It has been far too long since I last posted here and for anyone that has been referring to the site over the last little while for news on the Marlies, you have my sincerest apologies. It was really difficult to start writing again about the team and to a certain extent the Leafs when you completely agree with almost everything they had done over the offseason and you quite literally see progress being made. Let’s not rehash all the major changes that occurred over the summer given how much was reported in the mainstream media and especially given that it is now February now. HOWEVER there isn’t a person out there that saw Brendan Shanahan hiring both Mike Babcock AND Lou Lamoriello; an absolute coup in the NHL and these bold moves really signaled the beginning of a shift in direction from top to bottom. These hiring’s also had a very important secondary impact where they almost immediately took pressure off of Kyle Dubas. Uncle Lou would handle all the comings and goings of the Leafs for the most part and Dubas could focus more on the Marlies and the development of their current group of prospects.
It was also difficult to discern the type of impact Mark Hunter would have in his first NHL draft and on the Maple Leafs ability to select legitimate young prospects who could reach the NHL; something the Leafs have unintentionally managed to make a absolute mockery of over the last 30 years with some of us wondering if picking randomly would have served them better at times. All is not lost however and there was a definitive change in the teams drafting philosophy this year after reviewing Hunter’s selections once the festivities had concluded; he was apparently making selections based on high end skill above and over mid ranged skill with size and he did not shy away from trading picks down to acquire more selections, a definite change that caught a number of fans off guard but was another signal that philosophical changes in the organization were taking place. Only one forward selected was over six feet tall with the average height coming in at around 5’10” – 5’11” which is considered fairly ‘under tall’ in the NHL, however each player selected was performing at a better than average clip in their respective leagues.
The draft I think we can agree for all intents and purposes is an absolute crap-shoot mixed with highly educated guesses; determining the potential ability of a young player and their ability to make a contribution at the highest level of hockey at some point in the near future based upon their physical and mental makeup and current on-ice performances against their peers. Drafting in the top 10 as we all know increases the chances a team will have a legitimate shot at developing an NHL caliber player with high end skill but it is never a guarantee (see Brule, Filatov, Svitov and Daigle) and increasing the number of selections as Mark Hunter did, therefore by association, increased the Leafs potential of selecting a player that may one day make a legitimate impact at the NHL level. The Detroit Red Wings have been doing this for years in the draft and you don’t have to look much further than their success with players like Nyquist or Tatar (who were both selected outside of the first round) both of who were smaller, highly skilled junior players. Although there will be plenty of time to determine if this shift in draft philosophy was the right course of action to take, we can all agree that it is definitely a significant change in how the organization is tackling this part of the rebuild process.
Speaking of prospect impacts, the Marlies have been an absolutely dominant team in the AHL this year, cause for some tempered excitement. Not just from the standpoint of the players winning games but of them growing and facing challenges as a group while having a deep run into the playoffs this year, perfect for their collective development. If a number of these players could potentially playing the the NHL next year, growing together adds another positive element to their development. Giving Dubas more time to focus on the Marlies has also allowed them to be more strategic with their NHL call-ups, plugging roster holes with the likes or Mark Arcobello and Rich Clune as opposed to pulling younger impact players into a challenging environment to play 3rd and 4th lines minutes while keeping the core of the Marlies relatively intact. This also has ripple effect as it gives Dubas the ability to call up players from the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears who have been performing well, partially as a reward and partially to express to players throughout the organization that hard work is indeed rewarded with a shot at the next level and ability to make impressions. The top three performing Solar Bears Eric Faille, TJ Foster and Brady Vail are all Maple Leaf signings and look to be developing at a pace that would see one or more of them join the Marlies full time next season; further proof that a deeper prospect pool and tiered development program could be more beneficial long term.
Personally, I hope the Maple Leafs consider leaving the Marlies intact for another run at the Calder Cup, selfishly so I can go watch the games but as mentioned earlier there really is no substitute for playoff hockey. There have however been some minor moves made that hint of the contrary and that call-ups may still occur at or around the trade deadline.
Goaltender and former NHLer Ray Emery was signed to a PTO around the holidays given the injury troubles the Leafs had been experiencing earlier in the season which could signal a move to have Emery move up to the NHL if one or more of the Leafs tenders are shipped out by the deadline allowing Bibeau and Sparks to man the fort with the Marlies for the remainder of the season and the playoff’s.
In another move and seemingly out of nowhere Dubas signed defenseman David Kolomatis, a former 5th round pick of the LA Kings who was toiling in the ECHL who appears to be an offense first defenseman which leads one to assume that perhaps TJ Brennan will finally get a lengthy shot with the Leafs after the trade deadline. Given that he is well on his way to winning the Eddie Shore award again in the AHL for the top point producing defenseman it is about time the team gives him another look.
There is certainly more to come with the trade deadline literally only a couple of weeks away but with the Marlies poised to take a deep run into the playoff’s this is the perfect time to get out and watch some future Maple Leafs in action!