Leaf Tales and Hot Takes of the Future

Steve Dangle
August 06 2014 11:12AM

Fortune Cookies 007

Hey did anyone hear if there’s been any hockey news while I’ve been out of town?

As we all know, hockey is virtually void of an offseason. The Stanley Cup Final goes into late June, followed quickly by awards, the Draft, and the carnival that is the kickoff to free agency. Sometimes there’s a bit of a lull after a week or two but this time, in Leaf Land anyway, there was a big kaboom. Multiple signings, two executives fired, and a new cunning Assistant GM who probably still gets ID’d at the bar.

If there’s no offseason then that means that the new season is right around the corner. Don’t roll your eyes and say “it’s August.” You’ll blink and it will be training camp. So let’s get ready for the season, shall we? 

Every season brings a new and exciting set of storylines and hot takes. This will be my eighth year "covering" the Leafs and I’m 26 so this will also be my 26th year of fandom. I think I’ve been watching this team long enough that I can predict what some of the headlines might be this upcoming season so I’m going to give it a shot.

Kyle Dubas the Future

Dubas

Obviously when the Leafs hired a 28-year-old to their front office staff it caused a bit of a stir. Just wait until the season starts.

If the Leafs come out of the gate hot, or better yet make the playoffs, look for people to sing the praises of Dubas in every octave they can hit. Dubas had feature spreads written about him in The Hockey News and Sportsnet Magazine (to name a few) after being hired as the GM of the Soo Greyhounds at age 25. Just imagine the hype that will surround him if he succeeds with the NHL’s most ravenous fan base. 

Will it be warranted praise? To an extent. I’m thrilled that the Leafs nabbed him but I know Rome wasn’t built in a day. Dubas will do his part but media is show business, after all. Hyperbole is king. If the Leafs do well, look for Dubas to get the same saviour treatment James Reimer received when he broke onto the scene.

This is just the reality that surrounds Kyle Dubas. He’s new and unknown territory for most. In the storytelling business that’s called “exciting.” Plus the guy’s got a smile that could sell toothpaste. Editors can’t wait to put his face on the cover of their paper and producers can’t wait to put his face on the screen.

Kyle Dubas the big idiot nerd math dummy

nerds

Of course, hyperbole works both ways.

If the Leafs stumble to start the season or miss the playoffs for the ninth time in ten campaigns, look for some to call Dubas’ hire a “failed experiment.” Hell, if Dubas is considered a failure then analytics as a whole will be considered a wash, too. Success and failure change perspective. If the team stinks, a hire that was deemed young and exciting will quickly turn to “Who the hell does this kid think he is?” I’ll even write up the headline for you: “New direction, same result.” They might throw a word or two in there but that’ll be the gist of it.

Here’s something that could be a fun (or totally not fun) subplot: What if the Leafs’ analytics improve from last season but they do worse in the standings? Twitter should be a hoot. “I remember the Corsi wars of 2015. We lost a lot of good people out there.”

Dubas represents some things that some people don’t agree with, don’t understand, and frankly, are afraid of. The lineup of people who want to tear him down at the first chance they get won’t be short.

David Clarkson: The Comeback

I still remember last summer when David Clarkson dawned the cover of The Hockey News. Head lowered, eyes determined, and a fresh photoshopped cut on his face dripping with blue blood. The Maple Leafs’ official Twitter account tweeted a silhouetted Clarkson on dark ice with the simple header “He’s coming.” Fans bought truckloads of his jerseys before he (or John Scott) ever hit the ice last season. A lot of people wanted him to succeed and just as many will be hoping for him to make a comeback. 

I’d love to wax poetically about David Clarkson, the great hometown hope, shutting down all his naysayers, returning to 30-goal-scoring form, and rescuing the princess on a majestic steed made of magic and pop rocks. I won’t say that, but you know, a 15-goal season from David Clarkson isn’t entirely out of the question. That would be an improvement but that's such a boring word. 

"Comeback." Now we're cookin'.

Many were critical of Clarkson's signing, and that criticism was well warranted, but very few predicted the utter catastrophe that 2013-14 was for him. A (perhaps deservedly) reduced role, debilitating injuries, and 12 games worth of suspensions saw Clarkson score just four goals in his first season with the Leafs. Assuming he’s fully healthy, it’s reasonable to hope for at least a an improvement - excuse me- a comeback. 

The “comeback kid” angle will be a popular one with fans and local media alike if Clarkson can impress in his sophomore season in Toronto. Even a mini hot streak would be worthy of a feature article from most outlets. Maybe even a one-on-one sit-down with Elliotte Friedman. Sad music with black and white or sepia toned footage showing his struggles, maybe even use that gross shot of him getting stitched up from 24/7, followed by brightly-lit goals, trumpets, celebration shots, and shouts of triumph.

Everyone loves a comeback story and the story writes itself. It’s good theater. 

Redemption Song


You know what? Singling out David Clarkson’s potential comeback isn't fair. You could write a redemption story about pretty much any player on this team. 

Phil Kessel lead the team in scoring last year but quotes of his were published just this past week about avoiding yet another late season tailspin. How about Dion Phaneuf? Can he comeback from almost a calendar year of trade rumours? What about Leo Komarov? He literally came back. Petri Kontiola is trying to make an NHL comeback of his own. Mike Santorelli was on pace for a career season in Vancouver before suffering a season-ending arm injury. David Booth is looking to get his NHL career back on track after a stint with the Canucks that made Carlo Colaiacovo look like an ironman. Can Jake Gardiner finally focus now that he has a five-year deal instead of a pile of trade rumours? Can James Reimer return to form and hopefully avoid anymore traumatic blows to the head? Can newly-signed Stephane Robidas bounce back from yet another serious leg injury at the age of 37? Can Nazem Kadri go longer than five minutes without getting blamed for something? 

Go up and down the roster and there are more potential redemption stories on this team than there aren't. A writer's delight! What'll it be: A change of scenery? Bounces going their way? A new diet? A big offseason? A new inspiration? Getting back to basics? August through October should be chalked full of stories like this so be on the lookout!

A lot of comeback stories are just fluffy people-pleasers. Easy on the writer, easy on the subject if they're interviewed, and most readers like reading anything positive about their team, especially if their team is known for their recent history of failure.

David Clarkson: The Buyout

Ok so let’s assume he’s still brutal. I could probably even give you the timeline:

Clarkson starts the season with an increased role many people dispute; let’s say right wing on the second line with Kadri and Lupul. His minutes start decreasing, maybe he gets demoted down a line, and maybe a few of the guys playing on the third or fourth line begin to flourish. Then people start wondering whether or not he should be a healthy scratch and before you know it he actually becomes one. 

In a salary cap world you simply can’t afford to be paying a guy $5.75 million (for this season and the five that follow) just to eat popcorn. It’ll sting but the Leafs will need to legitimately explore how they could buyout a contract that is, by design, pretty damn hard to buyout. The “I told you so” line will look like the auditions for American Idol and everyone will be in the hot seat with Dave Nonis at or near the top of that list.

Randy Carlyle's So Definitely Maybe Getting Fired

Speaking of comeback stories...

“Randy Carlyle finally has a team he’s happy with, he’s got things under control, the Leafs are doing just fine, and he’s here to stay.” 

The so-called "old boys club" would love a story like that kind of angle. Not only is it a comeback story but it's also a "he's still got it" story.

I personally have a hard time believing Carlyle will be with the Leafs long term based on the team’s actions. Yes he was extended but change is in the air. Dave Poulin and Claude Loisselle are already gone. New management (Shanahan) usually means a change of the guard. Assistant coaches have already been hired and fired. At this point it doesn’t seem like a matter of if but a matter of when but don't let that get in the way of a good story.

Of course, if the Leafs are doing great to start the season then why would they fire the guy? They wouldn’t. Even if it were the right move to make the optics would be terrible. Besides, nobody would get to write the “return of the fearless leader” narrative. “Hard-nosed former Stanley Cup-winning coach cracks the whip, returns to grace, and stands victorious over the defeated bodies of his blogging naysayers.

Here’s one to look for in the blogosphere: “The Leafs give Carlyle a team capable of better possession but he has no idea what to do with them.” Actually that’s been the story for a few years now but expect it to hit a fever pitch after a summer full of possession-friendly Leafs moves.

It will be an interesting mix when it comes to Carlyle. Some will obviously criticize or defend him no matter what, but like I said earlier, new is exciting. Watch for some guys you might expect to be more Carlyle-friendly to start calling for change because change sells.

The BERN-ing Question

HOT TAKE: GOALTENDING IS IMPORTANT! Hotter take: Goaltending could be the be all and end all of the 2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs. Can Jonathan Bernier repeat or even improve upon the .923% save percentage he posted in his first season as a Leaf? If he can, the Leafs are in great shape. If he slips just a bit the Leafs are screwed, especially if Reimer can't reach those numbers either. If both goalies slip, get ready for this little guy:

"The Leafs must acquire goaltending help."

Oh that's right! You heard me!

While James Reimer signed a very affordable and very tradeable deal, if neither goalie can give the Leafs above average to elite goaltending next season look for people to start calling for or "asking the question" regarding a Leafs move for a starting goaltender. Guess what the kicker will be - it's a contract year for Jonathan Bernier! "Was Bernier's success last season just a flash in the pan? The Leafs need to decide now because he's got no deal for next season and the trade deadline is fast approaching!"

I doubt that story ever happens but oh baby if it does! Realistically though, Bernier's expiring contract will be a very hot topic regardless of results until pen touches paper and the possibility of a Reimer trade will be a hot one, too.

There you have it, Leafs fans! Now you're all set for the 2014-15 season. I look forward to you all tweeting this post back at me if any of these headlines actually end up happening, or more realistically, I'm hilariously wrong.

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Steve Dangle has a YouTube channel with over 3 million views and is the co-host of the Steve Dangle Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Steve has also worked for CBC, the NHL Network, Leafs TV, Nike, the KHL, and most of all, the Toronto Zoo. stevedangle.com
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#1 Gumby
August 06 2014, 11:59AM
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I appreciate this article, I think I'm going through hockey withdrawal right now...

I'll bet you a toonie that Carlyle can turn it around though.

Er... on second thought, just a loonie.

You also touched on the topic of Clarkson becoming an over-paid, less tough Colton Orr. My God that idea scares the crap out of me

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#2 Bertly83
August 06 2014, 12:33PM
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welcome back Dangle. things are as they should be again. haha

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#3 Gardiner-Reilly
August 06 2014, 01:02PM
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I am not really concerned about the goal tending because even if Bernier can't maintain the save % he had last year, I don't think there is a chance that Reimer will be as bad as he was last year so those two factors will most likely balance each other out so long as Carlyle distributes the starts evenly amongst them.

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#4 Gardiner-Reilly
August 06 2014, 01:02PM
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I am not really concerned about the goal tending because even if Bernier can't maintain the save % he had last year, I don't think there is a chance that Reimer will be as bad as he was last year so those two factors will most likely balance each other out so long as Carlyle distributes the starts evenly between them.

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#5 Bertly83
August 06 2014, 01:06PM
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making a prediction:

Bernier - 52GP, 26W, 15L, 11OTL Reimer - 30GP, 14W, 13L, 3OTL

Leafs finish 40-28-14 for 94 points.

Wildcard spot.

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#6 whichonespink
August 06 2014, 01:08PM
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Steve,(like I know you)congrats on the wedding and yada yada. I know your jetlagged but, jist is spelled gist. Jist is sort of right, it's the foe-net-ic pronunciation of the same word. Go Leafs, what time will the new SDP be posted. THERE ARE BUGS UNDER MY SKIN!

P.S. A new LFR before 6 would be helpful too!

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#8 giproc
August 06 2014, 03:51PM
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Congratulations Mr. D.

For me, the Clarkson, Carlyle and D-group issues will fester all season. Dubas and Shanny will get their headlines next off-season.

JVR, Bozak, Kessel, Lupul and Komarov are locks unless traded. Kadri, Santorelli, Winnik, Kontiola, Booth, Ashton and Bodie are all on their final contract years and will be playing 120% from Day 1 for respect and contract extensions. (Like Raymond last year, none bear the weight of egregious current contracts and shouldn't be adversely affected by the weight of Leafs Nation like #71.)

That's 12 forwards in good situations already, plus Holland on a new 2 yr deal who is no longer waiver exempt and Frattin who meshed with Kadri FAR better than Clarkson, albeit in a small sample set.

Heading to camp. Clarkson should realize that he is somewhere between the 13th and 15th best forward on a team that will never dress more than 12. Unless he has the best pre-season and first 40 games of his career, his dream of retiring as a member of his home team is gone.

As for Carlyle, tick tock...

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#9 Leafer1
August 06 2014, 04:47PM
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Sportsnet.ca article asking to vote for either Van ReimsDyk or Pacioretty Asking fans here to vote.

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#10 Gardiner-Reilly
August 06 2014, 04:49PM
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The Leafs remind me of a Chinese dish alright, The Poo Poo Platter.

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#11 Gumby
August 06 2014, 04:50PM
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Gardiner-Reilly wrote:

The Leafs remind me of a Chinese dish alright, The Poo Poo Platter.

What a moron!!

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#12 Alley
August 06 2014, 05:04PM
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I'm a little new on the site but here we go

I think bernier is a good goalie, but getting higher than .925 looks real hard for him, which isn't necessarily a problem because Reimer will stay at a cool .918 next season... hopefully.

For some reason I feel that JVR is going to get traded with someone (or something eg: a pick) for Patrick Sharp by the deadline.

Also, I'm betting on both Phaneuf and Gardiner skating to 40 point season with a decline from franson to about 25 points.

Anyway, I'll say a playoff spot on the wild card with 92 points for the leafs, and a first round exit in 6 games

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#13 WesternDP
August 06 2014, 05:30PM
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@Gumby

hockey withdrawal?

Canada vs Russia right off the Hockey Canada website: http://stats.hockeycanada.ca/game/show/7838018?subseason=165586

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#14 Gardiner-Reilly
August 06 2014, 06:32PM
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Gumby wrote:

What a moron!!

Yeah I know that was not me it was a dumb troll.

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#15 captainLupul
August 06 2014, 07:16PM
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Steve! thats not fair! you cant say clarkson will be both bad and good!

Also you forgot one... Tyler Biggs suddenly turns into the first round draft pick he was meant to be. outscores brandon Saad.

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#16 Gumby
August 06 2014, 08:20PM
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@Gardiner-Reilly

That was also not me, and also a dumb troll ...

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#17 Gumby
August 06 2014, 09:24PM
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Gumby wrote:

What a moron!!

My bad guys, My comment.

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#18 Bertly83
August 06 2014, 09:38PM
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Anyone ever notice when a Chinese restaurant opens up how all the neighborhood cats seem to disappear.

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#19 lupul4captain
August 06 2014, 09:44PM
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@Alley

Jvr will never get traded for sharp, cap hit is to friendly especially with this amazing Clarkson contract. Only way management trades JVR is for a number 1 c/d.

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#20 Kanuunankuula
August 06 2014, 11:20PM
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There is something wrong with this team if Phil Kessel needs to redeem himself.

TBH you should've included something about the FAs taking away spots from the youngsters (or failing to).

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#21 captainLupul
August 06 2014, 11:36PM
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Kanuunankuula wrote:

There is something wrong with this team if Phil Kessel needs to redeem himself.

TBH you should've included something about the FAs taking away spots from the youngsters (or failing to).

You actually came on to post That comment?? Yikes!!

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#22 Gumby
August 06 2014, 11:38PM
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Can anyone tell me where I can find a link to Lupul's naked photos for the ESPN magazine, thanks.

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#23 Gumby
August 07 2014, 05:50AM
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@Gumby

Yes, we get it... You're a loser who thinks that writing under other peoples names is the Picasso of pranks

I wonder what hilarious banter you'll make up for yourself next time

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