Posts Tagged ‘NHL Free Agency 2011’

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?

We will take a break from the ‘Top Five’ mania that has riveted and compelled the world of sports (ok, I made that up) and we will instead focus on the talk in “Leaf Land” today which seemed to centre on whether Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs should have signed Raffi Torres to a one year, one million dollar contract for the upcoming season.  The popular answer among Leafs followers appears to be yes, we should have brought him into the fold, but my response to this question is an emphatic no and yours should be too.

Raffi Torres, who will turn 29 years old for the upcoming season is joining his fifth organization since entering the league as the 5th overall selection by the New York Islanders at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.  Four seasons removed from his last relatively productive season in 2005/06 with the Edmonton Oilers (27 goals, 41 points) Torres has been the model of inconsistent and one of the more frustrating players in the NHL.

Torres stands 6’0” and weighs over 220 pounds and has the reputation as under achieving power forward with some untapped potential, but since that 27 goal campaign four years ago Torres has averaged 59 games, 12 goals, 25 points (0.42 PPG) and a mere 45 PIMs.  I applaud Brian Burke for passing on this player as this is the kind of recycled projects the Leafs need not partake in, though the price is right there is absolutely zero upside to a move like this as even a career season (very unlikely) from Torres would essentially only make him a poor man’s Alex Ponikarovsky, at best.

This guys is barely an NHL calibre player at this point in his career, and if he goes on to snipe 25 goals this year for the Canucks (not likely) than good for them but the Leafs have internal options who are younger, hungrier and most importantly what kind of message is Brian Burke sending those kids if he decided to bring in a complete re-tread on a guaranteed contract with a lousy track record to boot?  This guy defines ‘replacement level’ hockey player, in fact he might be a step below and I think almost any of the Leafs current forwards (including Colton Orr) could give us 12 goals and 25 points with the type of minutes that Raffi Torres would need to put up even half decent stats for the team.

Didn’t we already go through this when we jettisoned Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Alex Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan last season, and those guys actually had some talent and past success?  Torres doesn’t make us better at all this season and is not a step-up over any of our current returning or prospective forwards.  He isn’t a great defensive player or penalty killer (like an A. Asham) and clearly is not a legitimate scoring threat of note so why would we waste a roster spot and risk the development in any way, shape or form of a Nazem Kadri, Marcel Mueller, Jerry D’Amigo, Christian Hanson or Luca Caputi, among others. 

For better or worse, Brian Burke has a game plan and I admire the fact he doesn’t look for a band-aid solution to appease the masses of fans who seemingly want him to sign any recognizable free agent just for the sake of signing him at the expense of developing a core of hungry, young (and cheaper) alternatives internally.  Not only would signing a player like Torres not make us better I would venture to say he would in fact make us tangibly worse not only this season but when we factor in the ice-time he is possibly taking away from a younger player who would just as likely produce at the same (or better) level, it also makes us worse for the future.

Thanks, but no thanks.

With approximately twelve hours until Tomas Kaberle and his NTC effectively kicks back in, there are no new updates regarding the status of a potential trade. Brian Burke was recently quoted by TSN that “If these offers are all we get…he’s staying put,”.  Only a day after Burke basically tempered our expectations for a Kaberle ‘home run’ type return stating he would definitely consider a more futures oriented package as opposed to a impact roster player for this upcoming season.

Heading into the final few hours it is looking more and more likely that Tomas Kaberle will remain of Toronto Maple Leaf at the conclusion of the day, though I cannot claim any of these reports accurate with any level of certainty they are at least making the rounds:

San Jose Sharks have offered Derek Joslin and a 1st round pick.
*Not sure if this fits at all what the Leafs were hoping to accomplish.

San Jose Sharks have offered Ryane Clowe and a 1st round pick.
*I think if this were true, Brian Burke would have taken it.

DarrenDreger It’s going to be a long day/night. Someone is going to make a deadline day offer the leafs will have to seriously consider. (via twitter approx 1 hour ago).

Los Angeles Kings offered/interested in trading Dustin Brown for Tomas Kaberle and Jay Rosehill
*This rumour has been repeatedly shot down as purely speculation, and we can see why.  Not often do you trade your captain for a potential one year rental and spare part tough guy.

Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly not wanting to part with LW Ryan Malone, a desired commodity for Brian Burke.

Dallas Stars want to shed Mike Ribeiro’s contract and are offering him league wide, unlikely the Leafs want to add this burden, especially going into a Free Agency year with Joe Thornton, Zdeno Charo and others available.

Buffalo Sabres a surprise entry potentially offering Tim Connolly or Drew Stafford, however the Leafs prefer Derek Roy.

Colombus Blue Jackets potentially offering Derek Brassard.

Nobody knows how serious any of the above mentioned teams are in acquiring him but Brian Burke did state that he expected the offers from teams interested to be significantly better come the final couple days, and with today (Sunday) essentially the 25th hour I hope he is right.

So what could $56 million buy you if you had an empty roster and could only add from the current free agent talent (a term used loosely now that Kovalchuk has signed) pool.  Based on the fact that these players are still available we can safely assume the market isn’t exactly on fire and multiple offers are not being thrown at most of these guys as we speak. 

For fun, let’s also assume we sign these players each to one-year contracts as to not be bogged down by multiple year deals for relatively lacklustre talent – again, another safe assumption in that most of these guys will likely sign for one year.  We will sign 15 forwards, 8 defensemen and 2 goaltenders.

Without further ado, here is your Free Agent roster: (salary in parenthesis)

Alex Frolov (3.5) – Brendan Morrison (2.5) – Teemu Selanne (3.0)

Paul Kariya (3.0) – Glen Metropolit (2.0) – Maxim Afinogenov (2.0)

A. Ponikarovsky (2.0) – Dominic Moore (2.0) – Lee Stempniak (2.0)

Raffi Torres (2.0) – John Madden (2.0) – Arron Asham (2.0)

Reserves: Mike Modano (2.0), Owen Nolan (2.0), Bill Guerin (1.5)

Our top line features the enigma that is Alexander Frolov, a potential 35+ goal scorer too often disappears during stretches of games but if motivated could be a big time scorer and on this squad he will be heavily used in all situations including the power-play.  We are pretty weak at the centre position for our top two lines and Brendan Morrison will be counted upon to recapture his old playmaking form, riding shotgun is the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne. 

Our second line features the underrated Glen Metropolit, I have always been a pretty big fan of his game and he never seems to get a fair opportunity to showcase his talents, he will be given a lot of ice-time with this team and has two veteran wingers in Paul Kariya and Maxim Afinogenov looking to contribute some much needed offense.

 I could not resist forming the third line (hey, this is a Toronto based blog) but this could be our best line if all three click and work hard.  Dominic Moore has speed to burn and maybe being reunited with former Maple Leafs will bring out the best (and only time) Moore was successful.  Poni provides size and strength on one side and Lee Stempniak will bring his normal energy and strong puck pursuit and relentless hustle, hopefully he also brings his lucky late season scoring touch from Phoenix.

The fourth line is also pretty decent (not surprised our third and fourth lines are strong, as that is what dominates the remaining free agent crop) with the steady and smart John Madden playing the middle between another underachiever Raffi Torres and the sparkplug and underrated Arron Asham.  This is our energy line that could also pop the occasional goal or two.

Our reserves will have three elder statesmen in Modano, Guerin and Nolan in case Kariya goes down and we need our compliment of past their prime forwards. 

This isn’t the most inspiring group of forwards, but it is pretty decent mixture of speed, size and veteran savvy, the power-play will be pretty weak, while the penalty kill should be strong.

Defence:

Willie Mitchell (2.5) – Kim Johnsson (2.5)

Andreas Lilja (2.0) – Mike Mottau (2.0)

Andy Sutton (2.0) – Aaron Ward (2.0)

Not much to brag about here other than a bit of size and shutdown ability in the bottom two pairings, Mitchell and Johnsson both have question marks with regards to injuries but if healthy would have to log major minutes for this defensively inept squad.  I believe Lilja/Mottau would be an underrated pairing, both play a smart and sound defensive game and do not make many mistakes.  Sutton/Ward would be a brutal pairing to face as an opposing and if the minutes can be limited and matchups selective their lack of foot speed shouldn’t be exposed too often.

Reserves: Paul Mara (1.5), Marc-Andre Bergeron (1.0)

Goaltending:

Evgeni Nabokov (5) – Ray Emery (2)

Ok, so I cheated just slightly, but we all know Nabokov would prefer to be in the NHL (as opposed to the KHL) all things being equal and he would just jump at the chance to play for this winning group.  Nabokov has been a steady performer and one of the better goaltenders in the league and we will need him to be very sharp to give us a chance at the playoffs.  Hopefully he and Ray Emery will get along swimmingly, with Emery’s recent (and impending) exposure to the KHL and Russia, maybe they will find some common ground.

CAP HIT: Forwards (33.5 million), Defence (15.5 million), Goalies (7 million) TOTAL = $56 million

For a different twist, with this of course all being fantasy and hypothetical, that much free cash could have helped net us a few more quality players on teams in desperate need of some cap relief.  So we potentially could have added (amongst players dumped) Simon Gagne, Kris Versteeg, Jeff Finger and likely Brian Campbell and Marc Savard.

Every team needs a coach and who better to get the absolute most out of this group but our old buddy Pat Quinn would be the man to coach this team, he gets the nod after being unceremoniously dumped by the Edmonton Oilers.

Where would this team finish if they played in the Eastern Conference in 2010/2011?

Who would you have replaced on this fantasy roster if you built it?

Could they beat the 2010/2011 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs?