You know what they say about imitation.
In that context, if you haven't been reading Elliotte Friedman's weekly "30 Thoughts" column, you should add it to your to-do list. The Hockey Night in Canada commentator offers 30 tidbits on various topics around the NHL, often giving insight on topics you don't typically get anywhere else.
In my opinion, it's become one of the best NHL-related columns out there, and I've always thought the format would work well for what we do here at Leafs Beat.
So, with a tip of a hat to Elliotte, here is a first run at 10 thoughts on the Leafs (because 30 is far too ambitious for one team):
1. All 30 AHL clubs had to release their "clear day" lists yesterday of players who will be eligible to play in the playoffs in the minors, and while Keith Aulie was on the Leafs' list, James Reimer wasn't (as had originally been the plan). Leafs GM Brian Burke would only say yesterday that there were "several reasons" Reimer wasn't on their list, but I believe one likely is that he could be one of three goalies for Canada at the world championships in Slovakia. (If the Leafs don't make the playoffs, of course.)
2. If that sounds far fetched, have a look at the Canadian NHL goalies playing for non-playoff teams at the moment. If they stick with a somewhat young group, as tends to be the trend, Devan Dubnyk and Steve Mason appear to be those competing with Reimer for a spot. There aren't a ton of options as Canada simply isn't as deep in goal as it has been historically.
3. The worlds are a long ways off, not starting until April 29, and Hockey Canada hasn't yet picked its staff that will be selecting the team. (That should happen in the next week or two.) Canada could potentially have a lot of Leafs on its roster this time around, with Colby Armstrong, Luke Schenn, Dion Phaneuf, Aulie, Clarke MacArthur and Reimer as candidates to go.
4. Not on the Marlies' clear day list? Luca Caputi, Jeff Finger and Brayden Irwin, all of whom have been fighting serious injuries. "This pretty much means end of season for all three, unless injury or call-up," said John Bartlett, the team's play-by-play voice.
5. Ron Wilson was again juggling his lines around in practice today in an attempt to get things going, with Phil Kessel back on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Grabovski and Kulemin have been the two most consistent Leafs players all season, but they simply don't seem to mesh with Kessel, who, like Grabovski, is most effective when he has the puck. And there's only one out there for the both of them.
6. Speaking of Grabovski, it's hard to overemphasize how important he's been to the Leafs this season, something his teammates are clearly well aware of. Some of the newer advanced stats that are out there these days speak to that as well, with Grabovski leading the entire NHL in possession-based numbers like Corsi Rel that many consider important indicators of a player's value.
7. At the other end of the scale, a tough year just continues to get tougher for Tyler Bozak, who is now on pace for only 29 points and one of the league's biggest minus numbers. What's curious about Bozak is that he's played really solid hockey in his own end on the penalty kill, when he's only focussing on defence. Once he's in even strength situations, with Kessel on his wing, some of that goes out the window.
8. Bozak is one of a ton of Leafs who need a new contract this off-season, and it's anyone's guess what you pay a player who has struggled as much as he has at times this year. It appears he's better suited to a third-line role than a scoring-line one at this point in his career, but there's that gaping hole in the No. 1 centre spot if you bump him down the lineup. And what to do with Nazem Kadri next season? Improving down the middle has to be Burke's biggest priority, but there aren't easy answers there, even with all of the cap space he'll have.
9. The Leafs should find a way to keep players like Tim Brent and Darryl Boyce around for at least another year. Brent is an unrestricted free agent and Boyce is restricted, but both have brought the type of bottom-six energy in limited minutes that Burke is looking for. They want to be in the NHL more than anyone on the roster - and it shows.
10. Nice to see Aulie get his first NHL goal (and point) in the loss to the Islanders last night. As a few people predicted when the trade was made, Aulie is looking like he'll be the real difference maker in that Phaneuf-for-spare-parts deal with the Flames last season, as he's logging big minutes against difficult opposition and not looking out of place. Aulie's a very bright kid - he was the WHL's scholastic player of the year in Grade 12, with straight As in courses like honours physics while taking those long bus rides to and from Brandon - and you can see him working exceptionally hard every day to get better. And he has, even just this season.
And here's audio from Wilson today after practice: