Friday, December 21, 2012

Luxury Tax, Cost Flexibility, and Exploiting the Leafs' Monetary Advantage

The Pittsburgh Pirates are bad at baseball.

The term ‘bad’ is relative, of course. They would probably be a darn good softball team at your local diamond and might even tear up AA ball. However, when compared to their peers in Major League Baseball they don’t hit, pitch, or field baseballs all that well. As a result they have gone 20 years, since 1992, without making it into the post season.

To put that in perspective for a Leafs fan that is the equivalent of waiting until 2024 at least before witnessing playoff hockey (Phil Kessel would be 36).

The Pittsburgh Pirates turn a profit.

According to a 2010 ESPN article the Pirates made over $14 million in 2008 and over $13 million in 2007, all after taxes. They accomplished this by being prudent with all player costs and avoiding long term contracts to star players.

Herein lies the crux of what Donald Fehr, one of the founding fathers of the modern baseball luxury tax system, may be trying to implement in the NHL. Gary Bettman and the NHL want parity; a league where anyone can make the playoffs or win the Stanley Cup each year. In an ideal world, yes, we all want parity. You want a league where all teams have a real chance to win, but to do that in a league that as both a business and a sport you need to have one of or both of the following:

1. Strong revenue sharing

2. A lucrative TV contract.

The NHL has neither.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Significance Of Morgan Rielly Making Team Canada

This afternoon in Calgary, Morgan Rielly was among the Team Canada scratches as the coaches look to make some tough decisions on who to bring to Russia.  This is one occasion where you really want to be scratched as each of the scratched players (outside of possibly Ouellet who's currently injured) are locks to make the team.

Making team Canada as an 18-year old defenseman is no small feat, particularly in a season where your defense is bolstered by an NHL lockout.  Below is a list of defensemen in the last 10-years to make Team Canada at 18 or younger (those players preceded by an asterix were on the WJC team in their draft year):

Griffin Reinhart, 4th overall
Morgan Rielly, 5th overall

*Ryan Murray, 2nd overall
Dougie Hamilton, 9th overall
Jamie Oleksiak, 15th overall
Nathan Beaulieu, 17th overall
Scott Harrington, 54th overall

Erik Gudbranson, 3rd overall

Jared Cowen, 9th overall
Calvin de Haan, 12th overall

Alex Pietrangelo, 4th overall
*Ryan Ellis, 11th overall
Tyler Myers, 12th overall
Colten Teubert, 13th overall
Cody Goloubef, 37th overall 

*Drew Doughty, 2nd overall
*Luke Schenn, 5th overall
Thomas Hickey, 4th overall
Josh Godfrey, 34th overall
PK Subban, 43rd overall

*Karl Alzner, 5th overall

Luc Bourdon, 10th overall
Marc Staal, 12th overall
Sasha Pokulok, 14th overall
Ryan Parent, 18th overall
Kris Letang, 62nd overall
Kris Russell, 67th overall

*Danny Syvret, 81st overall
Cam Barker, 3rd overall

Brayden Coburn, 8th overall
Dion Phaneuf, 9th overall
Brent Seabrook, 14th overall
Shawn Belle, 30th overall
Kevin Klein, 37th overall

Now admittedly, I was expecting the list to provide a little bit of a clearer example of just how strong Rielly's pedigree appears to be, but let's take things a step further and trim the list to 18-year old defensemen taken in the top-10 of the Entry Draft.  If you do this, the list looks as follows:

Reinhart (4)
Rielly (5)
Murray (2)
Gudbranson (3)
Cowen (9)
Pietrangelo (4)
Doughty (2)
Schenn (5)
Hickey (4)
Alzner (5)
Bourdon (10)
Barker (3)
Coburn (8)
Phaneuf (9)

Now we're talking.  The list of 18-year olds to play on team Canada over the past decade is comprised almost entirely of impact defensemen and players who are still thought of as strong prospects and Cam Barker (also, a sad reminder of Luc Bourdon's accident).

This hardly qualifies as science but it does provide an interesting look at Morgan Rielly's pedigree.  While the combination of being a top-10 selection and a member of Canada's World Junior Team as an 18-year old may not guarantee success, the correlation between success and meeting those criteria is incredibly high.  Leafs fans will undoubtedly be looking on with interest as the tournament unfolds during this holiday season.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Short Seasons And Playoff Chances

We were sitting at the starting line on a cool autumn day in 2001, bristling with anticipation. The school board was holding its annual cross country running race for boys in grades 7 and 8. A gruelling 8-kilometre run across undulating terrain littered with 45 degree hills and muddied straightaways, and I’m lined up right next to Jimmy Wurner. Jimmy, standing at six foot one, was far and away the most accomplished distance runner in the school; we suspected that he had hit puberty 2 or 3 years earlier than the average 8th grader, thereby endowing him with superhuman strength and speed - the teenage equivalent of a Kryptonian emigrant.

99 times out of 100 Jimmy “the burner” Wurner would have no doubt mopped the proverbial floor with my sorry excuse of a 14 year old distance running body. But that day, there seemed to be something different in the air. Call it destiny, call it being hopped up on Fruit Loops, but whatever it was, something funky was going on.

For some indefinable reason, I ran my little heart out and ended up finishing 4th in the field of over 100; 3 spots ahead of the burner. Granted, the victory didn’t mean much, leaving me with a blue participation ribbon that would gather dust for years to come in a box at the bottom of my bedroom closet.

What that day reinforced is this; in most sports, if your sample size is small enough, weird and unpredictable things can happen. We tend to see this lot in the NFL - with a 16 game regular season, followed by single game elimination playoff rounds the league presents the smallest sample size of any major sport, lending credence to the popular cliché that on any given Sunday, anyone can win.

If NHL collective bargaining can finally come to a conclusion this month the season will be shortened a great deal, with the excepted number of games between 48 and 60. By looking at probability and statistical noise we can see that a shorter season could result in non traditional playoff teams sneaking into the postseason.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The New Landscape And The Toronto Maple Leafs

Brian Burke has come under a lot of fire as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The team has yet to make the playoffs during his tenure and the rebuild-on-the-fly is now entering the territory of the 5-year rebuild that Burke said he had no interest in.

In many ways though Burke's failures to date have been the product of a flawed system.  When the now-expired CBA was signed, the majority of the league --or perhaps all of it-- didn't foresee the opportunity that back-diving contracts would provide teams who sought a competitive advantage over their peers.  Moreover, the cap was supposed to provide cost certainty and eventually reach some kind of equilibrium.

What we saw instead was unprecedented and unevenly distributed revenue growth for a league where the salary cap is tied to revenue.  As such, the cap rose significantly every season which in turn allowed teams to retain any unrestricted free agent who didn't want out for non-financial reasons.  The rising cap, the team's lack of valuable assets, and Burke's unwillingness to circumvent the spirit of the CBA meant that the "July 1st is our draft" strategy was completely untenable for reasons which were, at the time, largely unforeseeable.

The new CBA, once signed, appears as though it will put the Leafs in a good position to succeed moving forward.  The salary cap is set to drop by about 14% which would see it settle in at roughly $58 - 60M.  The Leafs, prior to any buyout amnesty which may or may not exist, will have about $39.7M committed to the 2013-14 roster during an offseason rife with high-end UFAs.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What The NHL Can Learn From A Twinkie

You may have seen in the news this week that one of North America's classic packaged goods companies, Hostess Brands, officially filed for bankruptcy. Company CEO Gregory Rayburn made it official on November 16th that Hostess was closing down its operations for good. He cited an antiquated business model that was no longer sustainable in today’s economic climate.

Hostess produces a number of products you’re likely familiar with including Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs; however, they are perhaps best known for their addictive golden sponge cake with the white creamy filling – the Twinkie.

Now the connection between a Twinkie and an NHL player is admittedly not obvious and most players are likely banned from consuming the classic pastry unless they sneak one in the offseason or they're Dustin Byfuglien and they don't give a $%@#.

The Hostess management team has had a trying few years, as they have been unable to develop a positive working relationship with their unionized employees, represented by Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM). The union represents a significant portion of the company’s 18,500 employees.

On November 9th the union voted to go on strike, unhappy with management’s frequent calls for lower wages and smaller pensions, which were cited as major issues in Hostess’ business model. This sent the 33 bakeries and 553 distribution centers into disarray and crippled the company’s ability to produce and deliver products.

What really struck me about the story and what scares me as a hockey fan is how the BCTGM union responded to the initial bankruptcy claim by management – they balked at it. Union leaders felt that the corporate leaders were simply using the threat of closure to force workers to cross the picket line or risk losing their jobs.

The union never expected the company to actually follow through on their threat and shut down operations for good – but they did.

When looking at the financials is where the story gets really eerie. The 2008 revenue for Hostess Brands was $2,800,000,000 - close to $3-billion dollars. The 2011-12 hockey related revenue for the NHL was just over $3 billion dollars. How many times have we heard on the radio over the past 60 days that the NHL and NHLPA should be able to come to some sort of agreement based in large part on the size of the financial pie in play?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Perception and Reality: Life As A Leafs Fan

Suzy: "I've always wanted to be an orphan.  Most of my favourite characters are.  I think your lives are more special."

Sam: "I love you but you don't know what you're talking about."

Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson's latest piece of dry whimsy.  His protagonists, Sam and Suzy, are a pair of 12-year olds who run away from their respective guardians to be alone and together.  Sam is an orphan and Suzy is a lover of teen fantasy-fiction where unusual life circumstances seem to be a prerequisite for heroic figures.  The first time we see Sam tell Suzy he loves her is preceded by an exchange that shows how little Suzy probably understands him.  Her books tell her that orphans lead charmed lives but Sam, who's lived as one, knows otherwise.

I sometimes feel like this is what it's like to be a Leafs fan.  We have a fantastic and rich history; our rafters are full of Stanley Cup banners, and the Hall of Fame is full of our heroes.  Those outside of Leafs Nation tell us that this should be our consolation when things are tough.

After a bad season or two, they may be right.  Maybe we could look back on Sundin, Gilmour, Sittler, Keon, Mahovlich, Kennedy, and Apps and feel that things weren't so bad.  After 8-years of futility, these names have become small comfort.

As sports fans, our currency is hope.  History and tradition round out the fan experience but they're no substitute for success.  Sports, at its core, is an escapist exercise, and it takes a particular breed of individual to subject themselves to an elective flogging.

But that's what we do, time and again.

That isn't to say that there's no cause for hope.  We're a team who can spend to the cap every year and should be able to lure free agents -- in theory.  We have prospects with some promise and a goalscorer in Phil Kessel who's worth the price of admission.  But even with those things, there's absolutely no substitute for winning.

After 8 seasons of poor performance, we've become the lovable losers of the NHL.  Only our most bitter rivals can still be considered rivals at all -- everyone else pities us.  We get the metaphorical hair mussing and get told to hang in there.  Being a Leafs fan is a special thing and at least we've got our legacy.

Well, thanks.  I love you but you don't know what you're talking about. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Buy, Sell, Or Stay: The Leafs' Direction Coming Out Of The Lockout

Is there a team in the league more on the fence than the Toronto Maple Leafs?

If the season started today, it would take more of the same historically bad goaltending for the Leafs to land in the draft lottery or, conversely, exceptional goaltending for them to snake their way into the playoffs.  They're occupying hockey's deadspace and that's the last place fans want them to be.

We're told that our prospects are great and in some cases it's true but I promise you, there is no magic bullet.  Our system has a lot of guys with NHL-potential but it's low on impact.

With this in mind, there are three courses of action; 1) we can move pieces of the future for the here and the now, making our best efforts to compete while Phil Kessel is still on his sweetheart contract, 2) we can divest ourselves of anything that doesn't look a piece of our core three years down the road, swallow the jagged pill and brace ourselves for more bad hockey, or 3) stay the course and see how things shake out.


One of the league's best goalies is available and can likely be had at a discount.  Goaltenders of Roberto Luongo's calibre rarely change teams unless, for some reason, they are Roberto Luongo.  By the time the NHL starts playing meaningful hockey games again, it's likely that Roberto Luongo will have been traded for the third time in his career.  I struggle to think of a star-calibre goalie who's been shipped with such regularity.

By adding Luongo, the consensus seems to be that the Leafs will compete for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and barring a major injury to one of our key players, I'd agree with that assessment.  The cost will almost certainly include futures -- whether that's Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri, or our 1st Round selection, only Gillis and Burke can know.  The question we're then forced to ask is whether there's enough of a foundation in place to start moving out these kinds of assets or whether we're better off taking our lumps.

Acquiring Luongo and fast-tracking this team into competitiveness also serves as a carrot to a strong upcoming UFA crop.  Losers overpay for free agents in a way that winners don't have to and, more often, never even get the chance to seriously bid.


There are assets here with value and some of them may be on the clock.  MacArthur, Lupul, Bozak, and maybe even Connolly depending on his start, are all guys with expiring deals that competitive teams may have an interest in.  Burke track record with trading established players for prospects is pretty strong;  Gardiner is clearly the gem of the group, Joe Colborne is a player with a chance to have a meaningful impact, Keith Aulie was a good prospect for a while and when it looked like his value was starting to diminish Burke deftly moved him out for Carter Ashton.  The only serious whiff on Burke's resume in this regard is Luca Caputi.

Selling will mean more suffering but it's also a fast track to a lottery pick in a year where the prospect pool certainly looks to be deeper than most.  What it also means is that you're either dramatically overpaying for free agents or not getting them which is a significant consideration given next year's potential UFA group and the tight constraints many teams will be under with the shrinking cap.

Also of note is the message you're sending to your two best players, Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel.  These guys are two years away from unrestricted free agency and another two years of futility would leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.


The Albert Einstein quote about insanity, while tired, is probably apt here and proceeding with business as usual may seem absurd but there is some merit to it -- maybe.

With the injury to Reimer and Scrivens' great season with the Marlies in 2011-12, there's a chance that we have league average goaltending at an affordable rate and a chance that we have historically bad goaltending.  Those outcomes may not sound particularly promising but historically bad goaltending lands you in the lottery which isn't such a bad result.  Conversely, if Reimer or Scrivens end up being league-average goaltenders then you're probably further ahead with a cheap Reimer than a pricey Luongo.

Staying the course gives you more information with which to make a decision by the time the trade deadline rolls around but it almost certainly takes you out of the running for Roberto Luongo.  By choosing to stay rather than buy, you're seriously damaging the team's playoff chances in 2012-13 but the best-case payoff moving forward is arguably higher.  Still, that's a risky gamble.

The Answer

I really don't have one but I sure hope Burke does.  What I know for sure is that we can't keep finishing in the 17 - 25 range and expect things to ever get better.  What the Leafs need is a direction, up or down, and either way we can't afford to wait another year.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Roster Management: What Would It Cost To Retain Our 2013 UFAs?

I've been having a lot of discussions lately about whether or not a year-long lockout would be good for the Leafs and the pros and cons associated with playing the season or not playing the season.

On the one hand, if we wiped out 2012-13, we're guaranteed no worse than a ~6% chance at the 1st overall pick.  Getzlaf and Perry would go straight from being property of the Ducks to UFAs with no exclusivity period.  Maybe most importantly, the Leafs will have shed all of their bad money with the exception of J.M Liles and the final year of the Komisarek deal.

In shedding their inefficient deals though, they'd also be losing guys like MacArthur, Bozak, and Lupul.  Let me start by saying that I realize that these three players are some of the more polarizing guys on the team.  Some people would trade Lupul for a ham sandwich while others will put the blinders on and look exclusively at last season's production.

If we're going to decide whether or not we want to retain these players, a good place to start is probably by looking at what kind of contract we'd likely be committing ourselves to.

Clarke MacArthur

If the season started today, MacArthur would be making $3.25M against a $70M cap meaning that he accounts for 4.64% of the salary cap.  Since joining the Leafs, MacArthur has posted seasons of 62 and 43 points and has reliably pushed play in the right direction.  As far as what we can expect from MacArthur, I would say it's reasonable to split the difference between those two years and say that he's probably good for 50-something points.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Day Dreaming: Former Leafs We'd Like to See Return

The NHL lockout talks have been heating up this past week (they even met in person, yay!), but in the spirit of the old adage ‘once bitten, twice shy’ we here at BCP aren’t getting our hopes up just yet. Taking a break from all the talk of HRR, contract length, revenue sharing...etc we wanted to do some reminiscing.

Interesting news surfaced this week regarding the Toronto Raptors and their former star Vincent Lamar Carter, also known as Air Canada, the human highlight reel, or as he was known to me in the summer of 2004: the man that forever shattered my fragile teenage heart.

While speaking on the radio to Tim and Sid of the FAN 590, Carter confirmed that he would consider coming back to Toronto and the Raptors. The question was seemingly asked as more of post-retirement, type of return, as in would Vince consider coming back to the ACC to have his number 15 retired. Carter said he would come back in a heartbeat, going on to say that all of his career highlights came in a Raptor uniform.

The mainstream media has picked up this story and ran with it (as they’re wont to do) claiming that the 35 year old Mavericks forward would welcome a trade back to Toronto as a player. Having heard the discussion and read the reports I’m not ready to say that. However, he does appear to have warmed considerably to the city that he so desperately wanted to escape from, going so far as to demand a trade, fake knee injuries, and refuse to ever dunk again – for you non-basketball people, think 1986 Wayne Gretzky refusing to pass the puck again – ever – because he didn’t feel like it.

Whether or not Carter is serious about a return is very much up in the air. He’s an above average veteran bench player who is currently producing well for the Dallas Mavericks. At 35, his value to a non playoff team in the midst of a lengthy rebuild is questionable, nostalgia aside.

All this talk of comebacks got me thinking about Maple Leaf players that have left the city, and ones that I might like to see come back for one last hurrah.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Grabovski and Kulemin: A Search for Optimism during a Lockout that’s Providing Little

The NHL Lockout negotiations haven’t provided much reason for optimism over the past week. Gary Bettman and the League have announced the cancellation of all scheduled November games, forcing me to continue filling my painfully empty weeknights with Friends re-runs and 2 episodes of Dancing with the Stars (ABC, why can’t they perform and have eliminations in a single hour?)

It’s unlikely the Lockout deep freeze will be lifted any time soon, with early December now representing the de facto deadline, when the entire season will be on the line. Through all the darkness, we at BCP are trying to find some reasons to be optimistic, and we’re starting with the Leafs' secondary scoring.  

There was a time, not that long ago, when Toronto boasted one of the best second lines in hockey. The trio of Mikhail Grabovksi, Nikolai Kulemin, and Clarke MacArthur was considered a formidable grouping, capable of facing the other team’s top scorers while also providing consistent offensive support themselves. Then last season came. All 3 seemed to enter into concurrent slumps that lasted for much of the year.

A comparison of their collective numbers in 2010-11 versus 2011-12 shows the stark difference in production:


G: 80 
A: 97 
Points: 177 
+/-: 18 
SOG: 566


G: 50 
A: 72 
Points: 122 
+/-: 5 
SOG: 418

The drop-off between the two seasons is quite pronounced; a 39% decline in goals, 25% in assists, and 26% decrease in the number of shots on goal. That level of year-over-year offensive depletion from core players happening almost in unison is difficult for any team to replace, even with the career years put forth by Kessel and Lupul. It leaves us to wonder if the 7th or 8th spot in the conference would have been attainable had the second line's production only dipped say 5-10%.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Projecting Van Riemsdyk: On Injury, Opportunity, and Pedigree

As both a Leafs fan searching for hope and an involved fantasy hockey armchair GM, I read a lot of projections.  Projections about a player's point totals, a team's place in the standings,  guys who have a shot at the NHL's major awards -- I've read them all.

In pouring over this year's projections for the Leafs, I feel like James Van Riemsdyk has been consistently predicted to have lower point totals than what I would intuitively expect from him.  Now granted, it isn't as though I've followed Philadelphia with the fervor that I follow the Leafs, but I do see them a handful of times a year during the regular season, a fair bit in the playoffs, and my memory isn't so bad that I can't remember JVR being taken 2nd overall in 2007.

Now, I know that my intuition tends to have a pro-Leafs bias so I try to keep that in check by looking at statistics and overlaying these numbers with my expectations to see if things line up.  When I pull open JVR's player profile, I keep fixating on 2010-11 where he scored 28 goals in 86 regular season and playoff games as a 21-year old..  If you're a serious hockey fan, you probably remember how dominating he was in those playoffs, looking like he was sure to take the next step and become another (seemingly) untradable asset from the Flyers roster.  One summer later and he'll be plying his trade with the Leafs if this whole CBA mess ever gets sorted out.

At 23-years old, JVR should be about to enter his prime years of production.  Last year, we looked at when elite players reach a few key milestones.  In terms of his ascent to the NHL, Van Riemsdyk was right on schedule, becoming a full time NHLer by the age of 20, however, with regard to point production, JVR should have had his first season of 60 points or better last year.  At 21, it looked like he'd get to 60 with relative ease by 22 but even if we disregard his injuries, JVR managed only a 46 point pace last year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dion Phaneuf: Seeing The Leafs' Captain For What He Is

When it comes to balancing fandom and player valuations, there are 3 basic categories: underrated, overrated, appropriately-rated. A lot of factors are at play when applying one of these labels, including; past performance, age, pedigree, salary, team situation...etc. You can spend countless hours at a local pub or over BBM (as I’m wont to do [Ed. Note: I can confirm this]) arguing over where a certain player should fall. 

What’s interesting is that there are some rare players who skew so far to one side or another that they eventually find themselves on the other end of the spectrum. This brings me to our quasi-beloved Captain, Dion Phaneuf; so consistently labelled overrated in the media (and even by his peers) that he may be in the process of becoming underrated.

He broke into the league on fire (quite literally, there was a flame on his chest) amassing 49 points, 242 shots, and an array of jaw-dropping open ice hits that conjured up wistful memories of a young Scott Stevens. Add to that being a Calder finalist alongside a couple guys named Sid and Ovie and the expectations for Dion were set astronomically high. Yes, from the very beginning, Phaneuf was likely destined to be overrated, failing to deliver on the meteoric expectations heaped upon him. What’s lost beneath the stories of an unceremonious departure from Calgary and mere mortal point totals of late is that the 27-year old Edmonton native might actually be a pretty good hockey player.

We wanted to highlight a few of Dion's basic stats and a few of the more advanced ones to see if the poster boy for over-valuation may in fact be considered so overrated that we’re not fully appreciating what he does bring to the team.

Time On Ice

Last year Dion had an average ice time of 25:17 per game. This placed him 10th in the league, ahead of some major minute eating stalwarts such as; Zdeno Chara, Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, and Brent Seabrook. While ice time isn’t necessarily an indicator of talent, it can be used directionally to show a players value to his team.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What's Luongo Worth To The Toronto Maple Leafs?

Roberto Luongo is back to being the topic-du-jour among Leafs fans.  Sportsnet's John Shannon suggested that the foundations of a deal that would see Luongo become a Maple Leaf are already in place and that it's likely that once a CBA is agreed to by the League and the PA, the final details would be hammered out.

The Leafs Nation ran a piece suggesting that the Leafs should probably be comfortable giving up Bozak, Frattin, Gardiner, and a 1st for the star netminder.  Excuse me, what?

Pension Plan Puppets responded with a piece that suggested a more reasonable price would be Bozak, Franson, and a 2nd.

What I've spent the past little while wondering is whether the Leafs will need to give up anything at all.

Bob McKenzie tweeted the other day that the latest League proposal in the CBA negotiations included a provision under which a player with a contract greater than 5-years in length who retires prior to the end of his contract would see his cap hit continue to count against the cap of the team who signed him to that deal.  Now that's a game-changer.

Consensus seems to be that of the 10-years remaining on Luongo's deal, he's likely to play out 6 of them.  For Vancouver, this would mean that after having dealt Luongo for what's expected to be a reasonably modest return (and certainly nothing approaching Gardiner, a 1st, Bozak, and Frattin) they would face a cap hit of $5.33M for four years on a player who's half a decade removed from being a part of their roster.  Yikes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Morgan Rielly: One More Year In Junior

There's a lot of optimism in the air today as news that the NHL has made a significant move toward the players hit Twitter, the radio, and the televisions of hockey fans this afternoon.  While there is undoubtedly still some distance between the players and the owners, the prospect of losing an NHL season seems unlikely unless the players choose to really fixate on the 57% of revenues that they were set to earn had this lockout not taken place.

Should the league and the players come to terms, Leafs management will be faced with several tough personnel decisions, not the least of which is what to do with their shiny new toy; defenseman Morgan Rielly.

Rielly has shown very well this year.  He was a stand-out in the Canada-Russia Challenge this August and has registered 12 points in 9 games with an otherwise pretty crummy Moose Jaw team.  I don't doubt that he will make management's decision a tough one once play resumes but for this year, it's better to err on the side of caution with Rielly and to have him play the season in the WHL.

There are a number of reasons why I don't want to see Rielly spend significant time in the NHL this year.  Maybe I'm excessively cautious after watching Schenn deteriorate from a useful defensemen with lots of promise to a possession-nightmare and defensive liability -- it's possible.  I'd like to think though that I've checked my recency bias at the door and am basing this on some sound logic.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Update

With no NHL hockey for the foreseeable future, the focus for Leafs fans has been on the team's developmental pipeline.  The CHL is a few weeks into their season and the AHL's opening weekend is just winding down, which has given us a little bit of information on how things are progressing with the future Leafs.

Morgan Rielly is 8 games into his WHL season with the Moose Jaw Warriors.  Rielly has been great this season on a pretty pitiful Warriors team.  Rielly's 12 points (2G, 10A) put him second in WHL scoring by defensemen trailing only Myles Bell (who is a year older and has played two more games).  He's also registered a point on 40% of Moose Jaw's goals which is absolutely ridiculous.  All of these flashy offensive totals may distract fans from Rielly's defensive game which has also been very strong so far this year.  His skating is so far ahead of most players at this level that he dominates on defense in transition and he's also been solid with his in-zone positioning so far this year.  Suffice to say, everything is A-OK with the Leafs' 2012 first rounder.

Tyler Biggs is a player I've seen a lot of in the early days of this OHL season.  His point totals look strong on the surface (5G, 4A in 10 games) but he's been skating with one of the OHL's leading scorers in Boone Jenner and two of his five goals have been empty-netters.  The book on Biggs is more or less accurate.  He's doesn't look to be a major point producer and his skating looks to be strained a lot of the time (whether he's quick to fatigue or just a bad skater is tough to say).  Biggs is, however, exceptional along the boards, a physically dominating player, and has a powerful shot.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What I'd Do With Brian Burke

If you're a Leafs blogger and you've written a piece on Burke recently, you probably included that oft-used quote about his not being interested in a 5-year rebuild.  I'm not going to do that but I am going to passive aggressively allude to it.  Oh, look; I already did!

We're entering our 5th year of Burke and we've yet to make the playoffs.  I don't need to re-hash all the team's failures on the ice and I'm not going to gloss over those failures by going into an extensive diatribe on the depth in the farm system -- mostly because I've already done it but partly because I'm sick of hearing it myself.

I understand the frustration with management, I really do.  Sports is a results driven business and the results since Burke took over have been horrid.  Having said this, there haven't been a lot of moves or signings made by other teams that I feel Burke both could have and ought to have made that would have improved the team.  Basically, he inherited a steaming turd of a team and hasn't polished it into a gold nugget.

So given that the team has been abysmal for the entirety of his tenure while still granting that there isn't really a lot that he could have realistically done about it, what should be done with Brian Burke?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Watch

With nothing going on at the NHL-level, Leafs fans are looking to get their hockey fix in other areas.  Well, if you'd like to keep an eye on some Leafs prospects, here's what's coming up in the next little while.

In the OHL, the Oshawa Generals are on the road, playing the Peterborough Petes on Thursday, September 20th.  Tyler Biggs makes his Generals debut after a lacklustre season at the University of Miami (Ohio).  Biggs will almost certainly play a more prominent role with the Generals than he did with the Red Hawks last year and he'll be looking to prove something to his detractors.  

The Generals have been beating up on the Petes during the pre-season and will look to continue the trend this week.  Anchoring the Petes' defense is 2012 10th overall selection (Tampa Bay) Slater Koekkoek who will look to stifle Biggs and the Generals offense.

Biggs and the Generals then travel to Sudbury to play Leafs prospect Josh Leivo and the Sudbury Wolves on Friday, September 21st.  Leivo put up 73 points in 66 games last season with the Wolves and made a single appearance with the Toronto Marlies.  Leivo will look to improve on his breakout season last year and will undoubtedly be leaned on heavily by the Wolves this year.  If you're a Leafs fan in the Sudbury area, this one is definitely worth checking out. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Was Joe Colborne Playing?

Last year was a tale of two seasons for Leafs prospect Joe Colborne.  At the beginning of the year, he was one of the best players in the entire AHL and even spent some time leading the league in points.  Then he skipped the AHL All-Star Game and his performance went into free fall.  By the end of the season, he wasn't in the top-100 point producers in the league despite the hot start. We wrote a little over a month ago that this was the season where either Colborne needed to live up to the hype surrounding him or people would need to start evaluating him on his output rather than his perceived potential.

Well, now we have a pretty good handle on why Colborne had such a precipitous drop in production.  The team knew that he had a couple of torn ligaments in his wrist that were affecting rotation --and thus likely his puck handling and shooting-- but the surgery performed to repair this damage also revealed broken bone.

Apparently, it was Colborne's choice to play from January until June with the damage.  While it isn't surprising that a young player with lots to prove in the midst of a breakout campaign would want to try to play through the pain, what's absolutely shocking to me is why management would let him.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lessons of Lockouts Past: Have The Leafs Learned Their Lesson?

"We've had seven years of incredible competitive balance; 29 clubs have made the playoffs [and] we've had seven different Stanley Cup champions." -Gary Bettman

Those words, from the Commissioner of the NHL, stung like a bullet to the chest of Leafs Nation. That's right, during the duration of the last CBA, the Leafs could reasonably be considered the least successful NHL franchise.

With a new CBA in the works, Darren and I decided we'd work together to figure out exactly what led to the Leafs' ineptitude during the course of the old CBA and whether the current team is any better positioned to take advantage of the one that will take its place. What lessons, if any, has the team learned from the mistakes of its past? This is the question, above all others, that we sought to address.

So grab a cup of coffee and a box of tissue with which to wipe your eyes (the tissue, not the box), and settle in. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Age Assets

To put it bluntly, in 2003-04, the Toronto Maple Leafs were old. At 38, best bets would have said that Ed Belfour's best years were behind him; likewise with 37 year olds Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts. Add to that group Mogilny (34), Sundin (32), the tough miles on Owen Nolan (31), and deadline acquisitions Ron Francis (40) and Brian Leetch (35), and it was fairly clear that the pre-lockout Leafs would need to start leaning on the new guard.

Alex Steen (19), Matt Stajan (20), Carlo Colaiacovo (21), Ponikarovsky (23), and Antropov (23) would need to take a serious step forward in their development to fill the void in production left by aging or departing players. There was some degree of optimism at the time but in the new NHL where efficient contracts from young players would prove to be the best way to compete, the production of this group was never good enough to push a Leafs team led by a still reliable Sundin into the playoffs.

Heading into this lockout, the distribution of age assets is much better. Our consensus best player, Phil Kessel, is about to turn 25 years old while a group of promising players including Kulemin (25), Gunnarsson (25), James Van Riemsdyk (22), Kadri (21), Gardiner (21) are just entering their prime years. Even our veterans still have plenty of prime seasons left. Dion Phaneuf (26), Joffrey Lupul (28), and Mikhail Grabovski (28), should be able to play at their current levels for a few seasons before age starts taking a toll on their game.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Forecasting Joffrey Lupul: A Look At Luck, Health and Tough Matchups

When it comes to uncertainty, the Leafs' roster is King; it's nearly impossible to guess at who will be the team's first line center, trying to get a handle on Nikolai Kulemin's point projections for next season are an exercise in futility, and when I think of what kind of goaltending we should expect from James Reimer my predictions range from 'very good' to 'I hope Nathan MacKinnon is as good as they say'.

What to expect from Joffrey Lupul has been something of a head scratcher this offseason too.  With a previous career high of 53 points and some very strange peaks and valleys in his production, Lupul came to Toronto, spent a full season skating with Phil Kessel, and put up 67 points in 66 games.  Should we be expecting more of the same now that he has a little stability or is his history of inconsistency a reflection of Lupul himself rather than any variation in circumstance?

Part of the trouble with using a statistic as basic as points is that there are a lot of other circumstances that feed those numbers.  For example, Lupul is a career 11% shooter and last season he managed to convert on 13% of his shots.  The end result is the difference between the 25 goals Lupul ended up with and 21 goals which would have been his expected output based on his historical numbers.  When you consider that Kessel also experienced a 2% jump from his career average shooting percentage, it certainly looks like Lupul's point totals were helped by some good luck last season.  According to Behind The Net, Lupul had an On-Ice Shooting % of 10.77% which was the highest such number of any player on the team who played more than 40 games. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping Our Enemies Close: A Look at the Northeast Division

The tentative schedule for the 2012-13 season (pending a conclusion to the all the CBA fun) has the Maple Leafs playing 24 of their 82 games against teams in their division, the Northeast. Six games will be played against each of the Senators, Bruins, Canadiens and Sabres. If history is any indication, success in these 24 games will be paramount in any push to the playoffs.

In 2011-12 the Leafs went 9-14-1 against the Northeast Division, the worst record of the division's 5 teams in inter-divisional play. We wanted to take a look at the Leafs' divisional rivals and see where opportunity lies for the team to scrape out few extra wins this coming year.
Ottawa Senators
2011-12 Record against Ottawa: 3-3-0
Heading into last season the Senators were supposed to be a team mired in what would be a long and arduous rebuild. In February of 2011 they traded 2nd line stalwart and fan favorite Mike Fisher to music city and the Nashville Predators. The team then shipped out forwards Chris Kelly and Jarko Ruutu along with the enigmatic Alex Kovalev. As the 2011 deadline approached the team then traded goalie Brian Elliot for the struggling Craig Anderson, and sent defenseman Chris Campoli to the Blackhawks.
GM Brian Murray was following the standard rules that apply to any team in the midst of a rebuild – strip yourself of all expiring assets and maximize your return in the form of draft picks and prospects. All this, mind you, with speculation of a Jason Spezza trade running rampant through the city. Fans prepared themselves for what would surely be a long rebuild filled with lottery picks in the coming seasons.
What a difference a year can make. Miraculously, Spezza returned to form (84 points, 4th in league scoring), Eric Karlsson emerged as the league’s premier offensive defenseman (winning the Norris to boot), and players like Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek provided ample secondary scoring support.
Still, there are some areas Ottawa will need to improve heading into this year. Goalie Craig Anderson has proven to be streaky at times, and back-ups Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop, while highly valued across the league, have yet to establish themselves at the pro level. Up front Alfredsson is a year older, which could bring a further drop off in production and increased risk of trips to the IR.
The Battle of Ontario was, for a time, one of the most heated in sports. Outside of the hatred exhibited between the Avalanche and Red Wings, it’s hard to think of a more passionate rivalry in the last 15 years. It may not ever reach those fevered heights again, but if both teams can position themselves for playoff contention deep into the year we may be treated to 6 competitive, entertaining games.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What To Expect From The Randy Carlyle-led Leafs

From March 2nd of last year until the end of the regular season, Leafs fans were offered a glimpse of the kind of coach Randy Carlyle would be.  The results weren't pretty --the team continued the free fall that they had started under Ron Wilson-- but I don't know many people who expected the team he inherited to dramatically turn things around based on a coaching change alone.

The team Carlyle inherited was rife with question marks; atrocious penalty killing, an often porous defense, undersized forwards, and unreliable goaltending.  It was always going to be a struggle for the Leafs' new bench boss.

Flash forward to September and Leafs' brass believes that they've addressed many of these issues.  James Van Riemsdyk was added to the Leafs' forward group and while he may not represent a significant addition in the 'sand paper' department, he should help the cycle game.  Jay McClement will look to solidify the team's penalty-kill and overall defensive play from the forward position and a now-healthy James Reimer, today's pencilled-in starting goaltender, will look to provide the Leafs with more stability in goal.  Still, a lot will have to go right and it starts with coaching.

With regards to special teams, Carlyle's track record is something of a mixed bag.  During his 6 full seasons in Anaheim, his teams finished with a top-5 powerplay 4 times, including the 2010-11 season which was his final full season as head coach.  As far as penalty-killing goes, Carlyle's Ducks finished 13th, 5th, 12th, 23rd, 24th, and 19th in the league.

There's no doubt that as far as Anaheim's powerplay goes, they certainly had some thoroughbreds leading the charge.  With players like Perry, Getzlaf, Pronger, Niedermayer, Selanne, and Ryan all playing significant roles in Carlyle's numbers during this period, one can't assume that he'll be able to replicate those results with the group Toronto has to offer.  That said, it's better to see good results with good players than poor results.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Finding Bozak: Looking At Roles For The Leafs' Biggest 'Tweener

This year’s NHL season, when it eventually gets under way, will be an important one for Tyler Bozak.

He is one of a handful of Leafs with a contract coming up for renewal at year’s end -- the final year of a 2 year deal with an annual cap hit of $1.5 million.
Aside from the pending end of his contract forcing managements’ hand, the team will be forced to decide on Bozak’s future in Toronto one way or another.  Bozak is entering his 3rd full season in the league and isn’t considered a prospect anymore.
At 26, Tyler’s age has, in a way, worked against him with the media and fans alike in Toronto. With only 2 full years of NHL experience there is no doubt he’s still acclimatizing himself to the game, learning the nuances, and adjusting from what is a vastly different league than the NCAA.
One interesting anecdote that came up when researching Bozak’s history was his offensive dominance in 2006-2007 playing for the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League). The league is popular for players who are considering going onto College or University, since the league is unpaid and thereby preserves a players NCAA eligibility. That year, Bozak led the league in scoring with 128 points in only 59 games. His linemate for much of the season was Dallas Stars' forward Jamie Benn. There is a great article over at the Stars blog Defending Big D detailing Benn’s rise to prominence that noted his stock with NHL scouts was hampered by what were perceived to be bloated stats from playing alongside the league’s best player, Tyler Bozak.
There have been flashes of offensive prowess for Bozak at the pro level as well. In 2009-10, Bozak amassed 27 points in 37 games playing in large part alongside Phil Kessel. 2011-12 saw some regression, as many would expect in a softmore year, producing only 32 points, and ending with an Augusta-worthy plus/minus of -29. Last year, however, he quietly put together an effective offensive season with 18 goals and 27 assists. Putting Bozak’s season in perspective, he finished ahead of players such as Mike Richards, Jeff Skinner, and Patrick Hornqvist.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Some Things To Keep In Mind As The Offseason Draws To A Close

If you're a fan of hockey and don't really give a crap about CBA-related stuff then August has been a pretty slow month.

While there isn't much in the way of Leafs news to talk about, there are a lot of things worth thinking about as the season (hopefully) draws near.

If there's a storyline we've missed, drop it in the comment section -- we're always looking to start a conversation during the dog days of summer.

1) Kadri has spent his summer training with Gary Roberts.  He's on a full meal plan and workout regimen and will be looking to add some size and strength.  After a very good season with the Marlies last year, there isn't much left for him to prove at the AHL-level and apparently Carlyle really likes what he brings to the table. The Marlies moved Kadri back to center for the majority of the AHL playoffs and one has to wonder whether that was Eakins' decision or whether it was a mandate from upper management.

2) The Leafs bought out the final year of Colby Armstrong's deal and currently sit $9M under the cap.  I think it's unlikely that they would have done this if they didn't intend on using the added cap space which means that Burke's "we're not done" comment is probably more than just noise.

3) A great deal of what Burke will be able to accomplish will depend on the new CBA.  If the cap goes down without a corresponding drop in existing contracts then the Leafs will have less available space than the $9M they currently have.  That said, this kind of cap adjustment would put Boston, Minnesota, and Vancouver in a bind and we all know that Vancouver has one particular asset that the Leafs covet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Expectations for 2011-12: Playoffs vs. Lottery

Heading into this offseason a lot of Leafs fans (including this one) believed that addressing the goaltending situation should be management’s number one priority. This sentiment stems from the fact that both James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have produced very little success, at least over a significant period, in the NHL.

We’re approaching September and it doesn’t appear that any move in goal is imminent. There have been the usual rumblings about Roberto Luongo or Jonathan Bernier and, if you dig deeply enough, even Tim Thomas could be considered an option for the Leafs. The situation in Vancouver has the potential to get volatile, especially if they try to start the season with Schneider and Luongo in a platoon. As of today, however, the Canucks appear in no real hurry to ship Roberto out.  
At first, this seems disappointing. Neither Scrivens nor Reimer has demonstrated the sort of consistency required to be a #1 netminder. I would like nothing more than to see the team enjoy some level of success to rescue the fanbase from nearly a decade long abyss of playoff-less hockey. However, after spending some time reviewing the top draft picks from the coming 2013 class, it’s hard not to wonder if one more lottery finish, and the top 5 pick that comes with it, wouldn’t ultimately be the best thing moving forward.

We’ve written a bit about the cap space and contract flexibility the team will enjoy next offseason, with the majority of the Leafs' non-core player deals expiring. This will leave Burke with a few key players (Grabovski, Kessel, Phaneuf, Rielly, Gardiner...etc) and substantial cap space to make a push at big name UFAs (backing up Brinks truck to the homes of Perry and Getzlaf).
If the team can add another top 5 draft pick with a great pedigree we could be looking at the beginning of a very strong core. This would also prove to be quite ironic, as it would bring Burke's ‘rebuild on the fly’ to a close nearly 5 years after he assumed the GM role, but I digress.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Leafs' Prospects: Matt Finn

Matt Finn at Prospect Camp (photo cred: Jack Bolland, Toronto Sun)

Since Brian Burke took over as GM of the Leafs in November of 2008, the Leafs have put together a decent run of apparent draft success outside of the first round.  In his first three drafts, Burke has added Jesse Blacker, Jerry D'Amigo, Brad Ross, Greg McKegg, Josh Leivo, and Petter Granberg as non-first round talent with a legitimate chance at cracking an NHL roster.  If we couple this with the fact that his only apparent 2nd round whiff seems to be Kenny Ryan, a player who has struggled to assert himself at the AHL level and spent the majority of last season in the ECHL, then it's fair to say that the Leafs have done a solid job of adding to their organizational depth in the less projectable rounds of the draft.

With the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Leafs look like they've added another solid prospect in Guelph Storm defenseman, Matt Finn.

Finn was on the radar for scouts from the beginning of his draft year, ranking 15th in Central Scouting's OHL preliminary rankings, then shooting up to 15th in the North American mid-term rankings before finally settling in at 16th in the final North American rankings.  He's a guy who underwent a fair degree of scrutiny and his game stood up to it, in the eyes of scouts.

With only 4 players on the European Rankings and 3 players from the Goalie Rankings having been taken ahead of Finn, Central Scouting would have projected him to go at 23 and yet he fell to the Leafs at 35.

Finn is a prospect who's very similar to a player the Leafs drafted last year in Stuart Percy.  While Finn's offensive numbers are a little more impressive than Percy's were in his draft year, neither player projects as an especially strong offensive defenseman at the NHL-level.  Like Percy, Finn is often described as "quietly effective" with great poise, decision-making, and a good first pass.  While he doesn't have the flashy skating or offensive flair of guys like Rielly or Gardiner, he does possess the kinds of tools that provide a lot of value to an NHL blueline.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Joe Colborne: As He Is

Scene from 8 1/2

"All the confusion of my life... it has been a reflection of myself.  Myself as I am, not as I'd like to be."  -Marcello Mastroianni, "8 1/2"

"8 1/2" is a semi-autobiographical film by director Federico Fellini where Mastroianni plays the role of Guido, a director with writer's block who, as a result of external pressures from studios, producers, and the media, has constructed a monstrosity of a movie set for a film that has yet to fully take shape in his mind.  The set itself comes to represent the oppressive pressure Guido feels to live up to his past successes and these pressures only further exacerbate his intellectual and artistic impotence.

In Joe Colborne, I see a lot of Fellini's Guido.

Colborne was drafted 16th overall in the 2008 Entry Draft and was always viewed as a project.  While his size and skating made him worthy of a first round selection, The Hockey News described his play as "indifferent" and his skills as "undeniable".

After two solid seasons at the University of Denver, in 2010-11, Colborne made the full-time transition to the AHL's Providence Bruins where he posted a fairly lacklustre 26 points in 55 games and was subsequently traded to the Maple Leafs.  Colborne had more success with the Marlies to close out the 2010-11 season (16 points in 20 games) and spent the first couple months of the 2011-12 season among the AHL leaders in points, earning an invitation to the AHL All-Star Game.  Colborne's point pace slowed to a crawl to close out the season as injuries (he was forced to skip the All-Star Game) and the loss of linemate Joey Crabb seemed to seriously affect his game.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Building to 2013: Technically Not A 5-Year Rebuild

After 7 consecutive years of failing to qualify for the post-season, it’s fair to characterize the mood of devout leaf fans as pessimistic - and that’s probably putting it mildly. Much like the promises of idealist politicians, we’ve been subjected to nearly a decade of speeches from team management with promises of ‘this time will be different’. While we all take great joy in pointing proverbial finger and using revisionist history to lord our superior intellect over MLSE brass, it would appear that finally, perhaps mercifully, this coming year will be different. More specifically, this coming offseason will be different.

With the Blue Jays and Raptors in a perpetual state of rebuild (although the Jays have been a .500 team for almost a decade, and are plagued by an archaic MLB playoff structure, don’t get me started) it’s understandable that we Torontonians have grown tired waiting another season for success. I won’t pretend to know exactly how long Jays or Raps fan will have to wait, but for us, the 2013 offseason could be the crescendo of Brian Burke’s tenure as Leafs' GM.
Upon arriving in Toronto, Burke made strong statements about the forthcoming truculence of the team he would assemble, and the voracity with which the team would approach yearly free agency, memorably referring to it as “our draft”.
Since then the term ‘truculence’ has taken on a more pejorative tone, as the media and fans lament the Leafs' lack of toughness and size throughout the lineup. Likewise the promise of big name free agent signings has gone unfulfilled with misses on Ilya Kovalchuk, Brad Richards, and the Sedin brothers (who never actually become UFAs, leaving Burke with an expensive plane ticket to Sweden to visit one Jonas Gustavsson) to name a few.
We've all been quick to judge, and in some instances to mock, Brian Burke for his many rules and ideologies; a self imposed trade embargo during the Christmas holidays and rallying against the long term, cap circumventing contracts of Kovalchuk, Luongo, Richards, and Weber, to name a few. However, Burke has quietly put the team in an enviable position heading into the 2013 free agent market, with a substantial amount of cap space.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's The Point of This CBA Exactly?

Labour uncertainty is the topic of the day for fans of the NHL with the threat of a lockout hanging over our heads once again.  It wasn't so long ago that we were forced to sit through a winter without hockey and now we're forced to ask, "for what?"

At the time, I was more or less on board with a lot of what the owners were saying.  Stability for existing franchises and competitive balance through a salary cap were things that I could get behind.

We've now played 7 seasons of hockey under the current CBA and there are some things that certainly seem broken to the casual eye.  The NHL has presented its initial offer to the NHLPA and after taking some time for sober refection, I find myself wondering if the first lockout accomplished anything at all.

As fans, we were consistently subjected to the words "cost certainty" and "parity" by Gary Bettman as the league sought to implement a salary cap while the players resisted -- this, we were told, was the reason there was no hockey.

Ultimately, the owners dug their heels in more deeply than the players and got more or less what they wanted while the players saw a 24% rollback in their salaries.  The salary cap was initially set at $39M and its year-over-year growth was tied to league revenues.

Since then, the cap has risen to over $70M with a salary floor over $54M and we find ourselves more or less at square one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Expectations

There isn't much that's easier than being indignant on the internet.  A cursory glance through your Twitter feed will back this up, as will a look through the comments section on basically any online TSN article about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Perhaps the only thing that's easier is to explain away mistakes your team has made after the fact.  Fandom, in many cases, can breed an unwavering idolatry that can convince us to accept things that we probably shouldn't.

In an effort to keep myself honest, I try to enter every major period on the hockey calendar with a set of 'dream' and 'nightmare' scenarios pre-established.  What outcome would I see as a success?  What constitutes a failure?  These are questions I ask, and generally document, before the fact so that I can evaluate management decisions as dispassionately as possible.

With the NHL offseason halfway to its conclusion,  I thought I'd look at what my expectations were heading into the offseason and how close the Leafs are to achieving what I would define as a successful result.

The Draft

I published my dream and nightmare scenarios for the draft in mid-April and while the Leafs never had the opportunity to draft the player I had my eyes on, Alex Galchenyuk, they did land one of my three consolation prizes in Morgan Rielly.  The player the Leafs took in the second round, defenseman Matt Finn, is a guy I certainly did not expect them to even have a shot at with the 35th overall selection.

While it would have been great to land a high-ceiling forward who could slot into the lineup sooner rather than later, it's tough to have much of a problem with how things went down at the draft.  Short of having traded up, or possibly drafting Grigorenko, things couldn't have gone too much better.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Longevity and Offensive Defensemen: Morgan Rielly

Jamie Sabau, Getty Images

With the 5th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs took the player who most scouts believe has the highest offensive ceiling among defensemen.  While most of Leafs Nation was hoping for a forward in that slot, hearing "highest ceiling" in regard to one of our prospects is something most of us can get excited about.

After the initial disappointment of not getting a coveted centre and the subsequent acceptance/realization that Rielly is a player with a lot of potential, I felt a red-flag go off in my mind and at first I couldn't quite figure out what it was.  Then I started thinking about offensive defensemen lately and how often they've been able to replicate elite success with names like Ryan Whitney, Sheldon Souray, and Keith Yandle immediately springing to mind.  With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I decided to have a more detailed look at things.

Using Hockey Reference I decided to look at top-tier production from defensemen since 1995, defining 'top-tier' as 55 points or more in a single season.  In terms of raw numbers, there were 90 cases of defensemen meeting or exceeding this threshold.  9 of these seasons occurred pre-lockout, and 8 were post-lockout.  Pre-lockout there were an average of 4.88 defensemen who achieved these numbers each season while post-lockout the average increased to 5.75.

While the number of cases has increased post-lockout, longevity seems to be on the decline.  Of the 18 defensemen who had their first 55-point seasons post-lockout, only Dan Boyle, Brian Rafalski, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Mike Green have been able to accomplish the feat more than twice and each of them have done it 3 times.  Now obviously part of this can be attributed to opportunity -- Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty will have plenty of chances to exceed the 55-point mark in coming years -- but we simply aren't seeing the consistency of performance among offensive defensemen that we saw from the '90s crop of Lidstrom, Leetch, Bourque, Blake, Zubov et al.  While occurrences have increased, year-in and year-out dominance from star defensemen appears to be on the decline.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mom, Where do Goalies Come From?

Watching the draft on Friday night it was interesting to see how the myriad of hockey experts in the press room, on the floor, via satellite, online, could all have such varying predictions. Other than the consensus pick of Yakupov at #1 (or if you’re Brian Burke, Rielly at 1) pundits were at odds over the remaining players in the first round. A player like Filip Forsberg dropped inexplicably to the Capitals at 11, while Calgary’s Jay Feaster reached for Mark Jankowski at 21.
There was, however, one thing that all GMs, analysts, and fans alike seemed to agree on - Never, ever, ever select a goaltender early.
This is really fascinating. The NHL has been playing regular games since 1917, with most teams employing a scouting staff of over 12 people, and yet we collectively have no concrete system on how best to value young goaltenders. Repeatedly announcers cautioned us against  taking a goalie early, stating it as page one, rule one in the draft day handbook. To some degree they are right, given that goalies tend to develop at a slower pace then position players, but they were understating the fact that all 18 year olds come with considerable uncertainty.
With the JVR trade in the books (yay!) it appears Burke has turned his attention to our goaltending situation. He has stated on more than one occasion that he is comfortable beginning next year with the tandem of Ben Scrivens and James Reimer. With all the talk on draft day about the mystery surrounding goalie development, and success, we at BCP have been forced to ask the question – where exactly do goalies come from?
Unlike the proverbial birds and the bees, this seems to be a question that haunts a man long after a slightly awkward conversation with his father at the age of 13. We’ve decided to simplify it a bit and start our search in the American Hockey League.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ryan Gosling, Leafs Fan

Turns out every girl's favourite actor from 'Breaker High' is a pretty big Leafs fan.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

BCP Draft Series: A Fifteen Year History of 5th Overall

There's a certain amount of self-loathing that comes with being a Leafs fan these days.  I suppose it comes with the territory if your team has missed the playoffs as many times as we have, but nobody can create a self-deprecating meme quite like Leafs Nation.  The line being tossed around the internet lately is a formula:  In any given draft year, the number of quality players can be expressed as QP = (LP)-1 where QP represents the number of quality players and LP represents the slot where the Leafs will make their first selection.

In the eyes of many, this year is no different.  Many Leafs fans have adopted the forward-or-bust mantra for the draft and will be disappointed if the Leafs don't land one of Yakupov, Galchenyuk, Grigorenko, or Forsberg.  Is it a coincidence that there are four forwards and the Leafs' first pick is at five?

Heading into the draft, we've decided to have a look at the players taken with the 5th overall selection over a fifteen year period.  I think you'll find that the results aren't as bleak as you might expect.

Below is a list of the players taken 5th overall between 1995 and 2009.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

BCP Draft Series: Shark Hunting

I really don’t like San Jose Shark fans. Amazingly, this distaste has nothing to do with their obscenely warm seaside climate, the economic might of Silicon Valley, or the fact that they traded 3 spare parts for Joe Thornton. No, it has everything to do with the sickening waves of entitlement they push onto the rest of the league.
Spend 5 minutes talking to any Sharks fan, and they’ll invariably jump into some variation of “boo hoo, we have such a great core but can never win in the playoffs!” Try listening to that, first as a Leaf fan, and secondly as a student of even the most rudimentary mathematics. When only 16 out of 30 teams even make the playoffs each year, the perennial bridesmaids shouldn't get to whine.
Since 1997 the Sharks have only missed qualifying for the post season once, in 2002-2003. During that stretch they’ve compiled 6 divisional championships and one President's Trophy (2009). When you consider the changes throughout the league since '97, in and out of the dead puck era and through the lockout, the consistency shown by the Sharks is remarkable.
That’s why as a Leafs fan it’s painful listening to the San Jose media bemoan the accomplishments of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, and other core players that have come and gone. I can imagine that for a sports athlete being unceremoniously labelled as a playoff “choker” is up there with tearing your ACL/MCL in terms of pain.
The interesting consequence of this regular season consistency is that fans are pushing the team and ownership towards moving a new direction and breaking up the core group. Players like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have been absolute stalwarts in recent years, but of course are yet to get over the proverbial “hump”.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

BCP Draft Series: Clarke MacArthur Is A Good Player But I'd Trade Him Anyway

In two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Clarke MacArthur has played 155 games and registered 105 points all while putting up very solid possession statistics.  He's a very respectable second line player and at a $3.25M cap hit, he's a bargain for a team looking to seriously contend next season.  Unfortunately for us, the Leafs are not that team.

The other day, I was asked if I would move MacArthur for a late first if the opportunity presented itself.  My initial reaction was 'probably not' but the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that it might not be such a bad idea.

MacArthur is 27 which puts him more or less in the prime of his career.  He'll still be a good player in a couple years when the Leafs have hopefully sorted out their goaltending issues and the defense corps that Burke is so fond of moves from being high on potential to high on actual results.  When the Leafs are good, MacArthur will be too.

One of the problems, as I see it, is that he's in the final year of his deal and is a pending UFA.  Keeping a player into that final season of a contract carries with it the risk that the player will walk at the end of the year and you'll be left with nothing.  That's probably the worst case scenario.

Alternatively, it's possible that MacArthur re-signs with the Leafs.  What kind of money could MacArthur expect on an extension?  Well, David Jones fleeced the Avalanche out of $16M over 4 seasons while putting up worse numbers than MacArthur in every meaningful statistic.  It wouldn't surprise me to see MacArthur fall closer to Grabovski's $5.5M per season than Jones' $4M, especially if he splits this difference between 2010-11's production and 2011-12's.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Martin Brodeur - The Maple Leaf?

I’ve been told on many occasions that 40 is the new 30. This seems to be rooted in the fact that people are living longer than ever -- 77ish, or so I’m told -- and, with more time on earth, we are allowed to extend our “youth”.
It’s hard to say whether this burgeoning adage applies only to single people who are looking for excuses to dress and act 10 years younger than they are or if it extends to the sporting world but either way, some of our favourite athletes from our youths have been looking rather spry of late.

It’s been fun to watch a number of athletes excel late into their 30s, and in some cases their 40s. A few examples spring immediately to mind; Sakic putting up 100 points in 2006 at the ripe old age of 37, Teemu Selanne finishing with a point per game last season at 40, or most recently Nicklas Lidstrom performing like a Norris candidate at 42.
The trend isn’t limited to only skaters, as goalies like Hasek, Belfour, Roy, and Joseph all enjoyed some of their best seasons after the age of 35 (of course I’m ignoring the bitter memory of Cujo's final season in T.O – it still hurts).
The question that has been batted around Toronto sports talk radio is this: Should the Leafs overpay to bring in Martin Brodeur on a 1 or 2 year deal?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

BCP Draft Series: Available Assets

With the NHL Draft a little over two weeks away, Darren and I have decided to roll up our sleeves and put together some draft-related goodies for fans to mull over.

While we haven't formally discussed the form that these posts will take, you can expect to see some draft analysis using past draft results, some prospect info on guys who fall within the Leafs' draft slots, and likely a considerable amount of roster-bation.

With that out of the way, today we want to focus on assets that may be available on Draft day.  While we're not in the rumour-making business, there's no harm in connecting the dots on some of the offseason scuttlebutt.

Roberto Luongo

Probably the name most often linked with the Toronto Maple Leafs is that of Canucks' goaltender, Roberto Luongo.  Given the Leafs' need in net, Nonis' comments that the team is hoping to find a veteran goalie to insulate Reimer/Scrivens, and Luongo's trade request (or whatever Gillis is calling it this week), it's unsurprising that Luongo would be linked to Toronto.  His decade-long contract, which was league-approved, has the kind of declining value that Burke has spoken out against in the past but the fact that it has already been approved by the league may give him the excuse he needs to justify it as somehow beyond the purview of his prior objections.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NHL Entry Draft 2012: Should the Leafs Trade Up to #1?

Buzz Aldrin was, by all accounts, a good man.  He graduated 3rd in his class from West Point, with a bachelors of science majoring in mechanical engineering. He went on to work in the U.S Military and, ultimately, at NASA. He was one of the only 2nd graders who told everyone he wanted to be an astronaut, and actually grew up to be one.

The sad thing about Buzz is that despite all his professional and personal accolades, almost everyone on the planet, and likely the majority of history books, will remember him as the quintessential runner-up. As the 2nd man to ever walk on the moon (behind some guy named Neil who evidently took “small steps”), he has been forever labeled as an 'also-attended'. The correct answer to many trivia games and butt to any and all comedians' jokes revolving around a guy coming oh-so-close to finishing first. 

As the NHL draft approaches, I always find myself thinking of Mr. Aldrin, or the 3rd person to climb Mount Everest, or the 2nd explorer to land in America after Columbus. The draft makes me fearful that the Leafs will end up with a player who is doomed to be forgotten in NHL history books. The team's uninspiring draft record (outside of Wendel Clark) is littered with disappointments, and in desperate need of a strong showing this year.

As fans, we're excited at the prospect of landing a top-5 player -- assuming Burke doesn’t trade down to increase his assest base (let’s collectively pray that doesn’t happen). While this draft is certainly deeper than years past, there is still a clear and distinct drop off after the presumptive number-1 pick, Nail Yakupov.

The question that has been uttered consistently around Toronto water coolers is this: Should the Leafs trade up on Draft Day, and select Yakupov 1st overall?

Monday, May 21, 2012

NHL Entry Draft Rankings: On Biases and Ranking Discrepancies

With the Leafs out of the playoffs and the draft still a little over a month away, content has been a little sparse here at BCP.  I've already given a glimpse into my draft day targets for the first two rounds and we'll definitely be providing more Entry Draft opinion as June 22nd draws near so be sure to stop by.

Today, I thought that I'd take the opportunity to talk about Entry Draft rankings and why some of the pre-draft prospect rankings that you'll see have such disparate views on where certain players fall in the pecking order.

Last week, TSN Analyst Craig Button released his list of the top-60 draft eligible players and there were a few surprises.  Button gets knocked around a fair bit as an 'expert' due in large part to some pretty bad decisions while GM of the Flames most notably, waiving Martin St.Louis.  Prior to his time as GM of the Flames, Button was the Director of Scouting for the Stars organisation from 1992-1998 and his draft record may surprise some of you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Breaking Down The Burke Press Conference

The more General Managers talk, the more often they'll contradict themselves and Brian Burke talks a lot.  You'll get no argument from me; a lot of what Burke says isn't to be taken at face value, but having said that, it's important to understand precisely what Burke says, rather looking at his messages in broader strokes.  I believe that a lot of what the Leafs' GM has said has been taken out of context and in using his most recent interview as a template, I'd like to try and clear the air on some of these issues.

What I Agreed With

"I still believe in that group with MacArthur, Kulemin, and Grabovski."

Burke handed out a bit of praise to his second unit and these are the types of players who I believe help you win hockey games.  Their possession numbers are strong, they push the play in the right direction, and they can eat up tough minutes for a hockey team.  I was glad to hear Burke express some confidence in these guys as he's generally of the belief that advanced stats are Voodoo.

"At the trade deadline, we didn't panic, we kept our assets. We have all the players that teams came after, we have those assets and we can use those assets to make hockey deals."

My big concern this season was that Burke would feel such intense pressure to make the playoffs that he would trade futures for vets and expiring deals in an attempt to squeak into the big dance.  Despite all that Burke has said about not wanting to do that, you always understand that the risk is there when you're dealing with an individual with such an undeniably enormous ego.  This administration has spent significant time adding assets (just ask them) and I'm glad they didn't tear it down for a run at a playoff spot.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dream and Nightmare Outcomes for the 2012 Entry Draft

The NHL Entry Draft is a time for hope for fans of teams who find their teams on the outside of the playoff picture.  As fans of successful franchises are lining up their face paint and decking out their cars with those little window-mounted flags, the brain-trust at the NHL head offices throws us a bone the day before the playoffs start with the Draft Lottery.

A good friend of mine and fellow hockey fanatic is an avid Oilers fan so the draft is something of a big deal in my social circle.  The past few years, we've made a bit of a tradition of putting together a 'dream' draft list which is essentially our best case scenario for our team and a 'nightmare' draft list which is comprised of worst case outcomes.

Since there really isn't much else to talk about, I thought I'd share my preliminary thoughts with all of you, well in advance of the draft.  For the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming that the Leafs draft 5th overall as that's the most likely outcome of the pending lottery.

The Dream Draft

My most favoured outcome would be for the Leafs to keep their first pick and have Alex Galchenyuk land softly in their laps at five.  Galchenyuk is a playmaking center with decent size and good speed, who shoots the puck well.  If there's an area of concern it would be his speed in bursts / acceleration but it isn't something that I'm overly worried about.  Galchenyuk has perennial all-star potential and is the kind of center that Burke has been trying to land since he acquired Kessel.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's a Bonanza! NHL Draft Lottery

So you’re saying there’s a chance!

It’s hard to believe we’ve come to this. After such a mesmerizing start to the season, we find ourselves firmly in the dungeon of the NHL standings – the Draft Lottery.

Of course this season will go down as an abject failure – another unsuccessful march to the playoffs, the firing of a head coach, and a rotating carousel of mediocrity between the pipes, all scars from what was a disappointing end to 2011-12.

What might make this offseason different than that of our last eight early trips to the tee blocks is that there's hope for the future. Finally the team has a top draft pick, and at least 5 players in this year's draft who look capable of making an impact in the NHL within 1-2 years it would seem an enviable situation. Unless, of course, Mr. Burke does the unthinkable and trades his first round pick (Michael Ryder is a proven 35 goal scorer, I hear he’s available *collective gasp!*).

There’s a certain irony, that our refusal to succumb to a classic rebuild – whereby you trade all non-essential assets and build through the draft – has somehow led to a rebuild nonetheless. With cap space, trade pieces, and a significant draft pick, this offseason marks the first in which the Burke administration has no obstacles to overcome other than themselves. The JFJ contracts are almost all off the books and the current roster is devoid of aging stars – the Muskoka 5 have long since retired to, presumably, the Muskokas.

Monday, April 2, 2012

This Is It: Why Burke's Tenure Will Be Defined By The Next Four Months

Brian Burke's arrival in Toronto was met with a great deal of fanfare.  The blustery GM had an impressive resume, having built the foundations of a successful team in Vancouver and as well as putting the finishing touches on a Stanley Cup champion in Anaheim.  Not only was he a good hockey guy, but he also had a mix of bravado and coarseness that Toronto fans seemed to fall in love with almost immediately.

After 3+ seasons as Toronto's GM with the team still taking up residence in the league's basement, the love affair is officially over.

Now, this piece isn't a condemnation of Burke's tenure; it's more of an admonishment.

Generally speaking, my opinion is that Burke has done a good job as GM of the Leafs.  The team he inherited in November of 2008 has only one player set to make over $5M next season and that player, Mikhail Grabovski, is still with the team.  Burke has greatly improved the team's assets and if he were to leave today, I would feel confident in asserting that the team would be in a better position to succeed in 3-years time than the group Burke adopted in 2008.

Having said all of this, Burke is not without his failings.  He's been atrocious at identifying talent in free agency.  Aside from Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak, Burke's record with free agents as GM of the Leafs is rife with blunders.  Komisarek, Armstrong, and Connolly are Burke's most expensive forays into the free agent market and are also among the weightiest anchors against the team's cap structure.  These are the kinds of contracts that can really sink a team in a salary cap league.

Cap Space As An Asset

In today's NHL, cap space, like players and draft picks, is an asset.  Unlike other assets though, cap space has a one year shelf-life; the space you don't use this season is gone the next.  Most floundering teams choose not to use the space, choosing instead to bide their time in anticipation of better days.  Burke has chosen to use the space available to him on shorter term deals.