Custom Search

A legitimate turnaround for the Maple Leafs—or an illusion?

Things can change quickly in Leafland, eh?  A few days ago, mainstream media commentators (and plenty of fans, too) were saying Toronto’s goaltending was below par. The team was in seeming disarray. The countdown on how long Carlyle would stay on as coach had begun in earnest.

Some suggested the players had already quit on the coach, less than 20 games into the season.

Well, here we are, barely half a week later, and the blue and white have taken out two formidable opponents (Tampa and Detroit); Bernier is playing like his ‘old’ self; the team that had quit on its coach looked like a different bunch against the Lightning and Red Wings.

It’s not exactly doom and gloom to euphoria but we did see glimpses of what the Leafs are capable of these last couple of games: scoring from different lines, stronger defensive play and the aforementioned improved netminding.

A week ago I invoked the line from an old television show and wondered: will the real MapleLeafs please stand up?  Later in the week, I asked you if you felt wearing the Maple Leaf jersey still mattered as it once did.

So we’ve now passed the much-discussed 20-game mark.  To some it’s a time to pause and assess the team’s progress.  For others, it’s not necessarily an indication of where this team will be come April—when it really matters.

But for now, can we draw any conclusions? I don’t think so, but who really knows?

My gut is telling me that nothing has really changed here.  The Leafs are what they are—a team with some high-end skill, a questionable work ethic (“will”) but a squad that, on any given night, against even the best NHL teams, can emerge victorious if they get superb goalkeeping and have some puck luck.

And that makes them like most other NHL teams who aren't in the same category as the league's best.

As we pass the quarter pole in the NHL season, I’ll try an exercise and let you have your say:

Pleasant “surprises”:

  • Winnik
  • Panik
  • Kozun (injured very early on, though)
  • Leivo
  • Santorelli

I generally like what I’m seeing based on my expectations:

  • Clarkson
  • Komarov
  • Holland

Playing pretty much as expected

  • Kessel
  • Rielly
  • Phaneuf
  • van Riemsdyk
  • Franson
  • Polak
  • Robidas
  • Bernier

Fair or not, need to see more

  • Kadri
  • Gardiner
  • Bozak
  • Reimer

Hard to assess

  • Lupul

This is not a very scientific assessment, I recognize, and you may have quite a different view of the above.  But by all means, let me know your thoughts.


  1. Hi Michael,

    we can asses the players for sure but we can not asses the team. They will suprise us a lot for sure, one way or another.

    If they want to have success they need to make saturdays effort a habbit.

    Pleasant “surprises”:
    Both belong to their best players every night. Very good signings.

    Cost nearly nothing, claimed of waivers. Played well.

    Nobody had him on the Radar.

    Not really a surprise, he will be a top six guy in the future but he played well.

    We all thought he was overpaid this summer. He belonged to the best or was the best in all of their 21 games. Is their 4 th best scoring forward behind Kessel, JvR and Bozy and is a +2.

    Needs experience but challanges Kadri for minutes.

    Nobody could have expected that.

    I generally like what I’m seeing based on my expectations:

    Better than last year. Looks good but far to expensive.

    Does what he does best. Should be better defensively.

    Much better than we all thought. Only one on D who is much better than expected.

    Playing pretty much as expected:



    This is not a compliment for him.


    Fair or not, need to see more:

    Played well yesterday. First time this season. Needs to play way better consistantly. He is capable to be a lot better.

    He is not what I expected. Points are okay but he is far away from the threat he was last year.

    - Robidas
    Still needs time. Needs to find his rythm and confidence. Hopefully he manages to get better or it was a bad signing.




    1. Like many posters here, Marcus, you have expectations for the team, and rightfully so. Some have more to give; others, as you noted, are doing pretty well. I was certainly hoping Komarov, for example, would contribute- and he has. It's early. We'll all be watching to see how this roster evolves in terms of consistency in the weeks ahead.

  2. Despite 4 horrible losses, this hasn't been a bad start to the season, and I think the record is pretty much as good as one might expect, based on the roster. Although I've never been a Carlyle supporter, I've actually felt bad for him, based on his neck being on the media/fan chopping block, despite actually having a decent body of work this season. I look at the panic from the Buffalo/Nashville meltdowns, and I'd like to offer a bit of perspective. Look at the Boston Bruins, certainly considered at a tier higher than the Leafs squad in terms of expectations. They played back-to-back against Toronto and Montreal, and got completely owned and dethroned over those two nights. I guess the lesson is that it's more than OK to get frustrated on any given night with your favorite team, but try to factor in the larger body of work as well. Imagine being an Oilers' fan, and despite a squad littered with #1 draft picks, they're still potentially in line to snag yet another one, as years tick away on the talent and contracts of their young superstars. Not trying to wear rose-coloured glasses here (I seldom do with the Leafs), but there's been such an onslaught of negative press that some perspective is sorely needed.

    In terms of your player expectations list, it's interesting and close to spot on. I've been happy with Holland this year, and they didn't give up much to get a former first round draft pick with plenty of potential. He seems more sturdy this year, and his point total makes his spot on the roster deserved.

    Clarkson will never live up to that contract, but more importantly, he IS living up to his potential this year, which is all we should expect.

    I think Phaneuf is a bit overwhelmed, both by the contract, and by the persistent media onslaught that requires a pretty strong (and sharp) mind to contend with. He handled that silly "stick salute" thing poorly, looking like a deer in headlights as reporters peppered him with legitimate questions. I think Dion would have been better served to just face it head on as an emotional decision, rather than saying "next question" over and over.

    The goalie tandem is still an odd duck, and hard to call. I think moving Reimer is still ultimately going to be a wise move, as there too much water under the bridge here, in terms of hurt feelings and an obvious desire to move on from James. Bernier also needs a big enough body of work to confirm that he's "the guy", so we may as well find out.

    From JvR, I'd love to see more consistency and grit (a stupid word, but better than "compete level"), as he definitely rides the rails from world-beater to virtually invisible, night to night.

    Overall, I'm going to vote for cup-half-full here, as looking at the names on the sweaters head-to-head against other squads, I think they're doing pretty well.

    1. Russ- JVR seems like someone (like a Mahovlich of old, in a sense) who runs a bit hot and cold in terms of his intensity and focus. But when he is "on", he is strong, tricky and productive. I think the goaltending tandem will be changed up next summer, if not before. Holland has been fairly consistent.

      I do agree as well with your thoughts on what the Leafs went through last week. All teams go through times when they look fragile and lost. I sense it feels worse here because of the Leafs' track record in recent years. With some teams, you know their history is that they bounce back and by the end of the season, they are ready for the playoffs. We, as fans, tend to take regular season slides as being more important than they necessarily are.

    2. Well said, Michael. We were all around for the 18-wheeler heading over the cliff, and for the game 7 against Boston in the playoffs, so any significant back-to-back losses get treated as another potential start of a long and miserable stretch.

      It would be interesting to have your thoughts on how the "big market" aspect affects not only the current roster, or even potential free agents wanting to sign with the Leafs. You've gotta admit, that Dion would have been much more comfortable meeting the press scrum in San Jose, after that Nashville game. We all endure pressures at work, and these guys certainly aren't any different. I never cart out the "He's making xx-million$ a year" argument, as it's not realistic to assume that money solves all woes.

    3. I'll reflect on your comments about the affect of playing in a "big market", Russ. But it seems clear that it's a big adjustment for quite a number of players.

    4. Might reply more generally later Michael, but Russ, great point you raise re Phanuef and i couldn't agreed more that the C needs to do more. Explaining the emotion and representing the boys would have stood him much better.

      I would have like to have heard something like "We're down here on the ice day in, day out wanting to win as bad as our fans do... we're sorry, we just got a frustrated, you know we play our guts out, and a bunch of you seem to think we aren't trying or don't care about you all or about winning..... but we do....thats what that was about... thanks

  3. After twenty games, the Leafs are the quintessential "glass-half-full-half-empty" team I've been roller coasting with for the last couple of years. Brilliant some nights - the last two games were terrific - and pretty bad other nights. We still have yet to see 60-minute consistency of effort, the hallmark of all great teams, I'd say.
    Of course, every team has losing streaks, blow outs, and less than inspired games. Our problem is that we still don't know what kind of game we're going to get on any given night. Which pretty much guarantees a mediocre season.
    Having said that, the last two games make me hopeful that we're finding our next level. (And boy! I've repeated that a lot over the past two years). There's been a team-wide concerted effort that could bode well. Players like Winnick, Santorelli, Polak, Leivo, Smith and Panik - pleasant surprises all - have brought a work ethic that we haven't seen in quite a while. I'd say Holland, Komarov and Rielly are showing improvement from their last go rounds. Holland, particularly, seems to be getting better and better with each game. Franson, too, seems to have picked up his game somewhat. And let's not forget Bozak - his face-off numbers are way up, and he scores some timely goals, (Last night's shorty was a beaut!) - and Clarkson, who seems to have found his niche with the team.
    Players who are delivering pretty much what I expected would include Kessel, Bernier (most games), Reimer (most games), Phaneuf, and Robidas.
    Players who I'm waiting for include JvR, Kadri, and Gardiner. All have shown signs of finding their "A" game recently, but haven't really been all that good so far.
    As for Lupul, Kozun and Percy - I just haven't seem enough to form an opinion.
    The befuddling element for me is that the players themselves say Carlyle's system works, when they play it. And I feel we've seen that in the last couple of games. So I'm not prone to blame him these days.
    We'll see what happens over the next couple of weeks, but I have a hunch the influence of Brendan Shanahan is starting to surface. The last two games, the Leafs felt like a very different team - focused and determined. That's a Shanahan trait, and if the team's bonding around it, my glass may be full before too long!

    1. Good to see that the O'Malley glass is closer to full, Gerund O'!

  4. A legitimate turnaround for the Maple Leafs—or an illusion?

    My short answer: YES

    What I mean is it's a both/and situation until we see a consistent effort against every opponent.

    The Leafs 'rose to the occasion' admirably and found what it took to beat 2 higher end opponents, yet this is nothing new for this squad...

    What will happen when an uninspiring opponent appears on the horizon? Buffalo sure made the previous success look like an illusion and led to a 'predatory' loss of epic proportions.

    The Leafs are still 'inconsistent' and are in need of a professional effort every night, no matter who the opponent may be... I hope we start to see that soon!

    1. You said it, InTimeFor62- consistency will be the key going forward. Some nights you're off your game, but you can always bring your work ethic.

    2. I know that you have maintained a good relationship with Pat Quinn over the years and I am saddened to hear of his passing today. May all of your good memories of the times you have shared buoy you through this loss. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, you and the extensive legacy of a life impacting many friends who will surely miss him.

    3. Thanks, InTimeFor62. I am hoping to share some thoughts regarding Pat later today.

  5. Michael, I like the neutral zone system much better under Horachuk. I've seen quite an improvement in Franson's play already --he would be more familiar with it. It's a system designed to isolate the opponent carrying the puck, prevent passes, zone entries on the rush which are the most dangerous, and force dump-ins. The better teams use this sort of system. This is what makes it possible for the Dmen to hold the line and it's a better system for slower players like Dion and Cody.

    If Horachuk is successful in getting the players to completely buy in and commit I really think the Leafs can do well this year. Hopefully they see that this is a system that they can trust is effective, unlike any Randy used. We've seen some wide open play by the Leafs over the past few years under both Wilson and Carlyle which means they often get away from their game plan, especially when pressured. Changing the way the team has performed for years will take time. As Dion said in an excellent interview, it's about the process right now-- learning and sticking with the system consistently- not the wins. A difficult thing to do when the fan-base is demanding wins now but to me this is very positive, this will make the Leafs better, and we can afford to be a bit more patient. I haven't changed my view that one of the biggest problems with the Leafs is Carlyle.

    Kessel-- noticed he's back-checking more consistently and getting back to his own zone more quickly--also noted that Bozak and JVR weren't. They were often well back in the neutral zone and just gliding, with the puck already in the Dzone. They were better in the last game.

    Franson--impressed with his calmness and improved play under Horachuk

    Kadri--has improved face-offs, is drawing more penalties, is hitting more (quite a few goals have resulted because of some good work by Kadri even though the rewards weren't there) and has greatly improved his defensive game. He's getting a high amount of Dzone starts, low minutes and very little PP time so not surprising the points aren't there. I think he needs to be rewarded for his effort with more ice time but they may want to keep him in this role a bit longer. It's been good for his development and will prepare him for a another chance on the 1st line.

    Gardiner--About a week or so after he was scratched twice Randy stated they were insisting Jake carry the puck less and pass a lot more. In other words--stop doing what you do best. No wonder he's confused. We all know Jake has his faults but I question his coaching. He looks like he's scared to make a mistake IMO. He's not playing with complete confidence though he's using his body a bit more.

    Holland--liked him the first time I saw him and love that he's pro-active in figuring out how to increase the amount of minutes he plays. He's made good use of the opportunity through injuries to move up in the roster. Very intelligent, he offers good information during interviews and there's just something about him that makes me believe he'd make a good captain some day.

    Sorry Michael. What I wanted to say is that if the Leafs learn and execute the new systems and stick stubbornly to the game plan, something they've not done well in the past, they can compete with most teams in the NHL and, barring injuries to key players, they might just squeak into a playoff position.

    1. Hi Colleen- sometimes it takes a while for players to get fully comfortable with a new system of play. Hopefully over time we'll see the team becoming more and more comfortable.

  6. The Leafs are a team that appears to win more on talent then hard work. I think where they go from here is dependant on their work ethic. If they learn to work every minute of every game I think they can have success. As far as player evaluation as I see it:


    Better than expected

    As Expected
    Bernier (after slow start)

    Need to See More

    What the heck is doing?

    Notice the addition of the "What the heck is he doing?" category for Gardiner. I have no idea if it's his confidence that is a problem, or if it is something else, but I cringe every time he handles the puck in his own zone.

    1. Thanks Stan- good to see everyone's comments and "lists" today.

  7. Lots of good things in here so I won't double up on comments I agree with. One that stands out to me as a Need to See More is JVR. He isn't 1/2 the player he was most of last year even. I am not so sure he isn't carrying some sort of leg injury as he just doesn't have the same first 2 powerful strides he showed us last year and he is getting knocked off the puck much easier. His skating improvement last season was a BIG reason for his success and he seems to have taken a step back. If he is healthy then something worse is going on there.

  8. Hi Michael

    I'm generally in agreement with much of what is said above. The one difference my opinion would offer is the average opinion of Kadri.

    Kadri looks to me like a young guy trying to shake his image of being flashy and irresponsible. I think he's been playing a far better two-way game this year and I applaud him for trying to improve himself and work on his weaknesses. The points will come back, I'm sure - in the game against Detroit he looked to be suffering from a wicked streak of bad puck-luck and could have had a couple of assists but for the bounce. I'm confident he's setting himself up for the future. I would dearly love to see us pull the pin on a Bozak trade while is value is high and give Kadri more minutes with Kessel and JvR, assuming a true 1C didn't come back with the trade.

    Gardiner just looks hypnotised at the moment, doesn't he? The poor dude can't do a thing right. I hope we persevere with him a bit longer nevertheless as it would be a crying shame to see him blossom elsewhere under a coach who doesn't act like Jake's just eloped with his favourite daughter.


    1. The jury is out on Kadri, it seems, Glenn. And he certainly triggers conflicting reviews!

      Most of us would acknowledge he has vision and great hands. A number-one centre? That's the question, I guess.