Good news, bad news, good news.
Brian Burke has long asserted that his team needed to stride manfully into the playoffs and bloody some noses when it got there.
The Toronto Marlies are playoff bound. Despite a month-long pattern of just treading water the Marlies lead the AHL’s North Division with a 34-21-4 record.
They may be the only one of Burke’s teams to bloody an opponent. Perhaps you’ve heard: the Leafs have won just one of their last 10 games. They are one of five teams seeking the eighth and last playoff spot in the east and are five points in arrears. They are four points out of 15th place in the East as well. Not good.
Here’s a revelation: a Marlie post-season is a poor substitute for the excitement that comes with a Leaf playoff.
But as far as backup wishes go, a Marlies run isn’t bad.
That’s because how the Marlies fare will go some distance in determining who will be ready should the promise of mid-season give way to the bitter disappointment of another post-season miss from the Maple Leafs.
Playoffs are a hockey player’s post-grad. An uneventful or sporadic regular season can be washed aside by solid play in the spring. A great post-season run would increase the value of the assets Burke will likely use to land more help for the Leafs.
The Marlies are frightfully free of playoff experience. Forwards Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne and Marcel Mueller haven’t played a post-season game for pay. Newly acquired Carter Ashton has played in two. Ben Scrivens has three.
Yes, Kadri has played 36 post season games in junior with Kitchener and London. D’Amigo spent last spring toiling for the Kitchener Rangers where he scored six goals and banked nine points in 11 playoff games. That’s nice but when you play teams where everyone shaves the experience is altogether different.
With Matt Frattin and Jake Gardiner cleared to play for the Marlies should the Leafs bow out, the Marlies will bring a formidable lineup to the post season
Mueller has only of late delivered the type of bone-jarring hockey he should consistently bring. Fifty-four of his 67 penalty minutes have come since February 1st. Should Kadri acquit himself in the tighter checking of the playoffs he writes himself a hall pass good for elevated status next September.
If Colborne’s game coalesce after a desultory late season (just one goal in his last eight games going into Friday’s game against Hamilton ), he goes a long way in papering over his growing pains. Colborne scored 10 goals in his first 12 games with the Marlies this season. He has six in the last 38 since returning from a stint with the Leafs.
Can Korbinian Holzer, in North America for only two seasons, ready to play 25-plus minutes in the hothouse of the playoffs? We’ll find out.
The organization needs post season games. Marlie games won’t overshadow the disappointment should the Leafs fall short. Still, some consolation is better than none at all.