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On a scale of 1-10, your Maple Leaf optimism meter stands at….

You only have to watch the Maple Leafs play for a few minutes to recognize that the team still has some of the same old issues it has had for, well, years. But winning trumps just about everything and lately, the Leafs have knocked over pretty much everyone in their way.

They jumped out to a lead against the defending Cup champions on Sunday, but then had to come from behind to down LA in a shootout. (I sure feel good when Reimer is in net during overtime and the shootout…). On Saturday, the Leafs took out the Red Wings for the second time within the span of a few days behind another strong outing from Jonathan Bernier.

Different guys are scoring. We still make troublesome errors, but the overall trend has certainly been better than not, lately.

We’ve asked a number of questions here in recent weeks: is this a mirage? Is this version of the Leafs really all that much better than previous incarnations?

We always have great discussion: some Leaf supporters are eternally optimistic; others offer hope but a wary eye when looking to the future. Still others see the team as still fundamentally flawed, with serious roadblocks ahead as a result.

But as we head to Christmas, and that very long road trip that is now not far off, the team has 39 points in 30 games. They are within inches of first place in the Conference standings, with a game in hand on each of the teams just ahead of them.

Of course, Toronto has already played 20 games at home, only 10 on the road. That has to be considered as part of any serious overview as to how the squad is progressing.

Are you seeing what you want to see from Carlyle?  Do you like the fact that we are getting offensive contributions from across the lineup? Are we good enough to overcome some of the soft play we still see in our own end at times? Are we getting harder to play against?

Will we be life and death to make the playoffs? Or can this roster do more than just make the playoffs? Will Reimer and Bernier continue to provide the netminding required to be a really good team?

Is there one thing that you’ve noticed that has maybe changed your mind about this team—for the better?

Bottom line: how optimistic are you?


For those who might be interested, the price of "The Maple Leafs of My Youth" eBook has been reduced as a kind of 'Christmas sale' on Apple iTunes/iBooks. Thanks to all those who have downloaded the book and continue to provide such wonderful feedback.


  1. "Is there one thing that you’ve noticed that has maybe changed your mind about this team—for the better?"

    Depth at forward. In the past 2 years if Kessel and his line didn't score the team slumped. This past month that line has slumped badly 5v5 and have been hemmed in their own end about 60-70% of the time on their shifts.

    So unlike past years why have they still been winning? Because the 3rd and 4th lines have a good energy cycle game going on in the others teams end. And good solid secondary scoring from lines 2-4. Both of those were missing badly prior to this season.

    Put me down for a 6.5/10 for optimism. Considering I started the season at about a 4, that is a marked improvement.

    1. Thanks Pep- I will make note of the jump in your optimism level. (Agree on your point regarding depth.)

    2. I would be more optimistic but as you pointed out they have played a lot more home games than road games. And that means more favorable match ups with last change. The 7 games in a row on the road during the Christmas and new year season will tell the true tale.

  2. I'd offer a 7/10 for the team, and that's based on expectations, not some absolute value of quality relative to the rest of the league. In other words, I don't think they're better than 70% of the league.The small list of improvements:

    1) More balanced scoring.
    2) More balanced ice time distribution.
    3) Overall team health.
    4) Seemingly more tenacity in close games, against quality opponents.
    5) David Clarkson actually playing hockey, not at his salary level, but being competent.

    Small list of gripes/worries:

    1) Regression and/or lack of development for Jake Gardiner.
    2) Puck possession issues, although not near as bad as last year.
    3) Major salary cap issues on the horizon.
    4) A top line that comes and goes, on a night to night basis.

    I'll just leave that part of it as a Coles Notes version, rather than blathering on endlessly.

    Evaluating the coaching is an interesting one, Michael. It's difficult to judge the exact impact a coach has on a group, unless he's really good, or just terribly bad. Look at Dallas Eakins as our most recent example. Plenty of hand wringing in Toronto when the Leafs didn't can Carlyle and offer up Dallas the opportunity, while Vancouver and the Rangers also had interest in him. Things didn't work out so well in Edmonton, and that's no knock at Eakins, who I loved as a Marlies coach. Synergy with the players, and plain old blind luck so often helps build a coaching resume, and I'm not ready to call Randy a miserable failure here in Toronto. One thing the Edmonton model teaches us, is that a new coach may provide an incremental bit of success (or not), but ultimately it's roster changes that pay the bigger dividends.

    Good point by Pep, mentioning the imbalance of road/home games, as this team has a brutal schedule coming up. Under achieving teams like Boston, Dallas and Minnesota are in that group, and good teams tend to float to the top as we get deeper in the schedule.

    Let's go Leafs, and either prove the doubters wrong, or at least play hard in a losing effort.

    1. I was thinking much the same about Eakins, Russ- good coach in an organization with all that young talent, but a number of capable coaches have not been able to make it work. That means the "problem" is further up the food chain.

      As for the Leafs, I hear you on potential "worries".

  3. "Is there one thing that you’ve noticed that has maybe changed your mind about this team—for the better?" the past, losing key players like Polak and Komorov would have resulted in a losing streak.

    Now we are on large winning streak without those players.

    Clarkson on track for 20 goals and Panik with 6 goals so far (mostly from limited minutes on the 4th line) is also very different from last year.

    Kadri is succeeding in a two-way role against tough competition, which is new for him.

    I also think this group has the talent and veteran character to break a losing streak before it gets too large. No collapse this year. I think we make the playoffs.


    1. Depth does seem to be making a difference, DP. Individual growth and better overall team play as well, it seems.

  4. Part 1: The Coach

    Carlyle vs Analytics

    Carlyle’s been called a ‘dinosaur’ by some not-so-bright young bloggers out there who also believe that Gardiner is the Leafs’ best defenseman and that Bozak is a third-line center based on the numbers that they crunch in their spare time. Aside from hating on Carlyle for not playing Gardiner and Kadri more and on the first pairing/line instead of Bozak and Phaneuf, their main criticism of the coach has been that he refuses to play a scoring 4th line and instead chooses to play goons who can’t play hockey. They’ve been so loud that they even managed to convince the upper echelons of the club’s management to hire them to manage the team and it appears that the only reason Carlyle is still coaching in Toronto is because Mike Babcock wasn’t available in the off-season.

    What they are forgetting or refusing to remember is

    a) that the only time Leafs made the playoffs since the lockout (in another lockout-shortened season and with Carlyle behind the bench) was also when they led the league in fights and that, even after the biggest advocate of ‘pugnacity’ and ‘truculence’ Brian Burke lamented the end of physical hockey and sent Orr back to the minors (no doubt encouraged by his then coach – the charlatan Ron Wilson), it turned out that the ‘goon’ had to be brought back to prevent Leafs young players from getting killed by the likes of John Scott, Chris Neil and Milan Lucic in that lockout-shortened season; and

    b) that Carlyle simply didn’t have the personnel required to fill the roster with 4 lines of good hockey players that can check, score and generally play well for 10 minutes. Beyond the first line of Lupul/JVR, Bozak and Kessel and a bunch of streaky and soft 2nd liners like McArthur, Grabo and Kuli, and later Mason Raymond, was nothing but a bunch of kids who weren’t ready (Ashton and Colborne who still literally had growing pains and Kadri who was playing shinny at the time etc.) and one decent PK/checking guy (McClement or Bolland who missed most of the season with an injury) to put out on the ice. Holland wasn’t there, Panik wasn’t there, Kozun wasn’t there, Booth, Santorelli, Winnik were not yet here and the kids that are now playing decent hockey, whether with Leafs or elsewhere, were still kids.

  5. Carlyle vs. Babcock

    Which brings me to my next point which has to do with the comparison of Carlyle’s and Babcock’s coaching styles. I’m surprised that not more was made in the media over the season series between the Leafs and the Red Wings in light of all the rumors of Babcock coming here next year to replace ‘the dinosaur’. Again, I have two points to make:

    1) Carlyle won the battle fair and square. It was close, but after the blowout in the first game where Kadri’s line got victimized by Zetterberg’s, Carlyle figured it out and line-matched the right combination of players and fielded the right goalies on the right nights to take that series with three close games (one of which we won in the shootout and in Detroit on the second half of the back-to-back) and a dominant performance on home ice to close it out.
    2) Babcock is credited with winning two Stanley Cups with the Wings and Olympic gold by playing four lines of scoring forwards and not using ‘goons’ on his roster. But is it really a feat to win Olympic gold with Team Canada? The way I see it it’s a crying shame that anyone other than Canada ever won gold in the Olympics. 75% of NHL players are Canadian. It’s Canada’s sport. Of course you’ll play Getzlaf or Martin St. Lous over Fraser McLaren on Canada’s Olympic team if you get a choice. And the same goes for Detroit Red Wings: Babcock came into the best-managed and storied organization in hockey and won those Cups – he was given the rosters it’s really hard to lose with.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Babcock is a bad coach. He’s a great coach – he deserved those medals and rings. But there is a difference between coaching Team Canada and Detroit Red Wings on the one hand, and entering into the badly-mismanaged for decades, caught-off-guard by the salary cap, rebuilding team like the Leafs that has just flown off the cliff. I think Carlyle’s done really well with the hand he’s been dealt and I think he should get some recognition for beating Detroit Babcocks in this season’s series.

    Carlyle 3 Babcock 2.

  6. Part 2: Glass Almost Full

    I’ve been optimistic about the Leafs ever since Burke took over and traded for Kessel and Phaneuf, and I’ve been increasingly more optimistic as each year went by because I believe that with Nonis the team has essentially stayed the course and continued to follow ‘Burke’s way’. I loved the coaching change (both from Wilson to Carlyle and, more recently, replacing Carlyle’s buddies with Horachek and Spott) and I’ve really liked the patience and smarts that I feel Nonis has displayed by holding on to young players that we’ve drafted or traded for over the years. I think the team would have made the playoffs last year had Bolland not gotten injured (and everything else that could go wrong did it seems) but it is only now with the coaching change (Horachek!), the continued development of our young core (Kadri, Gardiner, Franson) and the ‘minor’ and ‘depth’ acquisitions of Santorelli, Winnik, Komarov, Holland, Panik etc. etc. that this team is good enough to start knocking on the door of (not ‘joining’) that elite club of organisations like LA, Chicago, Detroit and Boston that have been doing things right for a long time. That elusive ‘team identity’ that you Michael have been screaming about is finally starting to rear it’s beautiful head – the Leafs are a fast, skilled, young but also big and hitting team that can cycle the puck and that gets scoring from 4 lines. They have a ‘system’ that everyone is playing to and there are no wanna-be stars like Kulemin, McArthur and Grabovski who refuse to play the checking role because they feel they’re better than that.

    We’re only a third way into the season though and, regardless of how impressed I am with the evolution of this team and its current performance I’m still bracing for a disaster before the regular season is done and I agree with Nonis who, in the recent interview, described the team as ‘good’ but not ‘great’. There’s work to be done – 1st line needs to grow some balls and get better defensively and some of the younger players (Gardiner is the current whipping boy, and deservedly so, but Kadri and Franson have only played ‘the right way’ for 20 or so games) have more developing to do.

    More importantly, I’m not sure that we can survive another bout of injuries to key players (Komarov and Polak are down and we are ok, but if Winnik, Santorelli and Phaneuf for example were to be added to the list I’m not sure we could hold on). If the Leafs can get some help from ‘above’, stay healthy and continue to play this kind of game for a full season we may not need fret losing some of the ‘replaceable’ players in the off-season as the new ones will be able to slot in seamlessly into the ‘system’ – that ability to establish the ‘system’ that can handle interchangeable parts may well be the most important characteristic of elite teams. We’re not there yet and it takes time.

    Finally, the leadership in the dressing room is far from convincing. They somehow managed to avert the disaster after those embarrassing losses to Buffalo and Nashville and that’s a good indication that some solid leadership may be emerging in the Leafs’ dressing room. But that was just one strike. Now that the pieces are in place and, barring a spout of injuries to key players, this team looks like it should be able to make the playoffs, the onus will be on some of the key players and veterans on the roster to avert another 18-wheeler falling off the cliff when they hit another patch of black ice and actually play out a full season of good hockey.

    And the final disclaimer to follow up on my musings from the off-season: We’re on the right path now. As long as Nonis and Carlyle are at the helm and winning I think we’ll be ok. If the analytics nerds take over, fire Nonis and replace Carlyle, God help us.


    1. Lots to consider in your comments- thanks leafdreamer!

  7. Hi Michael,

    It really shouldn't surprise anyone who has read my comments that I am a glass half empty kind of guy, at least when it comes to certain things. Sports, is certainly on that list.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs, ah, my beloved Maple Leafs. They continue to injure me in the cruellest of ways, only to have me back at their door, imploring them to take me back after I have once again sworn off allegiances. I can still taste the playoff defeat against Boston, it hurts every time I think about it. Every time they show Carlyle behind the bench, or worse in post game interviews, you know the ones, where he acts all smug, cocksure, and even kind of funny. It makes my stomach turn, I scream in my mind, call timeout you moron. You have a three goal lead with ten minutes to play in game 7, and you lost. Forever, from that point in time you have forfeited the right to presume to be smarter than anyone else. It's wrong to think of things this way, but I see him in a Neville Chamberlain kind of way, and I presume I always will.

    I think the team overall, is better. I liked what Polak was bringing on defense, toughness, yet he could play it seems, and he wasn't gooning it up at all. I like all those aspects of hockey. I am very pleased with the off season acquisitions, Booth, Winnick and Santorelli. They have been lights out good for this team. Nonis and co. sure did need to hit a home run, and they did. Having Bolland accept the Florida offer over Toronto's could be one of the 5 best things ever to happen to the Leafs.

    There have been missteps too, Robidas has been mediocre, and not playing a lot of minutes. Gardiner has stalled, it seems. Our beloved first line, all offence all the time, I like to call them, have been what we expect of them offensively, defensively I expect more, and am sure that I am never going to get it. Lupul got hurt again, quelle surprise mon ami.

    I am aware that this team isn't going to win anything, despite protestations from some of Leafworld. That's ok by me, I am really only looking for progress. Getting Franson signed would go a long way to putting my optimism measure above the 5/10 that it is currently.

    I have seen the hot shooting percentage, hot save percentage movie this team has shown me a couple of times now. They run hot and cold, in both directions, that much isn't new. Their best players have been healthy, and they desperately need that to continue over the huge number of road games they have coming up. I know that I have mentioned it a lot, I see them as a group that is easily dissuaded from the small things that would get them through the tough times.

    1. Just as the optimistic views are fair, so are your comments, Jim. The core is still the core. Can they lead the way?

    2. jim should be referred to as 'cato the elder' here at VLM. jim won't be satisfied until the leafs have won the cup, and his blunt assessment of carlyle's buffoonery helps to keep us all level-headed about this team! i love michael's entries and i love jim's comments.

    3. Thanks Alex- and yes, Jim helps keep us on an even keel!

  8. I'm happier with the team this year, though the Leafs still need the same pieces they needed three years ago and the cap can't be fixed without moving out contracts. I'm very happy with all the new hires and to address trades, contracts and cap management, drafting, evaluation, and development, and analytics. Shanahan is slowly but methodically covering all the bases, I think it's a matter of pride for him as well as a love and acceptance of a challenge. It's been many years since I've the organization had someone in control who had a clue what they were doing. There's nothing arrogant or condescending about Shanahan.

    Over the years the two most important indicators that a team will make the post season has been proved to be goal differential and puck possession. The Leafs are at + 18 now so have a good chance. Possession is still horrendous, as has been seen with Carlyle coached teams, but much of that is the first line. They can do better and if they won't I do hope they make changes. Lupul and Clarkson is another pair that has never ever worked but we're still seeing that.

    Michael, I give them a 9, not because they're a great team or that I don't have a lot of concerns, but because they have full-filled most of my expectations of what they could accomplish so far this season with the roster and coaching staff they have. (I really like Horachuk.) It's a start and they're fun to watch.

    1. The "grade" we assess really depends to a large extent on our expectations, eh, Colleen? As you said, the team has achieved (so far) a lot of what you were looking to see, with some needs still evident.

  9. Hi Michael:

    While the team has improved in depth, I still have this feeling of foreboding about which team will show up, and how they will possibly close the game when they are being bombarded. My grade would be a six (today), but I would like another guess? after they complete their upcoming road trip.

    While considering this post, it has unearthed some concerns that management should consider.

    1. Do Leafs really have a number one line?

    During my time following VLM, I have been a primary supporter of Phil Kessell when others wanted him traded. He is the only Leaf truly worth the inflated prices at ACC to see his skills (offensive). I have two concerns:
    a) I expect a number one line to be dominant. The Leaf #1 line is definitely not - while they can score they do not control play and are often invisible defensively. Having seen Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvechio and Gordie Howe - that was a truly dominant line, and they could all check. Most true dominant lines generally had a strong checker/corner man (e.g. Bert Olmstead), a playmaker (Jean Beliveau) and a sniper (Richard, Geoffrion). The current Ole hockey provided by the Three Matadors in the long run is not and will not cut it. Of current leafs, the best option for center may be Santorelli or Komorov. JVR is good in front of net which is needed as Kessell does not get garbage goals - if he can handle the front of net, he should be able to do something in the corners.

    b) If Kessell is indeed injured, his recent play suggests that he will have problems when he loses a step sometime before his contract runs out. His $8 million contract may be too long?

    1. I have similar views, Ralph (RLMcC), about the importance of a first line being able to play well at both ends of the ice.

      You mentioned two great old-time lines in Detroit and Montreal. I also think of Lafleur, Lemaire, Shutt in Montreal in the '70s, Clarke, Barber and Leach in Philadelphia in that era as well. The Hawks now have a top line (Toews, etc.) that can play in its own zone.

      As defense is mostly about being in the right position and a willingness to work hard, Toronto's first line should be more than capable defensively. To your point about whether another centre may help, we'll see if Carlyle is prepared to consider that.

    2. Good points on the first line Ralph. I am not in the camp that says the first line has to be dominant at both ends of the ice. But they had better not be a liability in their own end. And they have been absolutely horrendous in that end so far. They seem to not watch and learn, or not want to, from what the other lines are doing that actually works. It is also a main reason I believe that most of their points have come from the powerplay this season other than perhaps a handful of 5v5 goals by Bozak and late games goals once the game is out of reach by Kessel. The Leafs have not been winning of late because of their top line..more in spite of them most nights.

  10. Notice the common thread to what components make up a true no. 1 line. Doesn't take advanced stats or rocket science? The juggling that Carlyle tries to cover up deficiencies may well be an impossible task?

  11. Are you seeing what you want to see from Carlyle?

    This year more than every year before this... yes, but I agree that Lupul/Clarkson combo is not really working and the top line could use a checker like Komarov or Winnik (but I like him with Kadri).

    Do you like the fact that we are getting offensive contributions from across the lineup?

    Yes... it's the reason for our success (along with increased cycling that's finally making it harder for the opposition defense).

    Are we good enough to overcome some of the soft play we still see in our own end at times?

    As long as we get our fair share of the bounces... it can be ugly when we don't.

    Are we getting harder to play against? Sure seems that way, but we can get more difficult, yet!

    Will we be life and death to make the playoffs? I'll be more sure after I see if we continue our early road success, but I think so.

    Or can this roster do more than just make the playoffs? Possible, but I think the right tweaks are still necessary (whether it's development or trades)

    Will Reimer and Bernier continue to provide the netminding required to be a really good team? Yes, if we keep 'em both, and I doubt that will change this year.

    Is there one thing that you’ve noticed that has maybe changed your mind about this team—for the better?

    Bottom line: how optimistic are you? I'm a solid 6/10 - remembering the pain of undue optimism formerly... the Leafs are 'reaping what they've sown' - yet, that said, I'm moving in the right direction.

  12. oops.... missed the penultimate question :(

    Kind of an obvious one, but all of the pickups/changes have been positives and some of the old ones have improved, so didn't really expect that, but glad to see more balance/depth.

  13. Well on a scale of 1-10 I have to say I am at a 6 right now. After this long winning streak you would think it was higher but I remember a streak that was eerily similar right before the Olympics last year when they ran off an 11-2 winning record, being only a couple of points behind the division leaders and people talking about home ice in the playoffs. We all remember what happened next.

    The Good
    1. much deeper at the forward area.
    2. getting much needed production from the bottom six that was completely absent last year.
    3. very good special teams, a dynamite powerplay especially
    4. Cody Franson stabilizing the top d pairing
    5. the emergence of Kadri as the teams best 2 way forward. (Has shut down Zetterberg twice, Getzlaf and Kopitar in last 4 games. )
    6. the coaching staff. Not a big Carlyle fan but credit where credit is due they have been better this year
    7. goaltending has been average to above average most of year and elite in the last month (both of them)

    The Bad absolute black hole of a first line defensively. 2/3 of points are coming on powerplay which is fine except that at 5vs5 they are usually horrendously outplayed
    2.still a tendency to rely on goalies too much. Of the last 4 wins 3 could easily have been losses including tonight vs Ducks.
    3. still a lack of a shut down d pair. Franson and Phanuef have been okay but ideally neither are suited to that role
    4.a terrible schedule coming up. The next month will tell the tale

    The biggest thing I see to make me cautiously optimistic is the emergence of Kadri. He is undoubtedly the teams best center man. In fact I would argue his line is now the teams 1st line. They get all the hard matchups vs the other teams best players and more often than not Kadri's line comes out on top. I think its reflected in his ice time average as well. Over the last winning streak his ice time average is in the 21-22 minute range and that's with second powerplay and no penalty killing time.

    1. Kadri's emergence (though he had certainly showed flashes off and on previously) at both ends of the ice has been eye-catching, for sure, Willbur.

      I hear you on the grade- especially in light of what we saw a year ago.

  14. Yes overused but I’m at a loss for more appropriate prose – I want to “drink the kool-aid” but cannot at this time (62% of season remains). I do not believe Leafs are a 108 point team (current P% over 82 games). One more win and Leafs would need .500 in remaining 50 games for 93 points, or estimated wildcard spot, and still I have no thrust. Leafs are riding at or very close to their top gear right now. I believe Boston, LA, NYR, maybe Washington and other dark horses will kick into higher gears after all-star game, then overdrive 20 games remaining with Leafs downward regression. Recent past demands logical skepticism, we must learn from recent past or are doomed to........

    Positives which demand hope, kicking and screaming 4th line goons removed Carlyle on-ice allocation of skill enhanced 3rd and 4th lines, anyone not named Kessel line goal production is significant factor in my improved optimism from start of season.
    36.6% of season completed, Leafs exceed expectations. But I want to see last 20 games. I enjoy the ride now, don't get me wrong.
    Just remember short season playoff run, Leafs looked great in the middle, last 10 minutes game 7, no gas.

  15. all i ask is, Michael, take same optimism pulse after 4+ games lost / back-to-back horrific loses. We are drunk with 6 games win streak, optimism after reality check, will enthusiasm remain the same?

    1. Fair question, Walter. It's easy to feel heady after a nice run- we'll see how we feel after a tough road schedule...

    2. As far as being drunk on a 6-game winning streak Walter, I hear you. Mind you, I think if they collapse into the horrific run of losses you're suggesting, I'll be reaching for the alcohol in a real sense. My hope is that the scoring depth the Leafs seem blessed with this year will help derail the 18-wheeler, and offer a little more happiness to a deserving fan base.

      Playing close to .500 hockey over this long road trip would be just amazing. Not world beating, but holding their own.

  16. I would definitely put my optimism meter at 10. With a 10-1-1 record since the Preds game there is no way not to have a high level of optimism. They have been out shot in a few games which is a cause for concern but they have been winning lately without Komarov and Polak and getting these guys back should help on the shots against count. I think it will only get better from here on in.

    The Leafs have been scoring a lot but they have also been missing on a quite a lot of their scoring chances and some of their wins could have easily been by even higher scores. Against the Ducks the other night they probably missed on almost as many good scoring chances as the Ducks and the high shot count against could be partly expected given it was the Leafs third game in four nights against pretty decent teams while the Ducks were playing with two days rest.

    When I look back at the start of this season my optimism was high but not this high. The Leafs started a lot slower than I expected but things improved, especially with the 6-1 Bruin game. Then Sabre Preds games were low points but now it looks like they did total reset after the 9-2 loss. Picking up Panik for nothing was a real bonus. The Leafs now seem to be getting better with every game and they look confident and expect to win games. They are doing exactly what I expected all along. Skilled offence scoring a lot and players like Kadri taking defence seriously.

    I remember last Feb. having high expectations and hoping things would fall into place pretty much the way things actually did for the Rangers. I never believed they were they were as bad as the record showed at the end of last season and thought they should have been a playoff team. It didn't happen but because of that collapse they have Nylander who keeps looking better. Pretty much the same in the 18 wheeler season when they were able to draft Rielly. In the end the collapses as bad as they were will end up helping when they win the Cup.

    The Leafs really look like they have some real depth now and with players like Leivo, Percy and Nylander all expected to play next year. With players like Brown, Granberg, Gauthier, Finn and McKegg an a few others in the system the salary cap loss of players like Winnik and Santorelli may not matter.

    I think the NHL salary cap really has evened the playing field. Today the Preds waived Stalberg which had me thinking about the original Leaf trade for Versteeg. It gets pretty complicated but the end result is the Leafs end up with Percy and Leivo, both solid prospects for Stalberg who was a 6th round pick. Meanwhile the Panthers end up with the Hawks Olsen and Hayes 1st and 2nd round picks both of whom are now solid young players on the Panther team. Tampa ended up with a Flyer 2nd round pick for the now retired Kubina. Flyers got that pick in a deal with the Panthers for Versteeg. So the Hawks are back where they started with Versteeg and half his cap hit on the Panthers books but down two good players Olsen and Hayes. The Flyers come out with a Panther 3rd round pick for the 1st an 3rd they gave the Leafs. So the Leafs, Panthers and Bolts are winners and the Hawks because of the salary cap and the Flyers because of bad deals are the losers. This all happened over several years and really highlights how a few good or bad deals can affect a team's long term success. It really is nice to see the Leafs picking up assets these days instead of wasting them on older past their prime players who never seem to work out as expected. Robidas comes to mind because of the cap hit but he is playing pretty good and did not cost a young asset.

    1. Good to hear from you, Alton. Your last paragraph demonstrates how complicated transactions are- you can't ever really call a "winner" in a trade right away.

  17. Hi Michael,

    I originally came on tonight to see if there was a new post, and to check up on the comments discussion. Thanks for the kind words Alex, glad you appreciate my thoughts on some things.

    I read Alton's latest comment and found myself mostly in agreement with what he was saying. This is by far the best part about politely discussing our team. We are allowed to see things differently, it is after all something we chat about for fun.

    I too like the added depth the team is showing this season, not having to watch Colton Orr take a meaningless skate around the ice is refreshing. A fourth line that can actually contribute to the team has been in a word, refreshing. A while ago, someone pointed out to me that I should pay close attention to Clarkson, and then tell them my overall thoughts. I had to say that in a nutshell, I didn't think I had ever seen a regular NHL'er fall down that often. All alone most of the time, and he just stumbles to the ice. I never really noticed it before, it has really had me quite fascinated recently. Other players fall down, trying to draw a penalty, whatever. I don't come away with the impression that Clarkson is doing it intentionally. Was wondering what everyone else had to say, if they had noticed this sort of thing happening regularly.

    The questions about the core of this team being capable in the long run, have me worried. They are very talented, but I'm having trouble coming up with a word, or the correct phrase to describe how I see them. The best I can do, complacent. They seem willing to let the opposition dictate the pace of the game, and are settling almost for being able to capitalize on what they are given. They often do just that, no doubt a reflection of how talented the top 5 forwards are. The Leafs really are only going to go as far as these players, as well as Bernier, Phaneuf, and Franson take them.

    So the end of the world isn't near. Bernier wasn't able to come up with the stolen points tonight. Cam Ward played really well, making the saves he had to make. For the first two periods we saw the Leafs receive the game as Randy likes to say. More than anything else the inability to get the core playing the right way, concerns this fan. That, and how healthy they are, injuries happen to all NHL teams, including the Leafs so we'll see what and who soon I'm sure.

    I sure am liking that Santorelli, I hope they find a way to keep him long term.

    1. Great point, Jim- dictating the play doesn't seem to be in their DNA many nights. (I like Santorelli, too.)

    2. "This is by far the best part about politely discussing our team. We are allowed to see things differently, it is after all something we chat about for fun."

      That comment for me is is dead on correct. Well said Jim. And why I enjoy it here and the opposite is why I don't frequent other forums.

      PS: They need to figure out how to re-up both Santorelli and Winnick early in the new year I believe. Great role players with the ability to step up in the line up when required.

    3. Thanks Pep- you've captured what VLM has tried to establish over the years: a site where Leaf supporters and hockey fans in general can visit, read thoughtful comments from fellow hockey observers and connect in a respectful manner.

    4. There has been quite a lot of joking about Clarkson falling down on other sites, Jim. He has even managed to score a goal while in the process of falling down. I probably would have salvaged some enjoyment or at least entertainment last night against Carolina had I just watched Clarkson. He bounces back up so quickly, it's like watching an episode of Get Smart. I can almost hear him saying, "It's okay, I meant to do that."

    5. I have to admit to being absolutely fascinated watching him. Instead of following the play of the game, I find myself transfixed on what Clarkson is doing when he is on the ice. Last nights goal by Phaneuf was an excellent example. Clarkson goes to the front of the net, Winnick is already there, Clarkson runs into him, falls down, and Dion puts the puck past Cam Ward. Just a fascinating sequence by Clarkson, and I would pay some money to hear him give a running commentary about his shifts after every game. You know the way a golfer is expected to recap a round for the television audience. That's Gold, Jerry!, Gold!

    6. I agree, especially based on the sequence during HBO 24/7 last year, regarding Bertuzzi knocking Bernier's water bottle off of the net. Clarkson went a bit berserk, defending the ownership and importance of said water bottle. It was truly funny in a non contrived way, but also spoke volumes of the pride Clarkson carries for his team.

      A great Get Smart reference from Colleen, and now we have to pick an Agent 99 on the team that consoles Dave and lets him know it was a moment of pure brilliance.

    7. I don't think he is 'falling down' as much as diving or launching himself at defenders and pucks. It often works. It's kind of like wrestling. It's definitely funny to watch. He's been much better this year but I'm yet to see a reason why this guy should be paid a penny over 2 million bucks. I can see why Nonis wanted him at the time - he is a hard-working Toronto boy and he was brought in to elevate the 'compete level' on a team full of rather soft and 'high-flying' guys but, as Nonis quickly found out in the latest off-season, you can get that for a lot less (Komarov, Polak, Winnik, Santorelli, Robidas).

  18. I to have noticed that Clarkson falls a lot. It's a running joke between my brother and I. We randomly text each "Clarkson just fell Down" even going so far as to insert that line randomly in other texts. Its still funny too a year and a bit after it started.

  19. Hi Michael,

    yes, I like what I see from Carlyle some changes to the System. Now that he has the players to do so he uses the 4th line well. Sadly more often than otherwise you see the players not consequently executing that system. We won twice against Detroit within a few days but you can easiely see what makes Detroit the better team, they know what to do and they are doing it. They are executing their system. Everybody. Every night. And that is the place the Leafs have to go to.

    Getting offense from all four lines and their D is vital for every team and I very much like the fact that the leafs manage to do so.

    No we are not good enough to overcome our soft play and I am afraid it is not only in our own end.
    The only way to overcome it is to change it. When push comes to shove the Leafs will loose if they don't change that. And this leads to the next question if we are harder to play against. Yes and no.
    We are because we are deeper and the additions of Polak, Winnik, Santorelli and Komarov contribute very well in that area. But we are not because we have still troubles in our own end give up the nutral zone very lightly at times and we do not execute the game plan consistently. Sometimes we don't how up for a period like we have done in the past so many times. Not showing up is not a part of being hard to play against.

    I think we can and should make the playoffs but I don't know if we will in the end, because it can end either way and that is the problem with this team. If you make the playoffs in the east everything is possible. In the west, the best team at that time will win a series but in the east it is about the better matchup and luck and being hot at the right moment.
    But I have an issue with that question, as much as we all like to make the playoffs I think we need to be patient. Dubas put it best: it is not so much about winning and loosing, it is about the process and this is where we should put our focus on. I strongly believe that playing in the playoffs is a part of that process. Surprising succes would be nice but won't bring us any further. It would only put fresh paint on our problems. Shanahan and his crew need to put time and expertise into this team to enable them to have long term success.

    If James and Jonny don't provide that kind of goaltending? What your gonna do?

    Nothing has changed my mind about this team and there was no necessity to do so. I know what they are and I love them!

    I am optimistic but I won't put a number on it. We make the playoffs and we can win a round if everything falls into place.

    1. Patience is indeed key, Marcus. All Leaf fans would like to see the team make the playoffs this year, but you're right, the idea is to be a squad that will be consistently good all over the ice and be a tough opponent come playoff time- whether this year or down the road.