Yearly Archives: 2011
Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images
Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images
Damien Cox wrote a piece for The Star last night worth reading (no sarcasm). You’ll rarely hear me hand out such praise for D-Cox, but I’ll give credit where it’s due on an opinion piece that at least was fair and got me thinking, even if I disagreed with most of it.
The highlights if you rather not contribute pageviews:
“They seem to have gone overboard in making Kadri understand that his status as the first player selected by Brian Burke during his tenure in Toronto accords him no special status at all, that being highly skilled and the seventh pick of the 2009 entry draft just means heâ€™ll have to work as hard â€” or harder â€” than any other player to crack the NHL lineup.”
“Heâ€™s played the left side but right wing isnâ€™t Kadriâ€™s position. But at least heâ€™s joining a unit with proven offensive players. The trick now is to give him an extended look and try to find somebody who gels with him.”
“If the Leafs do that and Kadri still canâ€™t cut it, well, then it may be decision time. Heâ€™s got another season on his entry-level deal but itâ€™s hard to imagine that if he flunks this audition itâ€™s ever going to happen for him with the Leafs.
That happens. A lot. MacArthurâ€™s a great example of a player who didnâ€™t figure it out until his third team and his seventh pro season.
Kadri will almost certainly be an NHL player. The Leafs just need to find out now if it can be for them.”
Among all the things Brian Burke said in his mission statement when he was first named General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was one thing that really made fans shake their head in agreement – “we want to justify the price of the ticket.” As the Leafs have continuously gotten better, perhaps fans think Burke’s staff has met that guideline. I’d disagree.
As the new owners of the Leafs were announced, there was no mention of winning the Stanley Cup, and there was also no mention of improving the ACC game experience. It’s pretty ironic that Bell and Rogers are now going to be making a game better to watch on TV than at the arena, considering they now own the Leafs.
That’s a real issue in this market. Other than being able to see the Toronto Maple Leafs live and in person, what, exactly, do the Maple Leafs offer their fans that make going all the way to the ACC worth it? You buy the most expensive ticket in hockey, you pay for what is presumably the most expensive parking in hockey, and you watch the Leafs play with a crowd full of corporate ticket holders and ushers who will actually tell you to be quiet.
A dozen thoughts, observations, or interesting stats for your Wednesday night:
1) Can Armstrong catch a break in Toronto? He played 79 and 82 game seasons in Atlanta in the two seasons prior to signing on with the Leafs, and had never missed more than 10 games in a season since entering the league. Since arriving in T.O., Armstrong has played in only 59 of 115 games as a Leaf.
Armstrong had only put up one point this season, never really having a chance to mesh into the flow of things. His near .5 point-per-game rate in 50 games last season was a tantalizing sample of what Army could bring to this team as a third line grinder, secondary scorer, and fan favourite wrapped in one. Suddenly you worry if he’s ever going to get a chance to play that role consistently in Toronto.
Photo: Getty Images
When Colby Armstrong looks back on his career in Toronto, thereâ€™s a good chance heâ€™ll remark that is was a pain.Â How else can one describe the rash of injuries that has befallen the rugged right winger since coming to Toronto?Â Since signing a 3 year, $9 Million dollar contract in the summer of 2010, he has skated in 59 games while heâ€™s sat in the press box with casts, bandages and eye patches for a total of 56 games.Â So lets take a quick look at the trials and tribulations of the oft falling Leaf.
Prior to his tenure in Toronto, Armstrong was considered something of a durable player, whose low mark in terms of games played was 72 split between Pittsburgh and Atlanta during the 2007 â€“ 2008 season.Â Yet he missed 32 games last season with a broken finger, an eye injury and a broken foot.Â This season, he missed 23 games with a high ankle sprain, and after only 3 games back in the line up, suffered both a broken toe and a concussion on Saturday night. The concussion puts Colby amongst the growing list (now more than two dozen strong) of NHL regulars feeling the effects of head trauma.
Well, this was an interesting game. Interesting as in even if the Kings got two goals that really shouldnâ€™t have happened, you still get the feeling they were the better team tonight. Still sucks losing that point, especially after an improved third period and overtime in which we dominated play.
Photo: LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS
One of the league’s most scored on teams will face off against the least scoringest tonight at the Air Canada Centre. It’s a testament to the Kings’ (and Jonathan Quick’s) ability to prevent goals that they’re .500 in spite of a 2.12 goals per game average. You’d expect the Kings to pick it up eventually (particularly when Mike Richards returns from injury), but as a point of reference there’s only been one team to finish a season below 2.12 goals per game since the lockout. That was the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils, who averaged a paltry 2.08 GPG.Â With Richards out, the Kings have struggled to find offense beyond Anze Kopitar as the likes of Justin Williams, Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll and Drew Doughty have all greatly underproduced.
After coaching the Kings to their first playoff appearance in eight years in 2009-10, and returning to the post season again last season, the Kings’ front office didn’t wait long to pull the plug on now former head coach Terry Murray and replace him on an interim basis with John Stevens after some struggles out of the gate. This is the third team fresh off a coaching change the Leafs have played in the last week and a half (Washington, Carolina, Los Angeles). It’s certainly become a “what have you done for me lately” league now as coaching changes are employed as a shake up strategy more than anything. The loyalty Burke has to his bench boss and the commitment to building a winner under his guy’s direction is either refreshing or faulty depending on your perspective. Either way it’s strange to think of the marginal difference in the standings between the Leafs and teams like the Kings and Habs, playoff teams as of recent seasons who have both changed faces behind the bench while Burke reportedly considers an extension.
Photo: Darryl Dyck/AP Photo
Last season Brian Burke boldly stood in front of the media after trading Tomas Kaberle and made it clear, â€œGetting into the playoffs by the skin of your teeth and getting your ass kicked in the first round is not my idea of building a championship team here.â€
A little under a year later and 32 games into the next season, it’s fair to begin evaluating whether the Leafs are playing hockey that would make them competitive in the playoffs or if they’re doing just enough to make it and subsequently get their “ass kicked in the first round.” At this point in the season, it seems a lot closer to the latter.
Systemically, the Leafs play to outscore the other team, instead of playing to win.
Photo Credit: www.medvescak.com
On 17th of December 2011 Zagrebâ€™s most prestigious hockey club, MedveÅ¡Äak Zagreb, celebrated their 50th anniversary. To mark and celebrate this event the KHL sent one of their most decorated and historic teams – Dynamo Moscow. To put it in North American perspective, Dynamo is close to the Leafs or Canadiens in terms of their European rating.
Photo Credit: www.medvescak.com
16th of December 2011. I am invited to attend the press conference which is going to be held at one of the hotels closest to MedveÅ¡Äakâ€™s home arena, Dom Sportova (Home Of Sports). Itâ€™s only logical since the Russian team will have to depart soon after the game to meet their demanding KHL schedule. I feel extremely honored and lucky to be able to attend because even if hockey is still a growing sport in Croatia, it was always my dream and where I live opportunities like this one donâ€™t come along very often.
Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Anyone surprised the Leafs got lit up by the Nucks last night? Well, you shouldn’t be.
Vancouver’s 5-3 victory was just the latest in a long line of high scoring Leaf losses against competent offensive teams. On Friday, Buffalo, 13th in the league in goals per game, beat the Leafs 5-4. Vancouver (4th) then scores five the next night. Philadelphia (1st) put in four in an October 24th 4-2 loss. Boston (2nd) popped 4, 6, 7, and 6 goals respectively in their four beatdowns on the Leafs this season. Ottawa (8th) has scored a combined 13 goals in their three meetings with Toronto. Florida, right on the median at 15th in goals per game, put up five goals in a 5-1 November 8th loss.
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
I’m assuming it’s Canucks fanboy Jim Hughson – along with the usual cast of characters (my invitation stands, Glen Healy) – commentating this game tonight. Your MLHS key to the game: Execute good remote management and utilize the mute button.
It’s always a special night when the Canucks visit the ACC. The Nucks are again one of the top teams in the league, so this is a good measuring stick for the Buds. The Leafs were lit up for four and five goals respectively in their two losses to Vancouver last season
Jonas Gustavsson will be in net to try to quiet this high-powered Canucks offense. The Monster has been playing up to his name as of late. 5-1 in his last six with a 2.31GAA and .929SV%.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had their three-game winning streak against Buffalo snapped by a 4 point guy named Thomas Vanek. In Buffalo, which comes as no surprise. We tend to not do well in Buffalo. Some links after the GiT.
Photo Credit: cbc.ca
A Friday night in Buffalo. Brings back some pretty bad memories, doesn’t it?
We all know the First Niagara Centre, formerly known as the HSBC house of horror, has been far from kind to the Leafs. Maybe it’s the awful view from the hotel rooms, but the Leafs’ trip down the QEW has usually been a welcome sight for the Sabres and city of Buffalo in general. Indeed, the only thing that briefly halts this cesspool’s population decline is Canadians traveling the QEW to watch the Leafs play.
Maybe, though, the Leafs have put an end to the curse after a sweet 2-1 in Buffalo last February thanks to Joey Crabb’s awesome shorthanded goal. At the time of that win, I remember feeling it was a crowning moment in the rivalry. The Leafs are no longer that slower, less skilled team who gets embarrassed in front of theÂ mass legions of visitingÂ Leafs fans. The Leafs went on to beat Buffalo twice at the ACC after that to even the season series.
Photo: JP Dhanoa/Oye! Times
The Marlies keep on rolling. Nazem Kadri, Marcel Mueller and Mike Zigomanis are tied for the team points scoring leadÂ at 22, while Joe Colborne has two assists in two games since returning to the AHL and sits at 21 in 15 games played. Your weekly release from the Marlies:
“The Marlies won both their games last week and extended their lead in the North Division standings. On Friday night the Marlies defeated the Bulldogs in Hamilton, 2-1. Jerry Dâ€™Amigoâ€™s second period goal held up to be the game-winner. Greg Scott scored the other Marlies goal, which came on the power play. Ben Scrivens made 26 saves for his fifth win of the season.
There hasn't been too much of this for Kulemin so far this season (Photo Credit: AP).
Last season saw Nikolai Kulemin reach new heights. His 30 goals, beyond being a career high at the NHL level, placed him in some elite company for the Maple Leafs. In the past 10 seasons, only Phil Kessel, Mats Sundin, Alexander Mogilny and Kulemin have managed to tally 30+ goals in a single season. In August, our own prognosticators pegged the Magnitogorsk native to lead the club in scoring, building upon last yearâ€™s heroics.Â But with his play of late, he might not even hit 10 goals this season. So whatâ€™s the deal?
His current goal scoring slump has now reached 23 games, and unsurprisingly his stat line has been most unimpressive.Â Heâ€™s recorded 8 assists, is a +2, and has tallied 37 shots (1.60 per game).Â I typically dislike throwing out numbers, but very simply thereâ€™s little to like about his play this season.Â Heâ€™s on pace for career lows in almost every major category, and is set to score 27 fewer points than last season.
The Leafs played the Skinerless Carolina Cam Wards tonight, who were coached by none other than Mr. Iâ€™m blond Iâ€™m tall Iâ€™m the most talented coach in the world, Krik Muller. For all intents and purposes, this was a must win game.
Photo: James B Deblaker/AP Photo
The last placed Carolina Hurricanes visit the Air Canada Centre tonight without leading scorer Jeff Skinner, who is out with a likely concussion. Skinner is the only Cane with more than 19 points to his name this season.
New head coach Kirk Muller is 1-6 since replacing Paul Maurice behind the bench in late November as the Canes continue to sit bottom five in all the major statistical categories. There’s rarely such a thing as an easy game nowadays but this is a tilt you really should take two points from.
James Reimer starts in net for the Leafs. In a weird turn of events, recently the team has been winning in front of Gustavsson and losing in front of Reimer. Gustavsson is 5-1 in his last six outings with a 2.31 GAA and a .929 save percentage, and has posted a very respectable 9-5 record on the season. An interesting stat from Jonas Siegel – the team has scored 3.85 goals per game in front of Gustavsson after scoring merely 2.23 last season. This team has been a higher scoring outfit, no doubt, but there’s got to be some element to it of improved confidence and trust from his teammate.
Photo: Karl B Deblaker/AP Photo
From James Mirtle:
After all, his team has fallen from first overall five weeks ago into a tie for 12th in the NHL, dropping back into a pack of seven teams clustered between sixth and 12th in the Eastern Conference.
While the Leafs are at the top of that heap with 33 points, theyâ€™re also just four points from the bottom of the group heading into their meeting Tuesday with the last-place Carolina Hurricanes.
The Leafsâ€™ heady trip to first place was capped off with wins in back-to-back nights in early November, as wins in New Jersey and Columbus gave Toronto a 9-3-1 record for one of the franchiseâ€™s best starts in its history.
Staying on top, however, lasted all of two days, as the Leafs were blown out 7-0 by the Boston Bruins in their next game.
Since that point, theyâ€™ve won just six of 16 games, going 6-8-2 despite coming out on the right end of a couple 7-1 routs of their own.
In the 10 losses, the Leafs were outscored 43-16, a sign of how badly their goaltending and defensive play have laboured during a road-heavy stretch.
A disconcerting stat hovers like a dark cloud over the Leafs’ solid 15-11-3 overall record. Exclude their opening month record of 7-3-1 and the Leafs are a .500 team at 8-8-2 in their eighteen games since the calendar turned November. This Leafs team has now been playing at or below the .500 mark for longer than it played above it. Â Fortunately, an especially hot start compensated for what has been a month and a half of below-playoff-calibre hockey from the Leafs.
NHL realignment, more Burke & Wilson vs. Cox & Simmons, new owners and, oh yeah, the Leafs played some hockey games, too.
Quite the week and a lot to discuss, so we’ll get right to it.
The most important thing to happen this week, believe it or not, was not the new ownership change, it was NHL realignment.
The Leafs will of course be playing the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning six times a year now, each. They already play four of these teams six times a year, but now they’re adding 12 more division games. So you play 44% of your games within your grouping (I’m calling it that for now) and you only make the playoffs based on your point totals compared to those other teams.
Photo Credit: Paul Hunter/Toronto Star
Imagine if you will, being a free agent and having teams covet you; imagine Brian Burke wanting to sign you. Imagine scoring your first goal in the ACCÂ putting the puck through the legs of a Flyer defenseman and burying it top shelf with Phil Kessel providing the assist. Must be hard to be Tyler Bozak, right?
It was much harder than even he knew at the time. Bozak was â€œforcedâ€ to play No1 center position in only his second NHL season and thatâ€™s a lot to ask from a guy not named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There is no denying the pressure was overwhelming, as it often is in Toronto. Not having the poise or the confidence to play with Kessel that season, he found himself in a hole, finishing the season with a -29 and 32 points in 82 games. Ah the perils of being Tyler Bozak.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)
An update on the Maple Leafs of tomorrow:
- After being passed over by the Maple Leafs coaching staff to begin the year, Nazem Kadri has made it his mission to claw his way back to the NHL. He had a superb month of November with 6 goals and 11 assists for 17 points in 12 games played. Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins has been working closely with the youngster to help him simplify his game and cut down on the mental mistakes he was prone to making last year. With that said, the team has been careful about not keeping Kadri on too tight a leash offensively. He should be ready for a return to the NHL early in the new year.
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