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"The Babcock Era Begins... Stanley Cup or Bust for LA Kings..."
32 Years Old • Male
April 27

Do the Leafs need a new coach or new Philosophy?

First of all, I do not think that simply bringing in a new coach and continuing with the same exact roster for the most part will pay instant dividends.

First, the team needs to decide what it will do with its goaltending situation. Everyone thinks that Jonathan Bernier was a "savior" for the Leafs and helped bail them out all season. Bernier was average at best. James Reimer's confidence and overall game was destroyed by Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle from the beginning after taking this team to within seconds of knocking off the mighty Boston Bruins coming back from down 3-1 and winning twice in Boston. Who knows how far the Leafs could have gone if the team had not imploded in the final minutes and seconds of that game seven.

The team needs to decide to keep Reimer or trade him. The same thing cannot happen again next year, and that is a real shame because Reimer should have been the #1 goalie coming into this season. Say what you want to about Reimer, but he took the Leafs further than anyone expected them after years of frustration. To me, he deserved a chance to pick up where he left off, instead the organization goes out and brings in another budding young goaltender who had not even started a single playoff game. Now the team is in a quandary in goal and there should not be. There are a number of other glaring needs and holes to fill, and Nonis has added another one. I still have very little faith in Bernier going forward, but hopefully things can still yet work out for him. This season was not a good one for him by any means. Trading Reimer to a team in need of a young goaltender, one with some playoff experience as well could help bring in a depth forward or another defenseman at least.

Next issue is solidifying the blue line. The team has decided to place faith into Dion Phaneuf, faith they think is deserving of a seven year contract extension, another potential big mistake made by Nonis. But the most fatal side of retaining Phaneuf is pairing him with the softest, most ineffective defenseman in the league in Carl Gunnarsson which makes Phaneuf even more of an easy target and teams know that they can take advantage of the Leafs end every time those two are on the ice. Phaneuf needs someone much tougher and with more experience with him on the ice, perhaps Tim Gleason is the best answer to pair with at this point. Cody Franson is not the answer for the Leafs, as has been even more evident with such an atrocious season of such defensive irresponsibility and overall performance that screamed "I want out!". Seeing that Franson is an RFA, the team should pursue a trading of his rights for someone who could be useful. If Toronto were to hire Barry Trotz, perhaps he will have some motivation for a change and get his game back together for this former coach in Nashville. Otherwise, good riddance. Morgan Reilly was the best Maple Leaf on the ice this season and will continue to get better and gain experience. Bringing in a veteran, battle-tested defenseman to play alongside Reilly could be very beneficial. Carl Gunnarsson is definitely not a top pairing defenseman, but still could be useful as a #5-7 defenseman. Jake Gardiner should be tried out as a forward and with his playmaking skills and skating ability, could turn into a solid top six forward even, and one who could also be a reliable two-way forward with defensive intuition. This leaves the team with four defensmen going into next season and I am not sure about TJ Brennan, Korbinian Holzer or Petter Granberg are the answer, but should at least be given the opportunity.

So, if the Leafs try Gardiner at one of the wings offensively, Toronto still has to decide what to do to make the four lines more effective. At center, the Leafs have Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri under contract. Jay McClement and Dave Bolland are both on the market, but retaining McClement is a priority as he is a perfect fit as a 3rd or 4th line center and a solid penalty killer. Dave Bolland should be let go if he is asking for a pretty big contract. I cannot justify signing a guy who is constantly an injury liability, which is too bad because he is a guy who makes the Leafs a better team, but it really doesn't matter when he plays in just 23 games. Therefore, the Bolland acquisition did not work and won't work again if Nonis decides to keep him at all costs. Peter Holland fits in nicely at the third line center, which still makes the second line center a priority. Does the team hang onto Nazem Kadri, or decide to move him in a trade? Kadri could also be placed in a much larger deal, a deal that could help fill some bigger needs...this summer depends on some bolder moves to be made and Kadri could be made a part of that which is fine with me.

Even bolder could be a trade involving Phil Kessel. I would hate to see him go, seeing that Kessel has turned into a world class forward and pure goal scorer which is hard to come by. Kessel must start devoting more of his game to defense, and perhaps a coach like Barry Trotz can finally get that message through to him. He is still young enough to become a solid two-way forward, so let's not give up hope. Still, if there is a deal out there that just blows Nonis and company away involving the likes of Kessel, then why not go that way.

I truly believe that James van Riemsdyk is one of those players that really cannot be replaced. He too must become a reliable defensive player as well as scoring threat. Players like him do not come around often, and I think that Brian Burke struck gold in that trade with Philadelphia. I am not sure if he should be a top line or second line winger, but it would be tough to break him and Kessel up. Problem is that with both of them on the same line creates more defensive issues if the two still refuse to play hard in their own end of the ice. Kessel is such a gifted goal scorer, it should not matter much who he is paired on a line with. The team needs one more "big" center and someone better or more experienced that Nazem Kadri, which makes the young center even more of an intriguing trading piece.

Joffrey Lupul had a fairly quiet season, but still managed to chip in with 22 goals and 22 assists. The 30 year old winger is still a capable play maker, but is another forward who is not a very strong defensive player. Still, Lupul is an experienced player who helps the Leafs and I do not mind his contract situation, although 5 million plus for perhaps a second line or third line forward is a bit much. He is still a top six forward, at least for now.

The team also needs to decide what to do with Nikolai Kulemin, who is a UFA this summer. I still think he is a good option on the third line and is a pretty solid penalty killer. It would be great if he could provide more offense like he did when he was younger, but he is not a bad defensive forward. The team also has options with the Marlies if Kulemin chooses to leave or the team decides to move on.

Signing Mason Raymond for basically the minimum paid off well for the Leafs. I am sure Raymond will be asking for a bit more this summer, and perhaps the Leafs can fill in his position with a Marlie. If not, bringing him back for another year or two would be better than looking elsewhere.

David Clarkson had a nightmare season, his first with the Maple Leafs. Many people are suggesting buying out his contract, but the Leafs should give him at least another season to improve. The 2014-15 season could not be much worse for Clarkson, Bernier and the Leafs.

With the Marlies pounding lumps on teams in the AHL and look to be a serious Calder Cup contenders at this very moment, perhaps it would not be such a bad idea for the Leafs to look into what they have to help fill some holes. Guys like Jerry D'Amigo, David Broll, Trevor Smith, Josh Leivo, Tyler Biggs, Spencer Abbott and Frederick Gauthier also should be given a shot to fill in some of those holes. Colton Orr is still under contract, which is fine if he can provide more of a gritty edge and drop the gloves a bit more. I do not see much more of a need for Frazer McLaren who was totally ineffective for the Leafs in 2014. He could serve as a depth forward in the AHL, or perhaps be a part of a deal although his trade value is next to nothing.

Whatever happens this summer should be interesting and fun to follow. Changes definitely need to be made, but some of the moves made last summer will continue to haunt the Leafs in the near future. This could mean the departure of James Reimer, Nazem Kadri among other promising young players that Toronto has mismanaged. Trades need to be made and the team should avoid the free agent market outside of perhaps finding some role players to bolster the third and fourth line or perhaps finding a decent veteran defenseman.

My Maple Leafs heading into 2014-15:

Top Line:
Center...perhaps through a big trade?
Wingers...van Riemsdyk and perhaps Gardiner?

Second Line:
Center...Bozak (if not on top line) through a trade?
Wingers...Kessel and Lupul/Gardiner?

Third Line:
Center...Holland
Wingers...Clarkson and Raymond? AHL Marlies?

Fourth Line:
Center...McClement (should be retained)
Wingers...Orr, AHL Marlies or free agency

Top Defense Pair: Phaneuf and Gleason
Second Defense Pair: Reilly and trade/free agent with experience
Third Defense Pair: Gunnarsson and AHL Marlies or trade

Goaltenders: Bernier and free agent/trade (I do not see Reimer returning sadly)

Some Notes on the LA Kings prior to game 6:

The pressure is all on the Sharks in game six and game seven. Todd McClellan's decision of who to start in goal in game six could ultimately lead to the fate of the Sharks and/or Kings.

I do not think that Niemi is good enough to lead the Sharks to the Finals, and may not even be the answer to help the Sharks put away the Kings. If I am the Sharks, I would start Alex Stalock in game six without a doubt. The only way the Sharks will beat the Kings is if the game turns into another high scoring affair, since Niemi needs more than 3 goals to win it seems and it was the same exact way back in 2010 with the Blackhawks against the Flyers. Every game was high scoring except game two, and Niemi was just good enough to help the Hawks win the series in six but needed all the offensive help he could get. I believe that Jonathan Quick has had his worst games of the playoffs behind him and therefore the Sharks could be toying with danger if they continue to start Niemi.

If the Kings were to win game six, beating Niemi, it would be an even tougher decision to throw a young goalie like Stalock into a winner take all game seven. In that respect, I have to give the Kings the edge in completing a miraculous comeback after being down 3-0 in the series.

Tomorrow also depends on the Kings role players stepping up as they did in game four and five. Those role players, more specifically being Dustin Brown (yes a role player at this point and being the captain) and Justin Williams, who need to be the playmakers like they were in 2012. So far, the Sharks bottom six have completely outplayed the Kings bottom six (Dwight King who has been invincible for the most part after a breakout 15 goal 15 assist season and Trevor Lewis to name a couple guys). Everyone, including Mike Richards, who has been playing like a bottom six forward (more on that after the series) need to step it up. It is obvious that the Kings play their best in the postseason when the team is with their backs up against the wall.
April 28, 2014 2:57 PM ET | Delete
HOnestly there are a lot of things that have to change for the Leafs roster. And it really is the roster that has to change. I do not see Carlyle going anywhere and really bringing in Trotz has no change at all since recycling skilled coaches has done utterly nothing to improve things. This roster has glaring needs that have to be addressed and players that need to move.In net Bernier is the number one. Like it or not. I like Reims but his numbers tell the story there. He has spells of greatness but is not consistent. He feels he is a number one but it will be elsewhere he gets that chance. Trade his rights for early signing to a team would be my guess. I think a veteran goalie likely could be brought in on the cheap, or use our AHL starter Mac as the backup next year.Defence I doubt Phaneuf moves but you never know. With the cap going up and teams hunting for established defence, he could get moved. I just dont see him retaining the C and being the go to guy. Gunnerson is a goner too I agree. He is not offensive enough nor defensive enough. I think really we are going to be looking to try and acquire defence more than any other position. Gleason and Reilly are a solid second pairing and Granburg and others should get a look at filling out the bottom pairing. Gardiner is not a fit here, especially if Carlyle stays and suspect he is going to be traded. Making him a forward I just dont see that working out well at all. Up front I could see Holland taking Kadris spot really. He is more an offence first center but did not do bad on a third line either. He seemed to have good chemistry with Lupul and Raymond too and they were scoring when he was in. Kadri comes back and they struggle. Kadri has never been defensive minded even in junior, cannot win faceoffs, and is a turnover machine. I would say he is definitly trade bait. Kulemin is gone but the money for him can be used to bring Komarov back. He was a pinball aggitator and fits with Carlyles gameplan far better. I would like to see Bolland return but not at massive overpayment. McClement is solid but we need another solid vet defensive center cause McC was utterly burnt out with both Bolland and Bozak out. I dont see Raymond signing and staying, he will get money but wont be here. Not the right fit for Carlyle I dont think. That said we have a good group of young guys like Ashton, Broll, etc waitin to come in and possibly get the chance. McLaren is done and just let him go, but with him send Orr. He doesnt bring energy or points and really wasnt even fighting after that Parros incident. He needs to be replaced and guys like Brodie etc at least can skate and provide something. Overall I suspect some big roster changes, with an influx of youth from the minors and a couple key guys brought in likely on defence, possibly a second line center, through trading of players.
April 28, 2014 3:00 PM ET | Delete
The Kings have really rallied and started to get their game together and yes the Sharks are feeling the pressure some now. That said I think the Kings have established well enough the past few seasons you cannot ever count them out, and when down they are at their most dangerous. Niemi I agree might not be the answer in net and if I were the Sharks coach I might not start the kid in net over him, but he would be on a very short leash. Sharks are going to have to continue to get scoring through all four lines and tighten up about their own net in order to beat the Kings. For the Kings they need to have Quick playing hard like the last two games to rely on, then get some scoring as you said from their bottom guys to make them more dangerous. They really need to get to Niemi fast and hard early on too. Should be an interesting matchup there tonight.
April 28, 2014 3:11 PM ET | Delete
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=450674Looks like you got your wish here Royal! The kid is making his first playoff start tonight. This is going to get interesting.
April 28, 2014 7:16 PM ET | Delete
Bernier was average at best? Imagine his numbers if he had any sort of recognizable defence in front of him
April 28, 2014 8:22 PM ET | Delete
Yes Bernier was very average at best. His team played garbage defense yes, we can all agree on that, but he allowed way too many weak/awful lollygagging type of goals, too much for a professional goalie. At times, he would let the team down...so it is a two-way street. And yes, I admit I am being hard on the guy, especially as a Kings fan as well. But also the fact that Reimer had a tremendous season and led the Leafs into a game seven which the team almost stole as well. How many playoff games has Bernier started? ZERO. And will continue to be that way unless the Leafs have a complete change in philosophy and game planning. Reimer was treated like crap by his own coach and organization and lost his confidence as a result. Everyone says that they brought Bernier in for competition. My big white butt! That is total garbage and if anyone believes that is full either full of it or not very smart. Bernier was brought in to be the starter, and he had done next to NOTHING to deserve that mark. All this was unnecessary and that is the big reason why I am being hard on Bernier. Not so much hard on the individual but on the organization and the coach for that move.
April 28, 2014 10:50 PM ET | Delete
Sorry Royal but while you come down on Bernier for such, you also have to hold Reims just as culpable for the brutal goals he let in. Sorry but he had a brutal year and it follows a pattern with him of decent year/bad year through four seasons now. Reimer has NOT improved in four seasons so yes a goalie change was more than required. His glove remains slow, he relies of flopping about too much and handles the puck like a live grenade. He can rarely catch an actual shot either and his rebound control is atrocious. Four straight years. Bernier is young and has faults but the team clearly played MUCH better with him in the net and end of the day the team won with Bernier and did not with Reimer. The same bad team played in front of them both and Bernier battled and found a way to do it, Reims didnt and sorry but end of the day he is paid to go in there and win and he did not. He had ample opportunity to take back the starter position and did not. Bernier was and is an upgrade and makes the team better. It really is that plain and simple.
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