Posts Tagged ‘Maple Leafs’

So I thought I would try a different format to recap the game and give a much more in depth account of the game and give my opinions, thoughts and general musings while I watch the game unfold.  Something different for the readers to hopefully get a good sense of what transpired in the game, we’ll see how it comes out and if it is something people get value out of or just a total waste.  I’ll focus on big hits, saves, goals, fights and other observations and provide the final shot tallies as well as an end of period overall “Advantage/Momentum” recap as sometimes the shots really don’t tell the whole story.

Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0) at New York Rangers (1-1-0)

*First Period

-In goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs was JS Giguere while the New York Rangers countered with Henrik Lundqvist.

-Colton Orr is in the line-up tonight and I can’t help but wonder if he and super heavyweight Derek ‘The Boogeyman’ Boogard will have a tilt or if Orr will air on the side of caution after recently being kayoed (and possibly concussedagainst the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.

-Dion Phaneuf has averaged over 23 minutes/game thus far being paired with Francois Beauchemin (21+ minutes/game) as the number one defence pairing.

-Leafs start with the 2nd line against the Rangers top line centred by Chris Drury.

-Leafs kill off a questionable interference call on Kris Versteeg, at the end of the penalty kill Dion Phaneuf has a huge scoring opportunity but is stopped by King Henrik.

GOAL: RANGERS, Michal Rozsival at 7:58.  Leafs give up the first goal of the game for the first time this season on a bit of a softy given up by Giggy.

-Colton Orr and Derek Boogard square off to no avail as Mike Brown gets into a scrap and does his usual spin cycle while throwing wild rights and falling off his skates.  You tube Mike Brown’s fights and you will see this is a similar pattern for him, for such a great skater he has awful balance during his fights.

-HUGE saves by Lundqvist to rob the Leafs of a goal as Kessel sets up Versteeg right in front with about 6:00 minutes to play.

-The Rangers do showcase some huge size on their bottom two lines however they appear to be more plodding than the Leafs sand paper and not as a solid all around hockey players, making them less dangerous overall in my opinion.  Derek Boogard as always running around trying to cause havoc, this guy always finishes his checks, even if 5 seconds too late!

-Phil Kessel shows a great burst of speed and gets in alone on Lundqvist but is again foiled.

-HUGE hit by Steve Eminger against Freddy Sjostrom in front of the Rangers bench and gets 2 minutes for roughing with a big forearm shiver. 

-First power play for the Leafs on the night and they look very dangerous in the first minute with some good chances.

-Another penalty call against the Rangers as the horn blows for the end of the first period and the Leafs will begin the second period on the power play.

Score: Rangers 1, Leafs 0

Shots: Maple Leafs 16, Rangers 7

Overall Period Advantage/Momentum: Slight advantage to the Maple Leafs, they looked a bit sloppy in the first five minutes but really settled in and took it to the Rangers for most of the period.  Phil Kessel appeared to have all kinds of jump in that period, hopefully he can pop a couple home before the night is over.  Leafs were 75% on face-offs in the first period.

**Second Period

-Leaf’s start the period on the power play, failed to register a shot after some decent offensive zone possession and pressure.

GOAL!! LEAFS, Clarke MacArthur (5) with the easiest goal you will see, a nice tap-in after some great work by Luke Schenn and Nik Kulemin. 

-MacArthur becomes first Leaf in the history of the franchise to score a goal in his first four games.

-Leaf’s with another clutch penalty kill after Colby Armstrong took a bad one.  JS Giguere with one big save.

-Chris Drury and Marion Gaborik have not returned from the Rangers dressing room, undisclosed injuries.

GOAL!! LEAFS, Mike Komisarek (1).  Bozak provides screen on long point shot.

-HUGE save by Lundqvist as Kessel robbed again.  Moments later Grabovski robbed as the Leafs are ALL OVER THE RANGERS at the 13:00 minute mark, Rangers fans getting antsy.

-Coincidental minor penalties go to the Leafs Mike Brown (diving) and Del Zotto (cross-checking) at the end of major pressure for the Leafs, Lundqvist keeping the Rangers alive.

GOAL!! LEAFS, Phil Kessel (3).  Huge play and pass from Tyler Bozak to Phil the Thrill, who should have a hat trick already.

-Leafs continue to dominate the period in all aspects. 

-Colby Armstrong goats Sean Avery into a dumb penalty as Avery was ready to drop the gloves, Army doesn’t oblige.

-Derek Boogard is a massive, massive man and I bet Brian Burke was in on the off season bidding for the biggest tough guy in the game until Glen Sather gave him the silly 2+ million per season contract, voted the worst off season signing by a lot of GMs.

Score: Leafs 3, Rangers 1

Shots: Leafs 14 (30), Rangers 5 (12)

Overall Period Advantage/Momentum: Huge advantage Toronto, not even a question.  They were buzzing almost all period and looked like the only NHL calibre squad on the ice.  If it wasn’t for Lundqvist this game would be officially over.

***Third Period

-The Leafs appear to be going with 5 defenseman as I haven’t seen Carl Gunnarsson in quite some time and a few different defenseman rotated shifts with Mike Komisarek.

GOAL: RANGERS, Brian Boyle at 2:10.  A tough goal for Giggy.

-Colton Orr given an absolutely TERRIBLE penalty call, he literally shrugged a guy off him by the Rangers bench and was given a brutal and total reputation call. 

-Colby Armstrong draws another penalty, smartly.  This is the truculence Burkie is speaking of, take it to the other skilled players and get a response.  Army has played a big game, laying a big hit on Marion Gaborik which took him out of the Rangers line-up tonight.

-Mike Komisarek takes a vicious baseball swing slash by dummy Steve Avery, taking yet another stupid penalty as he’s really earning his cheque tonight. 

-Leafs with a 4 on 3 power play at the 4:00 minute mark.  Rangers kill it off and gain momentum as the crowd starts to get into the game.

GOAL: RANGERS, Brian Boyle (2nd of game) at 6:19. 

-Brian Boyle is a bit of a player, I like his game.  Like a bigger, tougher version of our own Tim Brent.  He has helped turn the game around and the Rangers are pressing with about 12:00 minutes to go.  It’s been feast or famine for the Rangers tonight as they have either been completely awful or completely dominate, no in between. 

-The Leafs lack of size on the top line and down the middle is clearly evident in the third period and they look timid entering the offensive zone in the third.  Brad Richards would be nice about now.

-Mike Komisarek gets penalty for cross checking Steve Avery, who embellishes slightly.  Leafs with the biggest penalty kill of the short season right now with 10:00 to play.

-Steve Avery misses a gaping, wide open cage with 0:30 seconds left in the penalty, WOW.

-Penalty killed, 8:00 minutes to go and the Rangers are out shooting the Leafs 8-3.

-Leafs need to get back to their up tempo, pressure game and settle down.

-Steve Avery lays a nice hit on Mike Komisarek with 6:00 minutes to go, they have been back and forth at each other all night.

-5:00 minutes to go and we have a hockey game folks!

-Big LATE penalty to the Rangers for delay of game (puck directly over glass by Dan Girardi) giving the Leafs one last gasp to take this baby home on the power play with 3:07 to go.

-Rangers kill off the penalty, Leafs now 0-6 on the PP, some terrible ice conditions as the puck is jumping all over the place.

-Big late game save by Giggy on a tricky tipped point shot.

-Leafs gain one point, the game is going to overtime.

Score: Leafs 3, Rangers 3

Shots: Rangers 10 (22), Leafs 6 (36)

Overall Period Advantage/Momentum:  Clearly the Rangers dominated this period.

****Overtime

-Tomas Kaberle with a great show of skill and deked the entire arena out of its jock before getting stripped.

-Another late penalty as the Leafs will end the OT on the power play as Marc Staal takes a tough interference call, the Leafs with their seventh PP opportunity.

GOAL!!!! PHIL KESSEL OVERTIME VICTORY!!!!  Phil Kessel scores his 2nd (4) at the 3:08 mark in the OT period (PP goal).

FINAL SCORE: LEAFS 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Shots: Leafs 38, Rangers 24

Overall Game Advantage: Leafs.  Outside of about 10 minutes in the third where the Leafs were soundly outplayed they were the better team tonight and deserved two points.

So the seventh time is the charm for the Maple Leafs as they get there first power play goal on the seventh opportunity of the game with Phil Kessel scoring his 2nd goal of the game in OT to give the Leafs there fourth straight win to start the season.

The Leafs power play went 1 for 7 while the penalty kill was a perfect 5 for 5.

Hope you enjoyed the blog tonight and maybe we’ll do it again sometime!

WHAT ARE THE LEAFS BASHERS SAYING NOW??

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It would appear Toronto has turned a new leaf in 2010/11 and with the latest result against the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins the nation of Leafs Bashers have to be getting nervous after seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs hold off the Pens for a hard fought one goal victory.  We haven’t seen this type of effort from a Leafs team in quite some time and it was refreshing to say the least as the Leafs improve to 3-0.

The Leafs should have been leading after the first period, forcing the Pens into a ton of turnovers and pressuring them in every zone on the ice, even winning 10 of 14 one-on-one puck battles.  However, they left the ice somehow trailing 2-1 after holding the Pens without a shot for the first eleven minutes or so. 

Heading into the third period, the Leafs were leading 4-3 after a skilful goal scored by the wonder kid Sydney Crosby but again the Leafs probably deserved a larger lead.  The Leafs held a slim one goal lead the big question was whether the Leafs could play a solid final period and keep control of the game and ultimately win the game.  The Pens completely dominated the second half of the game as the Leafs managed only 14 total shots but they weren’t as soundly outplayed as the shot clock might have suggested.

Goal scorers:

Colton Orr (1), Clarke MacArthur 2 (4), Francois Beauchemin (1)

Some more musings and observations from the Leafs effort tonight:

-All comparisons to last season’s Maple Leafs have to cease, immediately.  This isn’t the same roster, let alone the same “attitude” and the comp has no value or meaning to me.  Gone are Matt Stajan, Alex Ponikarovsky, Nik Hagman, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Jeff Finger and most importantly Vesa ‘the sieve’ Toskala.  Looking at the special teams improvement so far (early on) and I almost have to apologize to Ron Wilson, maybe it really wasn’t his fault and the needed troops just weren’t at his disposal.  This current version has well defined roles, vision and most importantly heart.

-So Clarke MacArthur can play, scoring another pair of impressive goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Brought in by Brian Burke at a ridiculous bargain basement price after the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from his arbitration award at season’s end, he is showing he can be a reliable scoring winger for the Leafs so far.  He does more than score, he is fairly sound position wise and isn’t hesitant to take the body occasionally.  One on play tonight he was the lead fore checker and laid a nice hit on a Penguin defenseman and about ten seconds later was the man touching the puck to secure an icing call. 

-Colton Orr is willing to bang, more so than even some of the toughest heavyweights and from time to time he is prone to get decked, well it happened tonight.  Against an unknown opponent Orr was soundly dropped at the end of a spirited and lengthy bout that Orr was probably winning at the time.  It happened last year unbeknownst to most fans against Jody Shelley, Orr left with what Ron Wilson will likely call “getting his bell rung” but he’ll be back.  Tough break, he played a solid first period.

 -The fourth line was again terrific with Mike Brown showing great speed and fore checking ability, Colton Orr tipping in a Luke Schenn point shot and Mike Zigomanis winning draws and playing a sound defensive game.  The Leafs were led by their bottom six forward last seasons and so far this season the third and fourth liners are again leading the charge. 

I like seeing the bottom six engage and play physical hockey with the other teams better more skilled players, that is a key going forward.  This team has to be tougher to play against and I don’t mean for the opposing tough guy having to face Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill or Mike Brown I mean the top skilled guys knowing they will be in for a tough night against the Leafs sand paper.  Mike Brown played quite a few important shifts down the stretch on the top line in place of Phil Kessel to add some more defensive ability to the top unit.

-Tyler Bozak hasn’t been overly impressive so far but Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg have picked up the slack and have made a pretty decent first line although they were basically invisible all game versus the Pens.  The second line was again impressive with Nik Kulemin using his big frame to win puck battles and Clarke MacArthur showing surprisingly impressive skill and speed and has scored four goals already while Mikael Grabovski has been the weak link on that line.  Brian Burke has to be on the prowl for a top end centre and with the recent demotion of Jeff Finger freeing up approximately four million valuable cap space dollars he at the very least has his fishing line in the water.

-Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle have been an impressive pairing thus far with Kaberle showing his normal slick puck moving skills and Schenn using his big frame to knock opponents off the puck.  Why a team wouldn’t pony up a reasonable forward for the ultra skilled Kaberle is a head scratcher, when you factor in his contract, maybe it is best we kept him.  Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin gave up a couple goals tonight but for the most part have looked the part of top defence pairing and hopeful shutdown duo.

-Jonas Gustavsson looked a bit rusty and didn’t quite play up to the lofty level that starter JS Giguere has shown in his first two starts of the season.  The jury is still out on the Monster whether he will develop into the number one goalie the Leafs hope and it has to beg the question as to the Leafs plans in the offseason when Giggy’s contract is up.  Gustavsson settled down in the third as the Pens were pressing hard to tie the game and the Leafs were getting hemmed in and held without a shot for sixteen plus minutes at one point he was actually pretty stellar down the stretch and made several timely saves.

 -A lot of money is tied up in the backend and it is a tad worrisome to see Mike Komisarek and his 4.5 million dollar cap hit playing sparing minutes on the third pairing with Carl Gunnarsson.  You would have to think if a team came to Burke looking to snag Komi away it wouldn’t take much at this point, but I doubt many teams are willing to eat that contract.

-Cool to see a new arena in Pittsburgh and the team deserves a shiny new rink but the ice was awful tonight.  Maybe that explains the completely awful Dave Andreychuk looking penalty shot attempt by Evgeni Malkin in the second period?

-Not to be a buzz kill but one has to point out that the Leafs caught the Canadiens, Sens and Penguins without a few key players, but that is just nitpicking at this point and the Leafs have deserved every point they have earned so far with a solid, relentless effort at all ends of the ice.  Kudos to the Buds!

With the upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL season now upon us, the pundits and experts are out taking their best shots at making some educated predictions as to where the teams will finish in the standings.  Most publications, TV stations and media outlets all concur on one particular fact: the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be a playoff bound team in 2010/11. 

Here is the projected opening night lineup:

Kris Versteeg Tyler Bozak Phil Kessel
Nik Kulemin Mikael Grabovski Clarke MacArthur
Freddy Sjostrom Tim Brent Colby Armstrong
Mike Brown Mike Zigomanis Colton Orr

 

Dion Phaneuf Francois Beauchemin
Tomas Kaberle Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson Mike Komisarek

 

*JS Giguere Jonas Gustavsson

*starter

Making the playoffs is normally thought of as a successful season and the dividing line between playoff and non-playoff teams is often a very fine one.  I thought I would take a look at a few key factors in a playoff and non-playoff season for our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.  Now, this is based on Ron Wilson being the coach and the team utilizing his particular style and brand of hockey which is a more up-tempo, high pressure fore-check in all three zones.  Whether this is the appropriate strategy given the current makeup of the Maple Leafs remains to be seen and is an issue to be discussed on another day.

The Leafs will have to improve approximately twenty points in the Eastern Conference standings all things considered equal and with a few breaks here and there it can be possible.    Here are a few things to keep an eye as the season progresses and that fine dividing line we spoke about earlier between a successful or disappointing NHL season. 

THE LEAFS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF: THE LEAFS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS IF: 
-A few forwards show great internal year over year improvement and development, specifically Kulemin, Grabovski and Bozak -The much needed secondary scoring is not found and teams focus all attention and energy on the Leafs top line
-Phil Kessel remains healthy and productive -Phil Kessel gets injured
-Tyler Bozak can maintain and productive point pace throughout 82 games -Tyler Bozak doesn’t possess the skill or ability to anchor the top line for an entire season
-The goaltending improves and we get a complete season of steady and solid play between the pipes -We get Vesa Toskala type goaltending again, for any stretch of the season
-Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin play the way they are capable of playing -Our relatively deep defense core doesn’t shore up enough to lower scoring chances against
-Luke Schenn continues his development, forcing Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes a night -Luke Schenn’s development stagnates, at all
-Our special teams play is markedly improved -Power play and penalty killing rank in the bottom third of the league again
-Dion Phaneuf is rejuvenated and gives the Leafs a physical and offensive spark from the backend -Dion Phaneuf’s declining numbers continue
-Our bottom six forwards continue their strong play, bringing a defensive and physical edge -Our newly formed checking line (Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong) doesn’t provide a reliable, consistent and sustainable defensive presence
-We go .500 or better in shootouts and OT games -We continue to struggle gaining the extra point in OT/shootouts

 

The Maple Leafs will be improved and I doubt few could argue that much considering the Leafs might have won a few more games if Vesa Toskala simply left his stick and glove lying on the ice in front of his net as opposed to actually attempting to play goal.  He was one of the worst goalies statistically speaking of the last 10-15 years and for a team that was dead last on the penalty kill it’s not hard to see why the team improved so much when JS Giguere came aboard via trade.  The Leafs had absolutely no confidence in Vesa Toskala last season and it showed when they completely melted down late in games on numerous occasions and almost looked shaken when having to kill a penalty off.

I think one fact the ‘experts’ or pundits are overlooking is the internal improvement from a number of Maple Leafs, most notably Nik Kulemin and Luke Schenn.  Kulemin has the opportunity to blossom into an impact two- way forward capable of scoring upwards of 30 goals if he gets a few bounces, he possesses a lethal shot with a quick release and is starting to utilize his impressive size and strength to his advantage. 

Luke Schenn was the 5th overall selection in the draft for a reason.  For such a young defenseman with limited experience Schenn is calm and cool with the puck possessing solid instincts to go along with a huge frame capable of absolutely dominating opposing forwards physically.  Most defenseman aren’t fully developed until around age 25-27 give or take a year and Schenn is well on his way to becoming an Adam Foote type shutdown defender teams crave and simply do not grow on trees. 

Patience is needed with young defenseman more than any other position and I applaud Brian Burke for not using Schenn as a trade chip to acquire a borderline top six forward to appease the fan base starving for another solid scoring threat.  I guarantee teams would be lining up around the block to get a piece of a defenseman clearly ready to take a big step forward.  After a relatively slow start last season Schenn quickly rebounded and was among our best players down the stretch, and still posted 5 goals and 12 assists and was a positive plus 2 on a poor defensive squad.  I think this is the year Schenn takes his place among the games better young defensive defenseman.

So do the Leafs have what it takes to survive an 82 game season and put up enough points to seriously contend for a long overdue playoff spot?

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.

Everybody loves a good old fashioned trade rumour and that is probably especially true for hockey fans.  With only four days to go before Maple Leafs defensemen Tomas Kaberle’s no-trade clause officially kicks back in I thought I would take one last look at some of the potential trade suitors and rumours that have been making the rounds.

These type of pieces haven’t really been my specialty as I am not an insider nor do I have any “sources” so everything I report today is basically for fun and a conversation piece, it is all second hand information, and likely third and fourth hand given the plethora of people who claim to have inside “sources”.  So although it feels like I am boarding the bandwagon and piling on a bit, let’s have some fun with it.

First, Tomas Kaberle is a very impressive offensive defenseman and has everything you would want in a puck moving blue liner.  Kaberle possesses silky smooth skating skills with the ability to stop and start on a whim and the uncanny (and un-teachable) ability to hold onto the puck while waiting out difficult pressure situations from opposing forwards to ensure a solid first pass out of the zone.  While not a huge defensive presence he is normally in the right position when it matters most and although his lack of strength and size are his biggest detriments he has worked around this weakness enough to carve out a nice little niche and impressive career in the NHL.

Kaberle burst onto the scene in the 1998/1999 scene after a very impressive training camp and he was such an unknown that Joe Bowen was pronouncing his name Kay-bur-lee.  Over the past decade Kaberle has been one of the best Leafs players consistently year in and year out and over 820 games with the Leafs he has amassed 80 goals, 402 assists good for 482 points.  Very impressive for a defenseman drafted in around that no longer exists in the NHL entry draft (8th round, 204 overall).

So the latest rumours have double digit teams potentially making a pitch to Brian Burke and company and a definite six teams with serious interest.  Among the six interested squads seemingly includes the Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning.  There are likely a few wildcard teams out there who would like to add the best current blue liner available but might not have the chips or desire to meet the Leafs asking price.

Let’s look at the teams and potentially rumoured players coming back:

Boston – Marc Savard.  The rumour that will just not go away has the Leafs receiving Marc Savard and likely another piece for a player the Bruins have coveted and could seriously use in Kaberle.  I like Savard as a player but I am not enamoured with his salary situation (7 year deal at 4 million, currently being investigated by the NHL for cap circumvention) or injury history (head injuries are no joke).  I don’t see the Leafs trading Kaberle to get this player, but if the right deal or situation came about (aka salary dump) than I would have no problem adding Phil Kessel’s former running mate.

Savard – 33 years old, 5’10” 190 lbs put up 33 pts in 41 games last season.  Career PPG – 0.89.

San Jose – Ryane Clowe.  Mr. Clowe brings the intangibles that Burke craves as he has enormous size and strength and will go to the dirty places on the ice that a lot of Leafs forwards either won’t or can’t.  The addition of Clowe to the top line would definitely provide the size and space that Phil Kessel needs to get through a full rigorous NHL season in top notch form and with top PP minutes Clowe would be a potential 30+ goal scorer.  I guess the downside is he sort of mirrors the stats of former Leaf Alex Ponikarovski but with a tougher mindset and the truculence “Poni” lacked. 

The Sharks have been a rumoured Kaberle landing spot since the off-season began and he would likely put up 70+ points with the weapons the Sharks have on the power-play (Thornton, Heatley, Setoguchi etc).  The latest is Clowe and a 1st round pick for Kaberle.

Clowe – 28 years old, 6’2” 220 pounds put up 19 goals, 38 assists for 57 points and 131 PIMs.  Only 2 PPGs so room for improvement with Toronto.  Career PPG – 0.63.

Dallas – James Neal Brad Richards Mike Ribeiro.  Sorry Leafs fans but Mike Ribeiro would be the likely candidate to move in a potential Kaberle deal unless Dallas loses its mind.  Ribeiro brings a definite upgrade offensively over Tyler Bozak/Nazem Kadri for at least one or two seasons but I think both Leafs centres have higher ceilings than Ribeiro, and he isn’t exactly known as a physical specimen or force on the ice.  This is a long-shot at best but If he panned out and blossomed in Toronto it would at least tick off Montreal fans, so that alone gives it a slight boost.

Ribeiro – 30 years old, 6’0” 180 pounds put up 19 goals and 34 assists for 53 points.  Career PPG – 0.73.

Los Angeles – Wayne Simmonds.  The kid from Scarborough would be a local boy and a likely fan favourite for the way he plays the game, a definite gritty and in your face style with budding offensive skills.  Not sure if the Kings would want to part with him necessarily and not sure he provides the immediate offensive impact that the Leafs desire either however it would have to be considered a coup if Burke was able to land this kid.  He’s still maturing physically and his offensive game is only in its infancy, the future is very bright for Simmonds.

Simmonds – 22 years old, 6’2” 181 pounds put up 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points and 116 PIMs.  Like Clowe, limited power-play time and overall minutes, would likely see huge increase in Toronto given the current state of our wingers.  Career PPG – 0.39.

Tampa Bay – Ryan Malone.  He isn’t young and he isn’t old so he is smack dab in his prime and would definitely fit into the Brian Burke breed of hockey player.  Given his salary situation and age I don’t see how they would accept Malone without an enticing sweetener of some form but I doubt the Lightning would want to part with its first round pick given where they have chosen the past few years, supposed improvements be damned.  Clowe > Malone, so this one is a long shot.

Malone – 31 years old, 6’4” 224 pounds put up 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points and 68 PIMs.  Career PPG – 0.59.

New Jersey – ?  I honestly do not see any realistic trade opportunities between these clubs at all.  The Leafs do not want Dainius Zubrus or Jamie Langenbrunner and the Devils won’t part with Zach Parise (having 45 and 38 goal seasons in the past two might be reason to keep him?). 

So there you have it, I promise to do a proper and more professional analysis of the Maple Leafs haul if and when the Tomas Kaberle trade saga comes to an end.  Who knows what will happen in the next 48-96 hours and there may even be a wildcard team or two that could give the Leafs exactly what they desire.  One of my sources (ok, a buddy from my office) said he heard Buffalo was trying to put something together centered on bad-boy Zach Kassian and likely one of their overpaid and underachieving forwards.

My gut tells me San Jose will ultimately end up with Kaberle, with Clowe and a couple draft picks coming to Toronto unless Burkie gets creative (and lucky) and can score Ryane Clowe and a Devin Setoguchi for Tomas Kaberle and Mikael Grabovski? 

What are you hearing, what are your “sources” telling you and more importantly what do you hope (realistically) the Leafs get for Kaberle?

Admit it, when you saw the NHL had rejected the Ilya Kovalchuk 17 year/103 million dollar contract there was a part of you that still hoped, still believed Brian Burke and company would pull the ultimate coup in the history of sports.  In fact, you might have even felt a press conference was imminent, where Brian Burke smugly reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs had signed Ilya Kovalchuk. 

When you realized what the cap hit was going to potentially be (6 million!) you felt instantly ill.  Stop living in denial and just come to the dark side already.  There are a bunch of valid reasons as to why Brian Burke would not pull the trigger on signing Ilya Kovalchuk, here are a few:

1)      Contract – Kovalchuk clearly covets being a one-hundred million dollar man, whether it is over 12-15 years it does not make much of a difference to him, he obviously wants that figure. 

2)      Salary Cap – Having 15-20% of your designated funds allocated to one player on a roster of 19-20 players is not cost feasible.

3)      Style – He definitely does not fit the prototypical Brian Burke type of player and he might not go to the areas of the ice that Burke wants his wingers to be able to go, he is not overly physical.

4)      Attitude – Concerns about the makeup of this player have been discussed before, does he fit in with the new attitude the Leafs are trying to instil under the Dion Phaneuf regime?

5)      Culture – Finally, the country club atmosphere that has supposedly haunted the Leafs during the “Muskoka Five” era.  Kovalchuk has the reputation of being a selfish player without much of a rapport with his teammates.  This could be doubly dangerous in a young and impressionable Maple Leafs dressing room.

There have been other arguments brought to the table, but I’d say this is a fairly good compilation of the main deterrents. 

Let me play Devil’s advocate – no pun intended:

1)      Contract – Honestly, a deal over 10 years to any pro athlete is just begging for a terrible ending, there have not been many cases where a lengthy term has worked out well for the employer.  However Kovalchuk is probably the best Free Agent the NHL has ever had, period.  The guy is 27 years old and has already posted in chronological order the following goal totals: 29, 38, 41, 52, 42, 52, 43, and 41 respectively. 

 Current Blue Jays GM said recently the team will be employing a higher risk/reward draft strategy and will be searching for high potential, high ceiling players.  The reasoning is simple yet prudent as these types of players are not available annually (or easily) on the free agent market.

  Back to hockey, Ilya Kovalchuk is that type of player – in his prime.

 2)      Salary Cap – Again, I will never argue that in a sport like hockey where depth plays a huge role in fielding a competitive team it absolutely makes little sense to commit a huge portion of your cap to one player.  However, under the current CBA (as we are learning) there are small loopholes that a team would be foolish not to at least attempt.  Signing Kovalchuk to the type of deal he is looking for would make the cap hit anywhere from 6-7 million, basically the same cap hit as a Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf or JS Giguere.  Did I get your attention yet?

 3)      Style – This one I am more ambiguous on as in one regard I agree we might not need another skill oriented European.  However, this isn’t Rickard Wallin we are talking about, this one of the most skilled Russian born players the game has ever seen.  Over the years I have watched Ilya Kovalchuk play a slightly more abrasive style than the media and fans will credit.  Have we not witnessed him and Ian White do battle on countless occasions, while White may not have big size he has the heart of a lion and Kovalchuk more than held his own in that battle. 

I do not want to add another soft European, trust me, but if he comes with the skill set of an Ilya Kovalchuk, count me in as we can pare the roster of other non-performing ones – ahem Grabovski, to meet the Burke quota. 

Please note Kovalchuk is 6’2” and 230 pounds, not exactly a dwarf.

 4)      Attitude – For this I cannot argue as I do not know Kovalchuk personally, nor do I have inside access to any of his former dressing rooms, coaches or teammates.  I guess a certain leeway would be expected for a 40 goal scorer though, unfortunately.

 5)      Culture – We do not want to see the team revert back to the Pat Quinn era where players were not accountable and basically come and went as they pleased.  Does anybody remember the Leafs during the Quinn coached days?  We were a fairly talented group with solid goaltending but our team lacked any form of discipline and if there was a night that the whole bench wasn’t arguing senselessly with the referees all game I must have been sleeping.

 For better or worse Dion Phaneuf is our new leader and face of the franchise and thinking of him and Ilya in the same dressing room would make any GM nervous.  Again, I do not pretend to know what type of man or teammate Ilya Kovalchuk is, but I do know the he is basically a bigger and more skilled version of Phil Kessel, that can’t be a negative?

Kovalchuk would instantly become the most talented player to ever don the blue & white.  He makes our power-play extremely deadly.  He takes the immense scoring pressure off the small shoulders of Phil Kessel.  The guy is a threat each and every time he steps out onto the ice, defensemen fear for their jockstraps when he flies over the blue-line looking to create a scoring chance.  Imagine the possibilities?

For all the rationale, hyperbole and bluster it really comes down to a few things.  If I could add a player like this for the next 10-12 years at a cap hit within a million of Dion Phaneuf I would certainly be intrigued.  If I didn’t have to trade two first round picks (plus a second) or a single roster player to acquire him, I would bend over backwards to get it done.