TORONTO– With 14 games to go in the regular season, it is almost certain the Toronto Marlies will play in the Calder Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009.
And although it’s no consolation prize for the Toronto Maple Leafs missing the post-season, again, it is something general manager Brian Burke can talk about as a positive for the future of the organization.
“Winning and losing are both habits that can be learned and I think there’s tremendous value on having playoff experience at any level,” said Burke. “I think an NHL player who’s gone through AHL-playoff development benfits from that.”
Currently sitting in second place in the Western Conference, a position that’s been the Marlies for much of the season, it would take a slide similar to their parent clubs to see them miss post-season play. But, that also doesn’t mean securing the top-spot in the North Division will be easy either.
A little over a month ago the Marlies held a 10-point lead for first in their division however both the Lake Erie Monsters and Rochester Americans have put together streaks that have minimized Toronto’s lead to just five points.
Nine of the Marlies’ final 14 games are against North Division teams and include two on the road against Rochester and a home-and-home set with Lake Erie.
While Toronto has won five of eight against the Americans, they have dropped three of their last four after opening the season with four straight victories.
The Marlies have split the season series with the Monsters at four wins apiece depsite losing three of four on the road early in the year.
Another North Division squad that could play a part in Toronto’s success is the Grand Rapids Griffins. Although they are 11 points behind the Marlies, and 12th in the Western Conference, they have beat Toronto in all four meetings thus far and play them four more times before the seasons through.
As AHL rules state, all teams have to hand in a “clear day” list of names that includes the 22 players that will be elgible for post-season action.
The Marlies chose to leave current players Andrew Martens, Colton Orr and Kelsey Wilson off their clear-day list and instead put current Leafs’ Jay Rosehill, Matt Frattin and Jake Gardiner.
What this means is that when the Leafs are officially out of the playoff picture that all three of them can return to the AHL and push towards a Calder Cup. It’s likely that Rosehill’s role wll see limited action, but Frattin and Gardiner will both jump right into the line up.
This isn’t the first time Burke kept AHL spots open for his prospects as he did the same in Anaheim with the Ducks.
“We lost in the conference finals my first year and the next day I sent (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry down to play in a game seven in the conference finals of the Calder Cup. I place great value on that level of experience,” said Burke.
Another current Leaf who will return to the Marlies for the playoffs is Carter Ashton.
In the next three weeks a few losses to the wrong clubs could see the Marlies spiral down the standings as seeds three through 10 are separated by only six points.
However, if Toronto can hold off teams within its own division and gel together the additions of Ashton, Gardiner and Frattin then head coach Dallas Eakins will have a North Division title and home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
When the playoffs start, with the assumption the Marlies qualify and they’re healthy, their line up could look like this:
Mueller -Colborne -Frattin
Full playoff preview will come closer to post-season time.