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Maple Leafs caught in no-man’s land…

Right now, the Maple Leafs seem to find themselves in that awkward position that teams sometimes do: their confidence is fragile, they can’t buy a goal; their goalies can’t bail them out.  Maybe most importantly, they don’t seem to believe in themselves. And while the coaching staff has tried to implement a new a structure, they have no identity as a team.

As a result, they don’t really know what or who they are. Success breeds success, and this organization just hasn’t had enough success over the past decade to have developed an identity.  The Bruins have an identity, so do the Red Wings, Kings, Hawks, Blues, Predators, etc. 

We don't.

As fans, we are reduced to looking for isolated positives, since the playoffs appear to be a fading notion. It’s all about the future.  And while there are a few nice players down on the farm and draft choices  to look forward to, the truth is (as I’ve said here many times before) virtually every team has some nice young players on the roster and promising prospects—and draft picks in their back pocket too.

Remember a few short years ago when the Leafs talked constantly about being the youngest team in the NHL?  Well, that was a nice dodge, helping us avoid the reality that the team—while speedy and skilled in spots—was still lacking in the departments that rule in the NHL: having a roster with guys that have pride, play hard every night and know how to win.

Now, if you look at the Leafs on an individual basis, there is talent here, and guys that, in theory, should comprise a lineup that can win.  Who doesn’t like watching Phil Kessel fly around the ice? Morgani Rielly has all kinds of potential.  Kadri has continued to develop and is still a young player. We have some grit, too. Polak has a big heart. Komarov, while perhaps not himself since his most recent injury, sure plays hard. 

Even in the midst of a confidence-sapping team slide, Morgan Rielly was all over the ice Saturday night in Philly. Kessel made his usual dangerous rushes. James Reimer battled. It’s not as though the Leafs were run out of the building.

Lupul made a heck on a diving play on a backcheck (I think it was early in the third period) to prevent what would have been a breakaway.

If this team had quit by now or simply didn’t care, the Lupul play wouldn’t have happened. It would have been just as easy to not make the effort and see if Reimer could make a save.

Sadly, the team has hit a wall, and whereas they used to, at times, be able to outscore their mistakes in the past, now they struggle to score goals.

I have no answer, only what I see—and sense from a distance. I could be very wrong but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of team harmony or togetherness on the roster. I don't get the feeling that these guys love playing together. There's no one factor. It’s just a series of things that aren’t working and it's been this way for years. We see fleeting moments of hopeful signs and then a return to frustration.

Shanahan tried to give Nonis and Carlyle another chance this past summer, when it was clear he really didn’t want to. He seemingly felt obligated.  That no doubt confused the players, who must have wondered why a new boss didn’t simply do what people in that situation usually do: start the process of change from the top. He delayed the inevitable by keeping the coach and GM, though he did surround them with new assistants, which may have been a step in the right direction but was, at best, a half solution.

For the record, I think Carlyle can still coach. (It’s not like he didn’t try to get this group to play hard and focus on defense; heck, that’s his thing. Remember, we booed some pretty good players out of town, too, people who went on to win Stanley Cups elsewhere, so the fan base can be wrong, eh?)  Paul Maurice and Ron Wilson were good coaches, too.  They both tried to get this group to “buy in”.  Wilson’s methods, criticized here, had worked elsewhere; not so much in Toronto. Maurice is now in charge of a resurgent (until the last few days) Jets team.

Nonis is a respected hockey guy, too, as was Burke before him. But for whatever reason, we never seem to take that next step from “we could be good some day” to actually being a consistently hard to play against team with an identity that knows how to win.

Is Babcock the answer?  I'm not so sure. He walked into a winning culture in Detroit; the Wings had an outstanding front office long before he got there. He's done a nice job, for sure, but he has not done it on his own.

Again, on an individual basis, every one of these guys on the roster is an NHL player.  Some are considered stars, like Phaneuf, Kessel, Lupul and van Riemsdyk.  Who hasn’t liked Santorelli this season?  Winnik came from a winning organization.  Gardiner is skilled. Some think Franson is worth 5 million a year and needs to be re-signed. Same with Kadri.

So if all these guys are so good, worth keeping at high prices, where’s the problem? Ownership?  An inexperienced team President in Shanahan? Players who don’t do what is needed to win, though they say the right things?

Do you have any answers?


  1. Michael,

    Great column. They sure are a puzzle of an organization aren't they.

    Answers, I have answers, and they are exactly what I have been saying all along.

    Start building an organization the way the best teams do. They draft and develop their own talent, then when the time is right, they augment that group with a few choice additions. Think Marian Hossa in Chicago. The organization needs to dictate how the teams play. Toronto, hasn't put that blueprint in play.

    It starts with a few things, like keeping picks and prospects, letting them develop in the minor leagues. The yearly rush to have some newly anointed next one play in Toronto, is frankly stupid. Not to mention the wrong way to get the most out of that player long term. Other teams let their picks play in the AHL, I have no idea why Toronto can't do that as well. Or a good reason why they shouldn't.

    Find the next GM of this team, make it a wise choice, and build from there. You could say the same for the coach, they are similar problems to me. More than anything else, this will help ensure that they are both on the same page going forward. Thinking alike, but not always the same. The culture the team wants to develop needs some consistency. I have no problem if the Leafs take a risk with one of the two hires. Go with the smartest person, as well as something being said about being a little ruthless. They need to know when a player is at his high point, and trade him. I bet Dean Lombardi wishes he had dumped Richards last off season. Toronto has almost always held on to players that management, and fans like, for longer than they should. Montreal has recently done a good job of ditching players before they become anchors.

    I'm not really sold on the idea of an experienced GM being the remedy. Here's why, Dave Nonis is an experienced GM. He has a plethora of experience at over paying, and honestly, mismanagement. Suppose he wasn't our GM right now but unemployed, would he be the kind of guy we would be looking for? I am so tired of hearing that he's a good hockey guy in the media. Who cares? That's what is said about them each and every time they are recycled into a new job.

    I want the next guy to be someone with a vision for the future. A guy who realizes that his team is stinky, and doesn't mortgage the future to scrape by in mediocrity. Every off season career NHL'ers are available during free agency. Santorelli, Winnick, Raymond. Use these guys on one year contracts to bridge the gap while your draft picks become NHL regulars. Heck if you have enough picks and prospects, some of them might turn into stars. At the trade deadline, sell off all these types of players, keep one so that free agents know its possible to become part of the team long term. You do this solely to acquire more picks and prospects. This should take about five years, for the young players to emerge, at that point sell less players at the deadline. You should be able to see your patience bearing fruit.

    Be extremely careful about keeping the core of this team. I would say if they are over 25, they need to be traded.

    The ever elusive culture can be created. I think it just needs time to grow. So uh, who do I see about working in MLSE?

    1. Thanks Jim. Of the points you raise, I'll build on your thoughts about rushing kids into the lineup.

      The organization seems to have an aversion to letting the supposedly top prospects play in the minors for a lengthy period of time. I wrote about this many times with Kadri- he played here too soon- was a saviour one day, on a yo-yo back to the farm the next. He should have stayed two full years playing regularly (if he deserved the ice time) with the Marlies.

      Too many of these young players (including Rielly, who is obviously very talented) are given the NHL life too soon. It becomes expected, and the commitment to keep proving that they deserve to stay here seems lost on a lot of these guys.

      In the olden days, the Habs almost always ensured that even their most promising youngsters plied their trade in the in the minors before they finally earned a spot with the big club. (Of course, they had so many great players, they never felt the need to rush anyone.)

      Lots of interesting ideas in your blueprint. I'd love to build an organization with young players who have truly earned the crest, and who appreciate being Leafs. Support them with veterans who are team players and role models.

    2. They do seem a lot like a group of petulant children that are being made to clean their rooms or take out the trash before they have dinner. I was very disappointed, and still am, that the effort level for the new coach has been so poor. They all acted like it was the coach, I guess that they were just too chicken shit to look in the mirror for why they continue to suck.

      I have already heard a lot of talk about having Nylander at least spend his nine games up with the big club before the end of the season. 'Let's see what he's got', attitude. I know we both agree that this is another enormous mistake the Leafs need to avoid. There are many, many reasons to not subject him to the Leafs right now. Or next season, for that matter.

      What exactly is the rush in Toronto to do things that seems so wrong, but they do them anyway? Almost always, or at least so it seems. Any thoughts on why it has been that way here for as long as I can remember? I honestly can't remember the last first round pick that actually spent development time in the minors.

    3. I agree, Jim - Heaven forbid that we should 'hope' to see Nylander at any point this season! Why even consider acclimating him to the 'tire fire' that is the Leafs!?! Just let him develop as an 18 year old amongst young men who have some hope for a playoff run.

      In fact, if we make trades for picks and young prospects, I hope we just bring up Orr and McLaren to complete their contracts with the Leafs (rather than sitting them with the Marlies anyway).

      I hope the Marlies can have a positive season for development and breeding success, while we allow whoever remains (with the Leafs) the opportunity to reflect upon and learn to do whatever it takes to never allow this kind of thing to happen again.

  2. For all the team-building exercises over the past few years and the professions of a close-knit team, I think you are right, Michael. There must be some underlying issues that are evidenced most clearly in a lack of 'having each other's back.' It is clear that individuals haven't 'quit', yet there still seems to be a lack of trust in a team concept, such that all areas of prior confidence have gone AWOL and the defensive 'buy-in' almost seems to be a protest movement.

    What I mean is that it seems like the players have almost chosen to cut off their noses to spite their face to 'prove' that they should be allowed to 'free wheel' (unsustainably) rather than, finally, responsibly agreeing that a two-way commitment is required for success.

    Randy seems to have gotten the best out of the roster early in the season(s) by recognizing a stubborn crew that has no desire to mature in the game, so when things tighten up defensively as the season progresses, the inevitable happens and the losing begins.

    It feels like we're dealing with entitled kids who expect to be proven right, when everyone with an ounce of experience and observational skills can see what they need to do. Yet, like petulant children, they are 'making the team pay' for requiring some mature defensive responsibility by failing offensively.

    I doubt this is a conscious decision per se, but I'm having a hard time with the thought that there's nothing whatever to this 'feeling', especially when outside new guys (like Winnick and Robidas) seem to have identified this very concept, not to mention Steve Spott's surprise that Kessel wouldn't buy in to his break out schemes. Seems to be a source of the befuddlement expressed by Carlyle...

    This would appear to be prevalent 'at the core' - hence, the realization that 'changes, they are a' coming'.

    1. As I was reading over your comments, InTimeFor62, what struck me was this: this feels like a group that likes playing hockey when they are allowed to play the way they want to play. When the tedious chore of having to do what a coach wants them to do (play a certain system, finish their checks, be responsible defensively, do all the little things needed to win, etc.) gets in the way, they aren't quite so interested.

      You mention the 'core'- many believe nothing will change until that core is largely gone.

    2. You've captured exactly what I was trying to express, Michael, thanks for facilitating the thought process (not to mention Jim and others who fostered the thought process over the last few days)!

      It would appear that the departure of 'core' pieces will likely (or potentially) 'complete' the development/maturity process for some of these guys (not unlike JVR's departure from Philly benefited us), I just hope that such value is factored in to any trades, so we can prosper with whomever we receive. It seems inevitable that others will benefit from our patience and present need to 'shake things up'...

  3. Hi Michael,
    I've been following the Leafs since being a child during their championship years in the sixties. The biggest noticeable failure since then has been drafting and player development. The Seventies and Eighties had only a couple of stars internally developed, such as Sittler, Macdonald and Clarke. Also the Leafs have made a habit of trading picks and some good young players, like Carlyle and Vaive.
    Only the past couple of years have they stopped trading high draft picks and started developing players in earnest. I think the leafs did ok raising Kadri, he's got hi 5on5 numbers. Others developing well are Conner Brown, Antoine Bibeau, Frederik Gauthier, Andreas Johnson, Victor Loov and possibly William Nylander.
    With Dubas and Hunter handling player development, both with good records in junior hockey, perhaps this process will improve. Question is do they need a new chief scout?
    Also, they need a new GM who won't sign bonehead contracts like Clarkson's or who will deal picks away for expiring contracts, like Bolland's.
    I'm in agreement to trading the older core, too. Get something for Phaneuf, Kessel, Bozak and Lupul. Prospects and picks and young roster players will help with the rebuild.

    1. Like you, AJ, I recall the days of yore and the Leafs sometimes struggling to develop their own players, unlike the Habs, who were generally very good at it. (You mention Carlyle- I remember how he was just coming into his own with the Leafs as a young defenseman, but management felt they needed someone like Dave Burrows to get them further in the playoffs. Burrows was a fine player, but didn't really have an impact here at the end of the Neilson/Gregory era.)

      The Leafs do have some prospects to keep an eye on, but the cycle of impatience has to be broken somehow. It's tough to do in this market. Thanks AJ.

    2. Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your feedback.
      I do think that getting value in trading the core is important. Mr. Masai has accomplished minor wonders in his trades with the Raptors, for instance:
      A) In the Bargniani trade he got picks, unloaded a bad contract and helped resolve culture issues all at once,
      B) In the Rudy Gay trade he got helpful pieces and solved a misfit issue at the same time.
      I think a good hockey GM could pull a Rudy Gay trade for either/both Kessel and Phanuef. These two guys have talent but don't fit right with the Leafs.
      Unfortunately I don't think Mr. Nonis is the guy who can pull this off.
      I'm also concerned that Shanahan perhaps has not the abilities to get a GM who can do it either. His delay tactics seem to be backfiring unless he deliberately wants a shot at drafting McDavid/Eichel by the Leafs tanking.

    3. While I'm far from a basketball guy, from a distance I've noted the Raptors situation, AJ. You're right that the Raptors traded a highly talented individual and have been more of a team ever since (along with other improvements that helped along the way, as you note).

      Whether the Leafs can seek a similar tonic, I don't know. But they sure seem to need an infusion of 'will' and leaders who will inspire everyone to work harder than they they'd probably like to.

  4. Hi Michael.

    This is a team that has depended heavily on Kessel and the top line scoring and great goal-tending. That's something we've all known for years and nothing has changed. Any drop in goal-tending alone would have been a problem. What's happening now, while spectacular in the worst way possible, is not the reason Shanahan needs to look at rebuilding this team. He needs to do it because it's never been done properly. The losing streak and the loss of confidence just makes the evaluation of players more difficult. Again we could go back to your question--who steps up? Who can lead the team out of the bog they are in? Who'd have thought it might just be the youngest player on the team, Rielly?

    The Leafs are carrying an unheard-of shooting percentage of around 3 where the lowest teams are normally around 7%. Bernier's save percentage is below .900 for the month of January. Injuries have been a problem, not just with players on IR but with many that are playing through them. Kessel doesn't miss the net--there's something more going on there than a lack of confidence, Lupul admits he's not 100%, Komorov, Kadri, Robidas.... The two most disappointing players for me during this period have been JVR and Bozak because I'm pretty sure they are healthy. Had the Leafs been winning during this period it wouldn't change the fact that this is not a team capable of going very far without an enormous amount of luck. That the PP has fallen off isn't surprising--they aren't gaining the zone cleanly, no one is going to the net, no one is screening, everyone is staying to the outside. This is the one area, besides goal-tending, where confidence may be a factor and why I liked Holland in the last game.

    I don't regret Randy being gone in the least and this latest collapse started before he was gone. The one winning streak the Leafs enjoyed was the result of good goal-tending and almost impossible shooting percentages and had little to do with coaching. I like what Horachuk has done so far. The shots against are down, the shots for are exactly the same. The Leafs are playing better defensively, they are moving the puck out of their zone with greater success, and they are caught in their zone less often. If they were winning right now, we'd be overjoyed with these very early results, as coaches claim a new system takes 20-25 games to instill. Randy complained he couldn't get the team to play better defensively but, though we've seen a few games where they've slipped back to the old style, Horachuk really does have them playing better hockey. I like his approach and what he has done in a small amount of time.

    I believe the slump is an anomaly, just as the winning streaks have been and these collapses aren't really the mystery they're made out to be. This is a team where the one thing going wrong is all it takes to send them into a tail-spin. A bubble team with a few good pieces but without depth or cap space. Exactly what Shanahan thought it was when he arrived. The question is whether he will start
    the re-building process immediately by moving out contacts now or if he waits for the deadline. I think Shanahan begins the process in earnest this coming week.

    1. We've mostly noticed Shanahan when it came to making changes at the assistant GM and assistant coach levels. And you're no doubt correct, Colleen, that we will soon see what Shanahan is really thinking. He will be making big decisions, presumably, very soon.

  5. Something needs to be done about this tanking business. The Leafs are tanking right now in order to begin a yet another rebuild with a high draft pick in the upcoming draft. The fans get to watch bad hockey and their favourite players leaving town and instead of cheering for their team they are now cheering against it.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: Shanny and the stats boys will not allow this team to win. Carlyle had the team in the playoff spot and he got fired for it. Horachek was given the instructions to kill the offence and he's been doing an amazing job of it. If, despite this, the players start scoring again and winning games the 'culprits' will be traded for draft picks. This team will not be allowed to make the playoffs and we'll be forced to watch Habs going for it again in the postseason while the remaining Leafs are going to be dumped on for playing golf.

    I cannot get behind this agenda. How a league that is presumably in the business of making money (and the media owned TMLSE) is forcing it's most profitable franchise to give up millions of dollars in revenue by intentionally running Leafs into the ground is beyond me.

    When the team was scoring and winning I would clear my schedule to watch the games, I travelled to Ottawa and Toronto to see them play and made plans to travel to states to watch them. Now, I watch movies instead and I'm dating women that don't care for hockey on game nights. And I sure as hell won't be buying the jerseys of the players that could be traded tomorrow. I'm sure I'm not the only one. How come NHL and TMLSE don't care for my hundreds if not thousands of dollars?

    Can someone explain this to me? Don't you guys feel ripped off and slighted in the slightest? How dare they destroy this playoffs-bound team and how dare we let them?

    There's nothing wrong with trading pending UFAs and older players on the decline for young prospects and draft picks, but we're going way beyond that. We're intentionally tanking. And it's not just us - half of the league is tanking - half of the leagues is racing to the bottom - the teams are playing to lose and fans are cheering the losses. Why is this allowed? Rewarding failure in competitive sports? This is a joke. And it's on us.

    1. I know your feelings on this, leafdreamer, and I can appreciate that this is frustrating. Players never tank (half of them may not be here anyway when saviour draft picks actually make a difference...and their professional pride wouldn't allow it, anyway) but an organization can certainly make moves that create a situation where it is difficult to win.

      As I mentioned to Colleen, we should soon see what Shanahan is thinking.

    2. michael, i think leafdreamer may very well be on to something... i'm not sure if he developed the leaf-tanking conspiracy on his own, but either way, bravo! the leafs under carlyle were doing leaps and bounds better than since his departure. meanwhile, leafs management has been quiet as a mouse.
      there is about a snowball's chance in hell that the leafs will secure mcdavid or eichel, but at this pace of losing, who knows! i certainly thought differently in the final couple of weeks of 2014 than i do now.
      along the same lines, the action on the ice has becoming far less interesting/entertaining compared to the whispers and murmers that are escaping from behind closed doors... will the leafs make a huge splash for the trade-deadline? are they going to wait until the draft? the summertime? regardless, i think we'll be in for a show. in the meantime, much like leafdreamer, i've tuned out the leafs (watching them is brutal) and have been out there dating non-hockey women... who knew! haha. cheers michael.

  6. That was a fantastic post, Michael, dismal (go figure!) but realistic in terms of being an accurate assessment of the roster, overall. You were spot on by saying that as fans, we look for "isolated positives" in every game, admiring a solid performance by Rielly, in an attempt to have a cup-half-full approach to analyzing the Leafs. I also admire that you went against the grain, and offered a shoutout to Caryle, Wilson and Maurice, which is never popular in this town. We always seem to need our sacrificial lamb in Toronto, out with the old and in with the new, then repeat the same process, like the directions on a shampoo bottle.

    I presently believe that we have a major problem with the core players, not specifically talent related, but just a bunch of hockey players that are all prone to massive inconsistency in their games, and it bleeds through the entire roster. Every NHL player has off nights, but this particular group goes on hot and cold stretches that see calendar pages get turned, and they have for four years now. Character and consistent work ethic needs to come from your elite core, not depth pieces and 4th liners. The fact that we pat Komarov on the back for his endless effort is great, but also ultimately part of the problem. On the great NHL teams, it's Toews, Doughty and Getzlaf being recognized for their efforts. The tail can't wag the dog, and all success will start with the elite core.

    That "youngest team in the NHL" statement that Leafs management trumpeted a few years ago was a clever ruse, in that being young means nothing if the youth movement aren't the quality pieces you need going forward.

    I really hope Shanahan isn't a deer in headlights right now, but his complete silence offers worries that he doesn't have any sort of long term plan in place to build this roster. I would have preferred that they had given Brendan a more applicable role with the Leafs, offering the same gargantuan salary to him, but having his role be more player-centric as opposed to being a suit. He has a heck of a lot to offer the roster in terms of advice (and reprimands) about their day-to-day play, but we're spinning a roulette wheel assuming that Shanahan has the pedigree to steer the entire ship. So far, not so good. Director of Player Development would have made a lot more sense.

    The most crucial next step has to be the selection of a competent General Manager, with a track record of success under the Cap system, and a history of hiring and running an elite scouting department. Most if these gentlemen are presently employed, but all of us work for money, and we might entice a real quality GM with a few truck loads of money and glistening jewels. Bottom line is that Babcock will be irrelevant, if he gets brought in here as Head Coach, but all the other monkey business going on with the management group continues to exist. Right now, the management group can be defined as "a bunch of guys hired by other guys", which will only get worse once Tim Leiweke loads up the jewel encrusted U-haul, and moves out of town shortly.

  7. I enjoyed your post, as always, Russ. Sometimes particular views we have may be a bit contrarian, but fortunately here at VLM we foster that kind of discussion in a respectful manner.

    It's s true, we are thrilled when our role players play with heart, but great teams are led by their great players, as you well note, when it comes to setting the effort example.

    I'm not sure anyone knows yet if Shanahan is in the right job. I guess we'll see.

  8. I agree with Leafdreamer that the worst teams are rewarded with the highest picks and teams just stop competing--mostly because they don't have the players to do it. There is nothing for fans during a re-build.

    How much better would it be if the higher placed teams just out of the playoffs had an equal or better chance? Teams would remain competitive through the season. It would change how teams approach the March deadline with trades being made with the incentive to still stay competitive. The drawback might be more FAs leaving for free and testing the market, but a flooded market might also bring down salaries which would make cap management a whole lot easier. Some players might re-sign a reasonable contract with their old teams just to avoid Free-agency entirely.

    I don't think the Leafs are in full tank mode--no one's been moved yet--and I don't know whether we will see that in Toronto but they are realizing that they don't have the right pieces or enough depth to compete when injuries happen and goal-tending and shooting percentages drop. They also don't have the size to compete with teams like L.A. who can still grind out a win when they're not scoring. The Leafs can't get better without moving contracts for cap space but there are a few players probably moving that I hate to lose.

    1. Colleen and Leafdreamer got me thinking about an idea that has been rattling around in my head. I often wonder why the league doesn't have a post-season 'also ran' tournament both to keep the fan base engaged (and in their seats bringing in more revenue) and to reward the teams that keep competing all the way up to and through the tournament.

      There would be no Stanley Cup at the end, but the final positioning could determine the lottery percentages with the winner getting the highest percentage (or, at least, a significant improvement over the current method) and so on down the line. Last place in the tournament = last draft position... first = first position.

      This would also expose the players that only want high salaries and an early summer... I have also hoped for a management arbitration system that could be invoked to vary or terminate a non/low-performing contract. Perhaps the NHLPA would accept a counter-offer of full contract payout to the player or assigning the difference into a fund for retired players, in either case, allowing a release of cap dollars for re-assignment.

      For example, in the first scenario, say David Clarkson doesn't like the expectations that the contract brings any more than management (who are experiencing 'buyer's remorse') and the two mutually terminate the 5.25 M AAV contract, pay the difference into the player (or 2nd scenario, the general) retirement fund and then re-sign him to the same term (or less) for, say, 1M. I think people would like Clarkson at 1M... and temper their expectations accordingly, where time on the 4th line would no longer anchor a team to its buying errors.

      If the NHLPA could accept that underperforming players shouldn't be rewarded for poor play, then they may well like the general retirement fund idea. That way the contracts are still 'guaranteed' but not rewarding a Semin, Clarkson type player for whatever reason.

      Of course, significant injuries could be guaranteed, while specifically correcting the cap hit. Everyone knows that Pronger will never play another NHL game, so why not do the same thing to remove the contract from cap machinations necessary to circumvent the problem. The teams of players like Booth could also have benefitted from a post concussion reduction to match their reduced effectiveness, yet still receive the guaranteed pay.

      Just feel like there's room to create intentional solutions where circumvention and crises now exist!

    2. Good idea, InTimeFor62, and that would be a highly watched and anticipated tournament. It would create buzz in the basement of the league, and offer the ability for a team to play their way out of the hole they've created for themselves.... a final shot at redemption, and the future. Not to mention a pile of extra bucks generated by the mini-tournament, as you mentioned. A Toronto/Buffalo "QEW series" for McDavid would just be something else.

      An even more extreme example of this is the soccer Premier League relegation system, where the lowest team gets cast off into a lower league, and has to earn their way back to the upper echelon. Now there's motivation. Unfortunately it doesn't work for the NHL, since the AHL consists of farm teams for the big clubs, so there's an obvious conflict of interest there. If you look like you're going to finish last, just ship all your top talent to the farm team in the hopes of winning the AHL crown, and getting invited back up anyways.

      With regards to player contracts, I wish they were a lot more performance based, with lower base salaries, and a healthy bonus structure built in. It essentially allows a player to set his own salary based on his numbers, and not just goals and assists, but also plus/minus and a handful of other relevant stats tossed in to avoid every player adopting the "me me me!" mentality to playing the game. Allow teams to exceed the Cap if players meet their bonus clauses, but within a fairly tight set of rules, so the Cap still remains relevant, and you can't just sign Sidney Crosby to $900K a year to avoid the Cap.

      I also wonder though if there's more than a few sour grapes coming from us Leaf fans based on a lot of these types of suggestions. Smartly run teams like Nashville, Chicago and St. Louis are likely to just say "get lost" when safety valves get introduced to help bail out error-riddled NHL squads. I can see a team like Nashville being considerably irked at any suggestion that lets big money teams wiggle their way out of dumb signings, where the Preds were financially obligated to make all the right decisions the first time around.

      I've been doing a lot of head shaking lately, comparing us to Montreal, as these marketplaces are very similar. A storied legacy....yup. High profile marketplace... you betcha. The Canadiens even have (had) a similar coach to Carlyle in Therrien, in that he's old school and not particularly buddy-buddy with the players, yet they seem to be able to make the dynamic work in Montreal. The tail wags the dog too often in the Toronto hockey market, where player indifference habitually leads to management and coaches getting tossed to the curb every few years, then the cycle gets repeated, ad nauseum.

      I just fear that we have a lot of these rule change conversations, because the Leafs are the Leafs. This team needs a modern day version of Pat Quinn to impose his will both in the boardroom (bored-room?), and on the ice.

    3. Thanks for the feedback, Russ, I am glad you mentioned the lower/responsible cap teams who might complain. If we realize that the Leafs could also take on those teams contractual mistakes it would just create a bit more transparency in my opinion. The Leafs (Habs and Rangers) already subsidize the league, so why not allow them to do so in a trade scenario that benefits both teams (rather than assuming that the Leafs/richer teams would be the only ones to benefit).

      Perhaps a limit of one such resolution trade per year per team could be incorporated into the mix so that the whole landscape wouldn't change as dramatically as one team could impose with a number of such trades (that would bring back a pick, prospect or other asset to the team paying off the contract).

      It would also create a market for the horrible contract players that might put downward pressure on the cost of removing the contract (because the other rich teams would have to compete (i.e. willing to take less of an asset to resolve the contract problem) with the other rich teams. I feel like there's something to all this that could contribute more to fan interest in trades, etc.

    4. Here's something that has been rattling around in my brain for a while.

      The MAIN area I think the Leafs need to throw truck loads of money at is scouting.
      I don't think the Leafs have every scouted properly - even when they had their on-ice
      success back when most of us were knee high to a grasshopper. In fact, the last time
      the Leafs had any on-ice success was when they had a protected territory from which
      they could draw on players - no scouting skill required.

      Even though I know it will never happen, I would like to see this idea of protected
      territories brought back. That way players from around the area of the NHL team
      would get funneled towards the team they probably grew up fans of and the team
      would get first crack at talent coming up though whatever minor hockey leagues
      existed close to them.

      Talk about an incentive for NHL teams to help grow grass roots hockey near them
      and for local fans to root for "home-grown" talent!


  9. I'm beginning to believe, based on self-examination, that we Leaf fans are expert at deceiving ourselves - and letting ourselves be deceived! In my current glass-empty view of our team and organization, the problems confronting us seem manifold.
    1) Without passionate ownership, it's almost impossible for a team to win a championship. I can't think of any major league that has won, with corporate ownership.
    2) A team needs experienced management. The "show" is not where to be serve your internship as a CEO or COO or President. That would be as silly as a Coach trying to change a team's playing style in the middle of the season! Oh...
    3) A team needs proven leadership in the dressing room. It doesn't matter how it's achieved, but it's got to be there. For a few years now, many of us have commented on the fact that Leafs just don't seem to have each other's backs. They're curiously disengaged from each other.

    There are other issues at play, to be sure. Bad puck luck, yes, but none of the lines seem to be on the same page these days. We still don't go to the front of the net. We don't seem to "want" it. And we have some bad contracts that are currently hobbling any significant future acquisitions, but I suppose almost every team has those. It seems Management still hasn't shaken off our old short-term, "quick-fix" thinking from back in the day, and I think it's obvious that with the Leafs, there is no quick fix. I can't stand the thought of another five-year "rebuild" - we're still in Year 4 of the old one, aren't we? - but I don't see any other solution. We need at least a new GM, who can then choose his coach, and hopefully they'll be on the same page as the President.

    And then we wait...

    1. Well said, Gerund- Leaf fans are nothing if not patient.

    2. Good post, Gerund. It seems like we're actually bogged down in a decade long rebuild, that's been shared by an endless short term presence of a variety of GMs and coaches, none of whom got the job done, or got their tenure cut short before their plan could come to fruition.

      Everyone gets giddy and puts on the rose coloured glasses, the second a GM or coach becomes yesterday's news, and a new fresh faced fellow gets brought into the mix. We're about to play that worn out narrative one more time, when Nonis and Horachek get tossed to the curb and the cycle repeats itself. New suits will chair big press conferences, pleading for patience, claiming they're in "evaluation mode", and that this current mess obviously doesn't belong to them. Pick the right guys next time around, Brendan.

      Maybe the indifference of the ownership group is the true culprit here, as you've stated, Gerund. The owners have the biggest gifts that one can bestow on a sports franchise..... a massive marketplace, a guaranteed fan base regardless of the on-ice product quality, and gigantic revenue that can be used as a tool to entice the best scouts, management and coaching staff that the game has to offer. It's a real head-scratcher that the combination of all these assets continually produces zero results.

      You're spot-on in assessing the need to retool the management group in a way that doesn't need a flow-chart to see who hired who, and where going forward, the top dog (Shanahan, assuming he's still around) is responsible for ALL the major management and coaching figures going forward. Since the ownership group is invisible, fans and media need a 'the buck stops here' type of guy. It Brendan showed his face the odd time these days, I'd have more respect for his willingness to endure the heat.

      I actually don't get sick to my stomach at the thought of yet another (properly executed, this time) 5-year rebuild, for one reason. With this current roster, for the first time in a while I don't feel much of an emotional attachment, so the idea of shipping a pile of them out and starting fresh doesn't tug at the heart strings, at least for me. As a die hard Leafs fan, I used to have such an emotional investment in the roster, even for guys that were suffering from poor seasons, as there was a desire to really pull for them. There's a level of indifference with this squad that doesn't make me care enough about the names on the back of the sweaters, going forward.

      Your dressing room leadership gripe is also well stated, but not easily solved. Nobody is going to trade you a ready-made elite captain, so that has to be found through the drafting process, and carefully nurtured until he has the natural ability and experience to lead the group. In some cases you get lucky and land a Jonathan Toews, who's mature beyond his years and can bring skill, work ethic and high expectations almost immediately. Failing that sort of miracle, I guess we'll need to compile high draft picks, and wait for one of them to float to the top, over time.

  10. Michael, here I am going off the topic again, but I read an interesting article about the importance of having the right sort of players on a young team who can teach them what it takes to succeed. It was about the Oilers but they might as well have been talking about the Leafs.

    Young players honestly think they are playing hard but don't know there's always another gear. They don't know what it takes to win. The Oilers have never had those players and neither have the Leafs and it's not something most players usually learn on their own. ( Connor Brown may be the exception here.) It's not enough to have veterans in the line-up, or playoff experience (the Leafs have tried to add that with Bolland, Clarkson) it has to be a certain type player like Santorelli, Winnick, Polak, Robidas, even Komorov, who play every shift the same way and every game like it's the most important game of the year.

    We can see the effect they've had on some of the younger players like Kadri, Rielly, even Holzer. They make things happen when they're on the ice, they make their line-mates better. I don't know if they have as big an effect on the older players. From what I've seen lately, probably not.

    1. Hi Alex- I don't think anyone forecast the Leafs would struggle this badly with a new coach. Teams often play well for a while and win a lot before falling back into old habits.

    2. Hello Michael,

      What happened during the Carolina game told me everything I need to know about this Leaf team.

      The couple of times Phaneuf was hung out to dry by his team mates when the Carolina players were chasing him around the ice and when that slap shot was fired at him without any response from his team mates were, in my eyes, unbelievable examples of just how dysfunctional this team has become.

      Anyone who has played any team sport knows, even if you hate your team mate, that in the kind of situations described above that there has to be some kind of push back.

      The fact there was none tells me Phaneuf must be moved!


    3. As I've mentioned here before, Wayne, my thought is a team needs good leaders- and good followers, too.

  11. I don't really have answers and clearly they really had me fooled earlier this year with the ten game win streak. Who could have seen this coming? I thought adding Santorelli, Winnik, Komorov and Booth gave them some bottom six depth which the lack of was supposedly the reason for last season's collapse. This season the collapse is earlier and even worse. It does seem to me that they have had unbelievably bad luck over the last few months and have sometimes looked totally confused on the ice which makes me think they are not as bad as it appears. You have to think eventually things will turn around.

    The Leafs need a good manager and some good scouts. From what I understand Mark Hunter is a good talent evaluator so it could be the scouting is already improved. Burke made a few good deals but a lot more bad ones like Kessel and Komisarek. Nonis is not any better and I don't like a lot of the contracts Nonis has handed out, especially the Clarkson one which everyone except Nonis thought was a bad one. It reminds me of the Jason Blake signing where Blake's one good season made him a fortune. Lupul is also making a lot given he is always injured. I realize Phaneuf and Kessel were UFA's so the Leafs had to pay them to keep them but it does look now like a better option would have been to trade them rather than handcuff the team with the salary cap. Good management would know who to sign and who to trade. With better management the Leafs would not be where they are and probably have some good skilled character players instead of Phaneuf and Kessel.

    I guess I have finally given up on them for this season as tonight was the first Leaf game this I could have watched but didn't even bother. I did actually watch part of the Raptor game. It is pretty sad that the season is already over with thirty meaningless games left.

    Hopefully they keep losing and I will be pulling for the Oilers tomorrow night. Trading off a few of the UFA's should help make the team even worse which unfortunately is the only way to make them better down the road.

    It would be nice to see the Leafs win the lottery and get Connor McDavid or even finish low enough to get a good big center like Dylan Strome. Unfortunately I doubt it will happen as the Leafs are not a bottom five team and this Leaf team will start winning but it will be a little too late for the playoffs and will end up hurting the draft position. Good management with better drafting and proper player development will eventually turn the team around but it will take time.

    1. While there were certainly questions around the team heading into this season, I think a lot of us thought we had goaltending, some skill and, as you mentioned, a pretty solid bottom six, Alton. When the team was winning, some (including myself at times) felt they weren't far off from at least being in contention in the East. Now, like yourself, many fans aren't even tuning in.

  12. I think the 2012/13 Leafs was the most promising team I had seen for quite some time. They were quite young, all about the same age, were a close-knit group and, for the most part, competed well and were fun to watch.

    Everything management and the coaching staff has done since then has been disastrous.

    A coach who openly admitted to being in a constant state of bafflement and never took a smidgen of blame for how his team performed, who was given two solid young goalies and messed them up so badly, neither is performing close to his ability.

    A GM who tried to give the coach what he wanted and has no clue why it didn't work, who gave away talent to buy grit, and thought bringing back players from the 2013 team would solve everything until Shanahan stopped him.

    An Assistant GM who managed to write a contract so immovable it may go down in NHL as the worst ever and who, it appears, lacked the most basic math skills needed to manage a cap.

    The fans are beyond angry, we're apathetic as are many of the players who have been with the Leafs the longest. The confusion continues with how the goalies are managed--Horachuk embarrassed the heck out of a goalie who has actually been playing well lately, replaced him with an injured goalie (whose save percentage - .898 since Dec.-hasn't been close to just okay) mid-period in a game that they were winning. Throwing Reimer back in Friday immediately after knocking him down was plain bad thinking in my mind.-0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000kkmmmmmmmmmmm
    ( Please pardon Michael the cat walking on my keyboard and adding his own opinion. He agrees with me.)

    I don't think you can fix all the mistakes of the past two+ years and I doubt Shanahan thinks so either. He may need to start over and if he can do it right, I'm all for it. I just can't watch a game and cheer for a loss. I just can't.

  13. "This is a playoff team." - James Reimer