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Looking at a hopeful Maple Leaf future while checking in on some ex-Leafs in the playoffs…

Leaf supporters are a hardy lot, obviously.  And for now, they have every right to be hopeful—and optimistic.  The Leafs have a roster with a few youngsters who already have shown they can play, like Morgan Rielly and of course Nylander. They also have Connor Brown, Mitch Marner and some other intriguing prospects in the pipeline.

As we all know, they have a lot of draft picks stockpiled heading into next month (and in the next couple of NHL drafts) so they will have ample opportunities to find a hidden gem along the way.  Throw in the fact that they actually select first overall in the upcoming June entry draft, and it all feels pretty good.  They have a shrewd management team in place and a top coach, too.

The challenge is: they still need players. Will all the aforementioned “kids” become stars?  Difference makers? Or will some just become replaceable parts, like so many in the Leaf system before them?

I know many fans are upbeat these days about the future, and understandably so. But when you watch the NHL playoffs, you realize just how big a gap there is between a roster like the Leafs have—even with all their “potential” and the youngsters in the pipeline—and clubs that know what it takes to compete at the highest levels in the month of May, and who are actually already doing it right now, not just talking about what they might be able to do some day.

The Leafs might well be getting better soon, but that may not be enough in the next couple of years.


Some playoff thoughts:

I was pulling for Bruce Boudreau in these playoffs, and was hoping his Ducks could get to the Conference finals. He’s a guy I’ve always liked. Seems to be a pretty straight shooter, relates well to players and has done an exceptional job, really, with both the Capitals and the Ducks. He earned his way to an NHL job, too, after working in the minor leagues for several years.  The fatal flaw is that, for whatever reason, his teams have not been able to get to the finals or win a championship.  Sometimes unfairly, when the players don’t deliver, we put it on the coach.  He’s landed nicely in Minnesota after being let go by General Manager Bob Murray after the team's latest playoff disappointment.  But I thought this might have been his (and Anaheim’s) year.

I remember Boudreau as a Toronto Marlie back in the early 1970s.  I saw him play junior hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens for former Leaf great George Armstrong, then the Marlie coach.  Boudreau was a skilled offensive player as a junior, but not a big, dominant kind of player.  (Off the top of my head, here are names I seem to recall from some of those Marlie teams:  Paulin Bordeleau, big Bob Dailey, Mark and Marty Howe, Mike Palmateer. I should remember some other names, as well; that was a really, really good junior squad…)

Boudreaux was drafted by the Leafs in the summer of 1975 after his junior career was over, but I recall quite vividly that  he was really ticked that his Peterborough Petes rival, Doug Jarvis was actually selected ahead of him by the Maple Leafs.  I remember some comments he made via the Toronto media. (I’d have to check and see what rounds they were chosen; my vague recollection is that Jarvis was selected in the second round, Boudreau in the third.) The Leafs ended up sending Jarvis to Montreal in a summertime trade before he ever wore the blue and white.  Boudreau said at the time he had outplayed Jarvis as a junior, and felt he should have been drafted higher.

Unfortunately, Bruce’s NHL career never fully took off.  I remember he would be called up to the Leafs on occasion and he would flash on offense from time to time, but never stuck.  Without looking it up, I’ll hazard a guess that he didn’t register 20 goals in the NHL.  But he had a long and solid AHL career. Jarvis, meanwhile, was a stud defensive center for the hated Habs (usually playing with Bob Gainey and Jimmy Roberts), a key cornerstone player for Scotty Bowman as a smart, solid fourth-line center on four Montreal championship squads in the mid and late 1970s.


I don’t think former Leaf netminder James Reimer has seen the ice for the Sharks as they gear up to take on the tough St. Louis Blues in the NHL semi-finals. But I would enjoy seeing the popular former Leaf get a shot at helping San Jose advance. It feels, though, that this might finally be St. Louis’ year. Barring an injury or a coach’s decision to give the team a jolt if San Jose loses the first two or three games, I don’t think Reimer (who played quite well for the Sharks since his trade from the Leafs) will get that shot.


I have not seen enough of what the Penguins have done in the playoffs to know if Phil Kessel is the “same” player he was at his best in Toronto, and whether he has morphed into a more all-over-the-ice kind of player. Some VLM reader can perhaps share their thoughts on his play. 

We all remember Kessel was a bit of a lightning rod figure with Toronto. For years we debated whether the big trade with Boston was a good deal.  It doesn’t matter any more.  There is no question Kessel was a dynamic offensive talent. And while he struggled against his old Bruin team for a time, he came to life when Boston met the Leafs in the playoffs a few years back and had some very good moments. 

Unfortunately, by the end of the 2014-'15 season, he, like most Leafs, didn’t seem to have a lot of interest in what the Leafs were doing and to an extent, you can’t blame him.  I was sometimes critical of Kessel during his time here—but mostly because I wondered about his overall dedication when he sometimes declined to play for Team U.S.A. at the World championships at the end of the regular season. A lot of other NHLers players were also banged up and tired and they still played. Maybe that wasn’t fair on my part, I don’t know.

Regardless, he seems to be a central figure in what the Penguins are doing.  Whether they make it to the finals, we’ll see. But I’m sort of pulling for him. Are other Leaf fans, I wonder?


Roman Polak has quietly helped the Sharks make it to the semi-finals.  He’s playing about 17 minutes a night.  We all recognized that he was a tough, team-first player during his time with the Maple Leafs.  And it’s often the case that we fans don’t, however, fully appreciate his kind of gritty player until they have an opportunity to play in a situation where their “small plays” and determined effort make a difference on a good team. He’s in that environment in San Jose and appears to be thriving.  Good for him.  (Importantly, he has only accumulated three minor penalties in 12 playoff games—that’s something for a defenseman.  And two of those penalties meant nothing—they were off-setting roughing penalties at the end of a playoff game against Nashville.)


A different type of player but playing a similar kind of role in St. Louis is another recent ex-Leaf a lot of us appreciated, Carl Gunnarsson.  Gunner was a steady if unspectacular (as the saying goes) rearguard for the blue and white for several years.  He never quite found the offensive game I thought he might here, but he also played through a number of injuries.  He’s been a useful addition to Ken Hitchcocks’s blueline corps—playing 17 minutes a night and still a plus player (plus 3) after two long, grueling playoff series for the Blues.


I know this goees back a long way, but maybe the one guy who feels like the “Leaf who got away” and is still awfully good (and still in the playoffs) is Alex Steen.  We all remember him as a young player with the Leafs. (I recall a gorgeous goal he scored with Toronto on the road one year, I believe it was either in Winnipeg or Edmonton—I'm still not sure how he got the puck from his feet to his stick before tucking it upstairs…) But Cliff Fletcher traded him, along with Carlo Colaiacovo as part of the organization moving players they thought were, at the time, part of the  "entitlement” culture. That was the first of many efforts to try to “change the culture” here.

I have no idea whether Steen ever was an entitled young player here (hey, it does happen, I get it; young player can be exasperating for management who invest a lot in their development…) but he’s been a very solid, impactful all-around player for years in St. Louis. He continues to contribute for Hitchcock at both ends of the ice.  He seems like exactly the kind of consistent, committed player that Leafs are trying to attract now and build with for the future. He's 32 years of age now, but if you were able to acquire a player like Steen at, say, 27 or so, he’d be gold for this emerging roster.


I hope we get a chance to see former Leaf Anton Stralman fight his way back from a lingering injury for the Lightning before the playoffs are over. He's played a lot of playoff games for the Rangers and Tampa over the last four seasons but he has not been able to help out in the playoffs so far this spring.


I’ve been on and off the Alex Ovechkin bandwagon for years.  He’s such an exciting player. And I do hope he helps the Capitals win a Cup at some point.  Some of us briefly wondered about his commitment and passion two or three seasons ago, but he has demonstrated he still loves the game and plays his heart out. He deserves a better fate, in terms of playoff success.  I also appreciate the fact that this guy never misses an opportunity to represent his country. Once again, within hours of the Caps being eliminated, he was on a plane back to Russia to play in the World Championships.  Hockey will always need guys like that. The Leafs certainly do.


  1. Good to see you posting on the future of the Leafs, Michael! I'm enjoying the opportunity to watch some of the prospects during the AHL playoff run and have been especially impressed with Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Soshnikov (when he's in the lineup... meaning I wonder if his body can cash the cheques he's signing). Young William Nylander seems a little off his end-of-season play (and he did miss time with some kind of sickness), yet his creativity and shot are tantalizing. The same can be said regarding Mitch Marner and I'm hopeful he is afforded the opportunity to be 'over-ripe' in his physical development before we reward his obvious skill, creativity and work ethic.

    I remember the (above) kind of hope percolating when Bruce Boudreau was called up in the 70's (I seem to recall he may have worn #17 or 19, is that correct?). He seemed a bit small at the time and I feel that Brendan Leipsic may be a similar player in the current era. Of course, I never minded that the Leafs selected Doug Jarvis because he's another cousin (I really did wish he could have stuck with the Leafs instead of ending up in Montreal and Washington).

    I agree with your assessment of the Reimer situation, believing the Sharks really wanted James as an experienced capable backup who wouldn't create problems in the mix (ahead of Stalock) knowing that he would be a positive influence however he may be utilized on the ice. Polak and Spaling have been helpful contributors on the ice.

    I haven't seen a lot of the Pens games, but Phil seems to have ramped things up a bit for the playoffs (I guess he didn't have a lot of opportunity to show that with the leafs, eh!). I have seen some back-checking and more grit than seen in the regular season. He seems well-placed in a secondary role and is having some success this year (of course, I do wonder how many years he will continue to produce).

    With the progress made on re-shaping the Leafs I am more hopeful for the future than I was throughout this past season (fool me twice... shame on me) primarily because we've 'seen it all before', yet this year seems like it is different and I'm more optimistic than I've been in quite a while... But, as they say, "The proof is in the pudding".

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts again, Michael.

    1. The Marlies do indeed have some young players who may well be significant contributors to the big club in the near future, InTimeFor62. Time will tell how many have a major impact.

      I can't recall off-hand what number Boudreau wore back in the day. I remember a breakaway goal he scored for the Leafs, as well as a goal at the old Forum, I think it was. But I'm not sure about his number!

      Thanks for visiting, InTimeFor62.

  2. Hi Michael. I'm glad to hear your views of the former Maple Leafs and how they are doing so far. I feel like these players, especially James Reimer and Alex Steen are still part of the Leaf family.

    I am very much aligned with InTimeFor62's optimistic view of how the team is being run these days.

    Even though I've been fooled many times before, my gut is telling me that this rebuild is more promising.

    My memory of Bruce Boudreau goes back to my university days of the late 70's. I met another student young lady there who seemed to like me and bragged that her former boyfriend was in fact, Bruce.

    I remember feeling both awstruck and at the same time,loyal to him. I avoided any further advances from her as a result. Who else other than a life long Leaf fan could possibly have such a reaction?

    1. Hi drgreg- I think part of being a fan is the enjoyment that stems from looking back at the teams and players that you followed earlier on. Reiner and Steen are two good ex-Leafs to remember, for sure.

      Your Leaf loyalty was strong even back in the day!

  3. Ironically enough Bruce Boudreau and our old friend Phil had a lot in common. Both were exceptional offensive talents but didn't bring a lot else to their team. Bruce wasn't exactly known as a bastion of fitness either, not that a lot were back in the day, but he always seemed to carry a bit more weight than others.

    What surprises me is that there was no other NHL teams willing to give him a shot since he COULD put up points. It makes one wonder if there was some other baggage there that caused him to get black balled by the old boys club in the NHL for some reason. He didn't get the nickname Gabby for no reason so perhaps that was part of it??

    I don't believe Phil has changed much really. He always blew hot and cold and he had both streaks this year as well. And he did step up in the playoffs for the one year with the Leafs and 2 playoffs with the Bruins. I always felt Phil's biggest issue was motivation. Lack of motivation to do what it takes to be one of the best or at least his best day in and out, and lack of motivation during the regular season at times. The fact he does show up to play in the playoffs tends to lend to that theory.

    I totally agree with you on Ovechkin. His overall play and commitment under Trotz has been exceptional in a lot of ways not just one timers from the off wing dot. And the look on his face when they lost tells me he cares about winning with the Caps..a lot.

    1. Boudreaux put up all kinds of points in junior (of course many do, and that doesn't necessarily translate to the NHL, as we know...) but never found his niche with the Leafs. Good point with regard to wondering why he never had much of a chance elsewhere, either. I think Boudreau has acknowledged over the years that he wishes he had been a more committed athlete when he was younger.

      I think one of the interesting things to watch regarding Kessel is whether people will shift their view of him based on how he plays the rest of the way. If the Penguins have success (they've already done well this spring) and he continues to help them, will he be seen in another light? Will people say "same old Phil" if he and the Penguins falter.

      And we're on the same page about Ovie- thanks Pep.

  4. Part 1

    I have been watching Penguins and I can't help myself but cheer for them even though I've spent most of my life really despising them because I've watched two generations of 'good Ontariah kids', who should be cheering for the Leafs, cheering for Pittsburgh because of all the stars they've had. Well now they have another one to take away those few remaining young fans that were cheering for the Leafs throughout the Malkin/Crosby years.

    Kessel really is a special player in so many ways - he does not miss games, he is the only guy that literally runs away from the pucks when it looks like he might get hit but his offensive instincts and that wrister are truly second to none. He is also, along with his linemates (Hegelin and Bonino) exactly what Pittsburgh needed to have another go at the Cup. He is playing as well as ever in these playoffs and I actually saw him throw hits and protect the pucks on the boards. I'm really happy for him and it really is too bad that he didn't get a chance to do this for us.

    I don't regret giving him up because I know that his talent would have been wasted here, but I cannot not think that we could have gotten a little more for him. On the other hand, Kapanen's extraordinary individual effort that sparked the Marlies' 3rd period comeback in their game 7 on the weekend is nothing to be scoffed at - the kid won the young Finns the gold in overtime and now this! He's not the best player on the ice every night but he does have moments of brilliance that may well come in handy to the big club down the road. (Nobody is talking about Scott Harrington because he's injured and not playing but here in Don Cherry's Kingston the word on the street is that he is a special kid - another prospect that is flying under the radar and may well step up in the not-so-distant future.)

    Kapanen, Nylander, C. Carrick and Soshnikov look like 'the real deal' to me (and they are not 'too small' either). A number of other guys (C. Brown, Hyman, Leipsic) are not too far behind. The skill in the Marlies' lineup is truly impressive and strength (relatively speaking i.e. not too small/weak to play in NHL) and maturity are materializing before our eyes.

    The big guys are not panning out however. Lindberg and Gauthier have been held off the ice against Albany as they were looking like liabilities when they got to play and I really don't see how Leafs will be able to field a competitive team come October without addressing the issue of team toughness by trading for / signing in free agency some players of the Polak/Phaneuf/Backes/Lucic variety. Perhaps Rich Clune (the other hero of Marlies game 7) is one of those guys? Babcock said it will be done. I think this is the crucial issue that separates us from taking the next step (in addition to the perennial need for no. 1 centre, defenseman and a goalie all of which we may well have addressed if Matthews is drafted and/or healthy Stamkos is signed and Reilly and Bernier blossom). I could be wrong. That's just how I see it.

  5. Part 2

    Above all, however, I've never felt so confident in our front office and, more so than looking forward to debating the decisions that will be made over the course of the summer and the preseason, I look forward to simply enjoying watching the Shannaplan unfold.

    Are we sticking with the draft and develop strategy and tanking for another year or are we going to invest all or some of these 'assets' into a few proven pieces? Are we going young, light, mobile and small or are we gonna mix in a bit of grit & sandpaper, veteran presence? Is the rest of Burke/Nonis's 'core' (Bozak, JVR, Kadri, Gardiner and Bernier) being shipped out of town for 'futures' or did they earn the right to stay?

    With the Marlies on their way to the Calder and the summer of drafting, signings and trades to come there won't be a dull moment in the Leafland throughout the 'offseason'.

    Also, with Jays and Raptors at the top of their games and the centennial season for the Leafs coming up isn't it a great time to be a Toronto sports fan?

    1. Nice to hear from you, leafdreamer. I won't comment on all your points, but I can appreciate why there is a lot of hope for Leaf supporters across the country and beyond. If the Leafs do legitimately have a bumper crop of prospects in the pipeline, it's something to look forward to. (And yes, things always look a little brighter when the teams a person supports are doing well!)

  6. After years or should I say decades of getting my hopes up I was finally "almost" resigned to never again seeing a Leaf Stanley Cup win in my lifetime. The Leafs looked good a few times in the last few years and I was actually pretty excited but then the 18 wheeler would go off the cliff. It never made sense to me and I guess it was the same for the Leafs coaches and management.

    The Leafs have always had incompetent management that continually made the wrong decisions. A lot of their moves looked good to me but in hindsight were bad decsions which good management would never have made. It was as if there was never any actual long term plan designed to build a winner that would win a Stanley Cup.

    A year ago things did not really look all that promising. No lottery win so no Connor McDavid. Marlies out in the first round and the only really exciting prospect was Nylander and Simmons put a story in the Sun that NHL scouts were telling him Dylan Larkin was a lot better player than Nylander. There were still some good prospects but nothing that made me think there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

    This year things are different - and really different. Leafs win the lottery and Auston Mathews who from all reports will be a NHL elite star player. The Leafs had an 80 % chance of losing the lottery so I was hopeful but deep down I expected the Leafs to miss out because they always miss out. Finally having an elite center after Mats Sundin is itself enough to be excited about but then you also have Mitch Marner. MVP in the regualar season and MVP in the playoffs and the only other player to achieve that was Connor McDavid. Everything is a lot more exciting this year. Marner will be shooting for a Memorial Cup and the Marlies are now in the final four for the Calder Trophy. Nylander also had 13 points in his 22 Leaf games which is also a little better PPG than what Dylan Larkin had for the Wings. That number 13 keeps coming up - Mats Sundin and lottery ball 13 for Mathews.

    After the draft there is free agency and maybe Stamkos will be a Leaf? Maybe not but if he is I would happy spending $10 million on Stamkos as that is only $2 million more than Kessel was getting. Also lot of rumours that Jimmy Vessey will sign with the Leafs. Now they are saying this Russian Zaitsev is a 25 minute guy in the NHL. Then you have all the Marlie players Browm, Hyman, Kapenin to name just a few plus all the draft picks. Seriously ? What happened here? Tons of prospects and tons of draft picks which is totally unheard of for the Leafs.

    I hate winter so I am not in any rush for the season to start but I think I am more ecited for next season than usual.

    1. Yes, we're certainly looking at what may potentially be a very different movie going forward, Alton. A lot of things still have to fall the right way (and kids don't always develop as expected) but the hope is that, say, three years from now, we're talking about a team that is competing for a spot in the final four.