Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’

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?

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So, just what exactly is Brian Burke’s vision for the Toronto Maple Leafs? 

I’d like to share my thoughts on what I feel he is trying to do and also to shed the misconceptions being floated around.  I keep hearing the same tired and baseless complaint over and over from the Burke/Leafs bashers, that he does not want talented and skilled players and that he only wants a team full of goons.  That is blasphemy, if he could add the big and talented trio of Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and James Neal to his “Top Six” he would do so in a second, he’s not a fool.  These are not guys that are readily available and why waste your bullets on spare parts?

But when he hesitates at adding a Maxim Afinogenov, Nik Zherdev or Paul Kariya it’s because these players are not appreciably better than what we already have and do not fit in with what Burke is trying to build – plus less cap friendly than internal options.  John Ferguson would have added one of those aforementioned pieces for better or worse and with the thought process of “if you keep adding parts they will eventually work”, he did not have a vision, and for this I think we can all say about Brian Burke, he has conviction and I for one believe in him.  His vision is simple yet effective, and luckily for Maple Leafs fans entertaining to boot.

His ideal team would consist of two solid lines of highly skilled scoring forwards, hopefully with some size and tenacity as to not be pushed around and he wants his third line to be filled with responsible, defensive oriented pit-bulls who make the opposing teams night miserable.  Mix that with a fourth line of energy guys with an enforcer or two and a big, physical, in your face shut-down defence core along with a decent goaltender and you have a Brian Burke team.

How far is the current team from reaching that vision?  I think ideally Burke would love to have Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel as his second line, an enviable second line, along with Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong as the third line.  Unfortunately that also goes to show we are basically short three top line forwards all things being fair.  Even with our current roster our third and fourth lines are set, in fact if this league eliminated all of the top two lines in hockey and teams could only play their third and fourth lines, the Leafs would be a perennial contender.

The team is moving in the right direction and we are starting to form a pretty solid base and nucleus of talent that will lead to a contending team night in and night out, and if we can add a Joe Thornton type in free agency next season, get a solid (bigger) top six forward for Tomas Kaberle who can help take the pressure off Phil Kessel we could finally be onto something.  This is of course assuming the continued internal development of Bozak, Kadri, Kulemin, Ross, Schenn, Aullie and of course the Monster Jonas Gustavsson.

BallHype: hype it up!

Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke

There are a lot of theories as to exactly when and why the Toronto Maple Leafs started to play a better and more inspired brand of hockey last season.  Some point to when the Leafs were basically out of the playoff race, or when Brian Burke fleeced the Calgary Flames out of our new Captain Dion Phaneuf but for me the moment we started to look more like a major league hockey team was when we decided the team finally gave up on its quest to show the NHL just how tough we were.

Brian Burke wants to play the game tough, and I couldn’t agree more with his philosophy of building from the net out when trying to put together a competitive and hopefully championship contending team.  As a long time Maple Leaf fan, some of my favourite players have been the heart and soul guys, the Wendel Clark’s, Tie Domi’s, Ken Baumgartner’s and Darcy Tucker’s.  The best hockey games are the ones that are filled with big hits, fights and intense battles for the puck – if this is the style that Toronto wants to play, I am all for it, the meaner the better as there is nothing worse than watching your team get bullied or pushed around on a nightly basis.

However, I think the Leafs got caught up in some of the Burkie hyperbole in terms of aggression and his insistence of a clear definition of “top six” and “bottom six” forward grouping.  The Leafs did everything they could in the pre-season and early stages of the regular season to show they were not going to be pushed around, from Mike Komisarek or Francois Beauchemin consistently going out of his way (sometimes ill advised) to put a lick on an opposing player, or Colton Orr and Jamal Mayers trying to play the part of bully.  The Leafs went out of their way to either impress Brian Burke or set an early tone and it ended up backfiring in the end.

Nobody predicted the Leafs to finish second from the bottom at the beginning of the season, and in fact a lot of pundits felt they would be much improved with the additions they made in the summer.  But a lot of the players played outside of themselves in order to play the Burkie way, when they weren’t built to play that way for the most part.

The team looked confused early on, the “Top Six” forwards thought all they had to do was score and the “Bottom Six” forwards looked like they were afraid to score as per the definition of how Burke’s team were built.  Guys like Lee Stempniak and Jason Blake were essentially turned into checking line wingers as they assumed the role of “sand paper”.  I am not sure if Ron Wilson finally had a talk with the team and said “Ok, enough.  The league knows we aren’t wimps, now play the game you know how to play.” but there seemed to be a marked improvement in team play about half-way through the season, relatively speaking.

Ron Wilson and Brian Burke are definitely buddies outside the rink and I am sure they share many views on how the game of hockey is supposed to be played, but I think there are differences there that may hamper the team’s success going forward and could result in Burke having to find a suitable replacement for Ron Wilson.

Wilson loves the up-tempo, high pressure fore-check system, one that values solid speedy skaters and an endless motor.  Burke also values the pressure style, but with a difference, he wants his skaters to be able to paste the defensemen into the end boards.  Wilson wants three lines of skill, speed and scoring ability, I am sure he would love to have more size than the Leafs current roster provides and that is how the Leafs finally started to play better hockey, rolling three lines and basically letting the “sandpaper” out of the cage when needed.

This is where the issues could begin to surface with the philosophies of two notoriously stubborn men could start to wreak havoc on their relationship.  Burke insists on two highly skilled top two lines with the bottom two lines filled with sandpaper, grit and toughness.  The Maple Leafs roster as it currently stands cannot afford to ‘waste’ their third line’s minutes with only grinders and “pick and axe” players.  We are not talented nor deep enough on our first two lines to get away with this type of strategy and Wilson recognized this (albeit a little too late) in his club and started playing a more speed oriented, puck pursuit style while toning down the overall physicality of his forward lines.

Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stallberg, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Matt Stajan, Phil Kessel and Nik Kulemin are not a big scary physical bunch, they were never built to play the “Burkie” way, they needed to know their roles earlier in the season but instead played confused and lost for the first half of the season before the team was essentially blown up. 

I am not saying that any of the players that were moved should have been kept, far from it, I like the new roster and where Burke is taking this team, but until the Leafs are assembled entirely as a “Burke” style team it will be difficult to win employing the strategy and style we have currently taken unless Ron Wilson goes in his own direction, and well that could be tough as Brian Burke is Ron Wilson’s boss, period.