Wanted to take a minute and congratulate our very own Gus Katsaros on his segment on the Fan590 this afternoon.Â Outstanding analysis of both the Phil Kessel/Savard relationship and analysis of the Boston Bruins schedule last year vs this year.Â The little snip at Mr MacLean at the end was priceless as well..Â Congrats Gus, and again, wonderful work..
As for the Leafs, they seem to FINALLY be getting it with respect to their lineup.Â 4th liners are being kept on the 4th line, 3rd liners are being pushed to the 3rd line.Â Their lineup still needs some work and some tweaking in my opinion, and once that happens, along with the insertion of Kessel and the continued impressive progression of Gustavsson (who’s statistics have now broken into the magical 0.900 or higher SP and 3.00 or lower GAA) – this team has a chance to make a legitimate push up the standings and actually compete for a playoff spot (and yes, even with the big hole they have dug for themselves, the playoffs are not an impossibility, at least not yet)..
As per the blog from Michael Aldred, the Leafs lineup at practice today looks like this (thanks to Michael for the intel):
Jason Blake â€“ John Mitchell â€“ Phil Kessel
Alexei Ponikarovsky â€“ Mikhail Grabovski â€“ Nikolai Kulemin
Niklas Hagman â€“ Matt Stajan â€“ Lee Stempniak
Colton Orr â€“ Wayne Primeau â€“ Rickard Wallin
The Leafs still have some more tinkering to do with this lineup before things really turn around in Leaf Land and those overtime losses start translating into W’s in the win column.Â However, it is excessively satisfying to see the eventual and slow progression towards what is simply the most logical lineup for this team at this stage in their development.Â For this team to succeed, they slowly need to move youth with skill, speed and finish into their top6 and continue to move 3rd line and 4th line players into their appropriate positions and ultimately need to move out some of these expiring contracts in order to make room for their ultimate and inevitable youth movement in their top6.Â John Mitchell I think is certainly the best fit for now to play with Kessel.Â Ultimately however, I believe players like Mitchell, Blake, Hagman will form a very very effective 3rd line for this organization – and although this unit can only be considered as an overpaid unit for 3rd line duties, it will bring the type of balance and speed to a lineup that enabled the Leafs to be so successful in recent years offensively, even with a lineup that looked less then threatening on paper.
I truly believe that by the time the trade deadline passes, the Leafs lineup will look something like this:
Stalberg â€“ Bozak â€“ Phil Kessel
Hanson or Tlusty â€“ Mikhail Grabovski â€“ Nikolai Kulemin
Niklas Hagman â€“ John Mitchel â€“ Blake
Colton Orr â€“ Wallin â€“ Rosehill
The lineup above differs from todays proposed lineup with the obvious exclusions of Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Stempniak and Primeau – all of which are veterans on expiring contracts and certainly the most likely targets to be moved in order to acquire back some depth picks for the organization (though, I do hope Alex Ponikarovsky can be re-signed – but, I have a nagging suspicion he is headed to Atlanta at the deadline or as a UFA to play with Nik Antropov and Ilya Kovalchuk).
The inevitable movement of expiring contracts at or before the deadline will ultimately and finally result in the youth movement we have all been waiting for, well, forever…
The only question now is if the handful of 2nd to 7th round picks is worth sacrificing another season over.Â I imagine Mr Burke felt the Leafs were going to be good enough to stay in the thick of things and at least within sight of a playoff position while increasing the value of these players before inevitably making a big push in the last 3rd of the season with a young, fast, lineup…
Please Mr Burke, I am literally begging you..Â lets speed this along, sacrifice a couple of depth picks you may get down the road, and follow through on your threat to waive some of these contracts – and put some of these kids in the lineup sooner then you were planning..Â we loyal Leaf fans deserve it..
Having said this, Mr Wilson is once again showing his ability to motivate a team and have them outwork their opponents keeping the Leafs in games, even if they are not closing them off right now.Â If the Leafs, as they are today, can start to turn some of these close games into “W’s”, then I (and I imagine most Leaf fans) am/are willing to be patient and watch the plan of recouping picks unfold.Â Having said this, the clock is ticking…
Question to Leaf fans..Â at what point would you replace the veterans on expiring contracts with the youth?Â would you wait til the trade deadline no matter what in order to recoup as many picks as you could? or would you move some of these players right away, by any means necessary and push the kids into the lineup?Â OR do you believe Mr Burke intends on keeping these players and contracts through to the end of the year run with a more veteran team right til the end?