March 3, 2012
Leafs face tough task
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - So Randy Carlyle wants the Maple Leafs to be a tougher club and all that general manager Brian Burke can do is place Jay Rosehill on re-entry waivers from the Toronto Marlies.
The thinking is that Rosehill, owner of no points and 21 penalty minutes in 16 games with the Leafs this season, will be in the lineup on Tuesday when the Leafs’ personal demons, a.k.a. the Boston Bruins, visit the Air Canada Centre.
The point is not to dump on Rosehill, but the Leafs will need a lot more than the combative forward to be the game-in, game-out truculent (there’s that word again) team that both Burke and Carlyle love.
In today’s National Hockey League, your rough-and-tumble players have to bring several elements on every shift. Simply dropping the gloves every so often while playing five or six minutes a night won’t cut it in the long haul.
During a news conference on Saturday morning, after Carlyle had departed to take a greater look into the mess he inherited from Ron Wilson, Burke acknowledged that he won’t really be able to mould the kind of team that Carlyle likes until the summer.
Well, Burke might hope that Carlyle can teach belligerence, which is next to impossible. Players have it or they don’t.
The 2012 class of unrestricted free agents is not overflowing with physical players who can score. Burke might have no choice but to make trades, but as he has shown in the past, that’s not a problem for him.
If players are told at their exit meetings with Carlyle, probably in approximately five weeks, that they don’t fit in future plans, they won’t wonder why. Carlyle is a details freak, and told Hockey Night in Canada before the game that he coaches every inch on the ice. The Leafs players won’t go to bed at night wondering what Carlyle wants out of them ... Excellent first impressions on Carlyle for Mikhail Grabovski and Matt Frattin, who ganged up to lead the Leafs to a 3-1 victory against the Canadiens. Jonas Gustavsson redeemed himself after a shaky start. Joffrey Lupul didn’t do much (though a shot block before Grabovski’s second goal was big) but Carlyle knows him. Phil Kessel? Any chance he can get a do-over? ... One of Carlyle’s biggest challenges could be lighting a fire under Tim Connolly. There’s another year left on the bloated contract Connolly signed last summer, and on too many nights under Wilson, Connolly was a passenger. Playing on a checking line with David Steckel and Nikolai Kulemin could change that ... Mike Brown, having played for Carlyle in Anaheim, is one of the few Leafs who does not have to prove himself. But there was Brown anyway, trading hard punches with Brad Staubitz during a lively scrap in the first period. One game in, and Carlyle probably is wishing he had more guys like Brown ... Matthew Lombardi tried a no-look, behind-the-back pass in the Canadiens zone that was intercepted by the Habs and led to a scoring chance on the ensuing rush. That’s the kind of play that Carlyle will eliminate ... The Leafs had lots of desperation in their game, but did Carlyle make a difference so quickly? The fact there was a new man behind the bench in place of Wilson was enough of a start. Not until the Leafs start doing the same good things on a regular basis will we know that Carlyle has put his stamp on the club.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
If Burke is so anti-Ontario, as Don Cherry implied rather heavily during a first-period rant when he was shouting about the lack of Ontario-born players on the Leafs, then why are two of the Leafs’ three first-round picks under Burke as GM born in Ontario? Defenceman Stuart Percy, selected 25th last year, is from Oakville. Nazem Kadri, taken seventh in 2009, is from London. The exception is forward Tyler Biggs, who was born in Binghamton, N.Y., and was selected 22nd last June. If Kadri and Percy develop properly, they will be integral for the Leafs one day. Why Cherry gets so wrapped up in birthplaces when it comes to hockey is something he never has explained ... Once Rosehill is recalled, it means the Leafs will have one left. If they officially fall out of playoff contention, many would love to see how Carter Ashton looks in Toronto uniform ... There’s no better time for Frattin to make an impression than now. Kadri is not likely to be a Leaf again this season, and the same might be said of Joe Colborne. Frattin has the talent to be a sniper, and demonstrated as much with shot over Carey Price’s shoulder for the tying goal in the second period ... If Burke really does move up the trade deadline for his players to take the pressure off, won’t the pressure still be there, but only earlier? One point about the whole deadline issue and whether it had a negative bearing in the Leafs room: The Leafs’ best players — Kessel, Lupul, Dion Phaneuf — were not part of the rumours. Ditto for John-Michael Liles and Connolly, among others. Yet the Leafs lost games in bunches anyway.