Archive for September, 2010

Brian Burke’s legacy with the Toronto Maple Leafs will be forever tied to one player he acquired via a major trade and it’s not the diminutive scoring sensation Phil Kessel, it is the new Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.  It’s hard to find anybody that didn’t like the trade (though Ian White outperformed Phaneuf last season) and if Keith Aullie (included in the deal) continues to progress into a top six defenseman it will look even better.  When Burke named Phaneuf as his captain he also firmly tied his anchor to the hard hitting defenseman, for better or worse.

If Dion Phaneuf turns out to be a bust, or even slightly disappointing over the next two to three seasons in the blue and white I don’t think Brian Burke will be around much longer after that.  The city of Toronto is a cruel one to the beloved boys of winter and will turn on you in a country minute if you fail to live up to expectations, even if you are captain and maybe especially if you are captain in Dion’s case.  The list of failed (in the fan’s eyes) players is a long and in some cases illustrious one and who will ever forget Larry Murphy being booed out of town, or Bryan McCabe.

Ahh Brian McCabe, the scary part for me is if you squint your eyes just slightly while watching your television set and watch #3 Dion Phaneuf on the ice, you almost see a little #24 (McCabe) in him don’t you?  They almost look similar with their receding spiky haircuts, they both skate a little awkwardly and handle the puck like a grenade at times (does the puck not just seem to bounce on Dion’s stick more than other players?) but both also possess very solid hockey skills with booming shots and a physical edge.  While one is being celebrated and touted as a potential franchise saviour with little to no success in his short reign the other was essentially given the boot even after scoring 83 goals, 297 points and was a plus +63 in 7 seasons and 523 games. 

Phaneuf is 6’3”, 214 while McCabe is 6’2”, 220 and though they are separated by ten years in age there are definitely some similarities to their respective games. Phaneuf broke into the league in 2005/06 and let’s compare the two over that same time span:

  GM G A PTS +/- PIM PPG
Dion Phaneuf 404 77 161 238 +17 556 48
Bryan McCabe 360 62 168 230 -5 436 39

 

 It has to be pointed out that we are comparing the first five years of a defenseman’s career in Dion Phaneuf and more of the middle aged years for McCabe but I think this does show us that the comparison might have some merit. 

For fun, if these numbers are averaged over an 82 game season:

  G A PTS PIM PPG
Dion Phaneuf 15 32 47 112 9.7
Bryan McCabe 14 38 52 99 8.9

 

 Phaneuf has been a model of health over his first five pretty successful seasons while McCabe has definitely started to show his age with more than a few injuries mixed in over the years but again this is just to make a comparison.  One player was vilified and one of the most hated players at the end of his Leafs career while the other has been celebrated as one of the best defenseman in hockey, something just doesn’t add up in this equation.  Bryan McCabe was not without his weaknesses (thank you captain obvious) but this is also a man who once scored 19 goals and tallied 68 points in only 73 games in 2005/06.

 I don’t think I am going out on a limb when I say that Dion Phaneuf is a tad overrated. 

In the super scientific poll conducted by Sports Illustrated, a player poll ranked him as the Most Overrated Player in the NHL.  The magazine asked 272 players in the league to name the player whose reputation exceeds their performance.  Phaneuf ran away with the title, capturing 21 per cent of the vote, next was the Rangers’ Wade Redden with 7 per cent followed by Montreal’s Scott Gomez with 6 per cent.

Based on the early returns during Phaneuf extremely limited tenure I can see where some of this noise is coming from.  However I also see a talented and physically dominating player who can hopefully turn his game around and lead the blue and white on the backend for more than a few years.  Not many will argue against the trade that brought the future captain to the Leafs and I won’t either but that doesn’t mean that a team using a player like Phaneuf as one of its building blocks isn’t playing with just a bit of fire, especially in this market, just ask Bryan McCabe.

What are your expectations for Dion Phaneuf? 

WOULD LEAFS CONSIDER SHELDON SOURAY VIA RE-ENTRY WAIVERS?

If the above situation came to fruition and the Edmonton Oilers bit the bullet and put Sheldon Souray on waivers (with no takers) and then placed him on re-entry waivers would the Maple Leafs bite at a half priced Souray (approx 2.7 million hit)?

I know what you are thinking and the Leafs clearly have a glutton of defensemen but at least here me out.  Souray when healthy is a step up offensively over all of our defenseman (including Phaneuf) and has been a beast on the power play over his career.  In his past two full healthy seasons (2006/07) Souray tallied 26 goals and 64 points with 19 coming on the power play and in 2008/09 he notched 23 goals with 12 via the man advantage.

Obviously not a terrific defensive or all-around player the Leafs could risk this and allow him to build up some trade value while simultaneously helping their horrific power play (he would be a HUGE step up on Tomas Kaberle) and possibly trading him when a team desperate for some backend help comes calling at likely only a prorated portion of his 2.7 million cap hit if moved around the trade deadline.  Or they could keep him if he shows an improved game as Tomas Kaberle’s cheaper replacement and be able to move Kaberle and a Francois Beauchemin (or Mike Komisarek) if the right deals were presented.

Somebody more familiar with the CBA and salary cap ramifications could enlighten me if the Leafs would be able to first trade Souray and would the team acquiring him only be on the hook for his re-entry waivers price tag and cap hit?  Not sure what Brian Burke would think of something like this but I am confident he has at the very least pondered such a scenario.

Advertisements

Give Kadri time to develop, he'll be just fine.

With Leafs nation all abuzz with the pending preseason cuts and who will and won’t make the club out training camp I wanted to take this time to discuss Nazem Kadri again and basically to say, give the kid a break.  I am not going to feel sorry for him (or any pro athlete) as this is the life they chose and it is filled with amazing perks, monetary compensation and unfortunately in Toronto, a bit of additional pressure for a city starving for a hockey winner but I also feel it is time for a little perspective.

We have to face facts that while we wish he was ready for big league action and our supposed 2nd line centre but reality is Nazem Kadri is still a kid, literally.  Kadri was raised in a big Arabic household in a tight family oriented environment and as a male being raised in such a situation (coupled with the fact he was a minor hockey star at a young age) he was likely treated like a king from birth all the way through until now.  Kadri is more of a kid that a lot of ‘kids’ his age, and I feel he will just take a bit longer to develop both mentally and physically, but the gifts and sheer talent he has been bestowed by the hockey gods are undeniably great. 

Like a lot of kids who don’t leave the nest prior to turning 20 years old I doubt Nazem has experienced much in the way of real life experience or hardship and is still very much reliant on his parents for support, both emotionally and mentally.  Kadri is still a kid adjusting to a very different (and hectic) lifestyle and is also likely away from home for the first time in his life.  He just added approximately 15 lbs of muscle to a very slight frame and likely put his body through an unaccustomed workout regimen that has left him looking slightly slower and less explosive. 

If Nazem Kadri were a baseball player (say Kyle Drabek) he would barely be above ‘A’ ball at this point in his career and there would be zero expectations for an immediate and drastic impact in his first year out of junior hockey.  Tyler Bozak was a rookie for the Leafs in 2009/10 (at the age of 24) and he showed a lot of improvement during the course of the season last year but there were still some things lacking overall from his game early in the year, and he has four years on Nazem, think about that.  Kadri has most of the necessary ingredients to be a solid professional, just needs the time for them to properly simmer and cook.

Only the rarest of rare talents can step out of junior hockey as a boy and play a big time role in a man’s game, although I think we erred when Luke Schenn was not sent back to junior after being drafted 7th overall by the Leafs in 2008, Schenn unlike Kadri was basically a boy in a man’s body.  For every Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos there are countless others that are just not ready to step immediately into the world of professional hockey at the NHL level.

Brian Burke will bring Nazem Kadri into his office and explain to him that the Maple Leafs are happy with his progress thus far, he is coming off an exemplary  junior career and he should try his hardest to ignore the harsh media onslaught and go to the AHL with his head held high.  Work on improving the weakest facets of his game and get accustomed to playing against men and make the necessary adjustments as needed.  We’ll continue to monitor you closely and you are only a step or two away from returning to the big club but don’t worry about things you can’t control, just focus on playing hockey, a game you love.

Folks, Nazem Kadri is a fine young prospect I am hopeful that a bright and promising future lay ahead as a #2 playmaking/sparkplug centre but as Axl Rose said (or sang), what we all need right now is “just a little patience”. 

BRENT MAKING PLAY FOR 3RD LINE CHECKING ROLE

Tim Brent has made noise in training camp for the Leafs in 2010 and the 26 year old is apparently leading the race for the wide open 3rd line checking line centre role.  Brent signed with the Leafs in 2009 and played 33 games for the Toronto Marlies (13 goals, 15 assists in 33 games) and is known as a responsible defensive centre that can win some draws and chip in on the penalty kill.

A career minor leaguer since 2008/09 spanning 97 games Brent (6’0”, 200 lbs) has managed 33 goals and 57 assists, scoring at a 0.92 point per game clip.  He likely won’t be a big time scorer in the NHL but a career minor leaguer will absolutely work his tail off each and every night and it is possible that John Mitchell’s (the man who is most likely to be affected) Maple Leafs career is closer to coming to an abrupt end.

Mitchell has shown some promise but seems to lack ‘jam’ or the extra gear that would allow him to be a consistent and productive pro in the NHL.  It is possible he is one of the youngsters than Brian Burke and Ron Wilson refer to when they discuss the perceived ‘entitlement’ players sometimes feel because they play in a large market with constant attention from the media 24/7.

KEEP IT TO YOURSELF KRIS!

Among growing, disgusting and annoying trends, players who bite, chew and play with their mouthguards obsessively is something I could just as well go without!  I thought when Marco Belinelli (Raptors former swingman) was sent packing we wouldn’t have to endure a high profile player with his mouthguard on display all game, until Kris Versteeg came to town. 

Projected opening night line-up:

Versteeg-Bozak-Kessel

Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur

Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong

Brown-Hanson-Orr

Phaneuf-Beauchemin

Kaberle-Komisarek

Schenn-Gunnarsson

Giguere/Gustavsson

Food for thought? Will the Jays kick tires on acquiring Prince Fielder?

Check out the new Toronto Blue Jays blog AL Eastbound & Down!

I was reading a piece at Fangraphs regarding Prince Fielder and his imminent departure from the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason given the impasse between management and Fielder’s agent, the vaunted Scott Boras.  Rumours peg the asking price for Fielder’s next contract between 120-150 million over 6-8 years and I am not going to argue that a defensively challenged overweight first basemen is worth that type of long term investment because very clearly he is not and even more clear is the Jays would never be able to sign a player to that type of contract.

My argument today is that Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays should at the very least inquire into the asking price (from the Brewers) to bring in the powerful left handed hitting home run machine for the 2011 season.  I am not sure what the cost would be but one would have to assume it would likely be fairly high and it could ultimately cost the team their top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek.  Although everybody is extremely high on this kid I think this could be a move worth considering.

Consider me a contrarian in the valuation of Drabek but I am not a huge buyer of his stock and I think his value will never be higher coming off a successful (at first glance) minor league season.  The 23 year old posted a 2.94 ERA in 162 ‘AA’ innings in 2010 allowing 126 hits, walking 68 and striking out 132 while improving his ground ball tendencies slightly.  Like I said, at first glance it appears to be one heck of a season for a kid his age.

But glancing beyond the shiny ERA there are some red flags underneath the surface in terms of future success, at least for me.  Drabek posted a pedestrian 7.3 K/9 (for a top rated pitching prospect) while his BB/9 rose to nearly 4 walks per nine (3.78 BB/9) giving him a mediocre 1.9 K/BB.  Drabek was slightly aided by a low BABIP (.260) and his FIP was a more telling number of his actual season, coming in at a respectable but not spectacular 3.87. 

Now you would have to be a fool to think he is even close to a finished product and chances are he will improve, and could possibly improve a lot but at this point I don’t feel the peripherals match the expectations or scream ‘future star’.  Not that every pitcher requires a strikeout an inning to be successful (think Halladay, Roy) but the minor league strikeout numbers for a young pitcher are normally one of the indicators of future success in the big leagues and I think the jury is out on Drabek developing into a true number one or two starter.

Another reason I wouldn’t be too hesitant if Milwaukee were warm to this type of deal is the Jays would be dealing 100% from a point of strength as they are currently fairly loaded with a plethora of major league ready arms under the age of 28.  Their current rotation is among the best in the game with Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and whoever they decide to slot in at the number five spot.  There is a chance Drabek never develops into the type of big league starter who is capable of usurping one of the top 4-5 starters the Jays currently possess and the more he is exposed at the big league level without a lot of success the more his overall value takes a dive.

Another motivation for a move like this is Prince Fielder would instantly give the Jays there first legit power threat at 1B since Carlos Delgado left town, no offense to Lyle Overbay but he is barely a league average bat at this point in his career.  Fielder will be entering his 27 year old season (historically one of a hitter’s best overall years career wise) and even with a slightly off year (for his standards) Prince has still been a beast in 2010.  Currently slashing 267/403/486 with 32 HRs, 80 RBI and a cool 106 BBs, Fielder has still managed a .388 wOBA and .218 ISO.  For those curious Lyle Overbay in 2010 currently has a .335 wOBA.

Fielder’s career slash line is impressive to say the least at 281/385/538, to go with a career .258 ISO and .389 wOBA.  Fielder has patience (career 12.9 BB %), power and could help energize a city that is slowly starting to come around on the young and promising Blue Jays.  I liken this situation to what Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s did when they traded for outfielder Matt Holliday at the beginning of 2009. 

The A’s hoped Holliday would be the answer for a moribund offense and place them squarely in contention in the AL West, however when it didn’t quite work that way, they flipped him again to St. Louis to recoup some of their losses in prospects (unfortunately they dealt Carlos Gonzalez to acquire him) though they could have just let Holliday (like the Jays could with Fielder) play out the season and leave in the winter and receive two highly valuable compensation draft picks for the next Amateur draft.

The A’s got unlucky that they dealt a big package of Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith and Holliday’s value took a hit (only due to playing in one of the worse offensive environment’s in baseball) but I have no doubt that Fielder would flourish at the Roger’s Centre in an improving and powerful Jays line-up.   I am not sure what the price would be but if it is only the cost of a player who is not a guarantee (say a Kyle Drabek) and a couple additional fringe prospects I might be intrigued.

Worst case scenario Fielder doesn’t put the Jays over the top in the AL East in 2011 and Kyle Drabek develops into an ace starter, seems unlikely but nothing in baseball is guaranteed.  However, the Jays would at least be able to start over with the two strong draft picks or attempt to flip Fielder to a contending team looking for a 2 month rental and regaining some of the lost youth and prospects it took to acquire the Prince.

On the flip side the potential upside to having one of the top young 1B/DH in your line-up for 162 games and rolling into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park with another powerful left handed slugger is truly appealing.  Renting Prince Fielder for 2011 could be a win-win for the Toronto Blue Jays and I wonder if it has sparked any curiosity or interest within the Blue Jays brain trust and the wonder kid Alex Anthopoulos?

Join the ongoing conversation about the Toronto Blue Jays, trade rumours and the world of baseball at TWITTER, follow me @tdotsports1

The Jays would still need to address a longer term solution at third base (preferably not E5) although it doesn’t appear they have any real in-house candidates (Jose Bautista should remain in the outfield) and as much as I would love to see Adrian Beltre bring his magic glove and trusty bat (and strange quirk of killing any man who dares touch the top of his head!) the competition for his services will likely be fierce and I see the Boston Red Sox doing everything in their power to retain him.

Jose Bautista has easily been baseball’s biggest surprise in 2010, going from a relatively useful yet unknown commodity to the game’s premier homerun hitter in the span of one season.  In 2009 the 30 year old veteran Bautista was a 1.9 win player (1.9 WAR) and slashed a rather pedestrian 235/349/408 and in 404 PAs he belted 13 HRs while posting a .173 ISO and .339 wOBA.  He provided value with his versatility (able to play multiple positions) and league average defense but all in all was likely considered expendable by Toronto Blue Jays brass heading into the season if his numbers didn’t improve.

Bautista’s unprecedented 2010 season has been well documented by a lot of great sources on the net but to quickly recap Bautista has been a revelation with the bat and is already a near 7 win player (6.9 WAR) and has slashed 260/378/617 with 35 2Bs, 54 HRs, 124 RBIs, 100 BBs and has even chipped in 9 SBs.  He has a ridiculous .357 ISO (career .207) and a .422 wOBA (career .346), he has been aided by an inflated 21.7% HR/FB (career 13.8%) but not a ridiculous rate and he has even been hindered by a low .233 BABIP.  Any way you slice it and whatever your preferred method of stat-ology might be it has been a huge year for Jose Bautista.

This piece is to do a little comparative action to compare Bautista’s giant 2010 and any past big time Jays seasons to see exactly where this season fits in terms of greatest seasons (offensively) for a Blue Jay.  As I scoured the books to see who I would compare his season to I stopped no further than a man who ranks as the greatest Blue Jays hitter of all time, our old friend Carlos Delgado.  Oh there were some nice years from a few other sources, the usual suspects of John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Joe Carter, Jose Canseco’s juice filled comeback season and the like but I figured it would come down to a showdown between Bautista and Delgado. 

So here is the matchup:  in one corner we have 2010 Jose Bautista (season still continuing of course, so counting stats will improve but rates shouldn’t move much) and in the other corner all the way from Puerto Rico it’s the 2000 Carlos Delgado.

First, we will start with some standard counting stats:

  PA H 2B HR RBI R BB K IBB
’10 JB* 683 148 35 54 124 109 100 116 2
’00 CD 711 196 57 41 137 115 123 104 18

Let’s now look at some more advanced numbers:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB/K wRC+ wOBA WAR
’10 JB .260 .378 .618 .995 .357 0.86 167 .422 6.9
’00 CD .344 .470 .664 1.134 .320 1.18 182 .471 7.5

 Considering Jose Bautista leads the league in HRs this season, has 100+ RBIs, 100 BBs and basically having a once in a lifetime season yet his numbers still pale in comparison to Carlos Delgado’s 2000 I have to ask a couple questions:

1)      Should Delgado not be given the MVP considering that hack writer from Chicago left Delgado off his MVP ballot entirely, costing him the award?

2)      If Jose Bautista has been accused of potentially using PEDs how has Delgado managed to avoid the same scrutiny even ten years later?

3)      Should the Jays be actively looking to maximize Bautista’s value on the trade market?

It’s a shame this amazing season by Jose Bautista (and Delgado’s 2000 season) has basically been for naught in terms of the teams overall success, it would be nice to hot-tub time machine this beast of a year about two years into the future when the exciting and potentially dynamic rebuild is hopefully starting to really blossom in the highly competitive AL East landscape.  Either way, kudos and a big hat tip goes to Jose Bautista who has put up one of the better Blue Jays offensive seasons of all time, and definitely one of the most surprising in Major League Baseball history.

This seems to be the preferred line-up (see below) for Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, at least early into training camp and preseason.  This line-up would not include John Mitchell, Marcel Mueller, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Jay Rosehill, Jeff Finger, Brett Lebda, Jesse Blacker and Matt Lashoff, among others.  I think it would be a real shame that Rosehill will not break camp with the team if this line-up holds as with the addition of the extremely effective Mike Brown he has become a bit redundant.

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong

3 Sjostrom-Grabovski-MacArthur

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

1 Phanuef-Beauchemin

2 Kaberle-Komisarek

3 Schenn-Gunnarsson

Another player I feel could be AHL bound is London Knights standout centre Nazem Kadri.  He hasn’t looked himself (early) and barring a turnaround and some prolonged consistent play I think the AHL is just what he needs to continue his development physically and maybe more importantly, mentally.  It would be a good test for Kadri and the Leafs to see how we would potentially deal with the disappointment of beginning the year in the minor leagues.  Let’s face it Kadri isn’t Sidney Crosby (duh), he still has a long way to go and I think growing up a bit might actually be the first step and when I view him on most nights his overall body language to me screams ‘entitlement’.  Some of the top players in the game have honed their crafts in the underrated and valuable AHL.

So if Kadri is Toronto Marlies bound to begin the year, what are the Leafs options in terms of the most effective line-up?  I think the defence core remains the same until or unless one of the current “top six” either gets injured or is simply ineffective.  That is an extremely deep and promising group of defenders and with Luke Schenn appearing confident early, it will be a real area of strength for the team on the ice and in the front office should Brian Burke feel the need to address his weakness at the centre ice position by moving one of Kaberle, Beauchemin, Komisarek and depending if he gets blown away with an offer and he comes out of the gate strong, Schenn.

Here is my ideal line-up:

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Grabovksi-MacArthur

3 Caputi-Mitchell/Kadri-Armstrong

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

Honestly I do like the first line-up with Grabovski on the third line adding some solid scoring depth, but only if Nazem Kadri proves to be big league ready right off the bat, which so far (very early on) is just not the case.  So I moved Grabo up to the 2nd line centre role between newcomers Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur.  This could prove to be a solid goal scoring line with all three players capable of sniping up to 20-25 goals while adding a nice touch of speed and skill to the line-up.  We brought in both Versteeg and MacArthur to pick up the scoring slack so no sense wasting either in a lesser 3rd line role. 

Speaking of the 3rd line, this is John Mitchell’s chance to prove he belongs, likely his last opportunity to do so in the NHL.  He’ll be between Luca Caputi and Colby Armstrong, both players who can skate, hit and hopefully score a few while playing a sound defensive game.  Caputi has shown up to camp in tremendous shape and looks to be bigger, stronger and most importantly faster on his skates.  He has been a big prospect for a few years and he needs to start showcasing that potential this season.  We already know what Armstrong brings, and he will be a fan favourite for his rambunctious style of play.  This could be an effective, abrasive and solid checking style line with the chance to pop in a few goals and make some things happen down low and on the cycle.

The argument for keeping Kadri on the team and playing with the 3rd line unit is simple, give him a chance to stay with the big club and hopefully simplify his game and improve his defensive shortcomings by throwing him into the fire.  It is doubtful the Leafs will want to do this and would likely prefer him starring in the AHL in a more prolific offensive role, but it’s a thought to ponder.

The 4th line is a pure energy and momentum changing line with two solid skating big men (Hanson and Brown) who aren’t scared to get their noses dirty and of course the Leafs heavyweight (Orr).  Mike Brown could prove to be one of Burke’s best offseason additions with his tenacity, strong skating and hitting tendencies and a bonus that he is a great penalty killer.  I like Christian Hanson and I think he deserves to be on this team and I look for a breakout season and a potential move up to the 3rd line depending on how Mitchell/Kadri performs.  Colton Orr brings his usual presence and huge right hand on a nightly basis and he could be the best pure fighter in Leafs history?

A lot of the Leafs success will clearly rest with the defence and as long as we stay healthy and each player plays up to his potential it should be one of the better groups in the NHL.  Goaltending will also be imperative to any potential playoff berth and I think I can safely say (knock on wood) that there is no way it can be any worse than what the sieve named Vesa Toskala provided us last season, especially early when we started so terribly.  JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson provide a pretty solid tandem and it finally appears we have a couple solid young tenders in the system in Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens and Reimer.

We can make the playoffs a reality if:

-Phil Kessel stays healthy

-Tyler Bozak and Nik Kulemin play the entire season with Kessel and they continue building (and improving) on their success and chemisty from last season

-Dion Phaneuf scores 15+ goals and returns to the dominating (maybe slightly calmer) physical presence and power play star

-Luke Schenn forces Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes due to outstanding play, which in turn allows Brian Burke to move one of our excess defenseman (Kaberle) for a top notch centre

-Mikael Grabovski has a career year (60+ points)

-Nazem Kadri joins the Leafs half way through the season and starts to contribute at the big league level, consistently, adding much needed secondary scoring

-Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown, MacArthur, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Giguere simply play to their career norms, or slightly above

-Jonas Gustavsson’s play forces Ron Wilson to re-think the tandem due to extremely consistent performances

-Improved play from Hanson, Caputi, Mitchell and Kulemin

-Ron Wilson and the coaching staff improve the worst special teams in the history of the franchise, two years running

-We don’t start the year 0-7-1 and we drastically improve our putrid shootout record post lockout

What are your other keys to a successful Maple Leafs season?  What are you looking for from the team this year?  Who are you most excited, nervous, and anxious or worried about?

What a difference twenty four hours can make, of course it might also have to do with a completely different roster of players.  Whatever it was, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a lot more jump and looked very impressive in their 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.  Here are a few observations on some individual performances.

-Once again, Jay Rosehill was a big contributor with his underrated speed and physical presence.  Attacking defenders on the forecheck and leaving no man standing in his wake, Rosey has been one of my favourite Leafs for the past two years, I would love to see him get a 4th line role with the team this year.

Tyler Bozak is here to stay, the kid is legit.  He looks bigger and stronger but unlike Nazem Kadri he still appears to have all of the skills that make him effective, namely, his speed and overall vision on the ice.

Luca Caputi had a strong game and is starting to show glimpses of the potential that made the Pittsburgh Penguins originally draft Caputi as he notched a goal and an assist and a strong physical presence.

Phil Kessel was his normal dynamic self and Nik Kulemin appears poised to take another step forward this year in his development.

Luke Schenn appears to have regained his confidence and showcased an improving level of confidence and poise en route to a very solid game.  If Schenn is only our #5 or 6 defenseman the Leafs are in amazing shape on the blue line.  Jesse Blacker looked like a major leaguer and will give the Leafs even more headaches when trying to decide the final NHL roster before the season starts.

Mikael Grabovski has a boatload of skill and talent, if he puts in the work I see a big year for our #2 centre.  I expect him to play with Kris Versteeg and possibly Clarke MacArthur or Colby Armstrong and potentially score 25 goals and hopefully net 65 points if he can stay healthy.

-Good to see Mike Komisarek back in action, if he can play a smart and simple game he could be a big time addition to the Leafs backend.  If you don’t notice him much, it means he is having a good game, when he tried to over compensate and act like a crazy head hunter is when his game suffers.

All in all a much improved effort with the Leafs showcasing a pretty impressive combo of speed, skill and truculence (I had to say it).  When I think of the two different groups the Leafs put on the ice in game one and two I am actually pretty excited to think of assembling the best 4 lines of forwards and top 6 defenseman and turning it into one complete roster, I think the Leafs could surprise a few teams this year regardless of the rest of the preseason, Brian Burke has this team heading in the right direction.

One game into a pre-season doesn’t mean a whole lot so I won’t focus on the final result of the game but rather give a few observation and musings from game one for the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Ottawa Senators in game the Leafs lost 5-0 and were booed off the ice at the conclusion, you have got to love Toronto fans!

-I know I have been harsh on him already after a relatively poor rookie tournament but Nazem Kadri appears to have taken a step back in terms of his speed and skating.  I know his offseason was focused on adding much needed strength and muscle mass but I think it might have been at the expense of Kadri’s bread and butter speed, agility and quickness.

Kadri appeared to be a boy amongst men tonight and didn’t show half the flash and dash that fans have come to expect from the junior hockey standout.  He turned the puck over and was basically a non-factor throughout the night other than a nice move in the second period that drew a penalty after he beat the defensemen Matt Carkner and was hauled down.  Kadri had ample time on the power play and really didn’t leave much of an impression one way or the other.

My feeling is Kadri begins the year with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and hopefully Kadri uses that as motivation to improve himself with some hard work in a solid league for a Marlies team that promises to be an interesting and deep group.  I do not think Kadri is operating at one hundred percent currently or he really has put on too much weight for his style of play but he hasn’t been himself at first glance.  Mikael Grabovski is going to be our second line centre as I feel he is just a better option for the team at this point and has looked solid out of the gate.  We gave up a 2nd round pick for Grabo and it’s time we see a return on that investment, this could be the breakout year Grabovski believers have been looking for since his time in Montreal.

Kris Versteeg had some solid moments in the hockey game, showing some solid speed and hands as he knifed his way into the offensive zone on a few rushes and had a lot of hustle on the night.  He should be a solid if unspectacular performer for the season and could potentially be a 25 goal scorer if all things align correctly.

Colby Armstrong will be a fan favourite early and we finally have a player that can and will hit any and all players on the ice (including stars) which will force the opposing team to engage him in the aftermath of his handy work and hopefully in the process draw some opposing penalties.

-Veterans Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle had horrendous games and made the 2009/10 Maple Leafs powerplay look impressive with a shoddy display of eratic shooting from the point.

-Our best line on the night was easily Jay Rosehill/Christian Hanson/Mike Brown – all three looked strong on the forecheck and were throwing their weight around all night.  Hanson and Brown were two players that looked particularly strong and will likely be joined by Colton Orr to form a solid checking/energy line during the season.  Brown was a great addition for some much needed secondary toughness and he handled the bigger Simpson from the Senators in a spirited tussle.

Christian Hanson has obviously worked hard on his game in the offseason as he also looked to be in strong form with a strong puck pursuit and physical edge, I think he proves to be a solid 4th line centre with the potential to move into a more prominent 3rd line checking line centre role if he continues to impress.  Hanson is up to 230 pounds and kudos for the strong effort in the fight versus Brian Lee, easily winning the decision.

Marcel Mueller was basically invisible and Jerry D’Amigo didn’t get all that much ice time but showed flashes of speed when he did play, Brayden Irwin has big size but needs to make bigger strides to improve his skating if he intends to be a full time NHLer.

Matt Lashoff and Simon Gyspers didn’t look overly impressive on the blueline, while Brett Lebda had a couple promising moments and should add some depth on the blue line in case of injury.

-Goaltending was shaky at times with Jonas Gustavsson outplaying rookie Jussi Rynnas with the latter giving up a couple shaky goals.

With five games in five nights we will get a good look at a lot of different Maple Leafs, stay tuned for more updates, observations and musings!

As stated in my earlier post on some musing of the NHL Rookie Tournament involving the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Black Hawks I was in attendance of the game last night and took the time to go over some observations and general feel of the game.  Here is a recap:

Nazem Kadri didn’t look that hot, he never got into the flow of the game and tried to do to much at times.  Most of my section was generally unimpressed with him not even hoping for highlite reel plays but to just play even an effective simple game with solid passing and positional play.  It wasn’t his night as he didn’t win draws or make much of an impact outside a nice hit or two.

**UPDATE: Nazem Kadri suffered a minor injury in last night’s game, which makes some sense to me given how he didn’t look like himself at all.  His body is likely going through hell right now with his first real off-season dedicated to conditioning and weight lifting to add some much needed strength and size to survive the rigors of a full NHL season.

Let him rest and come back strong for camp, this is a huge adjustment for him physically.

Sondre Olden looked unreal, flashing great speed and skill to go along with great size.  He could be a keeper going forward, possible steal?

Jerry D’Amigo is still a ways off, no chance he cracks the Leafs roster this season, who’s spot would he realistically take?

Brayden Irwin looked improved, slightly better skating (could it get worse?) and he won nearly every draw he took.  Still a long shot to ever play in the NHL though in a meaningful role, a possible 4th line centre?

Greg McKegg looked fundamentally sound (as advertised) but he has more flash and dash than I expected, definitely looks like a possible second liner scoring winger for the future.  Could McKegg be a more effective pro than Kadri, that was the talk making the rounds with some excellent and knowledgeable fans.

Jussi Rynnas looked shaky at best in the first period but settled down after that and made a few good saves as the Leafs were outshot and outplayed.  The Hawks goalie looked terrible all night and gave up a few questionable first period goals.

Jesse Blacker moved the puck nicely (no Keith Aullie tonight, who I really wanted to see!)

Korbinian Holzer had my entire section in awe, always in position and used his size and strength all night and was never beat one on one.  Good debut, could be a solid 5-6 d’man.

-Nobody from the Hawks wanted anything to do with tough guy Jamie Devane, he tried to get a couple things going with some opposing forwards, all for not. 

-Marcel Mueller looked impressive, he used his size and strength and big frame to his advantage.

-No Mike Liambas tonight (player suspended from the OHL for hit in 2010) as he wasn’t dressed, there was a lot of discussion surrounding him and his reputation.

Here is the entire roster as given by the JLC crew to each fan in attendance:

G – Andrew Engelage, 6’5″ – 206 AGE 22, Jussi Rynnas, 6’5″ – 205 AGE 23, Ben Scrivens, 6’2″ – 192, AGE 24

D – Keith Aullie, 6’5″ – 217 AGE 21, Jesse Blacker, 6’1″ – 190 AGE 19, Erik Burgdoerfer, 6’2″ 210 AGE 21, Dave Cowan, 6’4, 205 AGE 24, Marc-Andre Dorian, 5’11” – 172 AGE 23, Simon Gysbers, 6’4″ – 200 AGE 23, Korbinian Holzer 6’3″ – 205 AGE 22, Dallas Jackson 6’2″, 188 AGE 21, Drew Paris 6’4″, 200 AGE 22, Barron Smith, 6’5″ – 205 AGE 19

F – Sam Carrick, 6’0″ – 188 AGE 18, Andrew Crescenzi, 6’4″ – 195 AGE 19, Jerry D’Amigo, 5’11” – 208 AGE 19, Jamie Devane, 6’5″ 217 AGE 19, Brayden Irwin, 6’5″ 215 AGE 23, Nazem Kadri 6’0″? – 188 AGE 19, Mike Liambas, 5’9″ – 204 AGE 21, Greg McKegg 6’0″ – 190 AGE 18, Dale Mitchell 5’9″ – 200 AGE 21.

So I took in the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Chicago Blackhawks rookie squad tournament game tonight and I am going to make a bold prediction, there wasn’t one single Maple Leafs player that is a first line forward or top two defensemen playing tonight, Nazem Kadri included.  Don’t get me wrong, Kadri is a fine hockey player and can add a lot to a team but I have never been that sold on him as a first line centre going forward and I think at best he is a poor man’s Scott Gomez, while at worst he could be run out of town by the brutal Toronto media.

Kadri looked awful, he couldn’t win a faceoff, he went 1 on 3, he made bad passes and he looked anything but a promising dynamic offensive player.  Now, it was only one game, and a rookie squad tournament game at that, but Kadri did not look good tonight and I think the jury is out on him league wide.  What type of player can a smallish forward truly become in the NHL without the overall pedigree and skill set of say a Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise or Taylor Hall, players who have absolutely dominated at every level of hockey.

The night started at a local pub outside the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario – a great city and a great venue.  I had noticed a large family sitting at a table near my wife and I while we were having a few drinks and I kept saying to her that the man (father) at the table looked familiar, when he left it hit me, Nazem Kadri’s father and family, pretty cool.  When we got to the JLC who was sitting in the box basically right beside us?  Brian Burke, Ron Wilson and the Maple Leafs brass – taking in the tournament and scouting out some future Maple Leafs Marlies prospects.  I doubt they were too impressed and during the intermission there packed box was intently watching some college football (American colleges of course).

The Leafs were soundly outplayed by the Blackhawks rookie squad and were it not for absolutely shabby goaltending from the Hawks tender the score would have been quite different in my opinion.  Leafs goaltender (and future Marlies goalie) Jussi Rynnas looked shaky in the first period but settled down and overall played a pretty solid game.  Other players who made a strong impression in my eyes were forwards Greg McKegg (62nd overall pick in the latest draft), Bradley Ross (43rd overall) as well as defensemen Jesse Blacker and hulking European Korbinian Holzer who never looked out of place and played a strong two-game game.

Brayden Irwin hardly lost a faceoff and played a solid two-way game but the Leafs player I was most impressed with was easily Norwegian forward Sondre Olden.  Olden, drafted 79th overall in 2010 showed unbelievable speed and skill and was easily the best Leafs forward all night with his consistent effort and drive in all situations on the ice.  Invisible or ineffective were Jerry D’Amigo (awful passing and turnovers, very ineffective) and the aformentioned Nazem Kadri while Marcel Mueller looked to be a man playing against boys as he flashed great strength, size and puck control on more than a few occasions, definitely promising.

As I looked at the Leafs press box and saw Brian Burke (who killed at least 4 coffees) I couldn’t help but think that he wished Tyler Seguin was in camp and trying to impress the Leafs brass as opposed to this relatively lacklustre group that is likely filled with future Marlies and maybe less than a handful of future Leafs (role) players.  I know we all love Phil Kessel but seeing what rookies are currently in the system is a bit depressing and if they were ranked league wide the Leafs would definitely be in the bottom half (or quarter) of the league in terms of young talent in the pipeline, without a doubt.

Luckily our major league roster is actually somewhat filled with solid talent (25 years and younger) because the stream of talent from our drafts and minor league system looks pretty bare and with no first round picks coming from last draft or the upcoming draft it isn’t likely to improve much from here.  Please don’t take this as a doom and gloom piece, we are finally building up some much needed depth and there is definitely talent within our system, but it is obviously lacking (according to most respected league sources) in any top end dynamic talent outside of hopefully Nazem Kadri, but Kadri is undersized and unproven and I hope in six months I am eating my words but for now I remain sceptical.

Here is the introduction to the DMB (Diamond Mind Baseball) Trade Value series.

2010 DMB Trade Value: #50 -#41

2010 DMB Trade Value: #40 – #31

2010 DMB Trade Value: #30 – #21

2010 DMB Trade Value: #20 – #11

So here we are, to our Top Ten DMB Ball Players and I must say looking at the top 15-20 there isn’t much that seperates most of these players, almost personal preference or just slight improvement in key areas (and age).  It has been awesome to break this type of list down with a “DMB” twist and I look forward to doing it every season.  We’ll see who rises and falls the most season over season and see what hot new players burst onto the scene in 2011, hope you enjoyed.

10) SP Adam Wainwright (R) – Age: 29

Quick Take:  Definitely one of the best arms in baseball, sporting a solid 8.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 2.91 FIP and a solid gb rate Wainwright is quickly becoming a reliable workhorse and ace pitcher many had envisioned when he was a prospect.  His big weakness in 2009 was his propensity to get slightly roughed up by left handed hitters appears to be over given his .222 avg vs L this season and he should be counted upon to be one of the game’s best starters for the next 5-6 seasons.

DMB PRO: solid control, groundball rate

DMB CON: lefties have historically hit him relatively hard, not a major concern at this point. 

9) 2B Robinson Cano (L) – Age:  28

Quick Take:  Can you believe this is Cano’s 6th season with the Yankees?  It feels like just yesterday he was the young rookie from “Murderer’s row plus Cano” but now he is firmly entrenched in his prime and his offensive game has gone to unseen heights, his power (.238 ISO, .563 SLG%) as well as patience (8.5 BB%, almost double is career rate) has powered the second basemen to a career best .402 wOBA.  Cano plays a very valuable position and has improved his defense in 2010 (3.2 UZR) and is the best overall second basemen in the game on pace for 30 HRs.  He has finally put it all together in 2010 and should remain among the best middle infield options in DMB for 4-5 seasons if he continues to improve his patience and plate discipline.

DMB PRO: huge power for a 2B, big numbers versus lefties and righties.

DMB CON: plays in hitter’s park, still needs to improve BB rate to maximize DMB value.

8 ) SP Josh Johnson (R) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  One of the top overall arms in baseball, Johnson has taken another step forward in 2010 posting career best numbers in ERA (2.28), K/9 (8.8), BB/9 (2.28), FIP (2.50 and xFIP (3.23) in his second full season in the majors since coming back from TJ surgery.  He is equally effective against lefties and righties and possesses one of the biggest fastballs in the game (94.8 MPH) and has shown a solid gb rate in his career.  The only flaw he has DMB wise is pitching at Marlins Stadium, a notorious pitchers park.

DMB PRO: huge strikeout numbers coupled with low walk totals, good groundball rate, effective vs lefties and still improving

DMB CON: plays in is a pitchers park

7) 1B Albert Pujols (R) – Age:  30

Quick Take:  Having an “off-year” with only a .420 wOBA, Pujols is in contention for the NL Triple Crown and is again having a remarkable season, if you don’t compare to his past body of work of course.  One of the best hitter’s of our generation, Pujols is likely to be among the game’s best all around players until he retires.

DMB PRO: best overall hitter in the game?  Patience/power

DMB CON: only a 1B.

6) 1B Miguel Cabrera (R) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  Probably the game’s best right handed hitter, if he was still rated at 3B he would probably be near the top of this list but as it is he is still firmly in the top ten as his offensive ability carries him a long way.  Miggy possesses huge power (.305 ISO), patience (14.4 BB %, .437 OBP) and a huge .446 wOBA all while playing in a pitcher’s park with zero protection is a pretty lame Tigers lineup.  Equally amazing against lefties (1.034 OPS) and righties (1.096 OPS) Cabrera is entering his prime and there is no reason to believe he won’t remain among the game’s best hitters for the next 5-6 seasons.

DMB PRO: amazing hitter, power and patience.  Plays in a pitcher’s park

DMB CON: only plays 1B, lousy defender

 5) SP Roy Halladay (R) – Age:  33

Quick Take:  The best pitcher in baseball, period.  Halladay is a nightmare matchup for any hitter with his impeccable control over an arsenal vast enough to make an army general jealous.  Halladay throws a nasty two-seam fastball with good sink, a cutter he throws to both lefties and righties, a solid overhand curveball and an improving changeup he hasn’t thrown with much frequency until 2010 – scary.

The only thing keeping him from being ranked even higher is his age, though showing no signs of slowing down in 2010 (career best ERA at 2.27, FIP 2.80 and xFIP 2.91) Halladay has carved up the NL after serving as the game’s best pitcher in the game’s best division (AL East) since 2002.  Doc seems to have a skill set that will age well (a control, groundball pitcher) that a Greg Maddux like age 36-40 period doesn’t seem far-fetched.

DMB PRO: workhorse, solid against lefties and righties, awesome control and BB rate, groundball pitcher, pitches in a hitter’s park, is a DMB dream pitcher

DMB CON: aging – like fine wine however.

4) 3B Evan Longoria (R) – Age:  25

Quick Take:  One of the best all around players in the major leagues, his big time power (career .240 ISO, .523 SLG%), decent patience (10.2 BB %) and outstanding defensive abilities (15.3, 17.7 and 8.4 UZR marks the past three seasons).  Still young and theoretically improving Longoria will be a DMB mainstay on rosters for the next ten seasons with his huge level of talent.  Hits lefties and righties nearly equally as well and has added a bit of speed in 2010 (15 SBs) to go along with the power.

DMB PRO: huge power, great glove at 3B

DMB CON: could strike out less, never been a huge average hitter until 2010

3) C Joe Mauer (L) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  The player to which all prospective catchers will be compared to for the next 15-20 seasons, maybe longer.  Mauer has everything you want in a DMB player, he plays the most demanding (and leanest) position at catcher, has solid power for a backstop (.156 ISO), patience (11.7 BB %, 11.0 K %) and average (career .327).  The fluky power show from 2009 (in 2009, his HR/FB was 20.4 %, his career mark is 10.7 %) hasn’t returned but when you have a catcher that is as strong of an overall hitter and player as Mauer you have one of the top assets in DMB baseball.  Only 27 years old and entering his prime, keep an eye on the park factors for the new Minnesota ballpark.

DMB PRO: premium position and top flight stats, hits lefties and righties

DMB CON: power has come and gone over his career.

2) 3B Ryan Zimmerman (R) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  Simply, Zimmerman is a beast.  Playing in a pitcher’s park Zimmerman has put up huge power numbers (career .199 ISO), his 12.3 BB % is a career high which has also led to a career best OBP of .387, Zimmerman has it all.  One of the best defensive players in baseball at a relatively thin 3B position, there aren’t many better all around players in the game when factoring in age, talent and what DMB values in a player.  Zimmerman might still improve as he is only 26 years old and the future is bright for a guy who has already put up a 6.3 WAR in 2010.

DMB PRO: big offensive numbers in pitcher’s park, awesome defender, solid versus lefties and righties

DMB CON: nothing major

#1) SS Hanley Ramirez (R) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  Like we discussed with Pujols previously, Hanley is having a bit of a ‘down’ year but has still put up an impressive .370 wOBA with a triple slash line of 299/375/476 in 2010 while providing league average defense at shortstop, he is miles better than any other SS in DMB considering he also plays in a pitcher’s park.  He destroys righties (874 OPS in 2010, 1018 in 2009) and has been remarkably consistent with his offensive numbers (.364, .411, .405, .410, .370 wOBA ) since his rookie season. 

Hanley brings everything to the table, average, power, patience, speed and improved defense.  At only 27 years old, Hanley will be entering his prime hitting seasons and is poised to be considered one of the best hitting shortstops in the history of the game if he continues at his current torrid pace.

DMB PRO: best offensive middle infielder in baseball, plays in a pitcher’s park, great all around game, hits righties better than lefties

DMB CON: could stand to improve BB rate to maximize DMB value