Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nazem Kadri: The Time Is Now

Of all the players who have worn the Leafs' sweater since the lockout, nobody gets more of my sympathy than Nazem Kadri. 

Drafted 7th overall in 2009, Kadri had to bear the weight of some serious expectations.  The Leafs, you see, were a team with Phil Kessel and a revolving door of players up front, coupled with a system that really had no talented forwards to speak of -- unless you're willing to count Jiri Tlusty. 

In 2008, Luke Schenn was drafted 5th overall and made the team out of camp in his first season.  Schenn then went on to have a solid first year with the team and played the hard-nosed brand of defense that fans in Toronto love.  This was the immediate precedent set for Kadri.

Kadri was supposed to be our next offensive star.  Would he make the team out of camp as Schenn did?  Would he be in the conversation for the Calder at year's end?  These were the questions that Leaf fans were asking.

Well, the answer to both was 'no'.

Kadri did however go back to Junior and the London Knights, and put up 93 points in 56 games and was one of the top players in the OHL.  He may not have made the Maple Leafs, but it seemed he was developing well.  Maybe he could win the Calder the next year?

Again, the answer was 'no'. 

In 2010-11, Kadri split time between the Marlies (44 GP) and the Leafs (29 GP).  While with the Leafs, the coach and GM both publicly lamented some of his decision-making with the puck.  He'd gotten bigger but maybe not in a good way as he seemed to lose some of the evasiveness that had made him a standout in the OHL.  Still, at nearly a point-per-game in the AHL and with 12 points in 29 games with the Leafs, there were more than occasional glimpses of the offensive skillset that saw him drafted early in the first round.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It’s Quiet, too Quiet...

As Leaf fans, there are certain moments that are indelibly painted onto the landscape of our memories - you can recall down to the final detail where you were and who you were with when they happened: The Clark-Sundin trade, Gretzky’s high stick, Roenick's overtime winner, to name a few – and most recently, the Dion Phaneuf trade.

Through some divine miracle of either Brain Burke's genius or Darryl Sutter’s utter buffoonery we were able to package together all our spare parts and trade them in for one of the league's young, blue chip defensemen. Dion has his shortcomings to be sure, but with the benefit of hindsight we enjoy today, it’s impossible not to declare that trade a complete robbery for the Maple Leafs that would make Danny Ocean proud.

At the time of the deal there were no underground inklings of a Phaneuf to Toronto move, which made the announcement even more shocking. It was a quiet time for Leaf Nation in January of 2010, and in an instant out of the proverbial gates of left field, we acquired a bonafide star.

All signs point to a similar move in the future – Brian Burke has been uncharacteristically quiet of late, seemingly indifferent to the team’s fantastic and somewhat unexpected start to the season. Is he basking in the glow of his much maligned ‘master plan’ finally coming to fruition? Or is he so engrossed in trade talks with other GMs that there simply isn’t enough time in the day for media scrums? One of the first rules of general managing is to always deal from a position of strength. The Leafs are currently tied for 3rd in the Eastern Conference with 21 points and have shown great resilience and consistency in the early going, despite the loss of our number one goaltender.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some Early Season Observations on the Toronto Maple Leafs

The first month of the season has been a wild ride.  The Toronto Maple Leafs came flying off the starting blocks, taking advantage of good goaltending from James Reimer, fantastic play from Phil Kessel, and a soft schedule to sit among the league leaders in the Eastern conference. 

Then Reimer took a shot to the head from Brian Gionta and hasn't played a game since.  Gustavsson and Scrivens have really been anything ranging from very good (Scrivens' performances against Columbus and St. Louis), to very average (Gustavsson against the Penguins and the Devils), to downright awful (Gustavsson against Florida, Scrivens against Boston).  There have been some real ups and downs since Reimer's injury, but the team has managed to maintain their spot among the Eastern Conference elite for now.

A lot has happened in the first month and much of it has been completely unexpected.  Here's a list of our observations on the Maple Leafs' season thus far.

1) When He Played, Reimer Was Sharp

A lot of fans came into the season uncertain of what kind of goaltending to expect from Reimer.  The NHL is littered with goaltenders who got it done for a season and then promptly faded into obscurity.  Before the start of the season, we had a look at what we should expect from Reimer based on his performance last season and his comparables.  So far, he's been solid which has been a huge relief.

2) When Reimer Hasn't Played, The Goaltending Has Been Spotty

When BCP put together its list of offseason needs for the Leafs, veteran goalie featured prominently on the list.  The brief time we've spent without Reimer seems to have supported this position.  Scrivens has stolen a pair of games for the Leafs, don't get me wrong, but the inconsistency has been trying.  Ron Wilson doesn't seem to have a lot of confidence in these guys and a reliable presence in goal would have been a nice luxury to have.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Sky Is Falling!! ... Or Is It?

It isn't hard to find a negative piece of writing on the Leafs these days. 

The team has lost two games in a row by a combined score of 12-1 and the win that preceded these losses was a game where they were horribly outshot by the last place Columbus Blue Jackets, so it shouldn't really be any surprise that so much ink has been spilled decrying the Buds.

Truth be told, it wasn't hard to find negative stuff while they were winning either.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by this.  The team has ranged from mediocre to abysmal since the lockout and has yet to make the playoffs, there weren't any prospects in the system that were expected to make significant contributions this season, and the offseason acquisitions were more akin to tinkering around the edges than re-creating a foundation.  Why shouldn't the fans and the media be skeptical of this team?

The Sky Is Falling

During our win streak, detractors pointed to a poor penalty kill as a reason the Leafs fast start wasn't sustainable.  The team often surrendered more shots than they created.  Phil Kessel is a streaky player and of course he'll go through one of his infamous slumps. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Curious Case of James Reimer

Our beloved Leafs have been outscored by a combined score of 12-1 in back to back trouncings by the Boston Bruins and, most recently, by the Florida Panthers. It’s clear that as a group the team may have some significant unresolved issues in the defensive zone.

While it’s not fair to hang the utter debacle of the last two games on our goaltending, neither Jonas Gustavsson nor Ben Scrivens have seized the enormous opportunity presented to them this past week. Gustavsson's win/loss record on the season is a respectable 4-4-1, however, a closer look at his skilled statistics reveals a 3.78 goals against average and a .878 save percentage. Perhaps even more disheartening is the Monster's increased propensity to allow at least one ‘ugly’ goal per outing.

Which brings us to the inevitable question: When will James Reimer return between the pipes?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Dion Phaneuf Revival

In 2005, Dion Phaneuf broke into the NHL like a wrecking ball.  Phaneuf made the Flames out of camp and played all 82 games, putting up 49 points and garnering a Calder trophy nomination.

Two years later, Phaneuf put up 60 points and was a Norris Trophy candidate.

Two years after that nomination, Phaneuf became a Toronto Maple Leaf.

Over a five year span, Phaneuf went from relative unknown to elite young defenseman to expendable.  Had you told a Flames fan in 2008 that Phaneuf would be traded to the Leafs for spare parts, you would have almost certainly elicited a derisive guffaw and yet two years later, that's precisely where we were.

Phaneuf had faltered in a big way and he was being paid as though he were one of the top 5 defensemen in the league.  His 47 points in 2008-09 weren't the problem, but his -11 was a real concern.  When he started slowly in 2009-10, the Flames panicked and Phaneuf was shipped.

The mood in Leaf Nation was one of tempered excitement.  Phaneuf was a name we knew, he had a history of elite performance, and he played the physical brand of hockey that we love out of our defensemen, but the holes in his game were apparent.  He needed to work on his in-zone coverage and defensive positioning if he was going to earn the money his contract was paying him.  If only, Leaf fans hoped, he could become the Dion of old.

So far this season, he's looked every bit of the defenseman that earned a Norris Trophy nomination.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Joe Colborne and Jake Gardiner: Forcing Management's Hand

Things sure have started moving quickly for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After years out of the playoffs and a minor league system that needed an infusion of talent, the Leafs currently find themselves in an unusual position.

For starters, the team sits among the leaders in the Eastern conference standings.  A fast start from their star players and a soft schedule has seen the Buds fly out of the gate with a 9-4-1 record.

The rapid development hasn't been limited to the standings.  Last season, Brian Burke dealt a pair of veteran defensemen in Tomas Kaberle and Francois Beauchemin near the trade deadline.  The return for these players included a pair of prospects, Jake Gardiner and Joe Colborne.

If asked, I don't believe the expectation from the organization would have been for them to be fulltime NHLers in the 2011-12 season and yet, 14 games into the Leafs' season, Gardiner has solidified his place on the team and Joe Colborne is leading the AHL in scoring with 19 points in 12 games.

The two year contract given to Tim Connolly is a pretty good indication that the team didn't think Colborne would be this good, this fast.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Neverending Story: Kessel & Seguin

A reading of the 10 Commandments reminds us that 'thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife'.

It’s an important commandment to be sure, as a man could drive himself mad if he allows adoration of his neighbour’s wife to consume him. It’s best to love the one you’re with – and be content with that.

However, I fear I’ve been guilty of breaking this rule the last several weeks as I’ve watched Bruins center Tyler Seguin blossom into one of the league’s most productive players. He’s shown consistency in all 3 zones of the ice, back checking effectively, making smart reads in the neutral zone, and burying his chances in the offensive zone. He no longer looks like the lost, undersized 18 year old of early 2010, as he’s delivering nightly the potential he flashed so emphatically in last year’s playoff run. Sporting a strong 14 points in 12 games it’s fair to say Seguin has “arrived” in the NHL as a front line player.

Please don’t get me wrong here – I’m happy. I like Phil Kessel as a hockey player, I really do. Quite possibly the best wrist shot this side of Jarome Iginla – blazing speed - and an increased affinity to make the smart pass at the right moment. He’s delivered 30, and 32 goals respectively in his first 2 full seasons with the Leafs, and with 21 points through the first 14 games of 2011-12 he appears primed to have the best year of his career.

Still I find myself wondering about Seguin – like that girl in high school you wish you’d taken a chance on (you know the one). Then you attend the 10 year high school reunion to find out she’s a successful lawyer who did some modelling work in her early 20s.

What will the 2020 newspaper articles (although I’m sure newspapers will be fully extinct by then) conclude about the Kessel trade? 10 years from now will we still yearn to see Tyler in our beloved blue and white?

Perhaps we’ll always wonder, perhaps we’re doomed to compare Kessel and Seguin at every step of their careers. Scrutinizing every goal, every award, every playoff success and disappointment. I’m ready to be done with the whole thing. Was it a great trade for the Toronto Maple Leafs – no. Was it a horrible trade – no. We as Leaf fans need to embrace the fact that this trade is officially a thing of the past, relegated to the history books of Leaf Nation. Let’s focus on the future. Let’s write articles about Kulemin's outstanding 2-way play, or Lupuls emergence as a legitimate first line winger. I don’t know who will have the more successful career between Kessel and Seguin – but I know we’ll have plenty of time to debate it once they’ve retired and the dust has officially settled.

Moving forward in our future together I want Phil to know that I truly believe in him – I really do – he’s shown me a side of himself through the early going of this season I didn’t know existed. But if I’m pulling into the driveway at home after a long day at work, and sneak a peek across to the neighbour’s lawn at Tyler Seguin working in the garden, can you blame me?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Joffrey Lupul And The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Right Player for the Right Team

If you're a Toronto Maple Leaf fan, the chances are that you've got a friend who's an Oilers fan.  Ask anyone to explain this phenomena and they'll be unable to do so but, for some reason, we just get along.  It's particularly evident in the blogging community where the relationship between the two fanbases is one of mutual intellectual respect.

In my case, one of my best friends is an enormous Oilers fan and he's probably the guy I spend the most time talking hockey with.  For this reason, when Joffrey Lupul was traded to the Maple Leafs, my first reaction was to hope that Jake Gardiner was a very, very good prospect.

Joffrey Lupul was the key Oilers' acquisition in the deal that sent a disgruntled but extremely effective Chris Pronger from Edmonton to Anaheim. After one abysmal season in Edmonton, Lupul and Jason Smith were traded to Philadelphia for Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson, and a third rounder.

Now as a Leaf fan, your Oiler fan friends were probably laughing that you'd traded a solid defenseman for Lupul and an unknown quantity.  Lupul still had two more years at $4.25M, he's lazy, he's injury-prone, and he never came close to living up to the 30 goal potential he showed in 2005-06 as a 22 year-old in Anaheim.  Simply put, Oiler fans hate this guy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When Do Elite Players Become Elite? A Look At Later Picks, Kulemin, Grabovski, and MacArthur

Building on the analysis we started last week with elite players and when they tend to reach the upper echelon of point production in the NHL, I’ve had a look at some of our more veteran-types to see if there’s any opportunity for these guys to take their game to another level.

The players I focused on were Nikolai Kulemin (currently 25 and a former 44th overall pick), Clarke MacArthur (currently 26 and a former 74th overall pick), and Mikhail Grabovski (currently 27 and a former 150th overall pick).

I think now would be a good time to have a quick refresher on our data-set.  What we’ve done is pulled all players who scored 70 or more points at least once during the past 3 seasons.  We’ve sorted these guys by their draft position and captured the ages at which they reached critical milestones for points or games played.  The idea is to be able to determine when stars breakout or when it may be too late to start expecting a guy to take another step.  Again, this is not about calling guys ‘busts’; it’s about seeing who has potential to be elite.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Keeping Myself Honest: My Pre-season Predictions Through Month One

Prior to the beginning of the regular season, I decided to try my hand at some pre-season predictions for our Toronto Maple Leafs. 

As fans, we always head into the season with an idea of how things will go for our team and we all know people that are quick to shout out 'I told you this would happen' at the drop of a hat.  Fair enough --  what good are predictions if you can't gloat a little bit -- but you'd better be prepared to take your lumps when you're wrong too.

In this spirit, here were my pre-season predictions and how they look so far.

1) Phil Kessel will have his best goals-per-game ratio of his career

Well, it's early but things are looking pretty good here.  Kessel's previous best was a goal every .514 games.  So far this year?  .909.  Kessel is lighting it up and making me look good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Elite Players' Break Out Seasons: Individual Data

Building on yesterday's post regarding players' breakout years, I've put together a couple more graphs so people can see some more individualized data.

If you're reading this blog, chances are you're a Leaf fan.  The key guys I wanted to look at were Kessel, Kadri, and Colborne.  Given this, I've provided data for all players who have exceeded 70 points in past three seasons who were drafted between the 3rd and the 20th pick overall in their respective drafts.

I've received a handful of requests asking to put some controls into the data set to try and mitigate some of the outliers.  When dealing with such a relatively small data set, I'm reluctant to pull out any of the numbers, so what I've done is provide all cases that fall within the defined ranges but presented each of them individually so you can draw your own conclusions (while of course offering some of my own).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Do Elite Players Become Elite? A Look At Kessel, Colborne, and Kadri

Joe Colborne and Phil Kessel have LeafNation abuzz.  Phil Kessel has been tearing up the NHL and appears to have taken his game to an entirely different level this season scoring 15 points in 8 games.  Joe Colborne is doing much the same in the AHL, putting up 12 points in 6 games to start the year.

Part of what's so exciting about the emergence of these two players is their age.  With Kessel at 24 and Colborne at 21, these guys could be leading the Leafs for a long time.

Tempering this excitement in Kessel's case is the question of whether or not it can last.  He's been a streaky player in the past so the question with Phil is whether this is a step forward in his development or just another one of his infamous streaks.  In Colborne's case, I've heard people question whether or not he should be in the NHL at 21 if he were a true 'blue chip prospect'.

These questions, along with a couple of articles over at PPP by Steve Burtch (The Apprenticeship of Joe Colborne) and Bcapp (Nazem Kadri is a Bust... Or is He?) inspired me to take a look at when elite players develop and whether we should be excited (in the case of Phil Kessel and Joe Colborne) or concerned (in the case of Kadri).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Crowded House: Making Space For New Talent - Defense

Jake Gardiner really threw a wrench in things.  The plan coming into this year was undoubtedly to send Gardiner to the AHL where he played only 10 games last season.  Conventional thinking is that young defensemen need professional seasoning before they make the jump to the NHL.

And yet, after 5 NHL games, Gardiner has a pair of assists and is even in the +/- column.  He's looked poised with the puck and his defensive lapses have been manageable and declining of late.  In short, he looks ready.

Dion Phaneuf is lighting it up to start the year and looks like the number one defenseman we hoped we were getting.  He's got 9 point in 7 games, he's +6, and he has clearly improved his defensive game under Ron Wilson.

Over at PPP, Steve Burtch put together a piece on Korbinian Holzer and Juraj Mikus where he looks at the development of a couple of our more unsung prospects.  Holzer in particular looks like he'll be a solid depth defenseman in fairly short order.

Add to this Jesse Blacker's strong play last season in the CHL and good start with the Marlies and Keith Aulie's potential as an NHL defenseman and you've got a crowded house.  Following up on yesterday's look at the center position, I've put together a look at some defensemen who will be pushing for roster spots over the next couple of seasons.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crowded House: Making Space For New Talent - Centers

Leaf fans, it seems, are always talking about cupboards.  The cupboards were bare when Brian Burke took over, and now they seem to be a little overfull.  For years our organizational depth has been laughable and our prospect pool was almost non-existent but now our management team is faced with a different challenge.  How do we make space for these guys?

Oddly, the Leafs' greatest need is at center and their best depth is at center.  What?

The Leafs need a true number one center, no doubt about it.  Tim Connolly is a good player, as is Grabovski, but neither are ideal longterm fits for Kessel.  Having said this, both are great second line centers.

Bozak and Lombardi are very good third line centers who bring a defensive element.  Lombardi has great speed, Bozak has been strong on faceoffs and has shown this season that he can fill in with Kessel in a pinch.

David Steckel has won better than 61% of his faceoffs so far this season and seems to win all the key draws.  When the game is on the line, you can bet that Steckel will be the one taking the draw.

Those are five NHL centers, and only Grabovski's deal is expiring.  Given the season he put together in 2010-11 and all of the positive accolades he's received from Ron Wilson and Brian Burke, you would expect that the team brass would like to keep him around.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Big Guns Are Firing

The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the 2011-12 NHL season as a team that was expected to compete for a playoff spot, but also a team most predicted would fall short. 

When examining the team's roster heading into a new season, a lot of people (myself included) have a habit of picking around the edges and looking for minor improvements or guys who had down years that might be able to provide some added production.

Three games into this year it seems that we should have been looking at our stars.

Phil Kessel has 8 points (5 of which were goals) in 3 games to start the year.  It goes without saying that those are incredible stats but those are incredible stats!  Even more impressive (or at least more surprising) is that Phil Kessel is +7.  Say what you will about +/- as a statistical indicator, it does measure results and hockey is, after all, a goalscoring competition.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Prospect Stats Are Back!

With the CHL regular season in full swing, BCP is bringing back Leafs' Prospect Stats.  We'll try to update the page weekly so you can make it your one stop shop for basic info on our prospects' statistics.

So far, Brad Ross has come out swinging with 5 points in 3 games (to go along with 7 PIMs).  Could be an Alex Burrows or Steve Downie type -- productive and annoying.

Tyler Biggs has his first exhibition game with MU on October 2nd.

The Marlies' regular season kicks off October 8th.

Here's a link to the page ( Prospect Stats ) or you can find it on the tabs above.

Also, check us out on twitter at   ' bcphockeyblog '

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Rocco Grimaldi, Sexism, and Self-Respect

I'd like to start this post by saying that this blog has been used exclusively for hockey-related material.  Generally, I try to steer clear of ethics and morality in my writing.  I have my own moral grounding, which I'm comfortable with, and will discuss almost any issue with anyone who cares to seek out my opinion but I'm generally disinclined to present my opinions unless I'm asked.

Having said this, a young hockey player presented some pretty strong opinions yesterday and it has caused quite a stir among people I know and people I read.  I don't mean for any of this to be offensive to anyone but here's my personal take on the matter.

Yesterday, Yahoo! Sports' hockey blog, Puck Daddy, published a series of Tweets by the recently drafted Rocco Grimaldi.  Grimaldi is a devout Christian -- so devout that one of his pre-draft interviews included the question, "Do you think your beliefs will affect your ability to maintain a positive relationship with your teammates?"

Toronto Maple Leafs: 2011 - 2012 Predictions

With one week until the start of the regular season, things are starting to take shape for the Maple Leafs.  Kadri's recent injury seems to have resolved (for now, at least) the Frattin v Kadri debate.

Pierre Lebrun is reporting that Brian Burke is working the phones in an attempt to address the excess of depth on the team's defense.  This probably means that they've seen enough of Gardiner and like him enough to try and give the kid some quality NHL ice-time.  Who's on the block and what the return might be will certainly be the topic of considerable speculation in the coming weeks.

With relatively few questions surrounding the current roster, I wanted to take this opportunity to put together some predictions for the coming season.  I'll keep myself honest at the mid-way point so you all can see how smart I am... Or how badly I've failed.

Without further ado:

1)  Phil Kessel will have his best goals per game ratio of his career

I wanted to say that Kessel would score 40 goals but with his minor groin injury (there's no such thing as a groin injury that isn't nagging it seems) I'm not comfortable saying he'll play 80 games. 

Kessel has scored 30 and 32 goals in his two seasons with the Leafs while his shooting percentage has hovered around the 10% mark.  In his last year in Boston, playing with a good centerman in Marc Savard, he scored 36 and had a shooting percentage of 15.5%.  With Connolly as his center, I suspect he'll be able to roughly split that difference and with a 13% shooting percentage and similar shot numbers, he'd be on pace for almost exactly 40.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Tragic Flaw in Brian Burke's Plan

In November of 2008, Brian Burke became President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and he came with a plan of how he wanted his team structured.  To be a Toronto Maple Leaf under Brian Burke meant that you would "be a contributing offensive player in our top-six forwards" or a "hard hat guy" in the bottom-six.

The problem with this model lay primarily in the team he inherited.  At the time, the top-six wasn't nearly skilled enough for the team to rely exclusively on role players in bottom-six and Burke knew it.  He set about acquiring high-end talent and the following season, he brought in Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins. 

With Kessel on the team and Grabovski and Kulemin blossoming into top-six talent, the Leafs looked to be making major steps towards being a competitive team but there's no chance that Burke believed his work was finished after having acquired the Bruins' young sniper.

While many feel that the Kessel trade was a mis-step by Burke, I feel that his true error was one of economics.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gardiner Impresses, Still Likely the Odd Man Out

A few years ago, Mike Babcock called Ville Leino the best player that he's ever sent back to the minors.  I'm starting to think that before long, Ron Wilson might be able to say the same of Jake Gardiner.

At 21 years old, the slick skating defender has been electric in the pre-season thus far.

Gardiner was acquired from Anaheim late last season along with Joffrey Lupul in exchange for Francois Beauchemin.  At the time, many pundits felt that Gardiner's Wisconsin teammate Justin Schultz had surpassed Gardiner on Anaheim's depth chart.  This, coupled with the emergence of Cam Fowler, made Gardiner expendable. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Homage to Mr. Tucker

This might be my favourite Leaf photo of all time. It has nothing to do with the playoffs, a pretty goal, or history – it’s just pure, unadulterated awesome.

After Patrick Eaves catches Tucker along the boards with a relatively clean body check – Tucker pops up, eyes bulging (as per usual)a little upset that this young guy would hit him, and at the boards no less – he proceeds to grab Eaves by the collar and challenge him to a little fisticuffs.

The rookie Eaves wasn’t exactly familiar with fighting conventions in the NHL – and decided to leave his hands to his side (clearly a rookie mistake, he likely didn’t know Darcy was a little insane). Tucker – not one to take no for an answer, decided to fill Eaves with a couple rights anyway.

Thankfully Patrick manages to block the majority of the punches with his face before any real damage was done. The photo captures the moment quite beautifully.

DEATH, TAXES, and Darcy Tucker will F%$# you up!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is This The Final Phase of the Rebuild?

Over the past couple of days, I've spent more time than ever on Cap Geek and Hockey's Future.  I find that whenever I write about the Maple Leafs' rebuild or do any praising of Brian Burke, I'm always talking about the acquisition of assets and when I go over these sites, it's plain to see that the club is much better off than it was when Burke inherited the team.  As it turns out, years of trading away first rounders for past-their-prime role players or shaky goaltenders isn't a viable longterm strategy.

Things are starting to look up as it pertains to the state of the franchise.  The roster, as it currently exists, is comprised entirely of NHL-level talent.  There's no line of Hanson-Bozak-Stalberg, fresh off of seasons in the NCAA.  There's no pressure for Kadri-like rookies who need pro-level experience to step into the lineup immediately.  Even Joe Colborne, who was drafted in 2008, is likely to get some more AHL seasoning before stepping into the NHL.  This wouldn't have been the case a few short years ago.

Nowhere is this more evident than on defense where our opening day roster should be something to the effect of Aulie-Phaneuf, Schenn-Liles, Gunnarsson-Franson, with Komisarek in the pressbox.  This means that both Jesse Blacker and Jake Gardiner (who impressed in prospect camp this summer) will both play heavy AHL minutes and get strong tutelage from Marlies coach Dallas Eakins.

Forwards Greg McKegg and Jerry D'Amigo will start the season with the Marlies alongside Colborne, while Brad Ross is expected to play one more season in the CHL.

There's no rush to see this year's first rounders Tyler Biggs or Stuart Percy in the NHL.

All of that is really just a convoluted way of saying "we have depth".  Looking at all this depth, I think this roster is due for one more fairly significant turnover.

Each year, Burke has made some major moves to pickup pieces he likes.  His first major acquisition was Phil Kessel and whether you like the deal, hate the deal, or haven't yet made up your mind, Phil Kessel is a player with three consecutive 30 goal seasons at the age of 23.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Moving Money Out: Giving Our Players An Opportunity

For better or worse, Brian Burke is a principled guy.  Some fans have lamented his not giving Phil Kessel an offer sheet rather than trading for him (no guarantee this would have worked anyway).  Others have complained about his self-imposed holiday trade freeze.  Perhaps the biggest dis-service that his principles have done to one of his franchises was the waiving of Ilya Bryzgalov. 

Bryzgalov was one of the league's best backups at the time but was stuck behind Giguere in Anaheim.  Burke sought to trade him but couldn't find a dance partner and eventually waived him in an effort to find a team that could give him the playing time he deserved.  Bryzgalov was picked up by Phoenix and is now the owner of a shiny new $50+ million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

It doesn't always go this badly.  He did effectively the same thing with Pogge, sending him to Anaheim for what amounts to a ham and cheese sandwich.  Turns out Pogge is worthless, but at least he had a chance to prove he wasn't.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Toronto Maple Leafs Are Going to Make a Trade... I Think...

Darren Dreger tweeted that Philly offered Richards to the Leafs for Kulemin and Kadri and Mike Richards is presently a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

We can lament the Leafs not landing Richards and I'm sure we all will, but this tells me something:  Brian Burke has a deal he likes better that must be close.

Mike Richards is a Burke kind of guy.  He's a center which is what Burke is looking for this offseason.  Kadri has been rumoured to be in play from credible sources so it isn't as though he's untouchable.  For Burke to not have pulled the trigger on this one, there must be some other deal that has a good chance of happening.

I know this sounds 'hockeybuzz-y' but if you piece things together logically, it almost has to be true.  Dreger's trustworthiness is, in my mind, beyond reproach.  If we put this offer in a vaccuum then I think Burke would make the move value-wise.  The only thing that would stay his hand is the length of Richards' deal (which we know he wouldn't like) or the very real possibility that a significant move will happen prior to tomorrow's draft.

I'm no insider.  I don't have names, or sources who can confirm this.  It's just logic and everything seems to be pointing in the same direction.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trading Up: Our Most Likely Trading Partners

If you care enough about the Toronto Maple Leafs to have found my blog, then you probably already know that Brian Burke has publicly stated his desire to move up in this season's draft.  He's said that he would still like to pick twice in the first round, but would move a first and our second (39th overall) in order to move up.

Burke loves to swing for the fences on draft day.  Everyone will recall his deal to get Chris Pronger in Hartford or to land both Sedins in Vancouver.  He also stated his desire to acquire the first overall pick and to draft John Tavares in 2009 so remember that things don't always work out the way BB would like them to.

There's some flexibility for Leafs' management and scouting staff depending on what they're looking to achieve in a deal.  The Leafs have the 25th, 30th, and 39th overall selections in this year's draft so they look like an attractive trade partner to a team that needs a volume of middling prospects sooner than a single higher quality prospect.  The Leafs are rife with potential third line prospects after nabbing Greg McKegg and Brad Ross in last year's draft and Jesse Blacker the season before.  It's clear to any fan familiar with the Leafs' system that what they need are guys with top-six potential and that is doubtless what Burke will be aiming at on Friday.

It doesn't seem likely that the Leafs will be drafting in the top 10 this year, so let's look at who owns the picks between 10 and our first selection (25).

Friday, June 17, 2011

What Should We Expect From James Reimer?

Last year, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs were witness to the rapid ascension of James Reimer.  A guy who started the season behind at least two goalies on the organizational depth chart, Reimer had a solid pre-season and a season-salvaging regular season. 

After winning 20 games and posting a .921 save percentage, there are a lot of Leaf fans left wondering what exactly we should be expecting from Reimer next year and I'm one of them.  You have to love what you've seen from the guy so far, but goaltending more than any other position seems to be prone to statistical aberrations.  I decided to run a couple of comparisons and here's what I came up with.

James Reimer was 22 years old last season.  If we compare goalies post-lockout who were 23 or younger and posted GAAs of 2.70 or better and SV% of .915 or better we end up with this:

Save Percentage
Tuuka Rask (2009-10, age 22):  .931
Carey Price (2010-11, age 23): .923
Henrik Lundqvist (2005-06, age 23): .922
James Reimer (2010-11, age 22): .921
Marc Andre Fleury (2007-08, age 23): .921
Carey Price (2007-08, age 20): .920
Steve Mason: (2008-09, age 20): .916

Only six goalies fit into this category (Carey Price has accomplished these kind of numbers twice) and the list includes some pretty impressive names.  As you can see, Reimer's save percentage is bested only by Rask among those his age or younger.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What the Leafs Need Most: 2011 Offseason

Heading into last offseason there were a lot of questions surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Luke Schenn was coming off of a tough season, Dion Phaneuf had produced very little offensively for the team, the forward corps looked like Phil Kessel and a bunch of question marks and nobody knew what to expect out of Jonas Gustavsson.

This offseason, there is a lot more clarity.  Luke Schenn bounced back and there's little question about the kind of defense he'll provide.  Dion Phaneuf re-found some of his offensive prowess and is expected to provide more of the same.  The line of Kulemin, Grabovski and MacArthur stabilized our forwards and despite an up-and-down season, Phil Kessel still managed to put together a 32 goal year.

Despite the stability we've found in some areas, some key questions still remain.  Just how good is James Reimer?  Who is going to center Phil Kessel's line?  Are Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson ready to play consistent second pairing minutes at a high level?

With these questions in mind, I've decided to draw-up what I see as an offseason road map for the Leafs during the 2011 offseason. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Baseless Speculation: Trading for a Stud Center

You may or may not be aware of this but the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the market for a first-line center.  Rumours have been circulating about two players in particular -- Jeff Carter and Paul Stastny. 

Philadelphia needs to shed some salary if they're going to be able to fit Bryzgalov under the cap and Carter's cap hit of $5.25M a year means that he would probably be available for the right offer.  Problem here is that if you believe any of the rumours, it sounds like Columbus is involved and is using the 8th overall pick in this draft as bait.

Carter makes a lot of sense for Columbus as his near-lifetime contract would ensure that he and Nash are both members of the team for about as long as the Blue Jackets want them to be.  The pick that they could offer is also a fairly high one and Philly is probably not looking to take much (if any) salary back.  I doubt the Leafs would be outbidding Columbus for Carter if he were to hit the trade market.

Colorado is in a different situation entirely.  They're rebuilding but they still have to reach the salary floor.  At $6.6M, Stastny is by far their most expensive contract and they would need to replace his money somehow if he were dealt.  Their cap situation will get considerably murkier the following season as Matt Duchene, Peter Mueller, Erik Johnson, Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Quincey are all scheduled to become RFAs next offseason.  By that time, the Avs should have no problem meeting the floor, and may exceed it significantly depending on the development of their prospects.  Colorado is also about to draft 2nd overall and 11th overall in the upcoming draft.  The rebuild is on for the Avalanche.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's a Good Time to Hop on The Wagon

What a strange time for my first post in months.  It's the Finals, the draft is still weeks away, as is free agency and yet, here we are.  I've been thinking a lot about our Maple Leafs lately and decided that I should put pen to pad --or rather finger to keyboard-- to let everyone know what I'm thinking (because I know you all care).

Now, ladies and gentlemen, is a good time for the casual Leaf fan to start paying attention.

A lot of hardcores like myself despise the casual fan.  They haven't suffered the way we've suffered.  They don't have the same understanding of the team's dynamic and they're always mis-pronouncing players' names.  I admit, sometimes I get a little annoyed too but in general I embrace these fans.  Sure, they're kind of the estranged uncle of Leaf Nation, but they're still part of the family.

Even the casual fan wants to be able to talk intelligibly about prospects, guys that have grown with the organization, shrewd moves that the GM has made &c. &c. and for this reason I call these fans to come out of hibernation, pull out their Gilmore [ed. yikes!] Gilmour jerseys and start reading the Globe & Mail's Leaf Beat section.  Oh, you didn't know the Globe had a Leaf Beat section?  Well, that's just one of the many changes in Leaf coverage since you last tuned in.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Good and The Bad of Dion Phaneuf (and other musings)

Yesterday I wrote about three young goal scorers on the Toronto Maple Leafs and all three of them were at it again tonight.

Kulemin started the scoring for the Leafs, netting his 23rd of the season.  Kessel scored the Leafs' second goal of the night giving him 27 and Grabovski finished the night off with his 25th.  Grabbo and Kessel each had two points on the night.

It was a huge win for the Leafs who are now 4 points back of the Hurricanes with 18 left to play.  Buffalo might have the advantage on both of those teams as they're only two points out but have two games in hand.  I know it's going to be tough and a lot will have to go right for us to squeak in but come on, we're pretty close.

Tonight we saw the good and the bad of Dion Phaneuf.  For those of you who didn't see the game, in the 7th minute of the second period, Phaneuf took a horrible line on Chris Conner who was flying through the neutral zone.  Matt Niskanen hit him on the tape with a beautiful pass and Conner slipped the puck past Reimer.  Phaneuf is going to catch a lot of bad press for this play (even more so had the Leafs lost) but the truth is that it was a tough play.  It was a mistake, no doubt about it, and the kind of error you wouldn't have seen your average defensive defenseman make.  It also wasn't your run-of-the-mill McCabe-esque glaring error.  I would hazard to say that the average guy that calls in to sports talk radio shows probably wouldn't have noticed Phaneuf's gaffe if the commentators hadn't drawn attention to it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Young Goal Scoring on the Toronto Maple Leafs

These aren't your parents' Maple Leafs.  Heck, they aren't even your older sibling's Maple Leafs.  There has been so much turnover on this roster that our active leader in games played for the Leafs is Nikolai Kulemin.  That's right, 24 year old, Nikolai Kulemin. 

While what we've seen since Burke took the reigns of the team is far from a conventional rebuild, make no mistake -- it has been a rebuild.  The new-look Leafs haven't been built through the draft and the new GM made it clear when he took over the storied franchise that he had no interest in waiting that long.  The trade for Phil Kessel which saw two first round draft picks head out of town was a red flag for Leaf fans who had seen their team consistently shed youth for past-their-prime talent.  But look more closely; this is different.

None of Burke's moves have been used to bring in expiring talent.  He's brought in players who are peaking.  True, he seems to place a lower value on draft picks than most GMs around the league but youth, at a certain point, has diminishing returns.  Is being 20 considerably more valuable than being 23?  The trick is to have players for as many of their peak years as you possibly can.  If you can get a Joe Colborne, who is likely a year removed from the NHL, rather than a middling first round pick that is likely three years away (if ever) then what's more valuable? 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Consolidated Stats For Leaf Top Prospects

Trying to get basic statistics for a team's prospects is a huge pain.  The hardcore fan is always wondering how their team's futures are moving along and what kind of production they're putting up in the lower leagues.

Our site isn't nearly sophisticated enough to do this in the way I would like to but I've gathered some basic stats from our top prospects and will try to keep it up to date.  It's not perfect but at least it's something.  See the link below.

Prospect Stats

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Tomas Kaberle Deal (For Real This Time!): What Next Year Looks Like

Kaberle is no longer a Toronto Maple Leaf.  He was, without a doubt, one of the best players to wear the Maple Leaf over this trying time in team history.  He was a good player and a good person and I think we all owe him our respect.  I sincerely hope that he's greeted with unanimous applause when he comes back.

Having said all of this, it was clearly time to move on.  Kaberle was not in Brian Burke's longterm plans.  That was clear from the time Burke brought in Komisarek, Beauchemin and Phaneuf.  None of those players are of Kaberle's calibre, but it's clear that the team is headed in a different direction.

The clock is ticking on Kaberle's career as well and the opportunity to play on a strong Boston team, alongside Zdeno Chara is a great opportunity for Tomas and I'm happy for him.  This will be a positive for both sides.

The Leafs add a player that I've been coveting for a long time.  Back in June I wrote about a Kaberle for Colborne deal making a lot of sense.  He's really big and he's a playmaker which would probably remind you of another player that Burke had in the past in Ryan Getzlaf.  I never thought that the Leafs would get a first rounder in addition to Colborne but that's the way the market has turned this year.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why Does Everyone Hate the Versteeg Deal So Much?

I've read a lot of blogwork in the past 24 hours and most of it has been angry.  Most Leaf fans, including a large number of people whose opinions I respect, are unhappy about the Versteeg deal.  Others have become more vocal on being dissatisfied with the Beauchemin deal as well.  I think we all need to relax a little bit.

Most of the criticism of the Versteeg deal centers around the likelihood of getting a player of Versteeg's calibre in return.  In my opinion, that's overly simplistic.

First of all, there's the cap space that Versteeg's departure clears.  Admittedly, it's a thin free agency pool this season but impact players like Brad Richards and Tomas Vokoun appear to be headed towards free agency and both would fill sizeable holes on this team if we could land them.  I would think that Versteeg's extra cap space, coupled with re-signing our big four RFAs (MacArthur, Schenn, Gunnarsson and Reimer) and the remaining roster places will likely leave us with about $10M to spend on a goalie and a forward (likely a center).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for a fan of a non-playoff team)

And the last horse crosses the line.  I assure you that this isn't a product of my sudden onset of laziness in the blogger realm.  Rather, it is a calculated move on my behalf to say something meaningful after putting some thought into things.  There are better blogs out there that cover the Leafs to tell you what this trade means for the Leafs and to explain to everyone the virtues of Jake Gardiner, so a day late (and hopefully a day more wise), here I go.

I liked Beauchemin.  His contract was reasonable and he seemed like the kind of guy that could provide that steady veteran presence for this young team moving forward.  Having said this, the Leafs were excessively deep on the backend and this has been well-documented.  In terms of NHL talent, we swapped out an adequate defenseman for an adequate forward.

What We've Got
Lupul is a scoring winger.  Sure, we need a center and I get that but it's tough to argue that the lineup doesn't look better with Lupul in it (and Mitchell out) and Beauchemin out of the lineup (and Aulie in it).  We now have a pretty good group of wingers with Kessel, MacArthur, Kulemin, Lupul, Armstrong and Versteeg.  Three lines worth of wingers seem to be firmly established on Brian Burke's proverbial 'chess board'.

Monday, February 7, 2011

That Was Fun!

Tonight's game against the Thrashers was great to watch.  Ron Wilson is probably going to be surly in the dressing room after the Leafs gave up 4 goals and 34 shots but hey, they scored 5 and that counts as a win.

A day after Phil Kessel scared the poop out of Leaf fans everywhere by saying 'things aren't working here' we can all breath a sigh of relief as he clarified the comments, the GM spoke to fans, and the coach relented and put him with some forwards that are playing some pretty decent hockey.

Kessel showed a little give and take too.  Wilson gave him some linemates and Kessel did some of the 'off the puck' stuff that Wilson has been whining about - flying down the ice late in the game to negate an icing call.  Good to see.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Welcome back!  I'm sure you missed us.  After a brief hiatus we're back and better than ever (which is a good thing because we really weren't that good to begin with).  Since we last spoke, I've seen a pair of Leaf games at the ACC including what feels like Reimer's only loss (Boston) and Reimer's solid play got me thinking about the goaltending of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed that the Leaf crease is a crowded place these days.  Gustavsson was sent down on a conditioning stint which leaves Giguere and Reimer to split starts until Giguere gets hurt or Reimer falters.

If you've seen many games over the past couple of months then you've probably noticed that Reimer has been playing some really great hockey.  Giguere has been inconsistent, playing a solid brand of goaltending one night and channelling the spirit of Vesa Toskala the next.  Gustavsson has had some serious difficulties lately and hopefully this time in the AHL will clear some things up for him.