Posts Tagged ‘Phil Kessel’

Oh yeah, so that’s why we were attempting to trade one of our better defenseman in the off-season, for a top centre.  Although it is still early with a long way to go, five shots in five games is just not going to cut it.  That is the shot total for our incumbent first line centre Tyler Bozak and you don’t have to be a hockey aficionado to realize that is just an unacceptable level of production for a supposed top line forward  and especially your top line centre.  Outside of one nice setup and two other cheap assists Bozak (6 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, 5 shots) hasn’t quite been performing to the level we expected going into this season.

The jury was definitely out and Leafs fans were split when discussing and debating whether Bozak had the goods to be the main man and be the playmaker for our best goal scorer in Phil Kessel and I’d say the results thus far have left more doubters than believers at this point.  The Leafs were desperately trying to land a top six centre and you can certainly see why Brian Burke felt this was a necessity as the Leafs simply do not have one on this roster.

Tyler Bozak played two shifts in the third period and Mike Zigomanis found himself on the top line late in the second period after Ron Wilson had seen enough.  Even Nik Kulemin took a turn at centre at one point late in the third period as the Leafs were desperate to give the offense some much needed life.  If the Brad Richard to Toronto rumours haven’t officially started I think it is safe to say they might very well start now.

No need to panic though as I was never that high during the four game winning streak and I won’t get too low during a short two game losing streak.  There was bound to be a night where we just weren’t the better team on the ice and for the majority of the game tonight the Maple Leafs were just soundly outplayed in almost all aspects of the game as they lost there first regulation time game 2-1 to the New York Rangers. 

The Rangers outhit, outshot and out hustled the Maple Leafs.  We might start finding it harder to score when Clarke MacArthur isn’t putting the puck in the net at an Alex Ovechkin like pace during the first four games.  We were sloppy and turned the puck over repeatedly and hardly anyone not named Luke Schenn (or Jonas Gustavsson) had a very good game for the Leafs.

Somebody needs to wake Nik Kulemin up and tell Kris Versteeg he is now on the first line and he can feel free to score anytime now as the pair has been fairly abysmal since the first game of the year.  Our sand paper was solid again but there impact will always be negligible based on relatively low minutes for the third and especially fourth line.  Luke Schenn played a very solid and smart game most of the night, throwing some massive hits and showing poise and patience with the puck and even displaying a few dangles.

Derek Boogard and Colton Orr finally fought tonight, the first time they have ever met and it was a very spirited and highly anticipated bout.  First, TSN had some shoddy camera work after Pierre Maguire warned they were about to go at it the camera instead was focused on the Leafs in the offensive zone for at least six seconds after the whistle had blown. 

Luckily they showed a replay of the entire fight and it was fairly close with Boogard scoring a close decision in my opinion.  Orr got the jump and landed a few decent right hands early but Boogard had a huge and undeniable reach advantage and pounded Orr with quite a few good ones before Orr got an impressive takedown to end the fight and the crowd on it’s feet.  Did you know that Boogard hasn’t scored an NHL goal since early in the year 2006?  Colton Orr is a sniper (4 goals or so per season) compared to the Boogey Man when considering Boogard has scored only 2 career goals in nearly 600 NHL games!

Chalk it up to a tough night and a determined New York Rangers team but this game did remind all of us exactly why Brian Burke was hoping he could add a legitimate top centre to a roster not exactly brimming with offensive dynamos or physical specimens capable of driving the net and creating the needed space for our skilled wingers to operate with a bit more freedom. 

So no points tonight, the first game that claim can be made and gaining nine points out of a possible twelve is a run I’d take anyday of the week.  Let’s get refocused and put in a solid effort versus the hated Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and get back in that win column, quickly.

What would you be willing to move for Brad Richards?

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??

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!

What is the old saying, hope springs eternal?  A phrase more commonly associated with baseball at the beginning of spring training, the term still has meaning for the beginning of any pro sports league.  With that said following the Toronto Maple Leafs tight 1-goal victory over the Montreal Canadiens (god that feels good to say doesn’t it?) it brings me to an ongoing worry as a paranoid and hopeful fan of the ‘Buds – what happens if we actually do win that beautiful Stanley Cup one of these years?  Law of averages and basic odds say we can’t continue to defy mathematics like this and the Leafs are simply overdue for a championship season.

However, I wanted to talk about the other end of the spectrum and what really worries me as a dedicated and hardcore Maple Leafs fan.  Call it paranoia but this concern has got me thinking about making a list (and checking it twice) and I plan to have that list (whether mental or literally on paper) readily available in the event the Leafs do one day climb that playoff mountain and take home the greatest trophy in sports.  The list will contain the known identities of a certain group of degenerate hockey fans. 

I’m looking at you Leaf bashers, in all of your forms but not limited to:

– Message board pirates wasting their lives filling cyberspace with nonsensical and hate filled Leaf bashes yet not identifying which team they root for,

– Office and work email junkies with your constant forwarding of sarcastic jokes, bashes, ridiculous superimposed pictures and supposedly clever puns,

– Crazed fans from other teams taunting us with the constant reference to a year we are obviously all familiar with – 1967,

– Even non-sports fans (oh the worst kind) that couldn’t differentiate between a goaltender and a bartender get in on the act and “pile-on”, you know whom I speak of, your great aunt Betsy who hasn’t watched a single sporting event is suddenly a hockey expert when it comes to the Leafs futility over the past 40 odd years

Oh, there are other forms of these vile, time wasting losers out there and some even wait in the wings just to get in a jab or two from time to time without being labelled full out “Leafs Bashers”.  We know who you are and enjoy it, soak it all in, relish in it because I want the record to plainly show when the time comes, the glorious time when the Maple Leafs will finally sip from Lord Stanley’s mug exactly who you are.

You might ask why I want all of this, haven’t we had enough of the pain, suffering and misery not to mention the butt of too many jokes?  Well I’ll tell you why, because when that day finally comes I don’t want these same despicable people with their years (decades) of countless jokes, barbs, shots and low blows doing something even worse – jumping on the bandwagon

The city of Toronto and let’s be honest the entire country will be abuzz the same way the city of Boston (and the United States) was when the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees after being down 3-0 and going on to win the World Series after 86 (eighty-six!!) years of playoff futility and heartache not even a Maple Leaf fan can fully comprehend and appreciate. 

Don’t kid yourselves, the Leafs will suddenly pick up about a million or so of these ‘fair weather’ fans when this happens, oh they will claim they have been there since day one and they suffered through the same drought as you and I and that is why I encourage you to take notes now so when the unthinkable happens and the Leafs win the Cup we know who the real fans are.

Why?  Simply so we aren’t sipping champagne with the same antagonistic, ignorant and annoying Leaf Bashers that have simply decided to hop on what will undoubtedly be the greatest bandwagon in the history of bandwagons.

Take note Leaf Bashers, because we’re taking notes too!

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.

I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top Ten Current Athletes in Toronto

This will be a quick breakdown of the top athletes currently residing in Toronto and it is a down and dirty look at the athlete’s ready to contribute on the Toronto sports scene.  This certainly won’t be referred to as the golden era in Toronto’s sports history, but I’d say the scene is definitely on the up-swing and improving almost daily.  The Jays are looking to be competitive in the next 1-2 seasons, the Leafs look to be in good hands with Brian Burke and the Raptors aren’t as bad as most think, though they are looking lottery bound in 2010/11 (not such a bad thing though?).  Well, here is my list for the top ten current Toronto athletes.

10) SP Brandon Morrow – Toronto Blue Jays

-A hugely talented arm with untapped potential, he might have the most upside of any of the current Blue Jays arms.  Putting together a great first season in Toronto, the future is bright and price to acquire him was right.

9) LW Kris Versteeg – Toronto Maple Leafs

-Coming over from the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (thank you salary cap) in which he was a key third line member and a heart and soul type player described as having a wicked wrist shot.  Only 24 years old and coming off back to back 20 goal seasons, I think Toronto fans are going to really like this kid.

#8) SP Shaun Marcum – Toronto Blue Jays

-Looks to be completely back after undergoing TJ surgery and has been the Jays best pitcher this season with 151 IPs, 3.70 ERA, 3.83 FIP and an impressive 3.8 K/BB.  Marcum will look to score a longer term contract in the next year or so and will hopefully continue to put hitters away with that nasty changeup for many more seasons.

7) SG Demar Derozan – Toronto Raptors

-The 7th overall pick out of Compton, California and USC University, the sky is the limit for Derozan and the ‘Young Gunz’ (along with Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson), fans are hoping for a big breakout year for Demar to give them some (any) hope for a Toronto Raptors eventual resurgence.  The kid has all the talent and skills you could want and just needs seasoning and some refinements to certain aspects of the game (mid range jumper and handle) to really take that next step.

6) RF Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays

-Bautista leads the majors in homeruns and has been a total beast for the Blue Jays this season (41 HRs, 607 SLG%, .416 wOBA – 4.9 WAR), he has been so good there is some talk the Jays might be best served dealing their top slugger while the getting is good and his value is at an all-time high.  The most debated/discussed Blue Jay player this season, mixed opinions on whether or not he should be around long term.

5) D Tomas Kaberle – Toronto Maple Leafs

-What would a Toronto article be without Kaberle, fact remains he is still one of the best defensemen to suit up for the Leafs and if he remains this season will be counted upon to contribute a huge season. 

4) PF Andrea Bargnani – Toronto Raptors

-The smooth, sharp shooting 7-footer was the 1st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and has shown steady improvement each season (in scoring) over the past three years scoring 10.2, 15.4 and 17.2 PPG.  He still needs to improve his overall game, with more focus on rebounding and weak side help defense, however a big man with the ability to drive and dish the rock who will likely average 20.0+ PPG, shoot around 48-49% from the field, 37-38% from 3-point land and hopefully average 7-8 rebounds and 1.5-2 blocks per game don’t exactly grow on trees.  Andrea doesn’t get enough credit for the player he has become, expect that opinion and sentiment to change with a huge 2010/11 season as the Raptors go to guy.

3) SP Ricky Romero – Toronto Blue Jays

-JP Ricciardi envisioned this type of success for his first pick (6th overall) in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft but it took Ricky a few seasons in the minors to finally flourish and make it to the big leagues (too little, too late for our old buddy JP though) but flourish he has.  The Jays lefty recently signed a contract extension that will keep in Toronto for the next 5 seasons, hopefully his prime years are still to come.  In 2010, Romero has been great, in 172.2 IPS he has a 3.54 ERA, 3.59 FIP, solid ground ball rate and a pretty good 7.7 K/9.

2) D Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs

-When you are the new captain of the most popular team in town, you are going to get some attention and since entering the league Phaneuf has definitely drawn his fair share.  The top scoring defensemen since joining the league, the hard hitting Alberta native is being counted upon to lead the Brian Burke era in team history and fans are excited and anxious to see what a full season of a motivated Dion Phaneuf can bring to the team. 

1) RW Phil Kessel – Toronto Maple Leafs

-There haven’t been many better skilled Leafs than Phil the Thrill in the team’s long history and the slight forward will again be counted upon to lead the woeful Maple Leafs forward core to the hopeful goal of making the playoffs.  Playing with a relatively unknown (and rookie) centre in Tyler Bozak, Kessel still managed 30 goals in 70 games and fans are hoping he can take his game to the next level and become a 40-45 goal scorer with a full season to come in 2010/11.

Drafted in the first round (5th overall) in 2006, he has been called the ‘American’ Sydney Crosby with his unbelievable level of skill and shooting ability.  Kessel will only be 23 at the start of the season and though the trade and cost to acquire Kessel is hotly debated, the player we received certainly cannot be, Kessel is legit and one of the most skilled players in the game.

This concludes my five part series looking back at some of the greatest players to ever play for our beloved Toronto sports franchises and also a quick glimpse at who is currently leading the charge for hopeful future success. 

Hope you enjoyed it.