By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 13) – While it is still rather premature to acknowledge patterns in this lockout-shortened NHL season, the Maple Leafs have harvested a forward tandem that could become a franchise cornerstone.
Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin are developing notable rhythym on the ice – a combination of youthful talent and awareness the hockey club needs to climb the Eastern Conference chain of command. Having toiled in the American Hockey League during the four-month NHL labor dispute, Kadri and Frattin are a step beyond many of their teammates. Kadri couldn’t win a face-off to save his life but his skating and nifty puck movement is meshing with Frattin’s determination to attack the goal, and his inherent ability to convert scoring opportunities. When Joffrey Lupul returns from an arm injury – and providing he and Phil Kessel can re-establish their potency from a year ago – the Maple Leafs could have an enviable, two-line scoring threat.
Though Kessel and Lupul are hardly in the twilight of their careers, each is a veteran of the NHL. Kessel, 26, is in his his seventh campaign while Lupul, 29, has been in the league – on and off as a result of injury – since 2003. Kadri and Frattin are comparative greenhorns, neither having completed a full NHL schedule. They entered the current season with a combined 131 games of big-league experience, totaling 26 goals and 55 points. Having scored seven goals in 10 games, Frattin is already within two of his NHL high and is presenting the form of a 30-goal shooter. Kadri’s 11 points in 13 games is only one shy of his top number. Both are dynamic in the offensive zone.
Leafs have had some impressive scoring duos in the past: Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald in the 1970’s – neither of whom became star players until their third NHL season; Bill Derlago and Rick Vaive in the 80’s (Vaive stringing together three 50-goal campaigns); Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk in the early 90’s; Mats Sundin and either Gary Roberts, Steve Thomas or Alexander Mogilny in the early 2000’s. Kadri and Frattin are providing early evidence they could join that illustrious group, though many more games together are required to affirm such a compliment.
DARRYL SITTLER AND LANNY McDONALD (ABOVE) PROVIDED THE MAPLE LEAFS TERRIFIC SCORING PUNCH IN THE 1970’s. DO YOUNGSTERS NAZEM KADRI AND MATT FRATTIN HAVE SIMILAR POTENTIAL? ONLY TIME WILL TELL.
DEFENDING BURKE: I was chatting with an NHL executive the other day and the subject of Brian Burke came up.
“You know, it was said the Maple Leafs fired Brian because they didn’t like his style. Many people felt he spent too much time being Brian Burke and it distracted him from running the hockey club. But, I disagree. Most of what he did away from the arena involved charity work and promoting gay rights after his son was killed. It’s not like he was Robert Shapiro.”
The latter reference was to the socialite defense-lawyer in the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial. A Los Angeles attorney, Shapiro enjoyed the Hollywood scene; he had many friends in the entertainment business and would often be invited to movie screenings and restaurant debuts. It was said about Shapiro – perhaps unfairly – that he “would attend the opening of a door.”
“That wasn’t Burkie,” the executive insisted. “He always had a good cause.”
WHAT ABOUT REIMER? In this era of upper and lower-body injuries, we shouldn’t expect to be told the truth; the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the mishap involving James Reimer Monday night.
It was obvious from watching television replays of the second-period incident that Reimer had damaged his knee. To the Maple Leafs’ credit, they confirmed as much yesterday, calling it a strain of his medial-collateral ligament. But, the club’s time-frame prognoses have been wildly optimistic through the years – resulting from either a lack of information or the clandestine approach favored by most hockey personnel.
The latter has long been a control mechanism designed to conceal information from probing reporters. In recent years, players have been warned to comply with the club party line, however fictitious it may be.
A good example involved Reimer last season.
In Week 3 of the schedule, at Montreal, he was bowled over in the crease by Canadiens forward Brian Gionta. Reimer suffered a whiplash injury and concussion-like symptoms. He did not return until Dec. 4 – prematurely, as it turned out – and was subsequently in and out of the line-up.
JAMES REIMER IS KNOCKED OVER BY MONTREAL FORWARD BRIAN GIONTA IN GAME AT THE BELL CENTRE, OCT. 22, 2011. A NECK INJURY AND CONCUSSION SYMPTOMS SUFFERED IN THE COLLISION WOULD EFFECT THE GOALIE ALL SEASON.
In the aftermath of the injury, Leafs appeared convinced Reimer would bounce back in short order. Just five days after the collision with Gionta, Leafs were in New York for a game with the Rangers. When asked about his goalie after the morning skate at Madison Square Garden, coach Ron Wilson told the media – as reported here by James Mirtle in the Globe and Mail:
“If we were playing the Rangers yesterday, he would probably have been in goal. But after the practice he didn’t feel 100 per cent. He’s somewhere in the mid-90s so we decided to shut him down for a day and get him back to 100 per cent.”
The following afternoon – with Leafs playing Pittsburgh at home the next night (a Saturday) and then traveling to Ottawa for a Sunday game – David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail wrote:
The situation remained muddled on Friday, as Reimer did not practise with his teammates, although head coach Ron Wilson said he “expects him to be ready” to play Sunday. Wilson said he had no update on the injury and even if one was forthcoming, “I’m not going to share that with you, whatever it happens to be. I’m not obligated to do that.”
Subterfuge of this nature has been common with the Leafs dating to the early-90’s, when the late Pat Burns became coach. With Randy Carlyle as spokesperson, Leafs are currently implying that Reimer will be out of action for just more than a week. Perhaps that is possible. Do not be surprised, however, if the goalie’s recovery consumes the better part of a month.
COACHING ADVOCATE: Mike Pelyk, a defenseman with the Leafs in the 1970’s, is on my blog mailing list and he frequently responds with a comment or observation. I laughed out loud Tuesday when reading his email reaction to my column here after the Leafs romp over Philadelphia: “Big effort by a big team – it’s a Burke kind of team. ‘Kitty’ has them all on the same page.” Kitty is a reference to the current Leafs coach – a moniker he obtained while playing with Pelyk from 1976-78. For those unaware, Kittly Carlisle was an American actress and singer best known for her long-time role as a panelist on the 1960’s TV game show To Tell the Truth.
Only hockey players!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MATS SUNDIN: No. 42 today.
ACTRESS KITTY CARLISLE: NO RELATION TO RANDY.
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