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?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I'm a Leafs fan through and through. I try to take as honest a look at things as I can, but at the same time, I know that I see the world through a Blue and White lens. In the interest of trying to look at things as honestly as possible, I'm going to run through the good, the bad and the ugly for the Leafs' short term future.

The Good

Brian Burke's handling of RFAs - I love the Kulemin contract. $2.35M over two seasons is perfect for both sides. Kulemin has a chance to prove that he's a top-six forward over the next two years and, if he is, he'll get paid. John Mitchell is a good bottom six guy that is making bottom six money. Perfect.

Goaltending Prospects - I don't think even the most loyal Leaf fan would suggest that we have top tier goaltending right now. That said, what we do have is the best goalie coach in the league and a glut of prospects for him to work with. Reimer played well last season and both Rynnas and Gustavsson are considered to have NHL-level talent. All we have to hope for is that one of them develops into a top-half NHL goalie in the next few seasons and I don't think that's an unrealistic expectation.

The Bad

Tomas Kaberle - I know that a lot of people think that his value is going up as the free agent class dwindles but I feel differently. I think that many of the teams that had concerns on defense have been able to address these concerns in free agency and that the number of teams seriously interested in Kaberle has probably also decreased. I still think we're going to see a decent return for the guy, but I feel that the time to deal him was probably at the draft (just look at what Ballard brought back).

Too Much Money on Defense - I hate flogging a dead horse but we are overpaying most of our defensemen. Even if we assume that Finger's money can disappear at Brian Burke's whim, we still have a lot of coin committed to our d-corps and the guys back there aren't exactly dynamic in the offensive zone. Too much money for too many of the same guy.

The Ugly

Our First Line - Kessel is a good player and might be the second best winger on a pretty good team but he shouldn't be far and away your best offensive talent. Bozak is a good player but he shouldn't be your best center. Kris Versteeg is serviceable but he shouldn't be playing on your first powerplay unit. Hopefully this gets addressed in the Kaberle deal but for now it isn't pretty.

Our Third Line - We have fantastic third line players - unfortunately, some of them will probably be playing on the second line. I love the idea of rolling Kulemin, Grabovski and Armstrong out on a third line that can score and has two talented checking wingers but let's face it, some of these guys are going to be on our second line. Maybe part way through the year Kadri is ready for 2nd line minutes against decent checking lines but my guess is that at least to start he's third on the depth chart at center. Who fills our 2nd line winger slots if not Kulemin? With these guys getting mis-cast, what could be our best line will likely be our worst.

In Conclusion

There's still a lot of off-season left. Burke has surprised us before and the free agent class, while thin, is still largely available. We have money to spend (either in free agency or by taking on money in trades) and the biggest fish in the pond is still available in Ilya Kovalchuk. While I don't think he's a future Leaf, I certainly hope he is. By signing him, we would address almost every issue identified in both 'The Bad' and 'The Ugly' and that would be good.

Friday, July 2, 2010

$3M per season for Colby Armstrong?

I don't like it.

That isn't to say that I don't like Armstrong - I think he's a serviceable player. But $3M a season? This is exactly what I hoped the Leafs wouldn't do.

Earlier, I spoke of Burke's brilliance in acquiring guys that had NHL level skill but were on low-dollar or entry-level contracts. Plugging lineup holes with guys like these are what allows you to overspend in free agency. Burke sent three of these guys packing for Versteeg's $3M per season - a move that I didn't love, but that I don't hate either.

That said, paying Colby Armstrong that kind of money is simply too much.

By bringing in Armstrong we've set ourselves up as a team that has guys that should be on one of the better third lines in hockey (Kulemin, Armstrong) but that will just as likely have one of the worst second lines. Kulemin will get mis-cast, Grabovski will see too many minutes and perhaps worst of all, we wont be able to afford to take a serious run at the Ilya Kovalchuks of this world.

It will be interesting to see how Burke explains to Kulemin that he isn't worth $3M per when he just gave that deal to Armstrong.

I'll reserve my final judgement on this one until the end of the free agency period and until after I see what happens to Kaberle but I have to say, as optimistic as I typically am, I'm pretty disappointed with how things have gone thus far.