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Derek Harmsworth

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There is little question that next season is the one Brian Burke has been working towards as the beginning of his team’s perennial contention; playoffs are no longer the hope, they’re the expectation for 2011-12.  Brian Burke enters year three at the helm of the team.  The team has improved steadily in the previous years under Burke, and with the way last season finished, fans will be expecting bigger and better things from the Leafs this year.

Even the most optimistic of Leafs fans would have a hard time believing the roster as currently constituted is a playoff lock. There’s work to be done this summer once Burke finishes vacationing in Afghanistan (that’s a joke). With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of players who may be on the Maple Leafs radar.  It’s important to note I’ve included only UFAs, and the course the Leafs take in free agency will be altered in many different ways, by many different decisions.  Let’s take a look at a few names that could help the Leafs move forward.

Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If this is an “Inception” inspired dream, James Reimer is going to be one angry guy.  But who’s kidding, Christopher Nolan is tied up on other projects, and even more of a stretch would be to see the happy-go-lucky Reimer mad.

Although I’m not sure he’s even had to time to sit down, lean back, and take in everything he has accomplished this past season, James Reimer is on a whirlwind tour through the land of hockey, picking up fans and supporters along the way.

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Photo Credit: Reuters

What was once a distant dream now appears to be inching closer to reality.  The Toronto Maple Leafs, considered by many in pre-season polls to be among the NHL’s worst teams, are right in the thick of the playoff hunt, and look to continue to defy the logic and keep the run going against the banged up Pittsburgh Penguins tonight on Hockey Night In Canada.

The Storyline

The Maple Leafs continue their unlikely push for a playoff spot tonight when they host the Penguins.  Not only are the Leafs defying expectations, but they’re doing it despite being active sellers through the start of February.

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After what has felt like a lifetime of speculation and rumours, the Toronto Maple Leafs officially pulled the trigger on a transaction that will see Tomas Kaberle, the longest serving member of the organization, on his way out of town.

By now you know that the Maple Leafs received prospect Joe Colborne, a first round pick, and a conditional second round pick from the Bruins in exchange for the services of Kaberle.

It’s a move that already has been held up to the light my many, in an attempt to evaluate the pros and cons from both angles.  The scrutiny will only intensify as Kaberle gets back into the playoffs with the Bruins, and the Maple Leafs use their picks received either as assets in another deal, or in drafting players at this year’s 2011 NHL entry draft.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs welcome the Atlanta Thrashers to the Air Canada Centre tonight for the first of four meetings between the teams.  The Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, while the Thrashers are fresh off a 7-1 win over the New Jersey Devils this past Saturday night.

The Storyline

The Maple Leafs currently sit in 13th place in the East with 28 points, while the Thrashers sit fifth in the conference with 41 points.  Atlanta can jump back into first in the Southeast division with a win tonight.  Atlanta is 6-2-2 in their last ten, while the Maple Leafs have struggled as of late, compiling a record of 4-5-1 in their last ten games.

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    In the second installment of The Weekender, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at the week that was in Leafs Nation, previews the week’s games, and goes around the league.

    The Week That Was

    On Tuesday night the Toronto Maple Leafs made their return to Western Canada, kicking off a three game swing against the Edmonton Oilers.  Following an embarrassing loss at the hands of the Oilers a few weeks before, and comments by Taylor Hall that, whether they came out wrong or not, seemed to fire up the visitors, the Maple Leafs brought their game to Edmonton and skated to a 4-1 victory.  Dion Phaneuf, who was a big storyline of the Western trip, opened the scoring for the Leafs with his first of the season.  Mikhail Grabovski, Kris Versteeg, and Phil Kessel also tallied for the Leafs.  Jordan Eberle was the lone Oilers goal scorer.  Maple Leafs goalie J.S. Giguere got the win, stopping 23 shots.

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs return to action tonight, kicking off a three game, all Canadian Western road swing beginning in Edmonton as they tangle with the Oilers.  The Leafs are coming off a positive swing through the top teams in the East, finishing with a 3-2 record against Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Montreal.

    The Storyline

    Not only will the Toronto Maple Leafs be looking to build on the little success they have had lately, but they will also be looking to avenge the happenings of December 2nd, when the Edmonton Oilers came into the Air Canada Centre and embarrassed the Maple Leafs in a 5-0 rout.  Sam Gagner, Ryan Jones, Taylor Hall (2), and Jordan Eberle all scored for Edmonton that night, while Nikolai Khabibulin picked up the shutout.  The Leafs are 4-5-1 in their last ten games.

    The Oilers, meanwhile, are looking to rebound after a dismal 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.  The Oilers amassed a mere 12 shots on goal in the contest, and spent the majority of yesterday’s practice working on ways to improve their firepower.

    And as if they needed the extra motivation, Taylor Hall made sure the Leafs were fired up with a little bulletin board material.

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      In the debut edition of The Weekender, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at the week that was in Leafs Nation, glances ahead at the upcoming week on the schedule, and dishes out thoughts on the rest of the National Hockey League.

      The Week That Was

      On Monday night the Toronto Maple Leafs authored an amazing comeback in what could possibly go down as the game of the year when all is said and done.  Losing 4-1 to the high flying Washington Capitals going into the third period, the Leafs stunned the Caps, scoring three unanswered in the third to force extra time.  To cap off the memorable night, Mikhail Grabovski scored on the spin-o-rama in the shootout.  Grabovski also scored in regulation to get the rally started.  Clarke MacArthur had two goals on the night, including the tying goal, while Tim Brent also scored for Toronto.  Jonas Gustavsson made 32 saves.

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      Forgive Leafs fans for seeming a little unappreciative.  Certainly we appreciate the effort put forth by the team in two dramatic victories over the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, but would it kill you guys to make it a little less dramatic?

      After Monday’s big come from behind win the Toronto Maple Leafs return to action tonight, continuing their treacherous week through the top teams in Eastern Conference.  On tap tonight is a battle against Sidney Crosby and the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center.

      This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams, both in Pittsburgh.  The first saw the Maple Leafs take a 4-3 win on October 13th.

      It can be safely said that Saturday night’s tilt between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs will go down as one of the best hockey games of the year.  It had a little bit of everything; bone crunching hits, jaw jarring fights, ridiculous saves, last minute heroics, and a shootout victory that included a killer backhand, and a former Bruin getting at least some measure of revenge.

      With all that action in mind, it is somewhat ironic that the player who stood out the most in my mind was someone who didn’t even get his name on the scoresheet.

      Colby Armstrong returned from injury and joined the Leafs top line, paying immediate dividends in the Leafs 3-2 shootout victory at home on Hockey Night In Canada this past Saturday.  Armstrong had missed time with an injured hand.

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      Forgive Leafs fans for being a little cautious with their optimism these days as it relates to net gains between the pipes for the organization.  After all, still fresh in the minds of those in Leafs Nation is the not too long ago time when the Maple Leafs boasted both Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask in their goaltending stable, two goalies who were at the time highly touted following junior campaigns.

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      For the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans, the last two seasons of hockey have combined for some roller coaster level of emotions.  There was the bringing in of Brian Burke, the general manager with the pedigree to lead this team back to respectability, and back to the playoffs, with ultimately the goal of ending the Stanley Cup drought.

      Then the hope was awash when the Leafs started the year off with a thud, winless in their first seven games, a stretch that they never did quite recover from.  The trades in January that brought Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, Fredrik Sjostrom, and J.S. Giguere to the organization brought about a new sense of optimism for the long suffering fans in Leafs Nation.

      And when the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the 2010-2011 NHL campaign with four straight wins, the optimism levels couldn’t have been higher.  After a lengthy losing streak, the team is back to playing more consistently, and with complete confidence you can declare that the Toronto Maple Leafs of 2010-2011 are an improved club.

      Just how much they have improved, and whether it will be enough for them to break the postseason drought this April, is another question altogether.

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      Week two of the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs schedule is in the books, and once again it was a week in which the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers, both tough road wins in which the Leafs showed strong character.

      With that in mind, here is week two of the Maple Leafs Player Power Rankings.  The rankings will read the players ranking, their stats, as well as their last week’s position.  Spoiler alert: There’s a new number one!

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      Week one of the Toronto Maple Leafs schedule is in the books, and while it only featured two games, there is plenty to talk about as far as the season goes.  The Maple Leafs are off to a 2-0 start, having won their second game of the season nearly one month ahead of the time they got win two last season.

      Through week one of the season, here are the Maple Leafs player power rankings, as seen by me.

      After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the new look squad hit the ice Thursday night for their home opener against the arch rival Montreal Canadiens, and with it marked the true dawning of a new age in Leafs Nation.

      While it’s true the hiring of Ron Wilson and Brian Burke will go down as the day the team began to turn the page on years of management misfortune, and the Dion Phaneuf day could very well end up being the trade that sparks the team forward much like the Doug Gilmour trade before it, Thursday night’s season premiere was really the first time since all this has taken place that it was truly a different roster.

      Gone were the incumbents of past regimes, It was finally Brian Burke’s team.  Having flipped the entire roster (sans Tomas Kaberle and Jeff Finger) Burke’s vision of the team could finally be implemented, his stamp beginning to form.

      And it was, for one game at least, as advertised.