Editor’s Note: Please welcome Tim Bayer to the MLHS writing staff. Tim contributes at Editor in Leaf and can be followed on Twitter @tj_bayer. He’ll be contributing some Sunday mashups for us here at MLHS.
Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. How many days during the year are you encouraged to eat food, watch sports and hang out with family and friends all day? As the weather is starting to cool down (although it’s been absolutely beautiful here in Southern Ontario this weekend), the NHL season is just warming up, and Thanksgiving is even more enjoyable when the Leafs are winning. I like to take some time during this great holiday weekend to reflect on the many blessings I enjoy that I usually take for granted. On that note, here are some NHL- and Leafs-related things I’m thankful for:
1. A full 82-game season
Thanksgiving was great last year, but even during all the festivities, something was missing. There was no Leafs hockey on my television set. As we know all too well, the league was locked out for a few dumb and boring reasons involving HRR and escrow and Jeremy Jacobs last season. During those difficult three months, I was forced to do other things like interact with my family and watch the Toronto Raptors (shudder). Mercifully, the NHL started in time this fall, and it’s been glorious.
2. Phil Kessel
Need I say more? I probably don’t, but I will anyway. Kessel was signed just before the start of the season to an eight-year, $64-million contract, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Some people thought the Leafs were crazy to give that kind of term and money to one of the best goal-scorers alive. I’ll politely remind those people to stop forgetting to take their meds in the morning.
3. NHL Centre Ice free previews
I usually enjoy free stuff, and the Centre Ice preview graciously provided by the NHL and Bell ExpressVu is no exception. I thought long and hard about purchasing Centre Ice or GameCentre Live, but ended up deciding against it. I have to admit though; enjoying access to all these games during the preview has really made that decision difficult. Since the start of the season, I’ve noticed a few trends from around the league. For example, a lot of teams started their backup goaltenders on Friday night. The Pittsburgh Penguins started some guy named Jeff Zatkoff, and he wasn’t very good and they lost to the Florida Panthers. The New York Islanders started another guy I’ve never heard of before named Kevin Poulin, and unsurprisingly, they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks themselves started a 40-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin who looked shaky at times and gave up two goals on only 19 shots. This brings me to the next thing I’m thankful for…
4. Good goaltending
During the Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft and Jonas Gustavsson years, good goaltending was as elusive to the Leafs as a Tasmanian tiger. James Reimer put an end to the dark years last season, and newly acquired Jonathan Bernier is off to a blazing start this year. A lot of media types like to talk about how the Leafs have a “goaltending controversy” on their hands because they have two good goalies, but as Anthony Petrielli mentioned a few days ago, it’s really only a controversy if both goalies struggle. Right now, Bernier has been phenomenal, and if he struggles, I believe in the capabilities of Reimer. Choosing between two starting-caliber goalies on the roster is a pretty convenient problem to have.
5. Paul Holmgren
Holmgren is the Philadelphia Flyers’ general manager who gifted the Leafs with van Riemsdyk in exchange for Luke Schenn, a defenseman who unnamed Flyers sources recently dumped on by way of Darren Dreger. Yikes. The Flyers have all kinds of issues right now so I won’t pile on them too much, but JvR has been as important to the Leafs’ success as just about anybody. The big, 24-year-old left-winger is ferocious down low, using his size to box out defenders and create space. He also has some wickedly soft hands and terrifyingly quick wheels. With his range and skill down low, he looks like he’ll benefit from the shallower net implementation as well. He has a lot of tools in his offensive arsenal and has meshed extremely well on the top line with Kessel, so for the 7,898th time: Thank you, Holmgren.
But enough from me, what are YOU thankful for this holiday weekend?
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Jonathan Bernier holding edge in goalie battle with James Reimer – for now
I have no doubt Reimer will be ready when the opportunity comes. From Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post.
J.P. Nikota has the recap and a not-so-subtle dig at Oilers fans. From Pension Plan Puppets.
Hotstove Tonight: Why Leafs feel need to sign Phaneuf
Will Phaneuf be willing to take a bit of a paycut to stay in Toronto? Video from Hockey Night In Canada.