Say Good Night Gracie
I guess it would be foolish not to start off this post with at least addressing Game Seven, though frankly, I’m over it. There is nothing this franchise can do anymore that legitimately surprises me. While a collapse like this is unprecedented and unlikely statistically, it doesn’t change the fact that the Leafs struggle defensively, and the Bruins are a more talented team that Toronto is incapable of matching when they are firing on all cylinders.
I’ve divorced myself from the last ten minutes of the Leafs season, which is a pleasant change after normally trying to rid my brain of entire Leaf seasons, instead I’ll put myself back in the mindset I was in after Game Four. “At least the Leafs didn’t get swept.” Despite picking the Leafs to win the series in six, all I ever wanted out of this series was to avoid a sweep, for the Leafs to not be embarrassed by Seguin, Hamilton, and Rask, and for Phil Kessel to prove that he can play against Zdeno Chara. All of those things happened, and we got to watch some really good hockey before heading into summer hiatus.
Rather than dwell on a bad result, I’d rather focus on the positive, and here are my top storylines of the Leafs brief playoff appearance:
- The reemergence of Jake Gardiner. I guess a lot of people could see this coming from a mile away, but the bar was set at being better than O’Byrne, Fraser and Kostka, and instead Gardiner was the blueliner most proficient at safely moving the puck out of the defensive zone, he controlled the puck beautifully with the Bruins giving him a wide berth, and he had some pretty slick defensive plays too. While the Leafs still need a significant upgrade on defense, Gardiner certainly made me feel better about the Leafs already have.
- James Reimer, playoff performer. Again, I don’t think that most of the people who spend their time on Leafs blogs fall into the category of Reimer doubters, but the last stand of those who were questioning Reimer’s ability to be an NHL starter were making on how he did in the playoffs. It’s safe to say this would have been done in four without him, not to mention the fact he’s playoff performance exceeded that of his rumoured replacement, Roberto Luongo.
- Thank you Kessel. For a brief moment it looked like Phil Kessel might have the series winner. Sigh. I guess we’ll have to settle for his two other game winning goals and near point a game pace against a team that has stymied him for the past three seasons. Some credit where it’s due, Carlyle did manage to find Kessel ice time away from Chara and against a worn out Chara, and that certainly helped.
With four months until training camp opening there’s no shortage of time to spend on dissecting what’s wrong with the roster, but at the same time we are only a month and a half away from the NHL draft, compliance buyouts, and the start of free agency.
There is often an inclination to tweak your team based on what buzzwords were most common in the round you were eliminated, so with that in mind, I’m now terrified about the amount of “experience” the Leafs are going to be adding to their roster this summer. Of course if experience is accompanied by increased skill level all is forgiven.
It seems that with the Carlyle Regime, which doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon, toughness will remain a priority. I’m choosing to be optimistic and hoping this is a grand move away from hired goons and will instead be an aggressive search for skilled players who also happen to hit, but I will not be holding my breath. It will be interesting to see what kind of attention the Leafs pay to Frederik Gauthier of Rimouski at the draft, and of course there are plenty of rumours tying David Clarkson to the Leafs, which seems like a recipe for disaster depending on his cap hit.
The main piece that needs to be the organizations focus has to be defense. Mike Kostka played over 22 minutes in a playoff hockey game (and we say how that worked out), Mark Fraser averaged over 18 minutes a night before his injury, both Liles and O’Byrne were being relied on for 15 minutes a night. Arguably these are all at best seventh defensemen on teams with proper depth, instead they were relied on to eat key minutes in the most important games of the season.
The foundation of Phaneuf, Gardiner, Gunnarsson, and Franson seems encouraging, but there is a huge need for another top tier defender to compliment Phaneuf, and shutdown blueliner who can actually shut things down would also be nice. It seems likely that Morgan Rielly will be filling a role on the Leafs sooner rather than later, but ideally he’ll play his way in rather than having a spot set for him before training camp.
And then there were eight
This is a tough second round as it really seems to be devoid of likeable teams to cheer for. This puts a fan base searching for proxy teams in tough situation. I’ve been going through a personal process of elimination in establishing who I should care about.
Immediately Boston has been removed from the equation for obvious reasons. On one hand there’s the logic of “it’s better to lose to the team who wins the cup than a team knocked out in the next round,” but on the other hand there’s “screw them, they made me feel bad about my Leafs.” I’m choosing the latter, so Boston’s out.
Ottawa is out since there would be nothing more insufferable than a month and half of idiotic articles about how the Senators are Canada’s team. Let’s focus on the Senators being Ottawa’s team first before shoving them down everyone else’s throats. Also Daniel Alfredsson looks like a homeless clown, and I hate clowns, they’re out.
The year after the Rangers won the cup I moved to the New York area, which means I suffered through half a decade of New York fans at their smuggest. If they weren’t facing Boston this round I would never be able to make a case for them in the Conference Finals. As soon as the Bruins are out I’m done with the Rangers.
The other day @So_Truculent asked what awful things haven’t happened to the Leafs yet. I, like most people suggested relocation, but I have a new one. Jonas Gustavsson getting a Stanley Cup ring. For that reason alone it’s impossible to consider the Red Wings as a proxy team for the rest of the playoffs.
For me, I’ve had enough Penguins praise to last a lifetime, and Hockey’s mecca could stand to be taken down a peg or two. They’ve had to put up with Marc-Andre Fleury and maybe that’s enough reason to believe they’ve suffered enough. By default they’re least of the evils in the East, but ideally they’ll be watching their Finals opponent skate laps with the cup.
Similarly, I don’t think I’m up for a Kings repeat. I don’t have anything against the Kings other than their stupid Cartman “Go Kings Go!” chant, but I’d rather see it go another way.
By default Victor Stalberg is the most likeable former Leaf left in the tournament so Chicago’s got that going for them. Also I find it pretty hard to hate anyone the Blackhawks, except for Carcillo (counterpoint: I could get lost in Patrick Sharp’s eyes). I’d have no problem with a Hawks win despite their recent cup, but I’m not ready to make them my proxy team.
I choose you San Jose Sharks. While the Sharks have long been in the playoffs, they have often fallen short of expectations. They have a star player in Patrick Marleau that fails to get the respect he deserves, and guys like Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski seem like generally likeable dudes. Plus at the beginning of the playoffs they were paying decent odds on a Stanley Cup Win bet so I took it. So kneel before the teal and hope on the Sharks bandwagon for the next month. It’s sure to end in a level of disappointment we’re used to as Leaf fans.