Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’

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!

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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!

In a game eerily similar to the 2009/10 season opener last season versus the Montreal Canadiens which saw the Toronto Maple Leafs outplay the Habs only to squander a late game lead setting the tone for a terrible 0-7-1 start to the year, this time around the Maple Leafs hung on for a hard fought 3-2 victory.  I’d say it was a fair result though I think the Canadiens were the slightly better team overall and probably could have just as easily won this contest.  However, a win is a win and this is a superb start for the Toronto Maple Leafs who hung tough and managed to protect a lead, something the team just couldn’t do in the past 2-3 years. 

Here are a few musings from the season opener:

-I know it was the season (and home) opener but that pregame ceremony was long and it had me thinking back to last season’s plethora of pregame ceremonies and the Maple Leafs seemingly coming out flat after each of them.  The emotion was still running pretty high after this one thankfully, but I hope this isn’t a trend going forward during this season.

-The Leafs came out strong in the first period getting an unlikely goal from checking line centre Tim Brent (assist to Dion Phaneuf) and besides the goal given up it was a great debut period for the team.

-Phil Kessel continues to impress, one of the best pure goal scorers the Leafs have ever had, maybe THE best.

-The Habs appeared to be the “better coached” team and were more organized it appeared for a lot of the game.  I still can’t shake the idea that given the current type of roster the Leafs possess a more defensive minded coach would be a better fit if the Leafs are serious about making the playoffs this season.

-Some pretty terrible penalty calls against the Habs benefited the Leafs in terms of keeping the momentum even though the power-play didn’t look strong on the night.

-I hate to admit it but P.K. Subban is legit, he skates well, handles the puck reasonably well and plays a brash, physical style of play from the backend.  The Habs have found a keeper.

Carl Gunnarsson looked awfully shaky early though he rebounded slightly but not the greatest debut.

Luke Schenn looked strong for most of the game outside of a few turnovers which I feel the forwards are as much to blame as the Leafs have terrible spacing most of the night. 

-Dion Phaneuf played one of his better overall games as a Toronto Maple Leaf, and his first as the captain.  He and Francois Beauchemin kept the game simple and were a strong pairing for most of the night.

-As previously discussed JS Giguere was a huge difference maker playing a solid and at times spectacular game making some very timely saves near the end of the third period.  This is a huge factor in any potential Leafs playoff berth as we are going to need the steady goaltending all season.

Clarke MacArthur scored a beautiful goal (the winner) in the third period on a beautiful deke and backhand score on Carey Price.  It will be great when either Tyler Bozak hits the second line or the Leafs finally replace Mikael Grabovski who is just not an acceptable top six centre.  He is still way too weak on his skates, makes some terrible decisions in the neutral zone and is probably the very bane of Brian Burke’s existence.

-The checking line of Freddy Sjostrom-Tim Brent-Colby Armstrong did their job getting in the grills of the Canadiens top line and trying to establish a fore check and keeping the game simple, kudos on the great effort.

All in all Ron Wilson and the Buds have to be happy with the effort however they were outplayed a good portion of this game and they need to shore up the abundance of turnovers, especially in their own zone if they hope on stringing a few decent win streaks together this season.  But you have to give credit where credit is due, the Leafs persevered and they managed to squeak out a win in their first game.

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?

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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?