The Leafs have finally ended their losing streak, and it happened in new coach Randy Carlyle’s first game. Coincidence or not, the Leafs needed the win badly if they had any hope of making the playoffs this season.
The game started at a torrid pace – a mix of speed and physicality, and a dash of oddity – and saw the Habs strike first, on a tap in by Montreal’s Erik Cole. At this point, the Leafs were in a bit of disarray as Jonas Gustavsson had stumbled a few times outside of his crease.
Still, the Leafs were able to stay the course, and escaped the period down only one. During the first, you could see the Leafs were fired up, and an emphasis was definitely placed on the physical game. Every player was finishing his checks, and it culminated in a Mike Brown – Brad Staubitz tilt (Brown left the game at this point, unknown at this point what his status is).
Prior to the game, everyone who commented on the hiring said that Carlyle is a big line-matcher. Tonight was solid proof of the matter, as Carlyle used essentially three lines with regularity. Carlyle’s favourite line tonight was the Matt Frattin – Mikhail Grabovski – Clarke MacArthur line. He began allotting them the majority of icetime in the first period, and it paid dividends by the game’s end.
Frattin would score the tying goal in the second period, and the line would strike twice more when Grabovski put the Leafs up by two late in the third.
I made a tweet comment after Frattin’s first hit of the game that he would become a Carlyle favourite and I believe I may be on to something here. I highly doubt Frattin returns to the AHL any time soon (or until the Leafs are mathematically eliminated).
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A few notes on Carlyle’s coach style:
- Did not respond to Montreal’s goal by staying stationary and yelling “Let’s go”.
- Was teaching the entire game, showing players what to do between whistles/TV timeouts.
- Constantly vocal on the bench, pacing up and down.
- Line matching. Hardly used his fourth line, unlike Wilson.
- Called the Tim Connolly – David Steckel – Nikolai Kulemin line ‘safe’ with their ability to play ‘safe minutes’. Is this the advent of a true checking line? Maybe. Connolly really isn’t cut for it though.
- Notably did not throw goaltending under the bus (OK, that one wasn’t really fair)
- Apparently spoke to players after the game, something Wilson never did.
It’s far too early to be proclaiming success already, but I’ll say this: the Leafs looked fresh tonight, and it seemed as if a different team was playing. I could be blind, or just delusional from the novelty of Carlyle, but it certainly looks better – for now.
Darren Dreger reported last night that the Toronto Maple Leafs have received an offer from an unidentified team for UFA to be, Mikhail Grabovski. He went on to say that the proposed deal included a second round pick and a prospect. Today, Dreger expanded upon the topic, noting that the prospect is currently at the AHL level. Everyone already knows my thoughts on dealing Grabovski, if not, you can read them here. There are many components the team should seek to add in order to become better, but subtracting Grabovski – at the price of a second round pick and a prospect – would set the team back in many ways. Unless the team has a deal to bring in another center immediately, they would probably be forced to call up Joe Colborne, unless they plan on promoting Matthew Lombardi or Darryl Boyce up in the lineup. Tim Connolly still has a year left on his deal, but his uninspiring play as of late has me hesitant to pencil him in any higher than the third line. To set the record straight, I don’t think the Leafs will pull the trigger on this deal. If they liked it, it would have been done already. It’s no secret Brian Burke and Grabovski’s agent are probably negotiating, but at this point we’re not privy to the negotiation status or direction. It’s at best a guessing game whether Grabovski will stay with the team, or if his demands will force him out. Right now, here’s where I think we are down the middle:
- Grabovski is our best center, but similar playing styles to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul has him playing on a different line. Grabovski is a playmaker primarily, but can find the net if given the chance. He’s diligent defensively, and he checks effectively.
- Tyler Bozak has developed nicely into a dependable center, and has had the luxury of playing with Kessel and Lupul. Like Grabovski, he’s primarily a playmaker, but can find the net on occasion. Bozak is also considered a defensive asset, and checks industriously. Grabovski is the better center option, but Bozak has found a niche for the time being on the top line.
- Tim Connolly is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. We all know he has the capability to put up some serious numbers, but when you watch him play, his decision making and work ethic makes you sit there and wonder ‘why?’. Why, as in, why we ever signed him. He’s currently playing on the third line, but brings nothing to the line that a prototypical third liner would bring. He’s not overly physical, and his lack of work ethic sets his linemates back.
- Matt Lombardi is the most predictable player in the world. Having watched him closely for most of the season, his only ‘moves’ are driving wide with speed and going five-hole. Seriously, watch highlights of him scoring: he’s in alone, or driving wide, and he scores five-hole. As a checking option, he’s decent but commands a hefty price tag. He’s decent for spot duty in the top six, but I wouldn’t be confident placing him there for an extended time.
- Darryl Boyce is your standard thirteenth forward / fourth line center / AHL call-up kind of guy. I like his work ethic, his physicality, his speed and willingness to battle. For all these reasons, he’s great to have around for the spots I listed above. Any higher, and your just shooting yourself in the foot or being delusional about his skill.
Moving out Grabovski without acquiring an adequate center in return would require Connolly, Lombardi or Boyce to move up into the top six. There’s a big issue with that happening, and thus, at this point its really not ideal to be discussing a Grabovski trade. In an ideal world, I’d look to deal any of the other centers first. Too bad this world isn’t ideal.
It’s not a surprise that the Leafs are trying to upgrade their lineup in anticipation of (finally) pushing for a playoff spot this season. It’s been constantly noted that the Leafs would like to add some size in the top six, while still searching for that elusive number one center.
They often say that when you make a trade ‘you have to give to get’. That’s why many rumours and trade proposals this season have included names like Luke Schenn, Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabvoski, amongst others. Brian Burke often states that no player on the roster is ever untouchable (as they should be) and that’s why, naturally, we see the names of better players appear in these trade rumours.
You could spend countless hours dissecting all the rumours, but today we’re looking at Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski, two centers who both have some value in trade discussions.
You’ll often hear Grabovski’s name appear in trade rumours involving elite-level talent: Bobby Ryan, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, to name a few. The consensus is that the other team will want a decent center in return in order to fill the void. This would be the logical starting point of any deal.
Grabovski is a very tradable asset. He’s only 28 years old, he’s a pending UFA, and he currently clocks in at a modest $2.9 million cap hit. He’s a consistent offensive threat, he’s durable, and he plays with an edge. All this makes him very attractive in trade discussions.
That’s why Brian Burke should be pushing hard to keep Mikhail Grabovski. He brings so much to the table, it becomes immediately difficult to replace his output. Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri are both center prospects in the system, but neither look primed to fill Grabovski’s shoes and equal his scoring output quite yet. Tim Connolly is signed through next season, but hasn’t made as much of an impact as desired.
Mikhail Grabovski is a tradable asset, but taking him from the lineup would set the team back no matter who the club acquires in return.
This is why Burke should lobby hard to trade Bozak instead, including supplemental assets to cover the talent-gap. Bozak is a young player who many teams would love to add to their roster. He’s defensively tenacious, can hold his own offensively, and is signed through next year at an affordable $1.5 mil cap hit. He doesn’t hold as much value as Grabovski, but he would perk the interest of quite a few teams.
To cover the talent-gap the Leafs would likely be required to send an additional pick (anywhere from a third to a fifth round pick) and a prospect, in addition to the rest of the package. In the end, a deal for an elite level player could end up costing the Leafs a top draft choice (first round), Tyler Bozak, top prospect, additional prospect, and a mid round pick.
It would be a steep price to pay, but I’d gladly pay it before dealing one of the best second line centers in the league away.
After a strong start to this month’s home stretch, the leafs fell back to earth and maybe even lower as they lost two very important games over the course of the weekend. Friday night the Leafs were in Buffalo and for the most part did play a fairly strong game but were unable to pick up the victory and ultimately lost by a score of 3-2. The following night at home on Saturday the Leafs played host to the Rangers. This game was not very fun to watch from a Leafs’ perspective as they were unable to get anything going for majority of the game and ended up getting shut out by a score of 3-0. A 4-2 record this month is not that bad, but because of the extremely tight standings, the two losses this weekend ultimately have pushed the leafs out of the playoffs and sitting in 9th place. This is not the end of the world, simply because a winning week this week will put us back into the top 8 as it is literally is that close, however it is an area of concern as the Leafs need a strong end to this month’s home stand.
Another area of concern has been the ‘cooling’ off of the leafs’ top snipers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. They have now gone 3 consecutive games without registering a point; their longest streak of the season. On the bright side, center Tyler Bozak is set to return to the lineup Tuesday night and return to the Leafs’ top line alongside Kessel and Lupul. Tim Connolly has simply not been able to connect with the 2 snipers, something Bozak has, therefore a shift in the lines have been implemented ahead of Tuesday night’s match-up with the Senators. The line-up is as follows:
On the defensive end, after briefly being sent down to the Marlies, rookie Jake Gardiner is back up with the big club. It is not yet known who will be sitting on the defensive end, but all eyes point to Gardiner getting back into the lineup. Finally in goal, James Reimer will see his first action in six games, as he tries to get back into the win column and win back his number 1 job.
This past week also saw the beginning of a long month ahead filled with crazy trade speculation and rumors. The spark to this period… Brian Burke’s comments on a radio show where he stated that the Leafs are closing in on a deal and although things can change, it is “very likely” the Leafs make a move shortly.
These comments were made last week, and we have yet to see a deal, so maybe it fell through? Or perhaps Burke is waiting for the right opportunity to make a splash. Regardless Burke knows we are one impact forward away from being a contender in the East, and personally I have a gut feeling it will be sooner rather than later that this forward lands in Toronto.
Time to cue the names rumored to be on the move… We have heard the likes of James Van Riemsdyk, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Eric Staal just to name a few. With Van Riemsdyk’s most recent concussion you can all but scratch him off the list as potential trade bait (unless it is very minor and he returns to action within the next few weeks).
Bobby Ryan is probably the most rumored to be on the move of the remaining three and perhaps the most acquirable asset for the right price. The rumored asking price for Ryan/Getzlaf from Anaheim’s perspective would be one of Joe Colborne or Nazem Kadri, a prospect, and a 1st rounder. Depending on who that prospect is and how high they are on the rankings can essentially make or break this trade.
Looking through GM Brian Burke’s eyes, I think it is safe to assume he expects he would have to let go of one of those young prospects although he might try to ship off a roster player instead of another prospect to minimize the damage done to the youth pool. Also, because the Leafs would be acquiring another top line asset, this makes a 2nd/3rd line guy expendable, for example Mikhail Grabovski or Clarke MacArthur (both of whom have been rumored to be on the move).
Finally defenseman Luke Schenn may also be used as heavy trade bait simply because our defensive depth has exceeded expectations this season and with John-Michael Liles set to return soon, the logjam on the back end is quite a waste. Yes I know, the more depth the better, but there comes a time when excess parts are converted into covetable assets, which in this case means trading a defender (and perhaps more), for an impact, top-six forward.
With all of that said, the rumors are expected to wheel in as we approach the end of January and into the beginning of February. Burke is known to make his ‘big’ moves well ahead of the deadline so it is safe to say the end of January is a possible time frame for one of these deals to go down (if they do). Until it happens, all of us fans will have to wait patiently and hope Burke can pull of some magic like we have seen him do in the past.
Aside from the rumors, these upcoming games are as big as ever, and the team needs to focus on winning some hockey games and picking up points, ensuring they are back in the top 8 for good.
Firstly, I hope everyone had an amazing holiday wether they were celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or any of the other various holidays that we celebrate around the world at this time. The Leafs played their last game prior to the holiday on the 23rd against the Islanders, a 5-3 win. The team was lucky enough to have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day off before resuming last night against the Panthers, a 5-3 loss.
Ron Wilson and his Extension
It’s never a dull moment in Leafs Nation, and as such, news was made Christmas morning when Ron Wilson announced his own extension by way of a tweet. The coach caused some ruckus partly because of how he went about announcing and the timing. First, on Dec 23rd he tweeted that ‘Christmas would be better if Santa put a piece of paper in his stocking’ alluding to wanting a contract extension. Then, he tweeted Christmas morning that ‘He came! He came! He brought me my contract extension’ and thus the frenzy would ensue.
Twitter was ablaze with the usual commentary about how Wilson is a good coach deserving of the contract, how he’s a terrible coach undeserving of the contract, how the team is crap, how Burke should be fired, etcetera. On Boxing Day on, the conversation turned to how Ron Wilson has it out for the Toronto media and purposely announced his extension Christmas morning in hopes of disrupting the media’s holiday with their families. I won’t say much about this, it’s not my place, but I can feel sympathetic for the media members who were forced to go and cover the story on Christmas morning. At the same time, I think the Leafs could have handled the situation a bit better and had media availability a day later.
Liles Injured; Holzer Recalled
There were some actual hockey related happenings that occurred as well. John-Michael Liles sat out the last two games with what was first called a ‘sore neck’, but has now been deemed a concussion. Yes, add another one to the list. Liles has been a God-send for the Leafs this year, his playmaking and poise on the backend helping puck movement and the transition game. It’s unknown how long Liles will be out, but his presence will be missed. The Leafs have recalled Korbinian Holzer as the seventh defenceman in the meanwhile.
Shaky Performances On The Road
Tor0nto played a sloppy game against a weak Islanders team, and barely made it out with both points. It’s encouraging to see the offensive outburst in the first period, but disheartening to see the structural collapse that occurred as the game progressed. No team is ever perfect, and this Leafs team is still young and will need to learn, however you can tell that goaltending and the penalty kill will continue to be this team’s Achilles heel.
Toronto’s effort against Florida was valiant, but in the end it was too little, too late (which seems to be a recurring theme when the Leafs go down by a lot early). James Reimer let in some really soft goals, and if the Leafs are going to win they need consistent strong goaltending. Reimer played well last week, so hopefully it’s a one game funk, but you can’t deny that he has been letting in some softies this year.
Kadri Sticking Around This Time?
Nazem Kadri has made the most of his latest call up, registering two goals and increasing his icetime in consecutive games from 13:43 to 15:04 to 16:16. He has registered 7 shots and has managed to stay a +3 while making some impressive defensive plays. His chemistry with Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur is showing, and he adds an element to the line that no other player was able to. Kadri is going to be a good player, and his development (in this case, proper) is beginning to show. The Leafs wanted Kadri’s next call up to be his last, and it’s finally looking like that it may come to be.
Ok first things first, the title may be a bit of an exaggeration however it should not over shadow the fact that this most recent and current call-up with the big squad will be the biggest of Nazem Kadri‘s career to date. Kadri has been given ample opportunity to prove he is NHL ready with a variety of stints over the last 12 months with the big club, yet has failed to gain approval of the coaching staff and management.
In a three game stint this season he put up one assist, proving that he was not much of a scoring threat and much more of a defensive liability then the team would like, thus he was sent down. After being sent down, Kadri has been on fire putting up a point per game in 22 games with the Marlies this season. It is safe to assume that being sent down again has lit a fire under his behind and made him work harder to at the very least make sending him down management’s toughest decision yet. If all goes well for Kadri this time around then we may see him up with the Leafs much more often ultimately earning a roster spot going into next season.
What makes this call-up different for Kadri is the fact he now has talented linemates. Going into Thursday’s tilt against the Buffalo Sabres, Kadri will be on the wing, playing with very skilled players in the likes of Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur. In the past, Kadri was given a chance but saw very little time with proven top 6 forwards, so here is his shot. Another fact that fairs well in Kadri’s favor is that he has essentially dominated both the OHL and most recently the AHL. So what left is there to do? Of course establish himself as a star in the NHL, and if I were a betting man Kadri is not far off from getting there.
Not to put extra pressure on the kid, as I’m sure he is aware of it himself, these next few games will be the biggest of his career. This not only is an audition to secure a roster spot on the NHL level squad, but it could also be one of his last opportunities to play for the Leafs if things do not go so well. Kadri has often been linked as a key component of a package deal that would land the Leafs a top line forward, therefore his play has to show management that he is the real deal and let him develop into a long term top line player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It truly is now or never for Nazem Kadri.
They say don’t put the cart before the horse, but tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs will take the two points and move on. Although unspectacular throughout most of the game, the Leafs were able to mount a third period comeback and force overtime, eventually besting the revived Jets in the shootout.
Tonight’s game was disheartening and frustrating to watch for a few reasons. It seemed at times the Leafs couldn’t make a pass, clumsily dishing the puck around their own zone and behind forced back behind their own net. They were very much clogged in the neutral zone, and often could not get their cycle game going.
Their defensive effort was not much better. Lost man coverage and impulsive decisions in their own end often led to scoring chances, which James Reimer handled quite well. In my opinion, Reimer had a good game. The first goal, scored by Tobias Enstrom, was through a medley of screening teammates, so you can’t fault him there. Alexander Burmistrov‘s goal was a pretty one; Nik Antropov forced the puck outside and around the net, then dished it in front for the roofjob. A tough play for any goaltender. Lastly, Mark Scheifele‘s first NHL goal came after the Leafs (cough, Mike Komisarek, cough) gave up another penalty, and was the result of a scramble play rebound. Reimer should have had the rebound better, but on the other hand there was no support around him.
Fear not however, as there were some positives to be found yet in the win. The Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel – Joffrey Lupul line continues to dominate. When I say dominate, I really mean dominate. Kessel now has 12 points in 5 games (7g – 5a). His 7 goals account for approximately 41% of the 17 the team has accumulated to date. Lupul tallied two goals tonight, destroying the net camera with a one-timer, and having one bounce through Ondrej Pavelec‘s legs via an Enstrom deflection. We’re perhaps seeing glimpses of the scorer Lupul once was (and still has the potential to be) with his hot start (7 points, 4g – 3a in 5 GP).
The real gem here is Phil “The Thrill” Kessel. This year, he does it all. Aside from scoring pretty goals every game, Kessel has also found success in dishing the puck. For example, in tonight’s game he made the smart move and fed the puck to a wide open Lupul who slapped it into the gaping net. In the past, Kessel would have looked for a shot. He probably would have missed, or it would have deflected out of play. Tonight he dishes the puck and ties the game at ones. You can truly see that Kessel’s game is evolving. His offensive prowess has always been there, the rest is finally piecing itself together.
Other quick thoughts on tonight’s game:
- The Nikolai Kulemin – Mikhail Grabovski – Clarke MacArthur line needs a spark. They’re trying their creative drop-passing and weaving but it’s not connecting right now. They need to simplify and pot a few. With MacA missing the end of the game, rookie Matt Frattin returned to the trio and you could see the line was instantly better. Perhaps MacA is a bit rusty still?
- Luke Schenn didn’t have an impressive game. He made some dumb moves with the puck that often resulted in opposing scoring chances. Cody Franson needs to draw in the lineup again. I’d say replace Schenn with Franson but then there’s Komisarek, who had his worst game this season. Two consecutive penalties along with killing a few offensive chances just scratch the surface of the type of game he had. I’d swap Komisarek for Franson, but then again I’m not the coach.
- Jake Gardiner had a solid game for the Leafs. His skating proved valuable, often helping him out of tight defensive situations. He also created offense, leading rushes and setting up a few scoring chances. Pierre Lebrun wonders how you would ever take him out of the lineup again. I share the sentiment, he adds a dimension the Leafs severely need with their lack of secondary scoring.
- David Steckel won 16 of 18 draws tonight, good for 88.9%. The Leafs have earned a point in every game since acquiring Steckel. Need I say more?
- Lupul and Frattin in the shootout: cheddar snipes.
It was revealed during the game that Colby Armstrong and Clarke MacArthur were injured. After the game it was announced that Armstrong would miss the upcoming road trip, while MacArthur would make the trip and was considered day-to-day. Armstrong’s injury doesn’t bode very well for the Leafs, who are often a better team with him than without. The injures come at somewhat of a good time.
Tomorrow night’s tilt is with Boston, a team that isn’t shy to drop the mitts. You can be sure Wilson will want to dress Jay Rosehill and/or Colton Orr in anticipation of some physical stuff tomorrow night, considering what happened with Carolina the other night. If I’m Wilson I’d dress this lineup:
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Kulemin – Grabovski – Frattin
MacArthur – Lombardi – Dupuis
Orr – Steckel – Brown
Injecting Orr gives added toughness. Frattin sparked Grabo and Kulemin, so try it again to start tomorrow night. MacA drops to the third line (if he can dress) or move Mike Brown up and dress Rosehill.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson gets his first start of the season tomorrow night in Boston.
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Changes must come for this Toronto team. I don’t just mean it in terms of personnel due to injuries for the next game. Special teams will make or break success this season, and so far they haven’t been good enough. Tonight the PP started off flat, but was given some life when Steckel replaced Bozak with Lupul and Kessel. Perhaps they should try this for a few more games until Tim Connolly is ready to return.
In other news, forward Nazem Kadri was assigned to the Toronto Marlies. I feel it’s the right move, given his injury and the relative success of the team. There will be injuries (as we witnessed tonight) and he will get his chance. No one’s given up on him yet, and that’s important to note.