In the end, the Marlies just didn’t have the depth to keep up to a very skilled Syracuse Crunch team, and are now out of the Calder Cup Playoffs after a Game #7 loss last night.
Jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the second period, the Marlies seemed to be heading in the right direction, but Syracuse would not roll over and die.
After losing Sergey Kalinin, the Marlies had to shuffle their Centers around the lineup and with that type of juggling lost the consistency they needed to compete with the home town team.
Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped 24 of 29, which may not seem great but kept the Marlies hopes alive when they needed the saves the most. The Toronto team was without their starter, and ‘Team MVP’ according to Coach Keefe, Garret Sparks since early in the Playoffs and had to rely on a goalie that played the majority of the season in the ECHL. Antoine Bibeau backed up Kaskisuo and may have played his last minutes with the Leafs organization, as the team was disappointed in his consistency between the pipes.
Seth Griffith opened the scoring for the Marlies with his second in the playoffs. Griffith who returned to the Toronto Organization, after being let go earlier in the season, via waivers was definitely a bright and positive spot for the Marlies this year. Unsure where he will fit in the long term plans, he is another forward that could add NHL level depth to an organization that requires it. Griffith led the Marlies in the playoffs with 9 pts.
Building off the Griffith goal, the next one game from Brendan Leipsic, who was second in Marlies scoring on the season with 51 pts (behind Rychel). Leipsic should be on the radar for NHL employment but I am unsure if he is in the cards here in Toronto. Talented with the puck, in his ability to create and score, but made ill-timed mistakes throughout the season that would drive staff nuts.
The Marlies lead was extended to two goals when Andreas Johnsson scored his 6th of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Johnsson was the Cy Young winner of the playoffs as he had 6 goals and zero assists for the Marlies but played very inspired hockey when the club needed it the most. Look for Johnsson to continue his development with the Marlies next season, the Toronto team will look to keep a kid like this in the organization, but could also draw interest in teams as part of a trade package.
After those three goals by the Marlies, the Crunch established their dominance with speed, and forecheck. These are the two calling cards of a greasy, hardworking group of players who will (or should) contend for the Calder Cup Championship. Well Coached, and highly structured, the team from Syracuse will give any opposition team a nightmare when they get rolling, and even more so while short handed.
A lack of depth up the middle for the Marlies, and a blueline that definitely needs to grow and mature was the ultimate demise. Andrew Nielsen was a -13 in the playoffs, and will have to work on his foot speed and gap control during the off season. Partnered with Rinat Valiev, the pair had a tough time handling the forecheck of the Crunch who were relentless in their pursuit. Nothing but upside for Nielsen as this is a learning process and he will adapt as he gets stronger and improves his skating. Look for him to have a big season next year leading this Marlies team from the back end.
The Toronto Marlies and the Leafs organization have many options moving forward. It will be interesting to see how Lamoriello and Dubas continue to shape this roster from the goaltenders out. Unsure what will happen with Sparks and his wonky ‘lower body’ and where the Organization sees Kasimir Kaskisuo on their depth chart. Would not shock me in the least if the team goes out to acquire more stability and durability for between the pipes as more Rookies will be in the lineup for next season.
It was a great run by Coach Keefe and his Marlies. Will a NHL team start look at Keefe as an addition to their staff? Could he get promoted to the Leafs ? This is a very dedicated, hard working and respected bench boss, and he does belong in the NHL at some point in the near future.
From a personal point, it was another great year at the Ricoh. The Toronto Marlies team and PR Staff, led by Colin McBride, are truly Professional and an excellent bunch to work with. Thanks to the entire group that made the ‘media’ life an enjoyable experience from Training Camp to the final game at the Ricoh.
Cheers. And we will see you next season……