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Some early season Maple Leaf (and NHL) observations…

We can’t say the Leafs haven’t been exciting to watch—they won their   home opener after losing on opening night in Ottawa in overtime. They’ve subsequently lost in overtime in Winnipeg (where they had that 4-0 lead), fell short in Minnesota losing by a goal, then could not quite hang on to that 4-2 lead in Chicago Saturday night, eventually grabbing one point in that shootout loss.

While it may be frustrating that the Leafs have not been able to consistently turn leads into victories, it’s hard to find fault with the team.  On the one hand they are extremely young, and we don’t exactly have a room full of old-timers who have a lot of experiencing at shutting things down on the defensive side in these close games.  I sense every guy is giving what they’ve got—at least that’s the way it appears to me.

Some perspective: they’ve played most of their games this young season on the road. It’s never easy to win on the road, and perhaps especially so for a team lacking overall in NHL experience.  Getting points is tough in Chicago at the best of times, and the Leafs now have managed 5 points in five games. Fans can understandably rue the fact that the Leafs don’t have at least a couple more points in the standings, but I tend to think they’ll be a stronger club as the season wears on for having had this early season road trip.

I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on Andersen’s play in goal so far. He certainly looks like a guy who can play. He’s not been able to close the door late in close game so far, but he also made some big stops in overtime against Chicago.

Usually third-period breakdowns and late game lapses are a team thing. It’s not just the goaltender. For example, Toronto had a chance to clear the zone just before Chicago’s fourth goal Saturday night. Were the Toronto forwards thinking about scoring in the empty net, when they should mostly have just been trying to ensure the puck got out over the blueline? 

I don’t know the answer to that question. In fairness, players make decisions in a split second. But I know this: the lapses we may see on occasion certainly don’t stem from a lack of effort. This young group can skate and fly around the ice. And none of the kids looks like they don’t belong at this level.

Idle thoughts:

  • Ex-(albeit briefly) Maple Leaf Richard Panik had to be happy to score that late goal for Chicago. The Leafs didn’t see him as a long term fit here, but he’s one of those role guys that may well fit very nicely with the Hawks, a team with a lot of star power but with limited funds to pay beyond their high-prices guys. They always seem to find cost-effective third and fourth liners.
  • Hossa is still quite a player. That itself is not a revelation. But I remember the sentiment years ago when he was a young player in Ottawa. He was seen as very talented, but his teams didn’t “win”.  Things have certainly changed and a lot of us have been proven wrong. After many years as a burgeoning star on that up and coming Senators in the early 2000s, he nearly helped Detroit capture a Cup in the spring of 2009. He went on to become one of the missing links in Chicago, as he has been a stellar performer in seven seasons in the Windy City as the Hawks have won three championships. Hossa will finish his splendid NHL career with well over than 500 regular season goals and maybe 1,200 points, along with another 150 plus points in the playoffs. Hall of Fame for our old-time Ottawa rival? (It’s much like Daniel Alfredsson—I was not an Alfie guy at all, but by the end of his career, I had a lot of respect for him.  He earned it…Just like I used to hate all those great old Montreal player sin the ‘60s and ‘70s but over time, I grew to admire them.)
  • I am likely a lone voice in the wilderness on this one, but I’m not a big fan of the three-on-three overtime. At least I’m consistent. I’ve never liked regular-season overtime. I know it’s immensely entertaining and I also recognize that that’s the big thing in sports—everything in this mega-dollar world has to be “entertaining”.  I’ve always liked ties in hockey, in the sense that if two teams played to a tie, that’s what you get—one point each. Take your point and move on to the next game.  But saying a team “lost” a game because they gave up a goal in a three-on-three river hockey game, or worse, a shootout, just doesn’t work for me. And, it messes up the standings with all these extra points.
  • On that note, since the NHL is so committed to overtime (and I guess the star players like it because it builds up their stats, which means higher salaries…) at least do what they do in the World championships. There, don’t teams that win in regulation get three points (like in soccer)? But if you win in overtime, you get two points while the losing teams still gets one point?

Finally, I was pleased to see Bobby Orr say publicly that the red line needs to come back.  I too think the game is just too fast nowadays. I know people love speed and all that, but sometimes…well, I realize I’m sounding like a real old-timer now…


  1. I liked Panik when he was with us, but he seemed inconsistent - which may be as much a comment on the lines he was put on as his talent level. Babcock's take - that some guys just have to bounce around until they finally find the right situation - pretty much sums it up, I think. I'm trying to think of Leaf examples, of someone who came here as a journeyman and really excelled, but it seems we more often bring a successful guy in and he doesn't do so well here!
    And I'm definitely on the same page about regular season overtime. To my way of thinking, if the score's tied after 60 minutes, each team deserves a point. Extra points for OT and shoot-outs skew the standings, as you say. I know the Premier League awards 3 points for a win, and one for a tie. Maybe that would work?
    And hey! As long as we don't complain (too much) about the cost of a hot dog and a drink at the game - compared to back in the good old days - we're allowed to vent!

    1. I'm glad to know someone shares my dislike for (hockey) ties, Gerund O'- and yes, surely Leaf fans have a right to vent!

  2. Hi Michael:
    Seems like we cannot always agree, which is good.

    The good news
    Thanks to parity and the youngsters the Leafs are competitive now. They are providing some very exciting, fast paced hockey for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the veterans appear slow in comparison. A few subtractions and additions will allow the next step faster than we thought.

    The Bad News
    They are having trouble closing the deal. This seems to be a problem in all sports, as teams go into their "prevent defence" as opposed to playing the way that got them into the lead in the first place. Maybe it should be called "the Prevent winning syndrome". In golf, Johnny Miller continually refers to choking in the clutch. When one watches, it seems that the team behind looks very "determined", while the team leading has this look of bambi caught in the headlights (and Mike Babcock furiously drawing on his little white board, while players look "fearful").
    In the past, someone passed on a phrase. When things get tough, don't be blaming others, take a look at yourself. While I believe in Babcock, the third period and overtime are high event hockey, and the coach can make a difference. Blowing four multi-goal leads in 5 games is not good. Apparently, Chicago reduced their lineup considerably to save that game.

    Ties - Overtime

    The problem with ties is that team's start playing for a tie at the ten minute mark of the third period. The odds of anything happening diminish considerably. Hockey is capable of providing back and forth action with excitement with near misses. I always loved overtime of the Stanley Cup playoffs but recognize it is not feasible for the regular season.

    If you look back in your blogs, you will find that I not only proposed a three point system (how can you start playing a game for two points, and it ends up three?). This rigged system to create the illusion of parity should be removed. I also supported the 3 on 3 system (It is reducing shootouts which is the worst way to decide a game).

    Bobby Orr - Game too dangerous - Bring back the red-line?
    As much as I believe Bobby Orr is the best player ever, I find it incongruous that the best skater of his time would reduce the importance of this aspect of the game. Why would we want to cripple the speed of players like McDavid, Marner? It is like putting governors on race cars.

    I do not recall any study that has proven speed of the game equates to injuries. On NHL Tonight, it was suggested by "experts" that removal of the red line has cut down on the clutch and grab that was going down. As a former forward, I would suggest the greater area provides greater opportunity. The smaller area reminds me of soccer, which has too many players on the field to generate much offence.

    I notice a number of injuries are being caused by the puck - fractured feet, fingers, etc. The way that players wield their sticks, and pads that are weapons also contribute. Perhaps we should go back to wooden sticks and less curve, and we can remove the "pin-ball game" that seems to be the modern game. Maybe the players would learn to take a backhand pass or shoot a backhand shot.

    Sorry for length of post, but you brought up a number of discussion points.

    1. Hi FOGman- there is lots to reflect on in your comments.

      On the matter of the "prevent defense", sigh, this is something that I've disliked for decades. We see it especially in football, but certainly in hockey as well. You get a big lead with confident, explosive play and suddenly decide to play entirely differently. Then, when momentum swings the other way, you are emotionally down and you have little left to come back. Keep your foot on the pedal, I say, but easier said than done, I guess.

      The three point system (as utilized in the World Championships, right?) is indeed an interesting way to go. You make very fair points about ties- I guess I'll always just prefer the boring old tie!

      The Orr-speed discussion I think is worth having, but I do understand your concerns about potentially impacting such a key skill component in the game. I do like your thought on sticks, as I I do think the modern game has indeed become a bit too much like pin-ball, as you mentioned. Thanks for posting, FOGman.

    2. Hi Michael

      Oops - This long comment was sent by RLMcc not FOGman.

      I was not pretending to be FOGman. I Sent comment attributed to Fogman by accident as I hit Publish key (usually preview) when reply was positioned automatically on Fogman. My mistake, but you might have your software developer Reply on a null selection and then not accept to avoid problem in future?

      Perhaps you might have answered differently if you knew post came from this old dinosaur.

      Re Sticks - Same Graphite technology being used for hockey sticks as in golf clubs to increase stick speed. While puck goes faster due to flex, it still is where you put it, not how hard it goes. Sticks continue to break often, with often dire consequences. Maybe if less pin-ball, goalies wouldn't have to dress like the Michelin man.


  3. Thanks for the clarification, Ralph- I recalled the comments but was trying to remember a specific post from FOGman!

  4. It is still pretty early and really hard to say if Andersen is the answer to Leafs goaltending enigma. I am definitely not ready to write him off and almost all of the goals he has let in would have been tremendous saves if he had stopped them and some were in all seriousness unstoppable. That being said at some point you do need some tremendous saves and hopefully those will be coming so we will just have to wait and see. Andersen did have the injury so a shortened training camp and the Leafs young defense is making some pretty horrendous mistakes. My gut feeling is Andersen will be a lot better and the Leafs will make the playoffs.

    Then again I always seem to think the Leafs are making the playoffs at the start of every season and I am thinking that maybe they are still a few years away from being a contender. The difference now is there is hope with Matthews, Nylander and Marner. I keep hearing that defense can be taught but you either have elite scoring skill or you don't and the Leafs have the skilled players so they will definitely be a contender for the Cup in a few years.

    I notice you mentioned Panik and all the talk out of Tampa when the Leafs picked him up was about his high skill level and the Leafs had picked up a pretty decent player so it was disappointing to see them lose him. Same thing with Joe Colborne which reminds me of how bad the Leafs were managed. I remember Rick Dudley saying they thought Colborne at 6'5" would be a big physical third line center and maybe even a second. Colborne had a hat trick for the Avs the other night but the Leafs cut him to make room for Colton Orr. Now they have a 6'5" center in Freddy Gauthier which hopefully they at least keep until they find out what his actual abilities are. With so much potential forward talent now it really doesn't matter but looking back at some of those moves, Kessel contract, Phaneuf contract, Lupul contract, Clarkson signing,Robidas,Gleason, Bolland attempted signing it really makes me wonder how GM's like Burke and Nonis and a few years ago JFJ could makes so many bad decisions. Then again hindsight is 20/20 and they believed they were making the Leafs better but sadly almost every move made the Leafs worse.

    It seems to me that Leaf management for years wanted to jumpstart the team into the playoffs. It is pretty hard to do but sometimes a manager that knows what he is doing - or simply lucks out and makes a lot of moves and improves a team. Obviously you have to know what you are doing but I'll bet it is more luck than skill and Leafs management has really never had any luck until the lottery this year.It does look like they know wat they are doing now but it is not rocket science and any manager could do what they are doing and build through the draft.

    Sit back and build through the draft, picking Matthews was the obvious choice and I think anyone who had watched Marner play would have known he would be an elite player, the the Nylander pick was or at least looks to be a pretty good choice over Cherry's Ontario boy Nick Ritchie. It does look like the Leafs will be very exciting this season and that will make watching hockey a lot more fun this year, it may be a few more years but they are finally going in the right direction.

    1. I tend to believe Andersen will come around as well, Alton. Goaltenders seem to run hot and cold (sometimes from one week to the next, sometimes from one season to the next). But the guy has a track record which indicates he can play. So we can be patient.

      The Leafs clearly have skill now. That said, they've had to experience a lot of pretty middling seasons to get these high picks. You should choose well when you pick that high several years running- especially the way players are scouted nowadays. You make a good point that luck can have a lot to do with how things turn out, too. I think all the Leaf GMs you mentioned were doing their best to build a good team for the present- maybe even with a look to the future. But things just didn't quite work out. The current regime has had good picks to work with and they do seem to be staying true to their philosophy- but we'll see how it all unfolds.

      At the very least the team is exciting to watch. Whether they make the playoffs or not, they will be worth following. Thanks Alton.