Although the Marlies playoff hopes were dashed recently in a lengthy series again the Texas Stars, AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars, it all came down to a seventh game in a series that either team could have easily come away with. The Marlies took a number of teams by surprise and any fan would be remiss if they told you they had such lengthy expectations for the club this year. Both the players and the organization should be extremely proud of their results, even if they did fall a little short of the ultimate goal of the Calder Cup.
As one looks back at all the series the Marlies passed through this year in the playoffs, there always seem to be those players who raise their game when the heat is turned up and the playoffs end up bringing the absolute best out of them (Steve Thomas anyone?). Well that is not just an NHL phenomenon and anyone who has been watching the Toronto Marlies Calder Cup bid this year in all likelihood has a couple of names to add to the list of potential Maple Leafs with proverbial playoff horseshoes lodged in their behinds.
The mantra in all of mainstream hockey starts something like this ‘If you don’t have good goaltending…’ and that is exactly what the Marlies received from Drew MacIntyre this year, fondly referred to as Uncle Drew by a team he is most likely the eldest player on. MacIntyre made highlight save after highlight save and ended the playoff’s facing on average 33 shots per game while still posting a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 2.08 and a Save Percentage (SV%) of 0.941. To put that in context, Ben Scrivens posted a GAA of 1.92 and a SV% of 0.935 during the 2012 Calder Cup run with the Marlies that year which raised some eyebrows. It would not surprise me to see NHL interest in Uncle Drew this off-season and at minimum some camp invites. That being said let’s hope if the Leafs do decide against retaining James Reimer this summer that they consider MacIntyre a capable (if not incredibly cap friendly) backup in his place.
Fear the Beard indeed. Any time Jerry D’Amigo starts to grow facial hair and his game almost instantly raises to another level. Maple Leaf fans saw glimpses of D’Amigo’s effortless speed and relentless fore-checking during his 22 game stay with the Maple Leafs, a welcome addition to their fourth line (in my opinion of course) and here is hoping that he can solidify a spot next season in training camp. Putting up 14 points in 14 games during the off-season I would also say quite accurately that D’Amigo falls into the category of clutch playoff performer.
“Jerry D’Amigo has really come alive in the Calder Cup playoffs, and currently has 12 points through seven games. The 2009 sixth-rounder is in his fourth professional season and has been fairly consistent, though not a prolific scorer. D’Amigo has transitioned into a player who plays a dependable supporting checking role and has the skating ability to fill that role at a higher level given the chance. Although his scoring is not going to be his calling card, D’Amigo seems to thrive in the higher intensity environment of the playoffs and uses his on-ice intelligence and speed to kick up his productivity a notch when it really counts. While others in the Leafs system may have superior north-south speed, D’Amigo is showing that results matter most when they hand out the hardware.” via Peter Prohaska @ Hockey’s Future.
When the Maple Leafs announced they had decided to part ways with Marlies defenseman and legitimate prospect Jessie Blacker in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks I recall not being overly excited, especially about how it was portrayed in some circles as more as the dumping of a streaky offensive and under performing draft pick rather than a significant acquisition. Not knowing much about the center they received in return, looking back at that trade now I would called it masterful and in some part, a fleecing. Peter Holland not only met expectations as a young center man at the NHL level but his stay with the Marlies in their drive to the post season only allowed him not only to garner valuable playoff experience but further solidified the argument that he is ready for a lengthier stay in the NHL. With rumors of significant change in the Maple Leafs organization on the horizon, one would hope that management may consider a youth movement in the makeup of their third and fourth lines, with Holland as one of those options. With 15 points in 11 AHL playoff games, the 23 year old player has shown that he would only but benefit from additional playing time at the NHL level.
This blog post was really designed with listing off Marlies players who appears to kick it up a notch during the playoffs in mind but he was so dominate this season (and in the playoffs) as an offensive threat that one has to give a quick mention to T.J. Brennan who went home this year with the Eddie Shore award for those most outstanding defense-man in the AHL. His place with the Maple Leafs may very much depend on whether the team parts way with Jake Gardiner/Cody Franson this offseason or re up’s with Paul Ranger but it is definitely my hope that they have seen enough to invest in the player and reward him with a new contract.
Kevin Marshall was an absolute beast during the playoffs and it is my hope that he can hold up this type of play and production throughout the year next year. He most certainly won over the confidence of head coach Steve Spott with his heightened play, which saw him out on the ice for numerous key defensive assignments. Although Marshall will never be a high point producer, he does appear to be rounding into form as a dependable defensive defenseman with a nasty streak the Marlies have sorely needed in front of their net.
Although last on my list but certainly not least, Sam Carrick raised his game this past year in the regular season and transitioned it right into the playoffs putting up a solid 9 points (5 goals) in 14 games and noticeable throughout the early round series. Carrick has plenty of time on his hands given his relatively young age and as he continues to become more and more comfortable with the size and speed of the AHL game, his own game will continue to be raised and he will continue to surprise. It would definitely not be an overstatement to say that Carrick was without a doubt the most improved player on the Marlies this season and reestablishing himself as a legitimate prospect in the farm system.
I was always a fan of the moves Brian Burke made to restock the Maple Leafs farm system and stick with my earlier comments in the blog that he is one of the most underrated builders in hockey. He like everyone else had some misses in the draft but overall the Marlies have never looked better in terms of the sheer number of players with the legitimate potential of becoming NHL players in some capacity. I think how the team has performed over the last couple of years is further testament to how the players are developing and indicates just how far the team has come (one has to but look at the Marlies roster that ended the 2007-8 season to see the net positive effect Burke had on the team). Making the playoffs is one indication but having standout performers like the ones mentioned above is quite another. Anyways, as always, puck for thought!