Leafs Nation are a passionate bunch! We wear our hearts on our sleeves and aren’t afraid to fight to make a point so it’s always an exciting time when a new trade rumour, free agent signing, or other Toronto Maple Leafs news hits the web. Every week, I’ll break down what’s “in the news” and give you my perspective. You know what they say about opinions- everybody has one, some just stink more than others! This is how I see it… in my VIEW FROM THE BLUES!
Not much going on this week, so let’s look at the…
Leafs’ Plan Of Defence…
A quick look at the Leafs’ newfound organizational depth shows that when it comes to the forwards, the cupboards are fully stocked and overflowing with gold. Names like William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic and Frederik Gauthier are pretty good bets to be in the Leafs Top 6 by the time the 2017-18 season starts. Others such as Zach Hyman, Casey Bailey, Josh Leivo, and Sam Carrick will probably be in the lineup as soon as this year.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the defense, which beyond Morgan Rielly, is littered with question marks. A couple of weeks ago, I tried to predict the organization’s “three-year goaltending plan.” Time to get out the old crystal ball once again and have a look into the future at the Leafs’ “plan of defence!” This week, I’ll change the game a bit and look at the coming season only.
In order to fully understand where the Leafs are heading when it comes to the back-end, we need to start by looking at the projected roster of the big club. A look at Mike Babcock’s Toronto Maple Leafs squad next season shows that the 7 roster spots are pretty much sewn up barring an injury or a Dion Phaneuf trade. (fingers crossed)
Morgan Rielly: The 21-year old native of Vancouver, B.C is set to take on a much larger role in his third pro-season. His confidence is growing and he seemed to jump into the rush quite a bit more last season. His ice-time should increase significantly from around 20 minutes per game and so will his responsibility.
2015-16- Expect a big season from him playing top minutes for Mike Babcock.
Dion Phaneuf: I know that some of you are cringing while reading this but let’s be sensible here. Unless Lou Lamoriello is able to pull off the unthinkable and actually move number 3 to another team, Babcock will use him. The hot rumour this past trade deadline day was that the Detroit Red Wings were going hard at Phaneuf and only lost interest when Toronto insisted that top prospect Anthony Mantha be included in the deal. Yes, MIKE BABCOCK’S Detroit Red Wings. Babcock is smart and will find ways to make Phaneuf less vulnerable on the ice.
2015-16- Expect a possible pairing with Morgan Rielly on the club’s top unit.
Roman Polak: If I were the 29-year old Czech, I wouldn’t get too comfortable next season. He is in the final year of his contract and there will be plenty of teams looking for a big (6’0, 236) defenseman who plays hard and moves well.
2015-16- With several Marlies on the cusp of becoming NHLers, expect the Leafs to turn him over for a draft pick or two next March.
Jake Gardiner: Perhaps the best thing to happen to Gardiner is that Mike Babcock has come to Toronto. Then again, it could also be the worst thing. Gardiner is now 25-years old and a veteran of 246 NHL games. His effortless skating stride is his biggest strength but it’s often overshadowed by his tendency to give the puck away.
2015-16- He’ll be given a shot to finally live up to his potential being a 1st-round draft pick back in 2008 but make no mistake about it- the leash is short!
Martin Marincin: The 23-year old Slovakian was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on June 27 for Brad Ross and Pittsburgh’s 4th-round pick (107th overall) that the Leafs had acquired in the Daniel Winnik trade. The word out of Edmonton is that he’s soft and unwilling to use his 6’4, 203 pound frame to his advantage. As promising as Marincin sounds, this fact could prove to be his downfall when seeking full-time NHL employment. Although the video below may dispute that fact.
2015-16- A 5 or 6 guy unless a trade or injury happens but at 23 there’s a lot of room for growth.
Matt Hunwick: Leafs fans are notorious for getting excited about players who come to Toronto so let’s get one thing straight. Matt Hunwick is a number 6 or 7 defenceman that will play 50-60 games just as he did last season with the Rangers. The Leafs can only hope that he will perform well in that role so they can move him at next year’s trade deadine.
2015-16- Expect him to be moved. At 2-years and $2.4 million, Hunwick could be an attractive commodity for teams looking for a tough, serviceable defenceman heading into the playoffs.
Stephane Robidas: This is just one of those many “what the hell was David Nonis thinking” moves that we all cringe when thinking about. It still baffles me why anyone would give a three-year contract to a 37-year old defenseman who had broken his leg TWICE in the past 8 months. However, Nonis did and Robidas played, well, like a guy who broke his leg twice in the past 8 months!
2015-16- It remains to be seen whether a supposedly healthy Robidas will be able to make any kind of impact at age 38 but he’s under contract for another two years at $3 million per season.
[gap height=”10″][ad id=”5890″][gap height=”7″]
Over at the Ricoh Coliseum, the Sheldon Keefe’s Marlies will be running a similar type system. There are 9 defencemen to watch at the AHL level next season and all will be hungry to show Babcock that they are ready.
T.J Brennan: At 26, Brennan is the “senior member” on this young Marlies blueline and will be eager to take a job with the Leafs coming out of training camp. In fact, beating out a veteran such as Hunwick may be his only chance at an NHL job this season due to the fact that he’ll have to clear waivers to be sent down. Brennan won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s best defenseman back in 2013-14 but it’s important to see him for what he is- an average skater who struggles in his own end. His shot is hard and accurate but this isn’t the second coming of Paul Coffey here. Brennan is in his second go around with the Leafs and has also spent time with five other organizations.
2015-16- There’s no room for him on the Leafs as long as Phaneuf is around.
Stuart Percy: Percy impressed in training camp last season and played 9 games with the Leafs recording 3 assists before being sent down. Dubas has gone on record as saying that Percy’s development was hurt by being moved back and forth between the AHL and NHL levels. I would expect that the organization will want him to spend another year with the Marlies and will avoid the mistake of “yo-yoing” him between the two teams.
2015-16- He’ll have to beat out one of the Leafs’ 7 guys to win a spot unless a trade happens. They will be careful with him. Once he’s a Leaf- he’ll stay one.
Scott Harrington: Also known as the “other guy” in the Phil Kessel deal, Harrington has a decent track record as a big, stay at home defenceman. Like Percy, he was taken in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and was named captain of his OHL team. For Harrington, it was the London Knights so you can be sure that the Leafs know what kind of character that they have in this young man.
2015-16- Will log lots of minutes with the Marlies. One of the first call-ups if Mike Babcock needs help on the big club.
Viktor Loov: When you hear of a Swedish player who can skate and move the puck it doesn’t exactly make you take notice does it? Well how about one who not only bring those qualities to the table but also has size, (6’3, 200lbs.) a mean streak, and loves to hit? Those are the qualities that Viktor Loov brings to the table.
“I thought he was outstanding. With Viktor, he’s such a great kid, he works so hard, he’s in great condition, he’s a great skater. You saw as the year went along with the Marlies, he started getting a little bit more physical. He got suspended in the playoffs on a hit that was as big of a hit as I saw the whole season. Unfortunately the player was injured on the play, but he started to embrace that a little bit. I think the coaching staff… I know they will be great for him, and it’s going to be exciting to see him come into the Fall and in the exhibition season with the Leafs and so on.” (Kyle Dubas- July 9/ 2015)
2015-16- He needs one more season in the AHL before making the jump and the organization seems to know it. A big season will make him a definite threat for full-time NHL employment in 2016-17.
Petter Granberg: Often criticized for being “flat-footed,” Granberg isn’t the most flashy player in the Leafs organization but that didn’t stop him from playing 9 games with the big club last season. He spent the off-season recovering from achilles surgery and will be out of commission until at least November and quite possibly longer.
2015-16- The injury is a tough break for Petter and has definitely hurt his chances of playing in the NHL next season. The longer he’s out, the harder it will be for him to step into an important role for the Marlies as well.
Rinat Valiev: Who is the most underrated prospect in the Leafs’ system? Valiev could quite possibly be the answer to that question. He’s 6’2, 208 pounds with a mean streak and an offensive side to his game. He played two games for the Marlies at the end of last season and didn’t look out of place at all.
“I think it was a great experience for him. Even the games he played in at the end of the regular season, he played at Rockford and at Chicago, our last two games, and he was really, really good. I think he’s going to be a key member of the Marlies this year. He’s a competitive guy with good offensive upside that he showed this year in Kootenay. The Kootenay staff did just a great job with him throughout the season. He played for Russia at the World Juniors. He’s a guy that can play in all situations for us and we’re really excited to see him come in. You can tell he’s worked hard so far in the offseason. He’s staying in North America the rest of the offseason. He’ll be in Toronto early, which will be good.” (Kyle Dubas- July 9/ 2015)
2015-16- Although it would seem that the sheer depth on the Marlies’ blueline next season would mean a ticket to Orlando for him, Valiev will be given the chance to beat out more experienced players for a spot in the Top 6.
Matt Finn: He will be looking to bounce back after an injury-riddled first pro season. Finn is one of three Marlies’ defensemen (along with Percy and Harrington) who spent time as the captain on his OHL team.
“It was just a tough year for Matt. I just throw it away and say… okay, he’s got two more years left on his entry-level deal, he’s worked his butt off in the summer and even in the spring when the Marlies were still playing. He came into camp… he didn’t have a great summer… he came into camp, struggled in the rookie tournament, then he tore his hamstring, comes back, claws his way back in, we start him in Orlando then he got playing with the Marlies. Then, he got a concussion, which cost him a lot of time. With any injury like that we want to make sure he’s absolutely 100% ready to go and he’s not at any risk whatsoever. It was just a really tough year for him; he never got it on track. He’s worked extremely hard; he’s in every day pushing himself. It will be exciting to see him. He’s got our full support and a good chance to bounce back this season.” (Kyle Dubas- July 9/ 2015)
2015-16- The key for him in his second pro season is pretty simple- stay healthy. If he does that then he will get every opportunity to play some big minutes next season.
Tom Nilsson: I’m not sure what it is about this organization but they seem to find the rare aggressive Europeans. Nilsson is another one that fits that mold.
“Nilsson is a throwback, heavy body-checking, defensive defenseman who draws the ire of his opponents with his sometimes borderline legal, antagonistic play. Some scouts see elements of long-time NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson in his approach to the game, but he has not yet demonstrated the same offensive elements and instincts as Samuelsson. A right-handed shooting defenseman (somewhat rare among Europeans), Nilsson has a solid shot from the point.” (hockeysfuture.com)
2015-16- With 9 capable defencemen on the Marlies next season, playing time may be tough to find for all of them. Nilsson should show up to training camp looking to earn a spot as there are no guarantees.
Even more depth will come from the recently signed Andrew Campbell, as well as Brendan Miller, Justin Holl,and Max Nicastro. The most intriguing member of that group has to be the 27-year old Campbell of Caledonia, Ontario. Campbell, a third-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings back in 2008, played 33 games for the Arizona Coyotes last season.
As Todd Crocker put it on this week’s Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast- there may not be any IMMEDIATE depth on defence in this organization but there is plenty on the way. This is a time for all Leafs fans to be patient. Good things are coming, and most of those good things can be seen over at Ricoh Colliseum starting next month!
The Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast…
The debut episode of The Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast was released on Monday, August 24 and was a tough act to follow but we may have done just that. With the help of “The Voice of the Marlies” Todd Crocker, our 60-minute show turned into a 90-minute show as we ran down the entire roster and coaching staff of the club one by one.
For the first time that I can recall, there actually seems to be more excitement about the farm team than the NHL team which shows exactly how drastic the change in direction has been for this organization. Youth really does “reign supreme” these days and the Marlies roster will show that this coming season.
We also gave away the clues to Mystery Leaf #2 who was a little younger than Mystery Leaf #1 from the first episode. Remember to collect all 12 of them in order to be entered into a draw to win this awesome framed print of Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour.
Next week, we’ll take a ride in the BNWT Time Machine as we travel back to the 1980’s! Greg Terrion played 427 games in 6 seasons with the blue and white. His teammates included Rick Vaive, Borje Salming, Mike Palmateer, and Wendel Clark during that time and we’ll ask him about all of them, as well as the very unique NHL record that he holds, when he joins us next week on The Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast!
Leafs Hub Android App…
By now, you probably have heard about the app which is available at the Google Play store. If you haven’t gotten it yet ten the only question to ask is… WHY?[gap height=”5″]
If I could get all the great Leafs Hub content right at my fingertips I would be all over it! Unfortunately, I’m an iphone user but good new is coming on that front as well. The app will be available for us soon too! I’ll keep you posted of course!
Tweet of the Week…
Anyone following the official Toronto Maple Leafs website will know that it’s not out of the ordinary to see Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly together in some kind of video. In fact, they seemed to be the new “Bert and Ernie” of the Leafs and even lived together. Well, brace yourselves everyone because I have some very unsettling news. It seems that the “bromance” between the two Maple Leaf bachelors may in fact be over!
Still looking for an apartment in T dot. Anybody need a roommate?! #Homeless
— Jake Gardiner (@Jgardiner272) September 1, 2015
So what happened? The truth has yet to come out but I’m going to do my best to spread the rumour that the now homeless Tyler Bozak has moved in causing Morgan to kick young Jake to the curb! I’ll try to update you next week! Like sands through the hour-glass, so are the “Days of our Leafs!” (cue cheesy music)
Please send all comments, opinions, and hate mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter: @robb_ellis
I’ll catch ya next week! If you see me say hi… I’M UP IN BLUES!!!