It has been a while. There really has not been much to talk about, except watching the Toronto Maple Leafs revert to a team who plays with little clue of how to play the game of hockey. The team refuses to keep things simple. They have also tuned coach Randy Carlyle out completely.
It has also become very evident that the seven year extension for pseudo-captain Dion Phaneuf was, and will be a huge mistake. Prior to signing on the dotted line for nearly another decade as Toronto's leader on the ice, Phaneuf was playing with a lot of purpose and had arguably been the best player on the ice for the Leafs. In a way, Nonis and the organization had been getting exactly what it needed from the 28 year-old veteran blue liner. Phaneuf was playing for a new contract, and was putting up stellar numbers and bringing a lot to the table. Nonis and company made its second big mistake since the Jonathan Bernier trade over the summer, bit the bullet way too early and locked up Phaneuf. Since then, Phaneuf has been on the ice for much of the goals against and has taken the team back to its woeful, pathetic play.
Thus, it is quite obvious that the Maple Leafs have little clue as to what direction it is heading or wants to head. It would have been much better for Nonis and the organization to play out the remainder of the season with Phaneuf still playing for that contract. Now that he has it, he has settled in very nicely, similar to Joffrey Lupul into becoming just another player on the team instead of leaders which was expected of them. Lupul has scored a quiet 20 goals this season for Toronto, but his leadership and role on the team has gone fairly unnoticed for some time now.
Heading into this season, the Maple Leafs were a team on the rise. Not so much a team looking to quickly retool and go right back at it with the likes of Boston and Pittsburgh. Instead, Nonis and the rest of the organization put their eggs in one basket and hoped for the best instead of seeing the team continue to grow. I still think that last year's playoff series against Boston was a bit premature, and taking them to seven games and nearly knocking out the class of the East played tricks on all of our minds. To me, the answer was still pretty clear, that this team was not yet ready to become a Stanley Cup threat. And as soon as Nonis made the trade for Jonathan Bernier, I already had a good idea that this team was doomed once again.
The goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens was not hall of fame worthy obviously, but it sure was good enough last season to carry the Maple Leafs all the way from the depths of defensive inadequacy and uncertainty into the #5 seed overall in the playoffs. As I said before many times, this team did not need to fix or upgrade its goaltending. Personally, I would have loved to see these two goalies, both at the time were under 25 years old, to continue to grow and see how far they could have taken the team. Instead, Nonis jumped the gun, sent out Scrivens and then supplanted Reimer behind young prodigy Jonathan Bernier, who had longed to get out of Los Angeles and Jonathan Quick, who had already beaten Bernier to the punch several seasons ago and became the number one goalie that carried the team to its first ever Stanley Cup title. So, right from the very start, I was very skeptical of the trade and the direction of the team. As a Kings follower as well for a long time, I was hoping Bernier would land in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Long Island, or even Edmonton. I never saw Toronto as a potential landing spot for Bernier, which made little sense to me. In return, the Kings received Matt Frattin and Scrivens, both of which are no longer with the organization. Therefore, you can understand my point of view regarding that trade, which was a trade that did not need to happen and neither team really will benefit from it, certainly not now nor in the future.
On top of that trade, the Maple Leafs acquired Dave Bolland and also would sign David Clarkson, both Toronto natives. To round up the offseason, Nonis added Mason Raymond on a low budget one year deal, which has proven to be a steal in free agency. With Bolland and Raymond under contract for just one season, and Bernier under control for just two seasons, it made little sense for Nonis to lock up a replaceable player like Phaneuf in my opinion, for seven years. To me, this team was going to go for it this year and see where it took them, which in all consequences, derailed any such progress from the 2013 shortened season.
With all of the new faces brought into the organization at this time for the most part did not live up to expectations. Clarkson has had a terrible first year with the team trying to live up to an enormous deal with way too many games missed due to silly suspensions and injuries. We all knew that Bolland would be an injury liability, but his season has been a total disaster in the worst way. And Bernier, outside of a handful of games where he has looked spectacular has been awful in net allowing such ridiculous types of goals against and "picked" the worst time to sit out with an injury with the team out in California and having to return home to play an afternoon game in DC followed by a pair of back to back games in the following week of this current stretch. Obviously, he was not planning on getting hurt, but what a time to hit the shelf for the first time in his career.
James Reimer has also had a terrible season, but how much of it is really his fault? Reimer was thrown under the bus before the season started by Nonis and the rest of the organization. To me it seemed as if the 23 year-old netminder, who had guided the team to the playoffs for the first time in over eight long seasons was being blamed for losing game seven. The entire team fell apart in that third period, similar to right now. Nonis took away what was Reimer's and Reimer had deserved to be the team's number one goaltender heading into this season, with Scrivens again backing him up. Carlyle also deserves some of the blame for Reimer enduring such a disastrous season. Early on, it was Carlyle throwing Reimer to the wolves as analyst Don Cherry stated many times on Hockey Night in Canada. As a result of his coach and organization not having any more faith in the kid, Reimer's game went to pot very quickly and has not been reliable as he had been since making his debut in Ottawa a few years back. It is hard for me to be tough on Reimer. It kills me to see him allow four or more goals a game when he is in and getting pulled by Carlyle. I have been in a similar situation myself in high school going into my senior year after having a very strong junior year in goal, playing ice hockey for the first time since quitting baseball.
I am not sure if this team can go through another season with Randy Carlyle behind the bench. It is a shame because I thought Carlyle would be a good fit for this team in the long run. However, the team has tuned him out and seems to me as if he has completely lost control of the room as well. If Carlyle were to be fired, my main reason would be for how he treated Reimer and players like Nazem Kadri for example as well. Reimer's lack of play and trust falls mainly on Carlyle, although it was Nonis who put all of this nonsense into motion. Kadri has had a tough season as well, but he has not helped matters much either when taking those awful runs at Nicklas Backstrom and Mikael Granlund in Minnesota way back in November or so. The team needed him to step it up, but instead almost dug his own grave as the season went on nearly to the point where he was almost traded at the deadline, but could still be in the offseason. I hope that does not happen, because it will further damage the progress of the team.
There has also been news of buying out the contract of David Clarkson. Yes, he has had a miserable season, but buying him out for me would and should throw Dave Nonis out into the street. Since Nonis started this "mess" it is up to him and the rest of the team to basically try this again next season. To me, this current season is finished. Even if the team made the playoffs, it would not matter much. In 2014-15, the slate is wiped clean for guys like Clarkson and Bernier, who have a hell of a lot to prove. If things were to go south again, then the team can possibly move Bernier and then consider a buyout of Clarkson's contract. But with guys like Phaneuf, Lupul and even Clarkson signed to immovable deals, we may be in this for the long run which is very unfortunate for Leafs Nation. In my opinion, if anyone should be bought out, it should be Phaneuf, which was perhaps Nonis' biggest mistake. He should have let Phaneuf play out the remainder of the season and if money and longevity of the terms did not work out, he should have let him walk. Regardless of Phaneuf staying or leaving after this season, the team still needed to shore up its defense. Adding Tim Gleason was a good move, but there is still much more work to be done. Either way, Nonis has made his job a lot more difficult, and right now, even I don't have an answer.
Kings Look to Sweep Pennsylvania/DC Trip
The Kings have posted some remarkable victories on back to back nights in Philadelphia and Washington. The Flyers have been perhaps the toughest team outside Boston in the East since the break, and the Kings managed to shut them down for at least 45-50 minutes.
The game in Washington should have been over before the Capitals tied the game on a soft goal allowed by Quick, who was in net again in a back to back situation. Darryl Sutter is still foolish to be starting Quick twice in a row, on the road especially with Martin Jones on the bench. Quick was definitely not as sharp as the night before in Philly, and it almost cost them.
Down 3-1 after two periods in DC, the Kings stormed back against Washington's inept defense, converting three times on chances in the slot and banging them home behind Jaroslav Halak. Mike Richards appeared to have iced the game with a minute or so left in regulation, as he picked up the puck after the Kings cleared the zone and beat his man en route to the empty net. Richards was unable to corral the puck and guide it into the goal and a penalty was called, but thus, no goal was awarded as it should have been. The Caps were back from the dead and quickly scored a soft goal on Quick, as the puck lay underneath the goalie and was poked home. The Caps had been given a huge break and a huge point in the Eastern race, even though the game should have ended 5-3 in Los Angeles favor. Fortunately, the Kings won the shootout with ease scoring both times on Halak while Quick gathered himself together easily stopping both shooters.
What pains me is to see the Kings take so many stupid, soft, and mostly phantom penalties but continue to get screwed by the refs when the game is on the line. This was the second time in which the Kings had a regulation win locked up but taken away by the on-ice officials. Remember Detroit? I am still laughing off that one...Point taken!
Tonight it seems as if Martin Jones gets the call in goal, which also makes zero sense to me. Jones should have been in net in Washington. I understand Quick playing in Philadelphia, the hottest Eastern team at the moment, but not going with your best goalie against the best team on the trip, and perhaps in the Eastern Conference with a chance to win all three of these games on the trip just does not add up. Then again, most of Sutter's strategies do not add up either. And whoever is drawing up these power plays does not have much of a clue either. Didn't the Kings fire someone from similar failures? Oh yea, that guy is now a coach in Chicago who won the Cup again last season. I have had enough of seeing Drew Doughty take the puck up as slow as molasses while having the other four guys on the ice stand and watch him dump the puck in and lose control and do it all over again. Pathetic! With a guy like Doughty quarterbacking the PP, he needs to build some speed and lead the attack.
Former King prospect goaltender Jeff Zatkoff will get the start again against his former organization. Zatkoff has already beaten the Kings 4-1 out in Los Angeles just before the Sochi break when the Kings had their heads planted up their butts for the time being. It would be weak to see him defeat the Kings for a second time without the likes of Geno Malkin and Paul Martin in the lineup.
Shame on Sutter for not going all in and playing Quick tonight. If the Kings lose this one decisively, all blame must rest on Sutter's shoulders.
Updated 3/29 AM
I admit, some rambling about the Kings finishing my thoughts on the Maple Leafs last night. The level of officiating has been absolutely brutal involving many of the Kings games this season. Lately, I have had just about enough of it. Last night, if an LA player had breathed on a Penguin, especially Sidney Crosby, up went the refs hand! Luckily, the Kings were able to get that late goal by Doughty and finally found themselves on the right end of a reviewed goal and the officials finally got something right for a change.
I always like to think that I know the Maple Leafs and Kings just as good as anyone, including people who have season tickets or even get paid to write about them. I even think I know the team better than those people in the front office, but it is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I never liked the trade for Bernier, from the standpoint of both teams. It was an unnecessary trade for both teams and it really has not helped either team. I keep hearing about how Bernier has been a savior for the Leafs this season due to their pathetic defensive play, but I still look at so many of the games in which Bernier has cost the team a point or two due to some very lazy, inept style of play he brings to the arena each night. Sure he has been outstanding in some games (at Anaheim, vs. Dallas, and a few games early in the season), but for the most part, has allowed way too many awful goals at bad times. James Reimer was given a chance to compete, which I understand, but I will say it again, this team did NOT need better goaltending going into this season. I see Ben Scrivens making 50 saves a night for Edmonton and even pulling out some victories out of his hat from time to time playing for a team even worse than the Leafs. He did so again tonight against the "mighty" Ducks. Allowing Reimer to grow, as well as the rest of the youngsters (Kadri, Reilly, JVR, Kessel, Franson, Fraser, etc) would have been best for the team in the long run. Toronto front office, headed by Dave Nonis jumped the gun too early, fooled by the Leafs run at the Bruins last season and pushed the entire process too far forward. The result it exactly what is going on right now, and to be honest, this is how most of the season should have gone with the team being so inept defensively and refusing to listen to coach Randy Carlyle.
About the LA Kings, I have watched this team a lot longer than the Maple Leafs. From the dark days of Marc Crawford and a goaltending wheel-go-round after Felix the Cat featuring the likes of Dan Cloutier, Jamie Storr, Mathieu Garon, etc...to eventually seeing young studs like Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier, Anze Kopitar coming from nowhere, Dustin Brown and finally Drew Doughty...When they made that run at the Cup, I thought they were perhaps a year early as well, but they had their chance, and took advantage of it and simply ran the table in 2012. Prior to that, I almost thought Quick didn't have what it took to win in the playoffs after disastrous performances against the Canucks and Sharks in the first two trips to the postseason, but he quickly silenced me in 2012 and that has become great history now.
The bottom line for the Kings is that if they can simply score just three goals a game, no matter who the opponent is, they should win in regulation every time. Like Darryl Sutter keeps saying, it is a 3-2 league and the Kings are a 3-2 team. On top of that, there is no excuse for this team to not be able to score 3 a game. Adding Marian Gaborik who is a pure goal scorer to the mix of guys like Kopitar, Carter, Richards, Williams, Brown, and defensemen like Doughty, Muzzin and Martinez who can all fire it should not be a problem. When it becomes a problem, then that is when the team loses, and more often they are beating themselves.
Dustin Brown has really fallen out of favor in LA. I still think it is in best interest for the team to seek a trade for him this offseason, as well as let loose old men Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll. I am tired of seeing Williams constantly cough the puck up and fall down and seeing Stoll do nothing but take penalties. More ice time for guys like Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey can only help their game, confidence and the team overall. Those three have a knack for making things happen and have won a game or two for the Kings because of their playmaking presence. Toffoli is a little soft on the puck, as is Dwight King for another reason that really puzzles me because of his size and strength, but Toffoli simply needs to play.
Sutter also threw Alec Martinez under the bus a while too, but he brings a lot of skill and puck moving ability to complement Doughty so well and has really been the Kings top impact player this month and his scoring presence has been a tremendous lift. Willie Mitchell is a good veteran presence on the blue line with the younger guys, but I am beginning to think that he is just a step too slow a this point in his career. And the longer Sutter stays away from Matt Green, the better. Green went from being a very important figure on the team, and a leader to a terrible defender and pretty much out of favor completely due to Mitchell and Regehr being the veteran leaders alongside Doughty who is the best player on this team next to Kopitar. Kopitar has become one of the most complete players in the NHL and should be considered a Selke trophy candidate every year from now on next to Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron.
Tomorrow night, first trip ever for the current "Winnipeg Jets" to Staples Center...