Is it time to break out the bags?

Jim Lang
January 11 2014 09:53AM

Friday night in Washington DC the Leafs lost their fourth straight game. While their "compete" level was a hell of a lot better than it was the night before in Carolina, they still lost.

In the four losses the Leafs have been outscored by a combined 21-7.

Which begs the question; how many more games do the Leafs have to lose until the fans breakout the "bag of shame".

The level of angst among the Leafs Nation is at DefCon 3.

So now what?

Well the Leafs have 14 games to play before the Olympic Break. Seven are at the ACC and seven are at the road.

No matter how angry Leafs fans are with the effort and the results that they are seeing I can't see Dave Nonis doing anything as drastic as firing Randy Carlyle before the Olympic break.

There is also the possibility that Nonis does nothing at all with Carlyle and allows the season, for better or worse, to play out as is.

That will mean more nights were Dion Phaneuf lollygags back into his own zone instead of husting back and get the puck.

That means more nights were the goaltending is average at best, or even weak.

That means nights were nobody appears interesting in playing and they lose every battle for a loose puck.

That means more nights were it looks like none of the players are listening to Carlyle.

So if Nonis isn't going to fire Carlyle then that means he will have to make a trade if he wants to shake things up.

There once was a time when Colton Orr served a purpose on the Leafs. Not anymore. As James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail pointed out on Twitter the other night opposing teams are just not engaging Orr and the Leafs in as many fisticuffs as they were last year. The Leafs will be better served having a fourth line that actually can play 10 effective minutes every night than what we are seeing right now.

The absence of a big, first line centre is killing the Leafs. I keep hearing some pundits talk about how Nonis needs to go out get a winger or a defenceman.

If Nonis makes a move like that he will not have addressed their most pressing need; a highly skilled top end centre.

As Doug MacLean is fond of saying, "they aren't easy to find". No they are not but that is what Nonis is being paid to do as the GM of the Leafs; go out and provide the team with enough talent so that they can contend year after year,.

While the Leafs are mired in a slump other teams in the Eastern Conference are heating up. The Flyers are beating every team that comes to Philly and led by Claude Giroux they have completely turned their season around. The Rangers have quietly turned their season around as well and at the time of writing this, they are a wild card team in the East.

Is all hope lost? Is it time to crank up the T-34's and revive the tank nation?

In a simple answer, not yet. It isn't quite time to re-enact the battle of Kursk and hope that the Leafs end up with a lottery pick.

The next 14 games will determine whether or not to unleash the tanks and start showing up to games wearing a "bag of shame".

If the Leafs go into the Olympic break as one of the two Wild Card teams in the East then you can forget about the tank nation.

But if the losing continues and the Leafs find themselves below .500 and at least 8 points out of a Wild Card then it is time to start preparing for the NHL entry draft.

In the meantime I am preparing for the worse when the Leafs host the Devils Sunday night at the ACC. This way if they lose again it won't hurt as much and if they win it will be an unexpected bonus.

Why am I expecting the worse you ask?

Well the Leafs were 16-11 and 3 on December seventh after they beat the Sens in a shoot-out. The Leafs are 5-9 and 2 since then. Only two of those wins were in regulation time.

Could it get better?

Sure it could.

Could it get even worse?

You bet your "bag of shame" it can.

754133b3ac8f14b009560546ac4dce8a
A graduate of Humber College Jim started his radio career at CKBB in Barrie back in 1987. Between 2001 and 2010 Jim was a reporter and anchor at Rogers Sportsnet. During that time he was a traveling beat reporter for the Leafs and also covered the Raptors, Blue Jays, Argos, the Stanley Cup play-offs, five Super Bowls and the Grey Cup. Most recently Jim was the co-host of the morning show at Sportsnet 590 The Fan. Jim also writes a regular blog and is the author of an E-Book about the daily routines of NHL super-stars called the "Mental Game". Jim can currently be heard weekdays between 6AM to 10AM on 105.9FM The Region (Based in Markham and heard in York Region and the north end of the city). Jim still plays hockey (Mediocre at best)and was once knocked on his butt by Ron Ellis in a charity hockey game. (I totally deserved it)
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#1 Jeremy Ian
January 11 2014, 10:47AM
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When do you pull the plug on a season, you mean? The problem is that the 3-point game format in a conference like the East means the fight for a wild card spot turns into a mosh pit. Do you trade in order to survive the mosh pit, or do you pull back for next year and beyond?

If you choose the first, the Leafs are buying in a seller's market.

If you choose the second, the Leafs could be sellers.

But at this stage, given how uneven the effects of the Liles-Gleason trade was, I doubt Nonis will make any trades until he's sure of his coaching staff. The next few weeks will be decisive.

My money's on Carlyle jobless on the eve of the Olympic break, which conveniently gives Nonis some time to figure out Plan B.

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#2 Jeremy Ian
January 11 2014, 10:54AM
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PS: My son and I will be at MSG on March 5th to see the Leafs vs Rangers. We'll be curious to see who's on the ice as the trade deadline will have closed few hours earlier (last year it was 3:00 pm). Look out for the Leaf Nations sweatshirts in Section 222, Row 12.

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#3 Mark McCauley
January 11 2014, 11:18AM
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I still insist that Nonnis messed up by not trading Reimer while he was red hot. Marian Gaborik and Nail Yakupov were available at the time as the Oilers/Bluejackets were ready to sell. Yakupov would look fairly nice on 2 nd power play unit. Furthermore, Mark Fraser has yet to regain his "game shape" starting the season hurt really slowed his progress down. If you ask me Fraser was a key component in the playoff run last year. He set the tone for the game. He's underachieved immensely this year, thus a void in our D. Also , I truly feel that the Bollad injury hurt the chemistry of the team. We've have a numerous amount of AHL players on our team, in and out of the lineup. Lastly , James Reimer has been thrown to the wolves. Carlisle protects Bernier, almost as if he's favoured him from the start. Reimer did nothing but put his team on his back last year, and yet MLSE goes out and slaps Reimer in the face and signs Bernier! Reimer is literally "white knuckling" it now. The whole organization has found a way to kill Reimers confidence. Hockey teams start from the back end and out. Once the goaltending becomes mediocre , so does the team. The leafs need to keep playing with intensity and squeek out a few close games and regain some confidence. If we can get back on track while they're still a few wheels attatched, we (Leafs Nation) will see playoff puck.

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#4 Bryan
January 11 2014, 11:49AM
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@Mark. Just who are the AHL players in and out of the line-up? DiMiggo looks to be a regular. Holland was traded for and should still be up. Nobody else I can see except for Ashton and he is used as much as Holland is. Carlyle is grossly misusing his lineup. Bollands hurts but is not the reason they are playing bad.

You are WAY overvaluing Reimer. He is a good goalie and an NHL starter and #1 but he wouldn't have netted Nail or Gaborik. Not with out something going back to Edmonton at least. The Jackets have a great goalie they were banged up at the start of the season.

Carlyle has to move Bozak to the 2nd line and stop handcuffing Kadri and let him create and contribute. He has Gardiner afraid to do anything which is why he is playing bad. Let him move more. Clarkson can use Bozaks passing to help him and he needs to be used like JVR in front or at the side of the net. He's a big body use him.

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#5 negrilcowboy
January 11 2014, 12:04PM
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time to end the fraser experiment, eliminate the two knuckle dragging facepunchers. a fourth line of damigo,holland and josh leivo can give you productive minutes. the game no longer requires 2 circus sideshows chasing down somebody to pummel.

and secondly, it is time for shoes phanoof to be held accountable for a blatant lack of leadership, strip the c and reduce the minutes to around 18 per night. merely playing a ton of minutes with the goal of not being scored on is not impact. its hard to accept a contract of 7 for 7 when the player eats up minutes yet accomplishes nothing. i often notice dio sorry the dion will not leave the ice but stands around uselessly.

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#6 Nick
January 11 2014, 12:08PM
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... the goaltending is average at best? Those are some pretty good keepers we have.

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#7 WesternDP
January 11 2014, 12:14PM
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"Is it time to break out the bags?"

No it's time to break out the Marlies.

It's a tale of different fortunes. The Marlies are in first place in the North Division standings. Maybe some of these players could help.

T.J. Brennan continues to lead all AHL defencemen in points (32), goals (14), shots (107), powerplay goals (7) and powerplay points

Petter Granberg ranks second among AHL rookies in plus/minus rating (+16)

Spencer Abbott ranks second in AHL assists (26)and has

Toronto and Grand Rapids have surrendered the fewest goals against in the Western Conference (85)

Neither McLaren or Orr are needed against a team like Carolina. Holland should have been up with Ashton instead of playing Holland with McLaren and Orr in the previous game and then playing Ashton out of position in the Carolina game.

That game was a chance to play little Spencer Abbott, who plays at a point a game in the AHL. Gerbe is even smaller, but he got a point. Why not a 4th line of D'Amigo or Ashton with Holland and Abbott?

Against a tougher Washington team , maybe Broll, Holland and Ashton should be the 4th line.

Sam Carrick is tough as nails with 6 goals 15 points, 54 PIMs and +12. He should get some consideration to center the 4th line for a game or two against a tougher team like Boston on tuesday. Carrick is the younger mirror image of Boston's 4th line center Gregory Campbell,in terms of points and PIMs in the AHL, but Carrick is better in plus/minus.

If Petter Granberg is plus 16, maybe he should get a midweek look for a game sometime soon?

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#8 charlieocc
January 11 2014, 12:18PM
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Good article. However, I think the Leafs really need defensive depth more than anything. Our blueline has been laughable for the most part this year.

Also, with all due respect, could you please proofread your article more before you post it?

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#9 Jeremy Ian
January 11 2014, 12:25PM
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@WesternDP

Agreed, but there would have to be a change in coaching philosophy first. RC's not shown much trust in younger players and is not very good at developing them. That Ashton has to prove himself by fighting after lighting it up in the AHL was not great.

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#10 Cam Charron
January 11 2014, 12:46PM
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Nick wrote:

... the goaltending is average at best? Those are some pretty good keepers we have.

Recently, they've been just a shade above average.

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#11 WesternDP
January 11 2014, 01:44PM
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@Jeremy Ian

"That Ashton has to prove himself by fighting after lighting it up in the AHL was not great."

I didn't see it that way. I saw it as evidence of the spunk and compete level of the Marlie guys.

The Marlies as a group seem to push back harder. It not just a couple of guys. They had 2 fights last night:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QKV1LUnxvE

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#12 Willbur
January 11 2014, 02:01PM
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@WesternDP

Your right a 4th line tailored to the team they are playing would be ideal. The big problem is Nonis put them right up against the cap this summer. The fact that they can even have a couple of extra players around is entirely due to Bolland being on LTIR. If he wasn't hurt the Leafs would be hard pressed to even have an extra skater around at all.

This year is going to be tough.

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#13 Mac962
January 11 2014, 02:04PM
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Leafs fans - I am a Oiler fan first and foremost but the Leafs are still dear to my heart. So feel the double pain i am in. Is Kadri available there? or is Carlyle the problem ? Being sensible here , what is fair in a Trade for Kadri ?

Gagner + ? Eberle is out of the question straight up.

At some point the leafs will make a move if this continues.

And we all know the Oilers will as well but nothing comes

for free, from both sides.

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#14 Jeremy Ian
January 11 2014, 02:15PM
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@WesternDP

I'd just rather see Ashton on the ice than in the box. A 4th line of D'Amigo-McClement-Ashton with Holland centering a 3rd line would be a good start.

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#15 WesternDP
January 11 2014, 02:45PM
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@Willbur

They could do more to get better value

Colton Orr makes $925,000 and with his two year contract would clear waivers. He has cleared before and with that 2 year contract you could move him up and down with impunity.

Carrick makes $631,667, Broll makes $590,833 so a combined $1.21 million. Send Orr down and for $296,000 more you get an extra player in Carrick.

If you aren't playing Fraser, McLaren, you can send him down. With that 2 year contract for $700,000, I doubt he gets claimed.

I think Jamie Devane, ($574,00) is a better player than Fraser McLaren. Think of this, Orr and McLaren for $1.625 million or Broll, Carrick and Devane for $1.795 million. The extra player costs a mere $170,000 more.

There are all sorts of combinations. Spencer Abbott is a mere $19,000 more than Carrick.

I am surprized thy haven't worked thi angle harder.

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#16 WesternDP
January 11 2014, 02:55PM
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@Jeremy Ian

"A 4th line of D'Amigo-McClement-Ashton with Holland centering a 3rd line would be a good start."

Yes, that's right in line with my thinking. You could play that against NJ on Sunday.

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#17 Jeremy Ian
January 11 2014, 03:08PM
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@WesternDP

You could. Many of us would want that. But the answer to your puzzle to @Willbur about why they haven't experimented with these options points to the coaching staff that make the roster decisions.

I doubt we'll see what we'd like to because Carlyle is going to be risk averse now. Seeing as he can ill-afford more losses, he's going to be conservative. It's his disposition to start with. The pressure will only magnify this. This is why he benched Gardiner for Fraser vs the Canes. This is why Holland played so few minutes before being sent to the Marlies.

Not saying I like this. It's just the pattern. The worst case scenario -- in my mind -- would be that this kind of clawing strategy wins just enough games to make a wild card berth plausible but in the end run fails and we've wasted an opportunity to see this as a failed model and a chance to rethink. RC's not a re-thinking kind of guy.

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#18 STAN
January 11 2014, 03:21PM
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There's absolutely no evidence that his thing will get turned around. Neither the players nor coaches seem to have a clue. Not to mention senior management making a mess of the roster.

The killer here is that the locked-in core (Kessel, Phaneuf, Clarkson, Lupul, Bozak) is mediocre at best and even their alleged 'best defenceman', Phaneuf, couldn't make the top 4 in St. Louis.

With different coaching this core group might have a chance, but that would see Kessel actually checking and being a little bit physical, Phaneuf starting to make clever plays, not dumb dump-outs, Lupul staying healthy, Clarkson just showing up and Bozak maintaining his current productive output.

BTW, here's a link to an excellent piece by Chris Peters.

http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/eye-on-hockey/24404619/with-maple-leafs-season-spiraling-plenty-of-blame-to-go-around

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#19 Wetcoaster
January 11 2014, 03:30PM
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I think someone once mentioned that the Toronto regular season has a tendency to go into a nose dive after losing to the Canucks.

They didn't play against Vancouver in lockout season, and they haven't won against Van since before the last lockout, so we do have over a decade's worth of examples.

The solution is clear: MLSE should bribe the schedule makers so that Toronto's 2 games against Vancouver next year are a home-and-away for the last two games in the season.

Maybe it's like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff - the Leafs are bad, we can see they're bad, but until they look down (or play the Canucks apparently), THEY don't realize they're bad and manage to keep defying the laws of gravity and statistics.

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#20 negrilcowboy
January 11 2014, 03:38PM
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its time kitty carlyle embraces modern times, banishes the knuckle dragging facepunchers and uses speed as a weapon. holland, d'amigo, leivo should all be used 10 minutes a game. estblish set d combos not the revolving door policy. pair a mobile puck mover on each set. and finally adapt a system to match your personnel. team speed is in, broad street bullies is long gone.

acquire giodano from the flames for kadri and a pick/prospect or two. fraser is not an nhl dman, there are reasons why guys are 27 yr old rookies. del zotto may be a good fit as well. fraser and ranger may be heart warming stories but save the stories for disney get true big league talent.

surrendering on average 36 shots per is very telling.

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#21 STAN
January 11 2014, 03:48PM
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If I hadn't confirmed that was actually published by a legit source, I'd think it was from The Onion.

Dave Nonis reminds me of a used care salesmen who looks you straight in the eyes and tells you what a great vehicle it is, when it's clear that it is riddled with dents and barely starts.

Nonis actually said this "is a good team". How on earth can he say that with a straight face? It's not a a good team right now, the personnel decisions of Carlyle AND his boss are highly questionable and the whole thing appears to be headed off a cliff.

Thanks to Damian Cox for reporting what Nonis actually asserted… while holding off any analysis for what-I-asssume-will-be a scathing column.

http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2014/01/11/maple_leafs_gm_nonis_refuses_to_sacrifice_future_for_shortterm_fix_cox.html

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#22 negrilcowboy
January 11 2014, 04:54PM
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@STAN

nonnis will soon be peddling ocean front property in nevada.

amazed to read so many references to the winter classic and the emotional toll it took on these players. imagine how strained they would be if they actually played some meaningful hockey. one outdoor hockey game and now the leafs need therapy. the 18 wheeler has been racing towards the cliff since november 1st.

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#23 Poluza
January 11 2014, 06:48PM
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I think this team needs to change it's identity. The "truculent" angle clearly hasn't worked, especially because no one has really adopted it. I agree with most of the comments ahead of me in that Orr and Mclaren need to be sent down for more grinding, energy players with skill from the Marlies. I don't know if the cap would allow this, but once Bolland is back, wouldn't a line of D'Amigo-Holland-Ashton be a great fourth line, and keep Mcclement as a 13th forward? At least that way the fourth line could be relevant.

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#24 Mark
January 14 2014, 05:52AM
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@Bryan

Clarkson a big body? 6"1 200 lbs? I guess Matt Stajan is a power forward too ! LoL!

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