Sliver Of Hope

March 27, 2014 8:02 am

While the sky is definitely falling in Leafland, the defeated and depressed supporters of the blue and white can take some satisfaction in this clip:

As bleak as things have become, the shining light is in both the play and potential of Jake Gardiner (23) and Morgan Rielly (20). Gardiner has 5 goals and 8 points in his last 10 games and  leads the Leafs in even strength ice time per game (18:04). Rielly is having a quietly effective freshman season. He currently is tied with Boston’s Torey Krug for the lead in assists (23) by a rookie defenseman. Rielly isn’t getting much help as a first year NHLer either. When it comes to usage, the fact that Rielly has only begun only 47% of his 5 on 5 shifts in the offensive zone demonstrates where the Leafs are as a team this season.

Generally, rookie blueliners are sheltered and placed in better situations than Rielly currently is. To be fair, Rielly is getting the most 5 v 5 offensive zone starts for Leaf defenseman this season. However, on a team that is so buried in terms of possession and receiving the game, even the sheltered players are being placed in difficult positions. (Hat tip to Andrew Berkshire of Eyes On The Prize for bringing Rielly’s zone starts to my attention and for the wonderful charts)

Here are Rielly’s zone starts in relation to his blueline teammates:

Player usage chart - 5 playersHere are Rielly’s zone starts in relation to other rookie defenseman:

Player usage chart - 21 players

The YouTube clip above (shout out to p00njabiHD) demonstrates just what these two guys are capable of. High end skill, skating and creativity. This is a play that they try at least once every few games. It worked for the first time against Detroit. I doubt that is the last time we’ll be seeing it. I’m extremely anxious to see what these two are capable of producing once the Randy Carlyle regime ends.

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  • wowzers20

    So no Leaf defender starts more than 50% in the offensive zone? That’s atrocious.

    It will be curious to see how many defensive zone starts the team has in comparison to other teams.

    • hope_smoke

      Randy Carlyle isn’t worried. Thanks for the comment

  • Saud

    I imagine a world in which the leafs have kadri and reilly are older and and play in a system designed to take advantage of the leafs plethora of offensive weapons. How likely do you think it is though that we see a Randy Carlye go and have kadri, gardiner and reilly stay. Although I think Reilly is the one player leafs will not move.

  • leafer

    I’m actually impressed how well Kadri, JVR and kessel and now Rielly have played under Carlyle. The guy knows how to squeeze talent out of elite players but he is clueless when it comes to facepunchers and grit boyz like Grabbo, Clarkson and orr

  • RP

    Great analysis, as always. Looking at the usage chart, I can’t help but feel than Dion is being misused. I wouldn’t mind seeing him paired with Gardiner next year. Dion’s a respectable two-way player, but he’s being asked by Carlyle to do too much and isn’t playing to his strengths. Gunnar-Gleeson can handle the shutdown role, or the Leafs can try to sign someone like Orpik or Green. Also, another horrible consequence of the Clarkson signing (and there are many) is the opportunity cost of those cap dollars. Last year, if the Leafs just brought back Komarov or Macarthur, they would have had enough money under the cap to sign Kadri to a long-term, cap friendly deal (similar to Hodgson’s deal with Buffalo). They will have the same opportunity with Gardiner this summer, but will likely go the bridge-contract route due to the cap constraints.


    • hope_smoke

      While I agree 100% that Phaneuf needs to have help shouldering the load, Gleason is the last guy I would choose to fill in that role. Gleason is really slow and has difficult both reading and reacting to the game. I was a big fan of Gleason from 3-4 years ago. Sadly, that version and the current one are no longer one and the same. Brooks Orpick is another slow and awkward guy. The Leafs have that in Gleason and had that in Mark Fraser, Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn.

      Personally, I’d prefer them ridding themselves of Cody Franson this summer. Allowing Gardiner and Rielly to take that next step and bring in someone who is capable of making a solid first pass and clearing the zone. I don’t think the solution is another slow guy with size. They have proven to not be effective.

      Please don’t get me started on MacArthur, he was one of my favourite Leafs.

      Thanks for the kind words and comment.

  • Saud

    Is it just me or does Randy Carlyle look pissed about that goal. It almost seems like he is pissed the young D scored in a way he would not approve of.