadow of his wisdom, or be blamed if the franchises go back on the decline.
    6) Polak and Robidas, if they stay healthy, should be very good additions. For everyone's sake I hope Clarkson bounces back from a horrible season. He of all players needs to get off to a good start, to restore his confidence, and to get the fans & media thinking more positively about his place on this team.
    7) The team has more overall depth and skill at centre, but still lacks top end talent. Leafs' playoff hopes will never be much as long as Bozak is their #1 guy. That being said, they hopefully have enough talent/depth to hopefully prevent major slumps (like last season, or the 18-wheeler that cost Wilson his job).
    8) I hope you're right about a young prospect stepping up. It will be very hard to crack the forward group, so Granberg may have the better odds. Shanahan says their are jobs still open, but he and Nonis brought in a lot of players in the off-season. Kids will have to impress the hell out of Carlyle to make him choose them over an established NHL'er.
    9) Shanahan is obviously open to new ideas such as analytics, but is Carlyle on board yet? Will be VERY interesting to see how Randy responds to questions about including analytics in his coaching decisions. Undoubtedly there will be scheduled behind-closed-door meetings between coaches and the analytics group, but will that result in Carlyle making changes? As they say, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks", however, an old dog that is on a very short leash, just may be more inclined to listen.
    10) Agree with you on Frattin, though it will be a challenge for him to get ice-time. I think his strong two-way play may allow him to crack the lineup, but he's got a lot more competition than when he was previously with Toronto. I'd like to see him succeed.

    Probably the thing I'll be watching the most is to see how the new additions on defence, and the influence of a new assistant coach (Horachek), changes the effectiveness of the defence group. A big part of why the Leafs have been struggling the last number of years is how they play in their own zone. Please, let it be better!!

    1. Good to hear from you, Don (TML_fan). Agreed on Rielly. He still has work to do like all young defensemen, but he should continue to impress. If we can be a strong team defensively, we can make noise in the East.

  5. Something regarding the analytics again.
    Overall a false impression is made about analytics.
    It is a tool to check if what you see on the ice reflects in numbers. Or if numbers tell you a diffrent story, then you have to check again by watching the games.
    The will not change everything because of analytics and the analytics will not play such a prominent role in on ice changes.

    The Leafs have to change a lot about their style of playing. Shanahan knows that and he intents to do that. He made that clear. You can see that in any aspect of the game.

    Sometimes Reporters make the Impression as if the analytics have invented a new game.
    No they have not. They collect data to add more perspectives. It won't be like in Baseball.
    From the 04/05 'til know the style of Play in the NHL has changed dramaticly.
    If you do not adjust, WITH OR WITHOUT ANALYTICS, you won't have success.

    1. I'm completely with you, Marcus. Analytics in hockey can never be like baseball. Baseball is a series of one on one matchups with clearly defined parameters. Hockey, basketball, and to a lesser extent football, are far too dynamic to allow a full understanding of individual performance based on statistics alone.

    2. You are correct as to it should not be the only tool used, but if your eyes tell you one thing and stats another I would first look to what my eyes are not telling, am I being biased, and no to the stats instantly being wrong. People are individuals, we are subjective, we are imperfect. Stats tells us where to look for our mistakes. If managment had used these before, I doubt we would've had the likes of Komisarek, Gleason, Clarkson to an extent. Not to mention Orr and FML taking roster spots last season, overuse of Jay McC.


  6. Great column, as always Michael. In order, here we go:

    1. I'm not too worried about Carlyle. He completely screwed up the Reimer/Bernier situation and turned what could have been an asset into a problem. But at the end of the day, the team is as good as the players on the ice. No more, no less.

    2. Who knows, but see above. I like your "if Bernier stubs his toe..." comment! :)

    3. Hopefully things will work out, but even if they don't I think Gardiner has enough of a potential upside that he could bring back a good return in a trade.

    4. I don't remember whether I said anything last year, but I disagreed with you (at least tentatively) when you said that he should go back to junior. My reasoning was that he could only get better by playing against men, not boys. He has far exceeded any expectations I had, and even if he only matches the level he achieved last year I would not view it as a sophomore slump.

    5. Non factor. Even though I made a half hearted argument against your position last week that was coming more from my inner Raptor/TFC fan than Leafs fan. I completely agree that in this context Leiweke's departure does not matter at all.

    6. We'll see what happens. The Leafs' defensive performance can't be much worse than last year ... right?

    7. I'm pretty sure I have said this on your website: the Leafs are different from other teams in that the danger on their top line comes from the wings. Plenty of teams have a central player in the middle with his supporting cast on either side. I think the Leafs may actually be stronger in this aspect of the game because they have two top line calibre players with just one supporting man between them.

    8. It would be nice to see some of the young guys step up and earn a spot. The thing that would get me really excited would be Nylander making the team. I imagine that would be tough, since he would have to crack one of the top 2 spots, but I like how it seems this year decisions will be made based on what happens on the ice and nothing else.

    9. If we're talking solely about stats and not about internal politics, my vote for the first visible impact would be a fair shot for Reimer.

    10. I was disappointed to lose him to strengthen pretty much the only position that was not a problem. Let's see what he can do this year.

    1. Thanks for your input on this one, Oliver. You're right about Rielly- I was adamant he should go back to junior, for reasons I outlined at the time. As I've acknowledged since, I guess I was wrong!

      I hear you on the question of the Leafs centre position. We do have some guys on the wing who can create offense.

      Here's hoping roster decisions are indeed made based on performance. Thanks Oliver.

  7. As usual I agree with a lot of what you have written. I do however, disagree with #2. Last year the Leafs traded for Bernier to strengthen their goaltending situation. Bernier came in and was obviously better than Reimer, winning the #1 job. Reimer had his chance when Bernier went down and didn't get the job done. You can say what you want about the Leafs getting outshot, and I agree that they had work to do on that aspect of their game, but frankly, if Bernier doesn't get hurt the Leafs make the playoffs last season.

    This may seem like I'm talking semantics but it looked to me like Reimer was intimidated by Bernier right of the bat last season. He looked like he was playing to not lose, as opposed to playing to win. He was also playing to "not lose" the #1 job. This season he is going in having to win the #1 job. I think that alone will have a positive effect on his game. I think he can also learn from watching Bernier and become a much calmer goalie. Part of Bernier's success was the calming effect you could see he had on the other players around him as well as stopping pucks. I fully expect, barring injury that goaltending will be a strength of the Leafs this season.

    1. I think those are very fair comments about Bernier, Stan. He is a calming presence, for sure, and that helps the rest of the team.

      I do think it will be better for Reimer this year, in the sense that he does not face the pressure (as he did last season) of clinging to a job that was going to be very tough to keep. I don't see him winning the number one job this year, though he may believe that is up for grabs. If he can fight for the job and be ready when he gets his chances, he may have a better season overall.

    2. As far as#9 goes all anyone talks about is using Advanced stats to rate, or judge players. No one talks about possibly using it as a coaching tool to help players. Case in point, I have seen written that Bozak had a 21.1% shooting percentage last season, an percentage that would be unreasonable for him to maintain. In checking his lifetime shooting percentage you see that he is 16.7%, but in his 2nd season his percentage was only 12.5%. If you look at that season as an anomaly and throw it out it raises his lifetime average to 18.3% a lot closer to the 21.1%, so maybe that isn't that far out of the norm for him.

      The point of all this is that if he has that high a lifetime percentage and hasn't scored 20 goals in a season yet then maybe he should be shooting more.

    3. Hi Stan,

      shooting percentage is not an advanced stat. It has been used for many many years and is a real common stat. So you missed your own subject a bit, but I am glad you picked a stat everybody knows what it means.

      It is a good example how to use this kind of information.
      You are the stats guy in this case you have checked the numbers. And you saw a pattern here. And that is good. But you have a result (maybe shoot more) because of the numbers. You missed one step. And this is really the point.
      Now you are coming to me, I am the video analytics guy or assistant coach or who ever does this for the Leafs, and tell me what you stated above.
      And now I go to work and watch Tyler Bozak footage:
      Why is his shot percentage so high? Why does he only take so few shots? How many shot attempts has he? What are his line mates doing? What situations does he score from? Is there a way to improve his goal scoring?
      And then we aproach this matter from what we have learned.

      You read the stats. You make the right conclusion and then: you take a shot in the dark ( maybe try shooting more).
      And that is my point, you can not make a result only from the numbers. You have to go back to the game and analyse why are these numbers that way and what can we do to improve.

      This was a very good example- Thank you Stan!

  8. I really like this format - 10 thoughts about the upcoming season. Here are mine:

    1. The Leafs have a better roster than last year: Everyone's a year older and for a young team that means everyone (other than perhaps Lupul, Orr and Clarkson) should be getting better.

    2. Our 'bottom six' is vastly improved - there's a number of good hockey players (Frattin, Kontinola, Winnik, Komarov, Booth and Santorelli) coming in on cheap contracts many of whom can very well end up 'shining' and playing above their role.

    3. These 'bottom sixers' will be pushed from below by a group of young talents from Marlies (Leivo, Ashton, Smith, Holland) some of whom already have some NHL experience and are hungry for a spot.

    4. We still have very strong goons on the roster (Orr, McLaren, Devane and Broll) thanks to B. Burke who will be ready to step up if it turns out that they're needed.

    5. I think that our defence should be improved with the additions of Polak and Robidas and the young talent (Gardiner, Rilley and Franson) getting another year of experience. I never really liked Gunnarson and Ranger, Schenn, O'Byrne and Gleason did not provide what was necessary when they got their chances. Polak and Robidas come fairly cheap and are proven solid defenders. I'm looking forward to seeing them in blue and white. There isn't much down in the Marlies in case of injuries I'm afraid, however, and we're still, I think, in need of that stud defenceman to partner up with Phaneuf and allow the latter to do his thing. I don't see anyone on the current roster as being able to be that guy right now. We do have a hidden ace now though in the form of Peter Horachek – this is the guy who developed Suter and Shae Weber – I can’t think of a better defence coach we could have to help develop Gardiner, Rilley, Franson and Granberg.

  9. 6. While I think that Bozak on the first line between Kessel and JVR/Lupul is perfect and should not be messed with even though stand-alone Bizak may not be the greatest player in the world, I'm a little concerned that among Kadri/Holland/Santorelli/Kontinola etc. we may not have a strong enough centre to provide that offensive punch that we'll need to truly compete. Down the middle we now certainly have depth but do we have that 'Number One' guy that can win face offs, score and keep the puck around the opposition's net the way Sundin could and Crosby, Towes, Stamkos and Tavares can right now? Personally I'd have to say 'no' but this will be the season to find out for sure.

    7. Our goalie tandem has the potential to be the best in the league and, with a little less burden on them in this coming season, they may well end up fulfilling the hope. I hope your hunch Michael that having to so-to-say come from behind may be just what the doctor ordered for Reimer is true. In any case I would be willing to bet money on the Leafs benefiting from some solid goaltending this year.

    8. Tim Leiwike has done his job as far as I'm concerned by hiring B. Shanahann and leaving the rest up to him. Shanahann has the clout necessary to attract big time players no less than Leiwike did himself if the opportunity arises. I liked Leiwike precisely because he was bombastic and 'larger than life' much like my other favourite from the Leafs' recent past - Brian Burke. But what really impressed me was the fact that he backed off when he realized that he may not know as much about hockey as his Toronto 'constituents'. I'll submit, a bit counterintuitively perhaps, that it was because he was too much of a 'sports guy' and not enough of a 'business guy' for the tastes of money-bags scum that is running MLSE, that he has to leave. The discrepancy between what's good for MLSE and what's good for the fans of Toronto Maple Leafs continues to worry me.

    9. Shanahann hire is Lewike's legacy and it may be the biggest mistake the Leafs' organization has made in recent past. I feel that Leiwike hired Shanahann simply because he was the biggest name on the market at the time. His decisions so far, however, don't impress me. I see his infatuation with so-called advanced statistics much like Marcus does - I'm not impressed at all - in fact I fear that he'll allow the 'basement bloggers' to seriously damage the plan that Burke, Nonis and Carlyle have been building all these years. Worse-case scenario the tough crease-clearing defensemen, hard working, defensively-responsible, pass-first centres (Bozak and Winnik), and tough guys are replaced with soft, high-flying, 'roaming' players that can 'gain zone cleanly' and look good on the stats-sheet but can't hold up to the physicality and intensity of the modern-day NHL game especially as it is played in the playoffs.

    10. My biggest concern for this upcoming season is that the effects of the schism between the old guard (Carlyle and Nonis) and the new guard (Shanny and the stats boys) may include a kind of paralysis that may negatively impact the locker-room and on-ice performance of the team. More specifically, I'm worried that Carlyle and Nonis may not be able to do what they want to do and what they know what to do best for fear of getting sacked and further that they may end up getting sacked in favour of more rookies with stats-sheets in their hands who will end up building a team that looks good on paper but can't win the game on the ice.

    1. Hi leafdreamer- I'll comment on your last thought. I do want to see how this all unfolds. At the end of the day, people have to be themselves, and operate (in sports) their teams the way they believe will work best and what is right for them. Whether Shanahan is on the same page as Nonis and Carlyle, I don't really know. They may say they are initially, but we will only see over time, I guess.

    2. There's a further complication here - I think that coaching changes that were made are good - Horachek in particular is an addition that I really like - and that makes me think that perhaps Shanny is indeed 'on the same page' with Carlyle. His changes to the management, however, I don't see in as positive of a light - Nonis is isolated now and the stats guys are clearly taking over....

  10. 1. I think Randy really is on the hotseat, with both assistants being capable of taking over if he falters again and/or not adapting.
    2. Reimer is not gonna be here next August, so it is in his best interrest to play well to drive up his value.
    3. Jake is already the second best Dman on our team, everyone keeps forgetting that when he is the ice, we're closer to 50% Corsi than any other Dman. You can say what you want about his giveaways, he is still more likely to get the puck in the opposing net than his own compared to the other Dmen. And to top it off, he is young, with much upside and on a good contract. Should be playing 1st pairing with Dion (if not him then maybe Robidas). Absolutely should be playing QB on the 1st PP.
    4. Even if he has a slump, he's still really good and only getting better. A sure keeper.
    5. I really don't think this a lot of impact on the Leafs.
    6. Robidas seems like a solid signing if he can keep healthy. He's a bit of a risk at his age and having broken his leg twice last year. Still not a bad deal (as of yet). I'm less convinced about Polak. He really was 3rd pairing on St Louis, how are we supposed to be better with him higher on the depth chart?
    7. We've got great depth at C, compared to last year, when that really was our weak spot, which was exposed with both Bozie and Bolland out. Quality is another matter, 3rd and 4th line seem solid, and Nazem is a really good 2nd line C. Bozak on the other hand is not really a 1C, which has been discussed at length. Can a team without a bonafide 1C really win the cup? (Komarov and Winnik both can play C, but I think they're both more comfortable at W.)
    8. Granberg, Leivo, Ashton, Carrick, McKegg, Percy all seem possible prospects of cracking the lineup.
    9. I cannot think how this can a bad thing. More information leads to more informed decisions, which should lead to better decisions (if the person making these is worth his position ie. Carlyle, Nonis). I doubt we'll see much visible signs at the start of the season. Rome was not built in a day and all that. I think we'll see things like Orr and FML not in the lineup of maybe signs of things to come. Hopefully they'll deploy it as a means to sort out who should get the bottom slots, the FAs or the marlies. I also hope it affects line combinations (Clarkson was really terrible with Lupes and Nazzy).
    10. Frattin really can't be considered young anymore. For me it is do-or-die-season for him. If he is not up to the challenge, then drop him to the Marlies and see if anyone there can do better.

    Thanks for the article Michael


    1. Hi LeafFinn- there are always question marks, it seems, heading into camp. This year is no different and that's probably why we keep following!

  11. Hi Michael,

    Sunday I commented on your thoughts.
    Now I share mine with you.
    Looking forward to your comment.

    - The third line:
    We talked about Carlyle's ability to adjust countless times here. I won't go into it again.
    But, it will be crucial to ice a 3rd line that can provide it's share of offence as well as being good
    defensively. A third line that can only provide safe minutes won't be enough.
    Someone suggested a third line of Winnik, Komarov, Clarkson. This could be a good formation
    to carry a one or two goal lead home, but not more.

    - The state of our defense:
    I like the additions of Polak and Robidas, don't get me wrong. But this D in it's current state does
    not fit together well. On the right side we have Phaneuf, Robidas, Polak and Franson. On the left
    side there are only Rielly and Gardiner. Gardiner and Rielly should play with Polak and Robidas
    because that is main reason they were brought in here and that is the way it should be. There is
    still no partner for Phaneuf. Some people think Gardiner should do it but this is to much for him for
    shure. It is possible to move Dion to the left as he is a left hand shot, but in the past he refused
    to do so. He does not like it and that could be the cause for diffrences. This could effect the room
    immensely. But if they move him to the left it would not change anything. The only one to carry that load is Robidas, but he is the one to anchor the 2nd pair and mentor one of the kids. Polak and Franson can only be effective while playing 15 to 17 minutes. If it stays that way the additions will have less of a positive effect and one of our greatest weaknesses Gardiner/Franson as a
    2nd pair was not succesfully adressed.
    Franson has to be traded to make space and free up cap space and somebody has to be brought in.
    The question who will be the 7th D-man also remains.

    - Center depth:
    We are better at center now. If there will be a diffrence maker in that new group of centers remains to be seen.
    This can change in the near future dramatically. We have two young centers at this roster, Holland and Kadri, if they are good enough they can remain with the Leafs a long time. And there is a long pipeline of centers in the organization: Nylander, Gauthier, Carrik, McKegg, Verhaeghe, Toninato, Cameranesi. We do not know how they will develop and which role they will play in the future and if they make the jump at all. But there is a good chance that the middle won't be our week spot in a few years anymore.

    For now I will leave it at that.

    Take care

    1. Hi Marcus-

      Third line: I sense most Leaf supporters are in agreement that Carlyle either mismanaged his bottom six, or he had precious few alternatives. Either way one looks at it, they need strong play - and some offensive production- from those units. I have lots of third line possibilities floating around in my mind, but I'll wait and see what Carlyle decides once camp is wrapped up and the regular season starts. At least this season there should be plenty of options, including the trio you mentioned.

      Defense: While I am modestly hopeful we have improved, I'm reluctant to make any significant projections here. I admire in many ways what Phaneuf has tried to do in his time here, but we still could use another top end guy. Rielly may become that, and Gardiner too, but it's a lot to expect young players to take on that responsibility so early, though it has been done. I'm not sure what I feel about Franson, in terms of his future here. At times he has been sound, but he would need to play consistently at a high level. The overall mix was seemingly a problem last year- we'll see if it is better this time around.

      Center: I agree there is a pipeline with guys who seem to have potential. I just wonder if, beyond Nylander, it will be an improvement over what we have now. And I tend to think Nylander may not be ready for a while, but I was wrong about Rielly, too. Thanks Marcus.

  12. When the season begins I would like to know what your ideas for the 3rd line are.
    I will share mine with you.

    Carlyle had nearly no alternatives. We can not blame him for that. If we turn it the other way we can credit him for the decission to shorten his bench to three lines (sheer madness in todays NHL) rather then throwing his prospects into the fire and let them burn there.

    But Carlyle has a tradition of using his third line as destroyers and minute eaters and that is my concern, perhaps I haven't made it clear enough. How deeply is that anchored into his philisophy?
    Will he be able to use his lines a diffrent way. What he did the last two years was nearly the same plan he used in Anaheim. He had to scoring lines. A minute eating, save minutes third line and a rough and tumble 4th. Will he have the guts to admit that this won't work anymore?

    I do not want a third line of these three. I think it is a bad idea, haven't said it clear enough.

  13. A great post again, Michael.

    There's not much I can add but two players I'd like to see do well, and given an opportunity to play higher in the line-up, are Holland and Frattin. Both are wonderful skaters and both have offensive skills that I feel have barely been tapped. I wonder how they'd mesh, with their speed, on the same line, as they are alike in many ways. Holland in particular deserves a chance with better line-mates.

    Defense still worries me but a better system will help. It still looks to me like Phaneuf will be relied on too heavily. He had a very good half season but a rough Spring. Fans forget that he was playing injured (shoulder) since early February. That shouldn't happen. I don't see enough veteran depth to allow him to go on IR for an extended period of time. I wonder if his injury and trying to reduce his TOI was one of the reasons for using seven d-men last season. Maybe Kaberle will be offered a tryout.

    The penalty kill was quite an issue last season and Anthony P. has an excellent post on MLHS --What is ailing the penalty kill? Part 2. Very interesting.

    Pre-season is the perfect time to move centers around and try new things. I'm sure most of the attention will be paid to the bottom six but I hope Kadri and Holland, and Marcus mentioned Kontiola, will be given a chance with the top lines. I personally would like to see what Bozak is like on the 2nd line with his old line-mate Lupul. Colleen

    1. Thanks Colleen- it would be a big shift in mindset if Carlyle moved Bozak off the top line!

  14. Hi Colleen,

    and the Video I sent you the link was on the first part of this article.
    But on the second part there are some videos and although it is a PK you can see a lot in there about there defensive behavior.

    1. Yep, I saw it.Thanks Marcus.
      This one explained why the Leafs had less trouble (PK) with western teams than other teams did last season. I wondered about that. Were they more aggressive when facing the west though. They mostly seemed to be backing up this year. I'll have to read it again. I like the way Anthony writes. He's very clear when he explains things.
      Not too much longer to wait. I've watched World, men's under 18, women's under 18, youtube etc. but it's just not the same as watching our Leafs. Colleen

  15. I was in Indigo yesterday browsing some of the latest hockey magazines which have all just hit the stands. I was expecting at least a few of them to maybe notice that the Leafs have actually made a lot of changes which could actually help the team. They mostly noted the changes then essentially said the Leafs still suck and will miss the playoffs as usual. I almost bought one and was momentarily got excited when one was picking the Leafs 5th until I realized that was in the Atlantic Division. No way I am buying a magazine that is for the most part making all of their predictions based on last season's final standings.

    I have to admit I get carried away every year with my pre-season optimism. Unfortunately I believed it when Maurice said the Leafs were a Cup contender and now looking at the roster he had then it is pretty obvious they needed more than Mats Sundin. Just the same most of the predictions out there are pretty much what did they do last year? Then expect the same.

    I am as usual pretty optimistic as everyone knows the Leafs were in 3rd place ahead of Tampa when Bernier was injured. But thinking about it now I agree with some of the earlier comments that Reimer probably thought it was his chance to prove he was a #1 which made him try too hard and the pressure got to him. He also took a pretty hard hit to the head in that LA game and that may also have been a factor. Seeing him get back to form this season in a backup roll would not surprise me.

    Some of the additions have to make them a better team. Winnik is known as a puck possession player that can add some scoring. Kormorov is a good addition but there are reports that Kontiola is a actually a lot better. Kormorov had 0 points in the Olympics and Kontiola had 5 and points were hard to come by in the Olympics.. Booth and Santorelli both have the potential to this year's Mason Raymond.

    I thought Holland should have been used more last year and this year he can't be sent down unless he clears waiver so he should get a chance and from what I saw of him he could be good as he is a big center. Now Nylander may not make the team but looks to be the real deal so looking forward the Leafs could have a top six of JVR, Kadri, Kessel, Lupul, Holland, Nylander and with Rielly, Gardiner and Bernier you have to think they are almost there.

    1. Hi Alton- to me it's so difficult to predict what's going to happen during the NHL season. It so often happens that on paper, a team looks good, but for whatever reason, they don't jell. Last year, I never figured the Habs would be a playoff team, much less a threat to go well into the playoffs. I saw them as a small team with some skill and a goalie. But they did awfully well.

      So yes, the Leafs have some talent up front, and on the blueline as well. My hesitation is every team seems to have that. Every season I think the Oilers should make the jump because they have all that young talent, but they've yet to hit their stride.

      The additions you mention (Kontiola, etc.) may well surprise and help, Alton. And I too hope Holland earns a job.

  16. Hi Michael,

    one other thing comes to my mind.
    The Leafs added a lot of players, especially forwards, that have something to prove or are keen to get a chance in the NHL.
    Booth had trouble after his concussion a few years ago to get back on track. He turns 30 in November, if he wants to revive his career this might be his last real chance.
    Santorelli had his share of injury problems and trouble getting back on track the last few years.
    Frattin was not bad two years ago with the Leafs, but struggled last year. He is 26 now, if he does not break out this year he never will.
    Peter Holland wants to be a regular NHLer and he faces a tough competition.
    And Petri Kontiola, who will be 30 at the start of the season, bought himself out of his KHL contract for 600.000 $ so he is nearly playing for nothing to get his last shot for an NHL career.

    Last but not least there are a few remaining players on that roster that have to be better than last season.

    The chances are got to get a lot out of many players with cheap contracts.