Monday, December 6, 2010

A Letter from the Fans

Dear Mikhail,

It has been many a fortnight since I last wrote to you, and for that I am deeply apologetic. So many times I have sat alone in the study with pen and paper in hand – wanting to write to you – tell you everything – but alas I cannot. It seems like only yesterday since we met in the summer of 2008. It was a warm July afternoon, only days after the summer free agency period had opened – when like an angel emerging from the clouds you arrived on my doorstep, bearing a more than reasonable and cap friendly 1 year $850,000 contract.

I welcomed you with open arms, welcomed you into my home, into my family, and most importantly, into my heart. You were small, but powerful, graceful – yet tenacious – perfectly suited for the brand of hockey played in the new NHL – or so I thought.

Greg McKegg: The "Steal of the Draft"

The rumour mill hasn't been spinning quite as furiously around the Maple Leafs as one might expect given the team's position in the standings.  The Leafs sit nine points behind Atlanta (with two games in hand) heading into Monday night's tilt with Washington.  Not exactly the competitive squad that Leafs fans and management were expecting heading into the season.

Despite this, much of the talk in Leaf Land has been about improving from within.  With no first rounder this season, and our strongest trade chip possessing a no trade clause, it seems that what we've got now is what we have to work with.

Friday, December 3, 2010

When the Love is Gone - Move On

Break ups are hard.  Very hard. You’re forced to cut ties with someone special in your life. The sad thing about most break ups is that they’re rarely a clean split. Nope, instead they generally involve a lot of name calling and tears (by her and you) over the course of 3 or 4 gut wrenching weeks. You’ll try to be strong in the wake of a break up – but undoubtedly you’ll find yourself on her doorstep pleading for a second chance at 3am on a Saturday night....sigh. In the end, you mope around your house in an old pair of sweats for a month listening to James Blunt, until one day MC Hammer Young MC’s “Bust a Move” comes across the radio – and boom! Your ex is old news.

NHL break ups between GMs and Coaches really aren’t that different. For weeks the media hounds both Coach and GM as the team (let's think of the team as the “relationship” – bear with me, it was a weak metaphor to start with) sorely struggles and drops further and further in the standings. Of course both Coach and GM will claim there is nothing wrong – “we are just working on things” they will say, “we can get through this”. Truth is, once a relationship starts on the dark path towards breaking up, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the inevitable end.

Ron Wilson and Brian Burke have reached the tipping point in their partnership as Maple Leafs Head Coach and GM. It’s setting up to be an unfortunate end to a 2 year relationship that began with so much promise and excitement.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is it too late for a rebuild?

Tonight's 5-0 loss at the hands of the worst team in the NHL's Western Conference makes one wistfully look back and question the direction of Brian Burke's truculent Leafs. What would have happened if, instead of trading for Phil Kessel, the Leafs had kept their first round picks? Would they have Tyler Seguin? Would they have Taylor Hall? Would they have a shot at Adam Larsson or Sean Couturier?

Ultimately it doesn't matter. What's done is done and enough ink has been spilled on The Kessel Trade. I was among the most vociferous opponents of the trade at the time, but there is little to be gained by the sort of "na na na boo boo" commentary that is prevalent in the Leaf blogsophere now. The Leafs are a team of poor quality and no amount of second-guessing will change that.

What's important is whether or not it's too late to go back.

I've heard people posit that now that the Leafs have traded their picks for Kessel they might as well push on and acquire the Brad Richardses and Alex Semins of the world. That would undoubtedly get them back in the playoffs and from the 7th seed...anything can happen!

I'm here to tell you it's false. Don't believe the hype, it's not too late! There IS another way.

Sure, the Leafs' first rounder is gone, but another can be acquired. Burke could abandon his "principles", pressure Kaberle into accepting a trade and acquire a first rounder in the 20-25 range. He could trade Giguere for whatever he could get and throw Gustavsson to the wolves over the next year and a half. Don't kid yourself, the Leafs are bad enough to earn a top pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. A lot of cap space and a lot of liquid cash means some cap space can be spent on the Wade Reddens and Sheldon Sourays of the world being acquired with picks. With a top pick in 2012 and another few picks in the 2nd-3rd round, could the Leafs be a good team in 2013? Would the Leafs be better or worse than they would be in 2013 with Kessel, Semin, etc?

Is Leaf Nation ready for a rebuild? I mean a REAL rebuild? There are two schools of thought: 1) it's too late to rebuild now, forge on, and 2) tear it down, push the restart button. Who's in which camp? Who has the stones to say, "tear it down, it's not a championship team, I'm ready to take on 3 more years of out-of-playoffs hockey"?

I am.

Picture of the Week: That Kind of Week

I think this picture sums up how we're all feeling right about now.

Yeah, it's that bad.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Does Kessel Need Help or Does He Need to Do More By Himself?

Today on the Fan 590's Greg Brady Show, the topic of Phil Kessel was broached.  Brady asked the question 'Does Kessel need to do more or does he need help?'. 

This led to an unusual realization on my part - I rarely ever talk or write about Kessel.  It isn't by design.  There was no conscious decision on my part to avoid talking about the Leafs' top forward.  So why don't I?

In asking myself this question, I came to the conclusion that it's because Phil Kessel is exactly what I thought he would be.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brian Burke and the Future of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Patience seems to be wearing thin with Brian Burke these days.

On November 30th, SkinnyFish over at Pension Plan Puppets put up a post on How Cup Winners are Built where he looked at teams that had reached the pinnacle of success in the last 20 years of NHL hockey.  The conclusion he arrives at is that most teams breakdown of forwards among their top six scorers would be 3 drafted, 2 acquired via trade and 1 acquired through free agency.  As an extension of this, he argues that Brian Burke's 'July 1st is our draft' mantra means that he's not the right guy for the job.

Firstly, I think it's difficult to look at any team building that took place prior to the salary cap and use it as a model for how teams should or even can be built within it.  With free agency occurring at a younger age and teams being restricted in the dollars that they can spend, the dynamics of team-building are very different now than they were prior to the lockout.  This makes using stats extremely difficult as sample sizes are necessarily small and smaller still if you consider that very few teams have actually been built without the legacy of the pre-cap era.

Where the PPP article is bang-on (though it is never explicitly stated) is that it is enormously difficult to land a franchise player anywhere other than the draft.  These guys, even in a cap league where spending is restricted and UFA years come sooner than later, simply don't hit the market.  You'll get the occasional Hossa, Gaborik, or Kovalchuk but forget any pipedreams about Stamkos coming to a team near you.

Today's elite teams such as Chicago and Washington are successful precisely because they were able to land franchise talent in the draft by tanking out.  Other GMs have taken notice and first round draft picks have appreciated in value to a point that in my mind is patently absurd.  This means that everyone is trying to build through the draft now.  In some ways it makes perfect sense but in other ways it doesn't.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Early Season Report Cards

With the season a quarter done we here at BCP feel it’s time to hand out some report cards. As a Maple Leafs fan the ride has been much like a roller coaster these first few weeks. From the hot start, to franchise long losing streak, to the recent bounce back (led by my guy Nazem Kadri) – it’s been anything but boring.

Some players have greatly exceeded our expectations, while others have struggled to produce. Below are the early season report cards for some notable Leafs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Unsportsmanlike Activities Out of the Game

Everyone agrees that referees have a tough job.  They're expected to make split-second decisions on the activities of 12 different players on the ice at any given time in one of the fastest games in the world.  It's enough to make your head spin.

Making this more difficult are the "fake artists" (trademarked, Colin Campbell - not really) of this world.  Call them whatever you like, they're bad for the integrity of the game and they make things extremely difficult on the referees.

This week, it wasn't a fake artist but another type of unsporting activity coming out of Ottawa (no surprises there).  In a game against Los Angeles, Matt Carkner appeared to intentionally lift the net out of position to prevent a goal by the Kings.  The play went to review but the referee was powerless to determine whether there was any intent on Carkner's behalf and could instead only pass a ruling on whether the net was on its moorings when the puck crossed the line which, of course, it was not.

From Carcilo's faked high-stick in the playoffs to Carkner's net push, these plays cheapen the game and the referees are essentially at the mercy of these slimy players. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dion Phaneuf Deal

We all remember the day we heard the news.  I was in my car on my way to Chapters listening to sports radio when I first heard.  Within minutes I received a flurry of text messages from friends who were eager to share the news.  Who was heading out didn't much matter at the time.  We knew it wouldn't be Kessel or Schenn and anyone else was completely expendable.

As near as I can tell, the move was met with near unanimous approval among Leaf fans - which is no small feat.

As time has gone by, the shine has started to come off.  The Leafs' record has improved since the deal but Phaneuf's cap hit of $6.5M is well above the standard of play he's provided the team thus far which has left many Leaf fans wondering if the deal should have been made in the first place. 

The way I see it, there are two things that matter in any deal in a cap world - dollars and talent. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Brad Richards - Is He the Answer?

Today at work I overheard some interesting water cooler Leafs talk (ok we don’t actually have a water cooler – it’s a coffee station – water cooler banter just sounds better). Two guys were going on and on about how good Brad Richards would look wearing the beautiful colors of the blue and white.

The Dallas Stars' 1st line center, Richards is currently playing out the final year of his massive contract and is garnering interest from a number of teams around the league. Normally a player of his calibre would be a candidate for a long term extension; however ownership woes in Big D will likely result in Nieuwendyk sending Richards out of town at the deadline for a package of picks and prospects.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sh*t My Girlfriend Says (While Watching Hockey) Vol. 2

Three games this week as the Leafs beat both the Predators and the Devils before losing to the most disgusting team in the NHL.  With the Predators' game being the rollercoaster that it was, my girlfriend was in predictably fine form.  I've also included a gem from the past for your reading pleasure.

Context: Nashville scores their first goal of the game.

"Oh geez.  Even the suits aren't impressed!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Man Crush 2.0

Ah the school yard crush – what a magnificent thing. When I was 5 years old working my way diligently through the 1st grade I met a girl - Mindy McAlister. She was fantastic, my first official crush. She had it all – shiny hair, a big smile, and a blue bedazzled jacket she wore every Monday. Of course she was way out of my league, Mindy could already tie her shoes by herself, hang upside down from the monkey bars with no hands, and say the entire alphabet successfully (at least 50% of the time anyway).

Yes she was the perfect woman, but as with all crushes the changing of the seasons brought about new options and my eye began to wander. Sarah Jones kicked my shin on the playground shortly before Christmas break and with that, I was over Mindy. Sarah remained my primary crush until the summer – when she moved. Of course both Mindy and Sarah were tainted with girl coodies so my crushes never materialized into anything further then glances across the classroom and name-calling.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three Solid Games With Kadri in the Lineup

Kadri made his season's debut on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks and since then the Toronto Maple Leafs have strung together three strong outings.  Has Kadri singlehandedly plucked the Leafs out of their slump? No, of course not.  Having said this, he has provided the team with a much needed shot in the arm as well as a boost to the powerplay.

Kadri has picked up three points in his first three games since being called up which is certainly more than was expected of him at the time.  While he's still looking for his first goal of the year, he has two primary assists and two powerplay assists.  Big contributions from a 20 year old.

Whether Kadri has been on the ice or not, the Leafs' powerplay went 4 for 7 against Nashville and 2 for 3 against New Jersey.  After being abysmal through the first fifteen games of the season, it seems like our powerplay is back to being 'scary good' as it was in the preseason.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leafs Fantasy Update: Buy Low Sell High

For all my fellow poolies out there the fantasy hockey season is in full swing. With teams and players alike starting to establish themselves as pretenders and contenders, now is probably a good time to take a hard look at both your fantasy roster, and the other teams in your pool.

Once the draft ends, the only real way to improve your team is through astute waiver pickups and crafty trades. The key to winning any trade is to know when it’s appropriate to buy low, and when the time is right to sell high. Through this method you can ensure you're always getting the best value in any transaction. The trick, of course, is understanding when is the perfect time to buy and sell on your players. It’s far from an exact science, but through good research and watching a lot of hockey (I recommend ordering NHL center ice, best 30 bucks a month I’ve ever spent) you can put yourself, and your fantasy team in a position to succeed.

Thankfully, when it comes to Leafs players you have your friends at Blue Chip Prospects to update you on their fantasy value, and when to buy or sell.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So That's Why We Traded for Kris Versteeg

Fifteen games into the season and things were looking pretty bleak for Kris Versteeg.  After being crowned Brian Burke's best offseason acquisition, Versteeg had fallen out of Leaf fans' good graces.

Versteeg began the year on the top unit with Bozak and Kessel but after these first fifteen games, found himself playing on the third line having picked up a paltry 7 points.  Not exactly what we thought we were getting.

Perhaps worse than his meagre point totals was the -6 that was hanging like an albatross in his plus/minus column.  Versteeg was supposed to be a solid two-way forward that could be relied on in the defensive zone in addition to providing a boost to the team's underpowered offense.  Until tonight, we hadn't seen it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Leaf Dads Unite!

The Leafs are currently mired in a tough 8 game losing streak. With the Predators coming into town on Tuesday for a date with the Blue and While pundits and fans alike are calling for changes in Leaf land. Whether it be bringing up Nazem Kadri from the Marlies or shaking up the lines I give the buds management a lot of credit for doing everything they can to turn the ship around.

While these changes to the team have yielded less than stellar results, there is still one thing the team can do that will almost certainly inspire the boys to at the very least snap the losing streak. It’s a solution so simple, so true, and so well tested I’m disappointed it took 8 losses before it occurred to me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sh*t My Girlfriend Says (While Watching Hockey)

For the past six months I've been dating this girl and she's great.  She's pretty, she's smart and she completely supports / tolerates my obsession with hockey and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

She enjoys hockey herself and understands it fairly well, though somewhat imperfectly.  This, combined with her remarkable wit, has led to some funny perspectives and observations that I simply cannot keep to myself.

Inspired by the 'Sh*t My Dad Says' blog, I've decided to start sharing some of her comments for the enjoyment of all.

Here are a couple.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Discipline: Colin Campbell Style

Through some careful digging online I was able to obtain a copy of the transcript for a meeting between NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and lead disciplinarian Colin Campbell regarding Daniel Briere’s most recent suspension. The Flyers center was given 3 games in the press box for a stick swinging incident with Islanders forward Franz Nielsen.

Daly: Coly, after reviewing the game tape of the incident last night I think you need to come down hard on Briere. A substantial punishment will show the players that we are serious about protecting their safety. The stick is a weapon and I don’t think all of our players understand the danger it can pose to others.

Campbell: I completely agree Bill. Downright cowardly what Danny did. After a faceoff Nielsen had no way to protect himself and was at serious risk of being injured. To make matters worse the Flyers were on a 5 on 3 power play, meaning the Islanders had no way to defend themselves.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal: Nazem Kadri

Hope, as defined in Webster’s dictionary; someone (or something) upon which expectations are centered. It’s a simple definition for a word that can be extraordinarily complex depending on the context of its use. In this case, for Leafs fans, hope can be summed up with one singular word – Kadri.

Friday the Toronto Maple Leafs officially called up Nazem Kadri from our AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. While Nazem won’t have to travel far to the big club (the Marlies play down the road at Rico Coliseum) the road to NHL respectability may be longer and bumpier.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Time to Start Leaning on Kaberle a Little

Brian Burke strives to be a principled GM.  He has a holiday trade freeze so guys can enjoy the holiday season with their families without concerns of being uprooted, he refuses to hand out 'top heavy' contracts though if any team can afford to do it, it's his, and he wont ask a player with a no trade clause to waive it.

Principles be damned.

At the risk of betraying my overwhelming frustration at the team's lack of offense, get Kaberle the f&*# out of here!!!

3 Moments that Changed the Leafs Forever

You know those mornings where you wake up right out of a great dream. For just a moment or two you can’t figure where the dream ends and your sad reality starts. I remember years ago thinking I was actually laying in bed with a scantily clad Cindy Crawford (1990s supermodel, for you teenagers scratching your head) for a good 15 seconds after I woke up. Of course, upon rubbing my eyes and rolling over I was only cuddling with a pillow – Best 15 seconds ever though.

Yesterday, I had a very similar morning – this time no hot women or supermodels were involved – although my pillow was there. No, yesterday I had a dream about our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, and what could have been....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Things I am Looking For in a Man"

This morning, as with most mornings after I put up a post, I started my day with some toast and a quick look at my blog's stats.

Traffic has been a bit down lately after peaking at 10,000+ hits in September.  The usual suspects are generating a lot of hits for our blog as being linked on PPP and the Globe and Mail are by far the best traffic sources a Leafs blog could ask for.

Having seen results that weren't terribly unexpected, I was presented with something that was at once shocking and amusing.  Someone, somehow, ended up at our blog by google searching "things I am looking for in a man".

While this may seem initially surprising, it is less so when you dig a little deeper.  With a post titled "Man Crush" and several others expressing infatuation with various members of the Leafs' team it's a bit less surprising.  Oh, and then there's this.  Suffice to say, it isn't all that shocking.

Now, after the longest lede in the history of blogging, I've decided to make a post on what I'm looking for in a man.  Don't worry, it's strictly platonic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

If You Don't Like Your First Line Then Make a New One

Since he arrived in Toronto, I've been a Ron Wilson apologist.  I was happy when the team signed him despite many complaints from others about his lack of playoff success with the Sharks.

I understood the poor results of the past two seasons under Wilson given the relative lack of talent on the team and knowing that a team that had undertaken such a significant overhaul was bound to take more than a little time to come together.

Despite this, I've never liked his propensity for calling out his players publicly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Big Games Early On: Saturday's Tilt Huge for the Leafs

To say that Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres is huge for the Leafs isn't hyperbole. 

The Leafs have hit a rough patch that many expected despite their hot start and there's no better time for the team to snap out of it than Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres.

The reasons for the tough results lately have been a confluence of hot opposition goaltending, an inability to capitalize on scoring chances and a few poor decisions.  Ron Wilson has rightly pointed out that the team has, for the most part, played well though the results simply haven't been there.  Unfortunately, well-played losses don't give you points in the standings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Keeping Myself Honest: Reviewing My Fantasy Advice

Through a month of the year, my own fantasy team has done fairly well.  I'm in third in the league with a very solid team but I find myself well back of the top two squads, each of whom would get a first-round bye if the playoffs were to start today.  My schedule to start the year has been a tough one with each of the three teams I've played falling inside the playoff cutoff.

Enough about me, how about you?  In the lead-up to this year's season I put out a few articles on players that I liked to varying degrees as well as a list of sleepers.  In the interest of accountability, I figure we should assess my performance. 

Here we go;

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Caputi to the First Line, Kadri in the AHL and Other Developments

Having missed the past two Leaf games, I have very little insightful to say about the team's play in the last week.  I can speak to the period of hockey I saw against the Rangers (Lundqvist robbed the Leafs) or the stats (our powerplay is still pretty woeful) but I would prefer to just toss out a series of thoughts that I've had recently, none of which are developed enough to constitute an entire post.

Firstly, Nazem Kadri is putting up some solid numbers in the AHL.  At last check he was at a point-per-game pace which is probably about what we expected from him when we sent him down.  The Globe and Mail (who are doing some exceptional work in their 'Leafs Beat' section, I should add) recently did a post on Kadri and his development in the AHL as seen through the eyes of Coach Eakins.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Picture of the Week: Frontstreet Boys

This week's picture begs the question - what if the Leafs made a boy band?  We have your answers.

Mike Komisarek as Kevin - He's the tall, strong and silent type.  Komisarek, like Kevin, is a solid, standout contributor and a must for any band of teen heart-throbs.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October Report Card: Reviewing the Pre-Season List

Prior to the season, we at BCP identified eight things that had to happen for the Leafs to finish among the Eastern Conference's top eight.

With the first month out of the way and the Leafs sporting a very shiny 5-2-1 record, we've decided to have a look at the list and see where the Leafs are succeeding and where they might be falling short.

Without further ado;

1) Phil Kessel will have to continue developing - At this rate, Phil Kessel will be a 70 goal scorer.  Ok, I know that isn't going to happen and so do you.  40 seems like an eminently attainable target though and 50 isn't entirely out of the question.  Yeah, I would say he's continued his development.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cut off a Finger to Save the Season: What to do With Our New Found Cap Space

Jeff Finger is one of the highest paid defensemen in the AHL (thank you, Sheldon Souray and Wade Redden) but at least he isn't one of the highest paid people in our pressbox.

With Finger freeing up $3.5 million in cap space, Brian Burke signalled to the rest of the league that he's "open for business".  Send us your overpaid, your cap burden, your salary handcuffs - but send us something we can use while you're at it.

The timing for the Leafs couldn't be better.  After a remarkably strong start, the team has stumbled of late and hasn't looked all that promising while doing it.  Ron Wilson has shaken up the top six a little bit, shifting Kulemin back to the top line where he finished last season and moving Versteeg to the second unit where he and Grabovski can fight over who can skate around with the puck the longest.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Drinking the Kul-Aid

We're first place in the Eastern Conference.  How nice does that sound?  A combination of hockey euphoria and life has kept me from posting recently but I'm back and hope to have a lot to talk about.

Having watched the first five games of the year I have to say that I have developed a full-fledged infatuation with Nikolai Kulemin.

While Clark MacArthur is getting most of the play in media circles, I can honestly say there is no player that has made me happier than Kulemin.  After being forced  off of the top unit by the acquisition of Kris Versteeg, I was more than a little worried about what might happen to the poor guy.  He'd done nothing but play hard the season before, had earned every cent (as much as an athlete can anyway) of his $2.25 million extension and yet he found himself demoted in the depth chart.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Possible New Home for the Coyotes?

After another successful European sojourn to begin the NHL season, I find myself wondering if this is the solution to the League's problem of what to do with the Coyotes -

After all, why should Habs fans be the only ones who get to burn cars when their team loses?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

BOLD Predictions for 2010-2011

On the eve of the 2010-2011 season I have compiled my 10 BOLD predictions for this year. These 10 reflect what my gut tells me will happen this season. And my gut is only wrong 40% of the time – so there has to be some truth to them – right?

1.The Detroit Red Wings will win the Stanley Cup – This may not be that BOLD per se, as they are a perennial contender. These guys are being overlooked a bit because of age, but they are finally healthy this season and there is not better group of battle tested playoff warriors in the league.

2.Phil Kessel will score 48 goals – Not 50 (that would be crazy). But as he moves into his mid 20s, finally healthy, I think he is primed for that breakout season. The team is better (albeit marginally) than last year and there is no reason to think he won’t post career highs.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Picture of the Week: Flawless Victory

If this doesn't get you excited for hockey, you're not a Leaf fan.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kadri's Future and Other Pre-Season Observations

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster for Leaf fans this pre-season.  If you were to take a poll of Leaf-Nation before the start of training camp asking what Leaf fans were most hoping to see in the pre-season, I think the number one response would have been some variation of 'a dominant Nazem Kadri'.

We didn't get that.

Kadri was at times awful, at times exciting but most often a non-factor during the pre-season - and that's ok.  He's a kid.  I'm sure when we drafted him that we didn't realistically expect him to have any more than a cup of coffee in the NHL by the end of this season and he's well above that developmental curve.  He'll spend some time in the AHL, develop, and we'll see him again, more mature, by season's end.

Now that I've got my feelings on Kadri down, here are a few other things I saw during the pre-season:

Friday, October 1, 2010

How Burke and Wilson Decided Who Plays in Our Bottom Six

With Nazem Kadri likely missing his opportunity to start the season on the big club, there's an opening in the lineup that Burke and Wilson likely weren't expecting.  There are a few candidates 'on the bubble' for roster spots and with little to choose between them, here are some of the ways that Burke and Wilson have tried to resolve the conflict.

What they tried:  Wilson and Burke each flipped a dime.  If the coins yielded the same result Brent would stay, if opposite then Mitchell would stay.
Why it failed:  Patrick Kane punched them both and took the change.

What they tried:  Wanting more size in their bottom six, Burke decided to use height as the determining factor.
Why it failed:  The measuring tape they used was taken from the Montreal Canadiens dressing room and was only 5'5" long.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What the Leafs Need This Season

Remember the joy of having your favorite team in the playoffs?  You do?  Oh.  What does it feel like?

I guess that's my way of saying it's been a while for Leaf fans.  I'm on record as saying that I think the Leafs will be a team that competes for a playoff spot this year and I've been called crazy - or worse - for having said it.

Having said this, I'm not crazy.  I understand that a lot of things will have to go our way for this to work out.  Since we have a strong affinity for lists here at BCP, here's a list of the top 8 things that will have to happen for the Toronto Maple Leafs to finish in the top 8 in the Eastern Conference.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Luca Caputi Gets It

Watching the Leaf game on Wednesday night, two things were very apparent;  Luca Caputi finally understands what he'll have to do to be a pro and Pierre Maguire says, "this guy gets it" way too often.  This article is the sum of those parts.

Since the deal was made to acquire Caputi, I've really liked his skill set and size.  There's no doubt about it, he's a talented guy.  This talent has led him to be a highly productive AHL player but it seemed last season as though this talent wasn't going to be fully realized at the NHL level.  It had nothing to do with skill and everything to do with mindset.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can the Leafs be this Season's Coyotes?

To be a Leafs fan, it seems, is to vacillate between wild-eyed optimism and despondent pessimism, sometimes several times in the same sixty minutes. As this coming season approaches, the pulse of Leaf Nation seems to be favour the former sentiment - some even dare to hope that this year's squad will be the ones to end the Leafs' half-decade-long playoff drought.

If the Leafs manage to wheeze their way into the 8th spot they will have exceeded most impartial observers' expectations, but dare we hope for even more? Is it possible the Leafs could challenge for their Division or even the Conference title? Could the Leafs be this year's Phoenix Coyotes?

[Shortly after beginning this story it came to my attention that Editor in Leaf had already written a very comprehensive and similarly-themed series on the subject that is definitely worth a look. I decided to write this article anyway as I took a slightly different approach.]

I feel the comparison is more reasonable than it might initially appear to be - both this year's Leafs and last year's Coyotes entered the season as underdogs in a tough division and neither could boast high-powered offenses or star-studded lineups. As with so much in life, the statistics light the path that the Leafs will have to follow if they are going to emerge as this year's Cinderella story:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chemistry Lesson: Find Your Catalysts

The Toronto Maple Leafs had an atrocious start to the season last year.  The team looked solid in the pre-season going 6-4 but fell into a tailspin out of the gate - a free fall they were unable to fully recover from.

Much ink has been spilled on how poor the Leafs' goaltending was last year and you'll get no argument on that point here.  Having said this, pinning all of the Leafs' travails on Vesa Toskala doesn't fully capture the spirit of the thing.  The powerplay and penalty kill were both abysmal and perhaps most telling was the complete lack of chemistry the team had coming out of the gate.

This shouldn't surprise us - Brian Burke was engaged in a full-roster overhaul.  The defense saw the additions of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and Garnett Exelby.  With half of our defense new to the team, chemistry was always going to be hard to come by on the back end.  At this position, where understanding the tendencies of your partner is so critical, we were a team in flux and it showed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ten Things I'm Looking Forward to This Season

I love October.  Everything about it agrees with me; the cooler temperature, the spiced foods and most of all, the return of NHL hockey.

I spent most of this offseason looking at players we might want to target, line combinations and prospect examinations and all the speculation kind of has my head spinning.  Now that we're closing in on the pre-season I'm going to lay off the predictions and suggestions for a second and get back to the root of the game.

Here are ten things I'm looking forward to this season.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

2 Can Be As Bad As 1

You’ve spent weeks prepping and sifting through an endless stack of fantasy magazines, reading online blogs, and asking your dad what he thinks about Luongo this year. Yes, draft night has finally arrived. Good news – you’ll have a great evening with a few buddies and some cold beer while ripping on the jerk who takes Claude Giroux 3 rounds early. Bad news – you just found out you have the 2nd overall pick.

Over the last 4 years it has become painfully obvious that the best player in the wonderful world of fantasy hockey is none other than Alexander Ovechkin. He is to fantasy hockey what the Beatles were to classic rock, what Pamela Anderson was to mediocre syndicated TV series from the 1990s – safe to say, Ovie is awesome.

With Ovechkin as the clear cut #1 on every draft board you will be left with the almost impossible decision at #2 – Crosby or Malkin. Yes, some of you are reading this and saying what about the Sedins, Backstrom, Stamkos, Parise...etc. If you think that there are other players than Sid and Gino to be considered at #2 that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion – your just wrong.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Call of the North?

"NHLers love the idea of playing in Toronto".

We've all heard some variant of this said at some point, and many of us have probably uttered it ourselves. Intuitevely, this statement makes sense. The Leafs are the wealthiest, most storied franchise in the league (that's right, f%$* you Montreal) with a fanbase that exibits a level of devotion usually reserved for religious extremists. Toronto has all the amenities a guy pulling down a six- or seven-figure salary could want - luxury condos in the city and cottages in Muskoka, world-class dining, high-end fashion and jewelry for the wife/girlfriend in Yorkville and even a Ferrari dealership on Avenue Rd. It's hard to imagine any player deciding they'd rather play in an armpit like Detriot or New Jersey or in a market like Nashville or Atlanta where most residents can't even spell 'hockey', let alone care enough to go see a game.

Although Lord knows that I would salivate at the prospect of suiting up for the Blue and White, is it reasonable to expect the players in league really feel the same way? Let's consider some of the cons:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rick Nash: The Untold Story

Ah yes kids – as your parents probably taught you (at least if they were good parents) there are two sides to every story in life. That holds true in fantasy GMs opinion of Columbus “power” winger Rick Nash.

Many pundits will point out that Nash has never truly achieved “superstar” status – and they are probably right. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a valuable fantasy commodity now, and for years to come.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Change of Scenery: Potential Targets for the Leafs

Buy low, sell high.  It's a simple concept that governs the maximization of all assets over time and hockey is no different.

There were several deals made last year that saw underachieving players moved to new teams where these underachievers were given new life.  Our own Lee Stempniak is a great example of the kind of player that just needed a different situation in order to maximize their own value.  Peter Mueller lit it up in Colorado after a few disappointing seasons in Phoenix.  Montreal and Minnesota both improved their teams swapping Latendresse for Pouliot as each player adapted well to their new addresses.

The Leafs are still looking to improve their team up front but don't have any big assets that they'll be looking to move in order to do so.  Given this, the best targets are going to be these kinds of guys - the underachievers.  Here's a short list of guys that I think might fit that category.

Player Spotlight - Rick Nash

Alright fantasy GMs, it's time to smarten up.

In the name of all that is hockey, do not draft this man!

Every year, without exception, Rick Nash is drafted in the top 25-40 selections of nearly every draft.  Why?  Explain yourselves puck heads.  What is it about this guy that makes you take him so soon?

I play in a pretty competitive keeper league that had our inaugural draft last season.  The guys in the pool know hockey.  Having issued this disclaimer; Rick Nash was drafted 22nd overall.

Last season Nash was a minus player who put up 67 points.  Does that look like 22nd overall-type production to you?

Player Spotlight - Ilya Kovalchuk

Now that the big Russian sniper is without a doubt staying in the NHL until his bones crumble to dust, we can finally have a look at what fantasy owners can expect from one of the NHL's most prolific scorers.

There was once a time when this profile would have been all but useless.  Kovalchuk used to be one of the most steady and reliable players in the league.  When drafting him, you knew that you'd be picking up 40-50 goals, many of them on the powerplay, and shot totals in the low to mid 300s.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Wonderful World of Hockey

I love the smell of hockey in the morning.

Is there anything better than hockey season? I mean really. Waking up everyday – watching sports center 3 times over (because once is never enough) while updating your fantasy roster and sifting through the daily headlines online at ESPN, TSN and (insert shameless self promotion here) everyone’s favourite hockey blog, Blue Chip Prospects.

Yes it’s a great time. And as we approach the start of training camp there are a number of things I’ve noticed from around the wonderful world of hockey.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Undervalued Veterans

Every year the NHL seems to be getting younger and younger. As new rule changes continue to put an emphasis on skill and speed at the expense of size and experience (I realize that’s a generality but you see the trend). However, every year there are a number of proven veteran fantasy players who get passed over in favour of younger players with that always important “potential”. Sadly, potential means very little in your fantasy league – below are some proven veterans that will consistently fill your categories all season long.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back in Business: The Leafs' Playoff Hopes

That's right, we're back to work - not just BCP but the Leafs too.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a double-entendre.

With our new Captain's bold assertion that the Leafs will be a playoff team, I decided to look at some teams that we might overtake and how, exactly, we might be able to do so.

Florida:  Horton is out and the team appears committed to the re-build.  They've taken some good steps towards this re-build but the moves they've made will push them backward in the short-term.  With a goalie of Vokoun's calibre there's always a chance for a good year, but Florida should finish the year behind the Buds.

New York Islanders: The Islanders should be the league's worst team this year.  They simply don't have enough veteran talent to support their young talent and goaltending, as ever, is a question mark.

Tampa Bay:  Probably not.  The Lightning are a better team than what they've showed lately.  The addition of Simon Gagne gives the Lightning two very good scoring lines.  Tampa in on an upward trend.

Carolina:  Their division always seems to push them higher up the standings than their roster would dictate but this could be the year Carolina starts to suffer.  Short of Eric Staal there isn't much to get excited about on this roster in the short-term and Cam Ward's back injury has to be a serious concern.

Atlanta:  Kovalchuk is out and in my opinion their goaltending overperformed last year.  Byfuglien, as any Blackhawk fan will tell you, disappears for long stretches at a time and is not the player that he always seems to be at playoff time. 

New York Rangers:  I can't think of a team that I feel relies more heavily on one player.  If Gaborik is healthy then I think the Rangers will be much better than everyone expects.  If he goes down, their depth chart is thrown entirely out of whack and they'll be playing for 1-0 wins.  If Gaborik plays 60 or fewer games, I'll take the Leafs.

Montreal:  Carey Price will do what he always does; play just well enough that Habs fans will think he's the second-coming of Patrick Roy thus causing them to hate him that much more when he only has one good game in every three.  With Price's inconsistency in net, I can't imagine the Habs making the playoffs.

Ottawa:  Tough to say.  If Gonchar is healthy, one of their goalies plays well and Alfredsson continues to play at the same level he has through his entire career, they could be a very good team.  That's a lot of 'ifs'.  How much will the loss of Volchenkov hurt and what can Ottawa expect from Spezza and Alfredsson?  If the Leafs get into the playoffs, it will probably be at the expense of Ottawa so we better earn some good results in the Battle of Ontario.

Those are my picks.  I'm a homer.  I see the East finishing with Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh,  Philadelphia,  Boston as locks and Tampa Bay and Buffalo as probable playoff teams.

This leaves Ottawa, Toronto and the New York Rangers to fight over the remaining spot.  It will take strong goaltending, some surprise production among our forwards and for our defense corps to gel but the other teams competing for the eighth seed have their questions as well.

Maybe, just maybe, Dion wasn't as crazy as the mainstream media would have us believe.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tank Nation: Dispelling the Myth that Failure Leads to Success

Say the words "Tank Nation" to Brian Burke and you'll likely get punched in the mouth.  From the time the big Irishman took over the Leafs, he has committed himself to accelerating the process of making the Toronto Maple Leafs contenders in the Eastern Conference.

While the Phil Kessel deal purged the team of first round picks, thereby quieting the calls for the 'Tank Nation' strategy, there remains a significant number of hockey fans that feel that the proper way to rebuild is to take your lumps, finish in the bottom of the standings for a few years, and then look to compete a few seasons down the road.  This 'Fail to Succeed' model has never made a lot of sense to me intuitively but I decided to look at from a more quantitative perspective to see if there's any merit to the strategy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Player Spotlight: Alexander Semin

He was snakebit in last year’s playoff series against the hated Canadiens and he fights like Donkey Kong, but ‘the other Alex’ in Washington should be far more than an afterthought for fantasy GMs this year.

Alex Semin may be the most underrated player to go in your fantasy draft this year if the Yahoo! And Hockey News fantasy rankings are to be believed. Both lists have Semin ranked outside of the top 25, despite netting 40 goals and 84 points in 73 games last year – good for an overall ranking of 4th on the 2009-10 season according the the Y! rankings. So what’s changed? Semin is still with Washington, is in another contract year, is coming off his healthiest season in his career and still possesses a shot teammates have described as better than Ovechkin’s.  You can bank on Semin putting in 80 points and (assuming your league measures this stat) and taking close to 300 shots to boot.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Would Burke Chase an RFA Next Offseason?

It was about this time last year when Brian Burke brought Toronto's most talented roster player, Phil Kessel, to the Maple Leafs.  While he's stated that he and his management considered whether the pick may be Taylor Hall, surely they didn't believe that they were giving up the second overall pick.  The Leafs should have been better than second worst, but they weren't.

Burke has repeatedly said that he would make the deal again if given the opportunity.  Would he?  Given the number of times he's been asked whether he regrets the deal, you'd have to think he'd be a little gun-shy.  But then again, he's Brian Burke and he probably doesn't give a crap what anyone else thinks.

Player Spotlight: Jarome Iginla

Remember the first time you beat your Dad at a sport? Remember how weird that was? It’s something that inevitably will happen to all fathers in sports, they get beaten by their sons. I grew up idolizing my Dad, and his ability to seemingly be good at all sports, especially hockey. So the day I realized I could skate a bit faster than him, and probably had softer hands was a sad one (he still shoots the puck harder than me). The inevitability of the transition of male dominance from father to son does not make it any less weird.

I recently had one of those “weird” feelings dawn on me when reading about Jarome Iginla – he is 33 years old. The young-upstart-warrior-captain-Calgary-fantasy-stud-muffin is 33 years old. Wow. For years Iginla has been absolutely bankable in fantasy hockey. A winger that will give your between 35-50 goals, 80-95 points, 300 plus shots, and close to 100 PIMs. At 33 he enters a precarious phase for a superstar. No longer possessing the physical gifts of his 20s, Iginla is still relied upon to lead the Flames offence. It’s weird and discomforting to think of new breed of young hockey players supplanting Iggy among the fantasy elite.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Playing the Odds: The Leafs in Net

A goaltender in hockey is as important as a quarterback in football.  Without a good one, your team is a rudderless ship.  The Leafs have been drifting since the lockout.

Earlier in the week Brendan looked at some of the moves Brian Burke has made in acquiring goaltending prospects.  He pointed out that Burke had done well to pickup goaltending prospects at no cost particularly in view of the fact that he had already brought in the world's best goaltending coach in Francois Allaire.

He also noted that picking goaltending prospects is a bit of a crap shoot.  You could get Marc-Andre Fleury at number one overall or in the same year you could get Halak at 271.  Both are good goalies but the assets used to acquire them vary widely.

Given the apparent randomness that we see with goaltending prospects, having a girth of them is a positive.  But what exactly do we have?  Who are the comparables?  What, exactly, should Leaf fans be hoping for from these free assets?  We'll have a look at some numbers below.


With fantasy drafts upcoming, aspiring GMs everywhere are pouring over stats, reading blogs (thanks), and trying to figure out who they'll take in the first five rounds.  The truth of the matter is, leagues are rarely won in the early rounds.  The players that will go in the first two rounds in most leagues could very nearly go on consensus.

The key to succeeding in fantasy hockey is grabbing guys like Stastny, Stamkos, Kopitar or M. Koivu late.  With this in mind, here's my list of guys that should go late in your draft that could have a serious impact on your success this season.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What if the Leafs Signed Kovalchuk?

I've had a lot of discussions lately with people who have been lamenting Burke's inactivity in the free agent market.  Part of this Burke has brought on himself by calling it "our draft".  Having said this, my standard response to these people is, "what could he have done?". 

The only real prize forward during this free agent period was Ilya Kovalchuk and the most common response that I hear is that Burke should have taken a more serious run at him.  What if he had?  What if he had made an offer to Kovalchuk that was strong enough to land the talented Russian sniper? 

For sake of argument, we're going to assume that Kovalchuk's cap hit falls in the $8M per season range over the next 10 years.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Thing Burke Got Right

As the offseason enters its twilight, Leaf fans are bracing for what may be another difficult season.  It looks like the 2010-11 Leafs will be icing a squad comprised of roughly four defensemen for every forward and goal production will once again fall on the shoulders of a select few.  This would be a fine arrangement for Toronto FC – one wonders if Brian Burke is confused about which MLSE team he is managing – but a hockey team usually requires more than one top-end forward if they hope to contend for a playoff spot.

But there is one bright spot in the Leafs strategy in this blogger’s opinion.  The acquisition of Jussi Rynnas is the latest example of an approach to developing a goaltending corps that I heartily support.  Rynnas is the third unsigned, undrafted goaltender that the Leafs have picked up in the past year (Gustavsson and Scrivens being the others).  Add fourth-round pick James Reimer to this list and I think we’re looking at an unheralded victory for the much-beleaguered Leafs GM.  Leaf fans should be applauding Burke on his strategy for a number of reasons:

1) They were all ‘free’. I won’t belabour the Leafs’ well-documented lack of high draft picks and lack of depth at forward. What I will say is that a team in the Leafs’ position does well to pick up any promising player without having to give up anything in return.

2) None of them are Vesa Toskala. Though I would sleep better at night if someone could produce a photograph of Rynnas and Toskala at the same event, just to make sure.

3) Goaltending is a crap shoot.  When it comes to young goalies, nothing can be considered a ‘sure thing’.  Of course, many of the goalies taken in the top rounds live up to their billing - Luongo (4th overall), Brodeur (20th overall) and possibly even Fleury (1st overall) are good examples.  However, many more starters seemed to come out of nowhere, like Hiller (undrafted), Nabokov (219th overall), Lundqvist (205th overall), Miller (138th) and Kiprusoff (116th).  Add to that the fact that a lot of top-rated goalies are a bust - Rick DiPietro (1st), Brent Krahn (9th) and Peter Hamerlik (84th) were all selected before Henrik Lundqvist in 2000.  Actually, King Henrik wasn’t even the first SWEDISH goaltender selected, that honour went to Mikael Tellqvist (70th).  You never know which goalie will make the leap to stardom, but like in craps, you have a better chance of winning the more times you get to throw the dice.

4) Francois Allaire.  The Leafs' goaltending coach arguably developed the modern style of goaltending while guiding two goalies (Roy and Giguere) to Stanley Cups. If anyone can help a young goalie maximize his potential, it’s this guy - give him enough chances to work some magic and I’m expecting at least one result worthy of David Blaine.

5) Francois Allaire is not Vesa Toskala.

So while the current Leafs squad might not be contending for Cup anytime soon, Burke did assemble a group that might just produce a goalie capable of taking us there.

Player Spotlight: Ryan Getzlaf

Fantasy managers take note;  Ryan Getzlaf is here to stay.

Getzlaf is huge at 6'4" and 220 lbs.  He's California's other Joe Thornton.  In terms of fantasy output, the 25 year-old centreman is even more than Thornton.

There are a few things about Getzlaf that are known.  Firstly, he's going to get a lot of assists.  Over the past three seasons he's averaged nearly 0.8 assists per game.  If you add goals into the equation, he's a 1.1 point per game producer.  That's respectable output on its own merit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ten Things Brian Burke is Sick of Hearing About

Brian Burke is a patient man.  Just kidding, he's Irish.  Despite clear frustration at times, he's answered every question the media has thrown at him during what was expected to be a busy off-season but ended up being largely a uneventful one.

Here is a list of the top ten questions Burke is sick of answering:

10)  Do you think you have too many defensemen?  No, I don't.  I think we don't have enough forwards.

9)  Why didn't you sign Bill Sweatt?  We tried, he priced himself off this team.  Our offer was 'generous' he's just a jackass.

Monday, August 23, 2010


So your fantasy draft has come around to the late rounds – all the top talent has been taken and you're left staring at your “sleepers” list. Here below are five sleepers you should take a chance on for 2010-11.

5. Cody Hodgson – He has been a bit of an afterthought since back injuries kept him out of the Canucks line-up last season. However, he should be healthy this season and remains a top end prospect. While Vancouver does have a deep team he could be used as trade bait at the deadline freeing up a top 6 role for him on another team.

4. Erik Karlsson – The Senators defenseman has rounded into form as the quarterback on the power play – But what about Gonchar? At his age, and with the mileage he has on him from numerous playoff runs I don’t see him playing a full season. Karlsson had 26 points in the final 60 games last season, look for him to hit 45-50 this year, with nice PP numbers.

3. Derick Brassard – He was a big time sleeper last season (I know because I drafted him instead of Stamkos..... F%@K!). Even though he bombed last year, he will have every opportunity to center Rick Nash and the secondary players in Columbus are developing nicely. With an improved lineup, and a bounce back from Steve Mason, look for Brassard to be an effective 3rd or 4th center on your team.

2. Olli Jokinen – You must be Jokinen right? Not the same Olli who was run out of town last year in Calgary and looked like he lacked the hockey sense to keep up in a minor peewee game, let alone the NHL? Yep.  He signed in Calgary because he has something to prove. I think he, Iggy, and Tanguay have one monster year left and this is it. Call me crazy.

1. Alex Kovalev – Yeah, I know he's 37 years old and hasn’t been a productive fantasy player in 2 years. But there is something about him.  When he wants to, he can still score in bunches. I think Kovalev believes he can get one more contract – and don’t ever underestimate the power of money to a Russian.

Are the Leafs fantasy-relevant?

For the past few seasons, fantasy leagues everywhere have largely avoided the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Sure, some guys were certainly drafted in all but the shallowest of leagues (Kessel, Kaberle) and some were probably taken on a dice roll (Grabovski, Stajan, Ponikarovsky).  Heck, some guys probably bounced between waivers and rosters throughout the year (Hagman, Gunnarsson, Gustavsson). 

For the most part however the Leafs were treated as though they had pox - they were to be avoided at all costs.

The reasons for this abound; not enough talent, a coach that shuffles lines regularly and goaltending that meant +/- that could rival the temperatures of Yukon winters.  Having said this, the seasons are starting to change in Leafland.

Gone are the top-line-minute-eaters like Stajan and to a lesser extent Ponikarovsky.  These players have been replaced with youngblood that have the chance to put up some very respectable fantasy numbers.  Let's have a look at some of the guys to watch for.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Phil Kessel, 40 Goal Scorer

I'd written so much about the defense in the buildup to the Kaberle non-trade that I've almost entirely neglected our forward core.  Darren put up a troll-piece about the Leafs recently and I think I need to address something he said.

Phil Kessel is Thomas Vanek - seriously, he is. Look at their stats. We don’t have an elite scorer in the NHL – we have a good player. Kessel is a nice player to watch, and certainly will score a few goals. But I project his maximum output to be that of Mr. Vanek. 35-40 goals and 70 points. That will be a down year for Tyler Seguin by the way.
Ok, interesting point.  Let's look at it a little bit - maybe a bit more optimistically.

Monday, August 16, 2010

California (and Arizona and Texas) Gurls

The offseason wrap-up continues with a look at the left-est of the left coast. Some might say hockey doesn't belong in California and the southern 'States...that it's a waste of time to try to sell the game to SoCal and Tay-hass and 'Zona.

This is an extremely short-sighted and selfish viewpoint. Think about it, if we moved these teams north to more traditional "hockey markets", exactly WHERE will disgruntled stars demand trades to when they're sick of playing in Canada, huh? Buffalo?!? Get real, naive reader...

Onward to...

The Western Conference – Pacific Division

Kaberle Stays - Who Goes?

Much to my surprise Tomas Kaberle will be a Toronto Maple Leaf to start the season.  Having Kaberle in the lineup doesn't disappoint me in the least - having a forward group that looks like ours does bothers me more than a little.

Having said this, what's done is done.  Our powerplay quarterback will continue feathering passes to Dion Phaneuf on the man advantage and playing soft defense on the cycle.  C'est la vie.

 So where does this leave us?  Currently, we're spending $27,775,000 on our 8 NHL defensemen and another $7,350,000 on goaltending:  $35,125,000 of a 59.4 million dollar salary cap.  That's a lot of money to keep pucks out of the net.

With Kaberle sticking around and three solid defensive prospects on entry-level salaries in Mikus, Holzer and Aulie, Burke will likely try and move a defenseman.  Let's have a quick look at each guy's prospects.

Looking Back at Brian Burke's Offseason Wish List

At the beginning of May BCP presented what we felt would be Brian Burke's offseason wish list.  With the Kaberle deal completed, we'd like to review the list and see what the GM was able to achieve in his second offseason at the helm.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

K-Day: Tomas Kaberle Trade Window Coming to a Close

As Leaf fans wait impatiently for Kaberle to move, Brian Burke said this morning that without an improvement in the offers he's received thus far, Kaberle will remain a Maple Leaf.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that this will be the case for several reasons.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brian Burke vs. A Wheel of Brie

Prompted by Curt’s Brian Burke Backslap I have taken it upon myself to post this rebuttal. I do so on behalf of two vastly underrepresented groups on Maple Leafs blogs and message boards: Non-Leafs fans and Leafs Fans Who Recognize Brian Burke’s Incompetence.

Curt’s thesis, if I understood correctly, was that Brian Burke has improved the prospect depth of the organization since he took over in November 2008. Apart from some shady logic (the existence of a “Top 10” prospects in the organization doesn’t mean that those 10 prospects are necessarily good), maybe that’s true – heaven knows it couldn’t get any worse than it was then. Does that mean, however, that Brian Burke has done a good job? I say no. And to prove it, I’m going to stage the Ultimate Face-Off:


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rounding Out the Leafs' Lineup: Defense

Yesterday, I looked at the Leaf forward corps and tried to read the tea leaves to find out who would be playing where at the beginning and nearer to the end of the season.  My guesses met with some harsh criticism at times (where's John Mitchell!!!!1) which is exactly the kind of debate I'd love to encourage in the comments section.  I love to see 'em so please, keep me honest!

Today, I'd like to do the same exercise with the defense.  Probably not as exciting as there's a bit more certainty back there but let's at least look at what we've got.

Player Spotlight: Anze Kopitar

It seems like just yesterday Toews was hoisting Lord Stanley over his head yelling “Hoss! Hoss!” (Great moment by the way, really showed Toews maturity as a captain) but it’s already August 11th. If you’re like me, and Fantasy Hockey is a year round occupation, the chances are you’ve already started to think about your upcoming draft in the fall.

With that in mind – I’m going to provide weekly player spotlights on some players you’d be advised to keep a close eye on come draft day.

First up, none other than the BIG Slovenian himself – Anze (the Giant) Kopitar.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rounding Out the Leafs' Lineup: Forwards

We're getting close to zero-hour.  Tomas Kaberle will be traded and I will have something to write about.  Until then, I'll kill more time speculating. 

I think that at this point, with free agency winding down and most of our RFAs signed, it's safe to start looking at possible line combinations for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I'm going to start by putting together a list of what I think the lines will be at the beginning of the season and then move on to what I think they'll look like closer to the end of the year.  Here's what I came up with.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blue and White Glasses

Let me start this post with a declaration. I am a Leafs fan. Always have been, always will be.

I watched my dad cry when Gretzky’s lazy high stick on Gilmour went unnoticed in '93. I still get goose bumps watching Potvin feed Hextall with so many left hands he started begging for the right. I refused to go to school the day after Roenick bounced us from the playoffs in OT of game 7 against the Flyers.

Yes – I bleed blue and white.

I have spent my entire life looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs through those metaphorical “Blue and White Glasses.” And for the first time ever I am going to take them off – look at my team through the eyes of pure hockey fan. I’m scared of what I’m going to see.

An Outsider’s Look Outside

Good day loyal reader(s). I’ve been asked by the head honchos of this fine publication to put together an offseason wrap-up and I’m glad to oblige herein. This task was outsourced not because of any deficiency on their parts but because I am grossly unqualified to do anything else on this site, being *gasp* not a Leafs fan.

You may be wondering what a non-Leafs fan is doing writing on a Leafs blog. If so, you’re a nosy little punk and should mind your own b...

Sorry, that was rude. I’m at little testy on this particular off-season because, in addition to not being a Leafs fan, I AM an Oilers fan. It wasn’t a good season for my boys either but that’s no excuse for me to fly off the handle. We still cool?

Good. Because I’m going to need you with me here, this is going to get complicated. You see, gentle reader, despite what the CBC would have you believe, there are teams in the NHL besides the Leafs. 29 of them. Some of them had good offseasons, some of them had bad offseasons, and some of them (New Jersey) have yet to find out from Arbitrator Richard Bloch what kind of offseason they had. 5 of these teams exist as part of a largely unknown entity (at least from Ontario-East) know as…

The Western Conference – Northwest Division

Well Done, Brian Burke: Leafs Prospect Update

Hockey's Future just updated the Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect page which is going to be the primary topic of this post.

Last week I wrote about the Leafs having too many pro-contracts - this week I'm going to look at the positives that have come with them.

Brian Burke has been criticized for looking too short term with the Leafs by bankrupting the future in the Phil Kessel trade. While hindsight suggests that that trade likely wont favour the Leafs long-term, it's tough to say that Brian Burke hasn't deepened the team's prospect pool.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why I (over)Value Marcel Mueller

This post is inspired by a piece put together over at Yakov Mironov. If you're not already reading his stuff, I'd encourage you to check him out - he does good work. You'll find a link in the blogroll.

In his piece, Yakov talks about his favorite (or at least most overvalued) Leaf prospect, Jerry D'Amigo. BCP has always been fond of recognizing when we have what might be an overly high opinion of someone (Man Crush, Man Crush II) and with this in mind I'll begin talking about Marcel Mueller.

Marcel Mueller is a big forward at 6'3" and 220 lbs. Having just turned 22, he's also young and still developing. Last season in the DEL he picked up 56 points in 53 games making him the second leading scorer on his team. He was also +11 which ranked 4th on the team.

With Mueller, as with most undrafted European free agents, the development has occured recently and rapidly. Perhaps most exciting, Mueller picked up a total of four points at the World Championships and the Olympics on a German team that was far from offensively dynamic. Moreover, his strong showing against the highest level of competition suggests that he might be ready to make the jump to the NHL sooner rather than later.

Where should he play?

If Mueller were to make the jump to the NHL, I doubt he'd be a liability. He's a good two way player and doesn't appear to be prone to the big mistakes that you'll often see from rookies. Perhaps equally important, he doesn't try to do too much with the puck. He understands the cycle game and doesn't mind being the retriever on dump ins.

Marcel Mueller is a lot like...

In a way, he looks a lot like Luca Caputi. His size and position (LW) have led to frequent comparisons between the two players which makes sense as their skill sets are fairly similar as well. The trouble with the comparison is that they play the game differently. Caputi has shown some reluctance to use his size during his time as a Leaf and doesn't have the same prowess in the defensive zone as Mueller.

The better comparison, as I argued when the Leafs first picked him up, is Nikolai Kulemin. He has a little way to go until he gets to where Kulemin is but their styles are similar and their skill sets aren't all that different. Neither will blow you away with their speed or their shot but both of them are passable with each. They're solid two-way wingers that finish checks and win puck battles.

Where does Mueller fit in the lineup?

Burke has said that he expects Mueller to start the season in the AHL but that it's "up to him". I expect that at some point this season we see both Mueller and Kadri in the NHL which would ideally put Mueller on a third line with Colby Armstrong and Mikhail Grabovski. That's a third line I can get excited about.

So that's more or less why I really like Marcel Mueller. He doesn't have the top end potential that a Tyler Bozak does but he projects to be a decent second line player or a very good third liner. I expect he'll see some time on the Leafs this year and will likely even get some reps on the penalty kill. Can't wait to see how he does in camp and I hope he proves me right.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Alexander the Great-est?

Wendel Clark led the NHL in sheer awesomeness every year he played. And even most years that he didn’t play. We can all agree on that, and if you don’t – go move to Edmonton. But my point is that you can’t prove I’m wrong because awesomeness is something that can’t be weighed or measured on any scale (in Wendel’s case maybe by moustache quality). But what about statistics that can be?

Now I don’t want to bore anyone with an economics lesson, but we all know that money doesn’t have the same value over time – John Rockefeller had a personal wealth of about a billion dollars when he died in 1937, but that was at a time when $1,000 would have bought you one of the Muskoka Five’s cottages. In today’s money, Rockefeller would have $660 billion – more than the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan could mismanage in several lifetimes.

So as we can see, comparing the wealth of billionaires from different eras requires that their wealth be adjusted to reflect the changing value of money over time. So I ask you: why should hockey stats be any different? Of course it’s easier to just say that Wayne Gretzky has the most goals in history and leave it at that - few will argue with you if you say he was the greatest goal scorer of all time anyway. But consider the changes to the game that have occurred since the NHL was formed in 1917.

In the early years snipers faced goalies who weren’t allowed to fall to the ice to stop a puck, and if they got hurt (and they didn’t wear masks after all) forwards might find themselves trying to score on a defenseman in pads, or as happened famously with Lester Patrick, on the other team’s coach. More recent examples include the transition from the all-offense-all-the-time style of play and primitive goaltending techniques of the ‘80s to the Michelin Man goalie equipment and *shudder* neutral zone trap of the ‘90s to the composite sticks and offense-minded rule changes of the 2000s. So should a goal scored in the ‘80s really count for the same as a goal scored against the ’94 Devils?

We at BCP say no. And to try to account for these differences, we selected six snipers from different eras – Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, Phil Esposito, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Alexander Ovechkin. Each player (except Ovie) is a Hall of Famer and averaged around 0.5 goals per game over a reasonably long career. To reflect the era in which each of these goal-scorers played, we adjusted their average goals per game total to according to the average number of goals scored in an NHL game over the course of their career. As a result, players who played in high-scoring eras had their score adjusted downward and players who played in comparatively low-scoring eras had their score boosted. These scores were expressed as the percentage of total goals in an average game that each player would have accounted for.

Using Gordie Howe as an example; Mr. Hockey got 801 goals in 1767 NHL games, which is an average of 0.45 goals per game. In the years Howe played (1946-71 and 1979/80) there was an average of 5.95 goals scored in an NHL game. That means Gordie Howe accounted for about 7.6% of the average total number of goals scored in every game that he played.

So without further delay, here are our results;

Click the chart for a full-sized image.

Not surprisingly, Ovechkin came out on top as a result of being in the peak of his career and enjoying the benefit of playing in a more low-scoring era. But among players whose careers are over, the Golden Brett edged out the Rocket to take the title as the greatest goal scorer of any era. We also compared the first five years of Ovechkin’s career with Hull’s and found that Ovie came out with a slight edge – 11.7% vs. 11.5% - which puts him on pace to become the greatest goal scorer of any era by our measure. That leaves us with a final depressing thought – does the title of the greatest goal scorer of any era really come down to a Cold War standoff between a Russian and an Canadian-traitor-turned-American? Sidney Crosby, time to up your game – your country needs you.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What the Leafs Need Most

You think you know what the answer is, but you're wrong. It isn't help at forward -- not yet. Forwards are the end game but let's start at the beginning.

What the Leafs need most at this moment, above all, is to divest themselves of some professional contracts. The NHL has set up a 50 contract maximum that teams can carry. By my count, the Leafs have 49 professional contracts and have yet to re-sign Hanson. If Hanson gets locked in, they will have their maximum number of pro contracts and cannot take on any more players. For a team in the midst of a rebuild this is among the worst things that could happen.

The Leafs have cap space. They have ownership with deep pockets and they could conceivably take on dollars in exchange for futures. All of this is moot however if they fill their quota of pro-contracts.

Most of these contracts aren't of the 'established NHL player' variety and many are $600,000 or below. Attaching these AHL-level contracts to the Kaberle deal (or whatever other deal Brian Burke makes) is going to be critical to the team's success moving forward.

The other option is sending these 'established NHL player' contracts to teams that are struggling to meet the cap floor such as the Islanders. There aren't many contracts that meet these criteria that the Leafs would be looking to move for moving's sake. By my count, Sjostrom is really the only true candidate for this but his price tag of $750,000 and his proficiency on the penalty kill mean that this option of shipping pro-contracts for effectively nothing is probably not one that Burke would pursue.

There are a handful of minor league guys that have real NHL potential; Kadri, Mueller, Holzer, Aulie, these are the kinds of minor leaguers you love. Is Darryl Boyce at 26 a guy that should be occupying a minor league contract during a rebuild?

Many think that a top six forward might be too steep a price for Kaberle and that despite Burke's stated position of only trading him for the asking price, you have to think that an attractive package of prospects would move him to change his position. The problem is that if we can't attach some professional level contracts to the deal then any Kaberle move would have to be one-for-one.

Moreover, having professional contracts available provides Burke the opportunity to do what he's done with the Bozaks, Rynnas', Muellers and Gustavssons of this world. He can pursue attractive but unsigned free agents en masse, fire a lot of bullets, and hope that some of them hit. As things stand right now that option is temporarily unavailable and with no first round draft pick next season, it's the only avenue open to the Leafs if they want to acquire young, affordable top-six talent.

Do I think this is dire? No. I think the number of $500,000 to $600,000 contracts that we have at our disposal will allow us to shift players as needed to complete whatever trades Burke chooses to make. Where it could be problematic is in the signing of free agents where no player movement occurs. I'm sure this has already been thoroughly considered by Leafs management and that they have a plan in place should they be able to attract another Bozak-type. That said, it's another factor to consider when players like Tim Kennedy hit the waiver wire in early August.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dissecting Some Rumours: Kaberle

It's pretty much the consensus that if Burke can acquire a top six forward for Kaberle then Tomas' days in the Blue and White are numbered. There were recently a series of posts by a less-than-reputable rumor-lover. I'd like to go through some of these and look logically at whether a Kaberle deal with these teams, for those players, makes sense.

Ryan Clowe - Ok, makes sense. He's young, a powerforward and a winger. Is he a top six guy? That's debatable. He shouldn't have much problem making that grade on the Leafs. Does a Kaberle for Clowe deal make sense? From a Leaf perspective; yes, from a Sharks perspective; kinda. Boyle could use a little puck moving help and if the Sharks choose to breakup the big three up front then having a puck mover on each pairing would certainly help their up-tempo style.

Derick Brassard - Makes some sense. He's young and has a nice upside, that's for sure. A bit of injury history might make the Blue Jackets a little wary on this guy too. The problem here is two-fold. The Blue Jackets aren't ready yet and Kaberle only has one year left on his deal. The Leafs on the other hand are trying desperately to compete for a playoff spot this season and despite what Burke might say, he doesn't want to hand the Bruins another lottery pick. The Leafs probably aren't looking for a player that has significant room to grow.

Coburn and Van Riemsdyk - What? This 'deal' is said to include a top prospect as well. The problem here is that Coburn is awesome and Van Riemsdyk is a former top pick. I doubt Kaberle's value (even with a Kadri or a Schenn) doesn't touch down anywhere near this deal.

Alex Semin - Apparently the Leafs have no interest in a deal centered around Semin. Really? Seems dubious. If I can get a scorer like him, I'm doing it. What's more likely is that Washington has no interest in a package that centers around Semin and would prefer to see John Carlsson in that role than to part with a better than point per game player to acquire Kaberle. This one is just silly.

Jack Johnson - I'll buy it. Johnson isn't happy in LA and is definitely cut from the Burke cloth. He has a similar skill set to Phaneuf and is young. The problem here is that he's another defenseman. Still, not outside of the realm of possibility depending on how much pressure is on LA (no moves this offseason)(ed.within hours of having written this post the Kings signed Ponikarovsky. Yet another example of the power we wield here at BCP) and how bad the relationship between Johnson and the organization are.

Drew Stafford - Maybe. I know a lot of people like Stafford but I'm not a huge fan. He is a winger and he is young. Maybe it's a fit. Kaberle would look great alongside Tyler Myers so from a Sabres perspective you would have to say that the move looks great. As a Leaf fan, I'd be disappointed if this one went through.

The New Jersey Devils - This one never made sense to me. They're old. The whole team is between the ages of 35 and 70. Other than Tedenby I don't know what they can give us and Tedenby doesn't really fit the bill of 'NHL-ready, top six winger'. Do the Devils need a puck-mover? Hell yes, they just don't have the assets.

So there you have it folks. What's the deal you'd like to see?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Gone Fishing: A Week of Conversation Between Burke and Nonis

Our beloved GM recently returned from his annual fishing trip where there was reportedly no phone reception, no fax reception, no internet reception and generally no way for him to execute business of any kind.

With him was his second-in-command, Dave Nonis. If you've ever gone on a trip with a co-worker then you know that no matter how hard you try not to 'talk shop', invariably a great deal of your time is spent doing just that. Here are some of the talks they may have had.

Day 1

Burke: So we're pretty stacked on D.
Nonis: Yup.
Burke: What do you think we should do?
Nonis: Trade one for a forward?
Burke: That's why you make GM money.

Day 2

Burke: Dion Phaneuf is one mean motherf...
Nonis: I think I've got a bite.
Burke: Anaheim finally cracked on Ryan?
Nonis: No, a fish.
Burke: Right. Seriously though, maybe if we take back Blake and Lupul's contracts we could land this guy.
Nonis: Think ownership will let us bury that much money?
Burke: I've already put out a hit on Peddie. We should be ok.

Day 3

Burke: What do you think of Gustavsson?
Nonis: He's good.
Burke: What do you think of Rynnas?
Nonis: He's good.
Burke: What do you think of Reimer?
Nonis: He's good.
Burke: Haha Flyers.

Day 4

Burke: Just got off the phone with Schenn. He says he's in the best shape of his life.
Nonis: Uhh, I thought you weren't getting reception.
Burke: No, that was a lie.
Nonis: You lie?
Burke: You should really start paying attention.

Day 5

Nonis: So, where are we sending Kaberle?
Burke: Nowhere.
Nonis: Nowhere?
Burke: Nowhere.
Nonis: ...
Burke: We'll sign him to a home team discount contract and ship him at the deadline. Stupid bastard wont know what hit him.
Nonis: ...
Burke: Wakeup Dave -- I told you to start paying attention.

There you have it folks -- the Leafs' plan for the rest of the offseason before your eyes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kovalchuk signs in NJ: This is a fantasy hockey Nightmare

After much deliberation, Ilya Kovalchuk has made the decision to do nothing. Really? All that waiting for this?

That's right folks, Kovalchuk will be plying his trade with the Devils again next season and while this blog has recently revolved almost entirely around the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was initially conceived as a fantasy hockey analysis engine as well. With that in mind, I'm going to break down the winners and losers now that Kovalchuk has made his decision.


Anze Kopitar - I'm sure anyone with Kopitar in a keeper league was salivating at the prospect of a true goal-scoring winger skating on his wing. Kopitar increased his goal production last season but he's traditionally been more of a cycling / playmaking center. Now it looks like the Kings will be taking a run at Simon Gagne and even if they land him, I don't know if that helps Kopitar's value any.

Drew Doughty - BCP's love of Doughty has been well documented (refer to Man Crush posts) and with Kovalchuk, there's no doubt that there would have been a huge uptick in all fantasy puck-heads' appreciation for the young defenseman. It's a shame that we'll never know what Doughty's powerplay production could have been like if Kovalchuk had landed in LA.

Ilya Kovalchuk - I know his production in New Jersey was fine last year. I know that he wont have the same shackles that the Devils have often placed on their offensive talents. I know all of this. What I also know is that the Kings would have been a better fit for Kovalchuk's fantasy numbers. The Devils don't have a puck-mover of Doughty's calibre. They wont commit to locking Zajac on Kovalchuk's wing as long as Parise continues to be one of the better wingers in the game which will mean, more likely than not, a time share. In LA, he would have had Kopitar all to himself. His production wont decrease, but don't expect a meaningful per game increase in anything other than +/-.


Anyone in your pool who doesn't own Kopitar, Doughty, or Kovalchuk - Let's face it, folks - fantasy hockey is a zero sum game. Any loss in value for your opponents is good for your team. If you don't own one of these three players in your keeper league then rejoice at today's news. If you're like me and you do? Weep softly so others can't hear your pain.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mueller: He'll Remind You of Someone You Know

The Olympics were an exciting tournament for hockey fans around the world; more so perhaps, for Leaf fans. In addition to world-class hockey, we were also catching a glimpse of some European free agents that Burke would undoubtedly be targeting at some point.

Marcel Mueller is a guy I fell in love with during the Olympics. I had completely forgotten about the guy, but when I heard about the signing I couldn't help but be happy for it.

Ironically, watching him play for the German team, I was reminded of a current Leaf, Nikolai Kulemin.

Mueller skates well, he's big, he hits and he's defensively responsible. I have to confess, I didn't notice that he was particularly responsible in his own zone, but everything I've read suggests he is.

Where he reminded me of Kulemin was the offensive zone. He forechecks well, has some offensive instincts and rarely misses an opportunity to finish a check. He's got an impressive cycle game down low and he doesn't have a half-bad shot either.

Like Kulemin, it sounds like his ideal role will be on a third line that can check, shutdown and is a threat to score. If we can retain Kulemin and acquire the kind of wingers that will allow him to fall to what I feel is his natural fit, we could find ourselves with a very dynamic third line in a couple years.

I'm not sure whether Mueller is NHL-ready now (I've read conflicting opinions on this) but I think that given the Leafs' shortfall at left-wing, he'll certainly be given an opportunity in camp to prove his mettle.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Five Leafs That Need to Play Better

I am so sick of missing the playoffs. Burke thought that this year's edition of the Leafs would compete for a playoff spot. Didn't exactly work out that way as the team started very slowly without Phil Kessel in the lineup (and with Vesa Toskala in net) and could never recover.

So with the playoffs being the most realistic goal we could hope for next season the question becomes, 'what's it going to take to get there?'. I don't think that the additions of Colby Armstrong or Kris Versteeg are going to be what puts us over the top (as in over the top of the 7 teams we'd have to overtake to get into the 8th spot).

With that in mind, improvement will have to come from within. Here are the top five Leafs that have to have a better season next year if we're going to get into the playoffs.

Dion Phaneuf - After seasons of 50, 60 and 47 points, Phaneuf tallied a mere 32 last season. 60 is probably out of the question with this Leafs' offense but the team will need a big uptick from last year's 32 to get in. Equally important will be limiting his turnovers. The Leafs will need their captain to regain his Norris nominee form.

Mikhail Grabovski - Big things were expected from the Pineapple Slayer this year after he signed his extension but his season was de-railed by a fractured wrist. He showed some promise in his return but often looked to be a step behind. An improved Grabbo would mean either reduced responsibility for Kadri or if Grabbo is moved to the wing, that Colby Armstrong wont be pressed into the top 6.

Jonas Gustavsson - He wasn't supposed to be a full time number one last year but Toskala's ineptitude forced him into service early. He had some obvious bumps in the road and finished the year with a .902 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. Giguere should reduce his workload and the year under Allaire should have spurred his development. Better numbers from the Monster in his probable 30ish starts this season would go a long way towards securing a playoff spot.

Tyler Bozak - He didn't have a bad year last year. 27 points in 37 games, with many of them coming late in the season, is nothing to be ashamed of. That said, Bozak is likely going to be leading our top unit and as such will be centering Phil Kessel. It probably isn't likely, but we're going to need 65-75 points from Bozak to get a sniff of the second season.

Mike Komisarek - No doubt about it. Perhaps the poster boy for what went wrong with the Leafs last year, Komisarek -9 in 34 games, took some stupid and costly penalties, and was hurt for a significant part of the season. While many believe that Komisarek's lingering injury was the cause of his bad play my feeling is that it has to be. If what we saw from him last year was the real Mike Komisarek then this team is doomed. I like his presence on the ice and like that smaller forwards will struggle to develop any kind of prolonged offensive zone pressure with him on the ice but his defense when the opponent is counter-attacking was highly suspect last year. If one player needs a bounce back year, it's him.

Those are my picks. Anyone else have some thoughts on who could stand to improve next season?