Saturday, May 30, 2015
Authors Posts by Garrett Bauman

Garrett Bauman

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Leafs Nation held its collective breath when news broke yesterday that injured goaltender James Reimer was experiencing “concussion-like symptoms” and was subsequently placed on IR.  With a maddeningly-inconsistent Jonas Gustavsson set to start against the New York Rangers, The Nation — rightly or wrongly — wondered aloud if it was about to bear witness to the beginnings of yet another late-October collapse.

As it turns out, fans need not have worried. “The Monster” turned in an excellent performance against the Rangers, stopping 28 of 30 shots on net, and providing the fanbase a glimmer of hope that he can still recapture the form he displayed in his rookie season two years ago.  Gustavsson’s pure ability has never been denied; his ability to put it all together on a consistent basis, however, has left much of the fanbase in doubt over what his role — and future — with the organization will ultimately be.

Gustavsson’s challenge now is to prove he can turn in reliable performances such as last night’s on a regular basis.  With Reimer not eligible to return until Sunday at the earliest, he should have an opportunity to do exactly that Saturday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins roll into town.

Morning links after the jump.

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Photo: Tom Mihalek/AP Photo

The Maple Leafs continue their road swing this week with stops in Philadelphia (tonight) and New York (Thu), before returning home to face Pittsburgh (Sat), after which they head to Ottawa (Sun) to close out October.  The week ahead will prove a difficult test for a Toronto squad which has not played nearly as well as its 5-1-1 record might otherwise suggest.

The Flyers can be expected to ice a gameplan similar to that of the Bruins last Thursday: physical, hard-forechecking forwards crashing the net and forcing defenders to try to move them.  Things won’t get any easier against the Rangers, where perennial Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist has had success against the Leafs (9-4-4, 2.54, .911 in his career vs Toronto), as have forwards Marian Gaborik (11-6-6-12) and Brad Richards (30-16-14-30). And the Penguins, largely without the services of Evgeni Malkin, have found a way to get it done sporting a 6-2-2 record while allowing a mere 2.2 goals per game.

Although it may be tempting to declare Sunday’s game a reprieve, the Senators are quietly starting to find their stride. As evidenced by the first installment of the Battle of Ontario, in which Ottawa nearly came back from a four-goal deficit, nothing can be taken for granted in a league where so little separates the teams at the bottom from those in the middle of the pack.

All in all, a very tough week ahead — one which represents an opportunity for the Maple Leafs to prove to the critics that, unlike last season, this time their hot start is for real.

Morning links after the jump.

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The Good: The Maple Leafs sport a 4-0-1 record, having garnered 9 of a possible 10 points during a 5-game homestand to start the season. Optimists, you may stop reading right now.

The Bad: In the second game of the season the Leafs nearly coughed up a 4-goal lead, and in three subsequent games have had a lousy first 30-40 minutes followed by an exceptional final 20. That just won’t cut it over the long haul.

The Ugly: The team’s defensive play — chiefly, that of its blueliners — has run the gamut from excellent to unfocused to “meh” to worryingly-disorganized to gone-completely-off-the-rails in the span of five games. Making matters worse, the past two weeks were the easy part of the October schedule.

Ultimately, it is the play of the defense corps which dictates the entire flow of the game. Everything from puck possession, to the transition game, to the subsequent genesis of scoring chances for and against, begins and ends with the defensive unit. If the defenders aren’t doing their jobs, the play of the forwards, and the goaltender, will invariably suffer. The Leafs got very lucky last night — as they have in their past three games — but can’t expect to survive many more performances like those.

But hey, at least the powerplay is clicking again!

Recommended A.M. reading after the jump.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs wrap up their preseason with a home-and-home beginning tonight, and continuing Saturday, versus the Detroit Red Wings.

With Nazem Kadri out for 3-4 weeks, and Tim Connolly due to miss the final two preseason games, several Leafs’ players will be looking to capitalize on the opportunity to lock down roster spots or earn consideration as early call-ups. Among these will be Matt Frattin, looking to cement a role on the third line in place of Kadri; Jay Rosehill, who will be looking to supplant Colton Orr in the enforcer role; Darryl Boyce and Philippe Dupuis will continue to duke it out for the fourth line centre role; and the impressive Jake Gardiner, looking to crack a deep Leafs’ defense. Goaltender Ben Scrivens remains locked in a battle with Jonas Gustavsson for the backup role to James Reimer, while Matthew Lombardi — arguably the greatest benefactor of Connolly’s absence — will continue his quest to prove he is finally healthy.

It should all add up to an intriguing final two games for the boys in blue and white.

Morning links after the jump.

According to the Toronto Marlies Twitter feed, Brayden Irwin (signed out of the NCAA toward the end of the 2009-10 season by the Leafs, but a free agent during the 2011 offseason) has signed with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate:

TorontoMarlies
Toronto Marlies announce today that the club has signed forward Brayden Irwin to an American Hockey League contract.

Further details are not available at this time, but suffice it to say this appears to be a depth signing by the organization. With several young forwards expected to receive callups at various points throughout the year, the Marlies will need players to turn to in order to fill out their roster — and Irwin is a player with whom they are already quite familiar.

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The training camp cuts continue, as the Leafs have re-assigned 14 more players to the AHL Marlies.

Via the National Post:

Forwards Luca Caputi, Joe Colborne, Jerry D’Amigo, Ryan Hamilton, Marcel Mueller, Kenny Ryan, Greg Scott and Mike Zigomanis, defencemen Jesse Blacker, Jeff Finger, Simon Gysbers, Korbinian Holzer and Juraj Mikus and goaltender Mark Owuya are heading to the Marlies.

Caputi, Hamilton, Zigomanis and Finger were all placed on waivers. They must clear waivers before they can wind up with the Marlies.

Much like the last round of cuts, there are few surprises here.  With roster spots at a premium barring injury, young players such as Colborne and Caputi will benefit more from a larger role with the Marlies than fighting for a 4th line job with the NHL club. D’Amigo will look to prove that he is ready for the AHL level of competition this time around, while Zigomanis’ reassignment confirms the battle for the Leafs’ 4th line centre role will be won by one of Darryl Boyce or Philippe Dupuis (with the other as the likely 13th forward on the roster).

Of course, the expected roster structure could change dramatically if Matthew Lombardi is ready for the season opener … but that remains a rather large “if” at this stage.

Doug Gilmour and Pat Burns at the 1992-93 NHL Awards

The early ’90s were an incredible time to be a Toronto sports fan. The Blue Jays captured back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, while the Maple Leafs, in those same years, traversed the road back to respectability following the tumultuous (and largely disastrous) Harold Ballard era.

Following successive seasons of seemingly-endless roster turnover (the 1991-92 Leafs closed out the year with only 4 members remaining from the 1989-90 squad) and less-than-stellar results, Leafs’ GM Cliff Fletcher felt he had finally established the right mix of youth and veteran experience to produce a legitimate contender. In fact, during the 1992 offseason, the man known as Trader Cliff somewhat surprisingly made only one deal of note: sending a future 3rd round pick (Martin Belanger) to Montreal for 25-year old shutdown defender Sylvain Lefebvre.

But Fletcher’s most impactful move would not prove to be a trade; rather, it would be the offseason hiring of former Montreal coach Pat Burns, whose fiery, no-nonsense approach would translate almost immediately to his players — especially franchise centrepiece Doug Gilmour.

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According to Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun, a new contract for Luke Schenn could be announced by the end of the week, putting to rest a source of offseason unease for many Leafs’ fans across the nation:

An NHL source indicated on Tuesday that a new contract for Schenn “should be done by Friday.”

In other words, the expectation is Schenn will be at camp on the first day, when players undergo medicals.

Josh Rimer, producer for NHL Home Ice on SiriusXM, added to the speculation on Twitter:

I’m hearing Luke Schenn deal will most likely be officially announced Friday. Trying to confirm but hearing 3year deal around 4million per.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie weighed in with his thoughts, also:

My take on RFAs: Schenn, Marchand, Bogosian, Bailey more likely than not will get done by the weekend. Dialogues ongoing, which is +ve sign.

While all of this remains speculation at the present moment, it is not absent of merit; getting a contract done by Friday would allow Schenn — who spent part of the offseason working out with Shea Weber — to get to training camp in the nick of time.  No time lost, no harm.

One can only hope that “no time lost” does indeed turn out to be the case.

Glenn Anderson
Not even the mustachulence of Glenn Anderson could save the Leafs' 1991-92 season.

Twenty years ago … still feels like yesterday.

1991-92 was a season of note. In celebration of the NHL’s 75th anniversary, the Original 6 teams introduced throwback uniforms — the dawn of 3rd jerseys in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks entered the league as the first expansion team since the 1979 NHL/WHA merger. Top draft pick Eric Lindros refused to sign a contract with the Quebec Nordiques, leading to a controversial trade with the Philadelphia Flyers which would turn the Quebec franchise into a powerhouse. The league endured a 10-day NHLPA strike, resulting in the season ending in June for the first time. Following the season, longtime NHL President John Ziegler would step down, paving the way for Gary Bettman to take over as Commissioner in two years’ time.

It was a banner season for several players of note: Mario Lemieux captured the scoring title and led the Pittsburgh Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup victory. Nine players topped the 100-point plateau, including Brian Leetch — a feat no defenseman has matched since. Jeremy Roenick and Kevin Stevens topped 50 goals for the first time each, while Brett Hull hit 70 goals for the third straight year. Legendary blueliner Larry Robinson played his final NHL game, while a future superstar named Martin Brodeur made his first appearance for the New Jersey Devils … who drafted another future superstar, Scott Neidermeyer, with a pick acquired two years’ prior from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As for those lovable Leafs, change was in the air following yet another season in the cellar — with the team poised to take its first steps toward 1990s respectability.

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NHL ShieldMLHS reader Charlie posed an interesting question this morning:

“Why is [Shea] Weber a RFA after this contract? [Zach] Parise, same draft year, is UFA next year.”

On the surface, it does seem a bit odd – two players, same draft year, both went to arbitration, yet one will be a restricted free agent in a year while the other will be unrestricted. How exactly does that work?

The answer to that quandary lies in a sliding condition in the CBA which is currently known as the “27 or 7″ Rule.

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Dave Poulin and Brian Burke

Dave Poulin and Brian Burke
Photo: QMI Agency

Prior to speaking with Rick Dudley for the Maple Leafs Annual, I also had the opportunity to speak with Dave Poulin, Vice-President of Hockey Operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Having contributed an interview for last year’s edition of the Annual, Mr. Poulin graciously agreed to accommodate our request again this year.

Follow the jump for a few excerpts of our chat.

As was the case with prior excerpts, the following quotes are excerpted from a larger interview and thus the flow of the questions may seem a bit off.  The full interview will appear in the Maple Leafs Annual, due to hit newsstands in September.

Director of Player Personnel, Rick DudleyLast week I had the privilege of speaking with Rick Dudley, Director of Player Personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs, for a feature in the forthcoming Maple Leafs Annual magazine. We had asked for a few of your questions for Mr. Dudley, and were able to work some of them in during the course of the interview.

Follow the jump for excerpts featuring your questions.  As with Alex’s prior interview with Dave Morrison, please bear in mind that the flow of questions may seem a little off as these are excerpts pulled from various sections.

The full interview will appear in the Maple Leafs Annual this September.

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What, Me Worry?

What, Me Worry?
Alfred E. Neuman: Leafs Fan.

Two and half weeks have passed since the July 1st free agent frenzy, and many in Leafs Nation continue to ponder the unsigned status of Maple Leafs’ defenseman Luke Schenn.  With GM Brian Burke currently taking a well-deserved vacation, odds are it may be a while yet before pen is put to paper on a new deal for one of the franchise’s cornerstone players.

Were Schenn the only prominent restricted free agent remaining unsigned, his status as such would be apt cause for concern. However, Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos, and the Los Angeles Kings’ superstar-to-be Drew Doughty also remain unsigned to date.   Is this perhaps a case of waiting for the shoe to drop with one of the aforementioned (Doughty), or simply a case of the formalities of a contract having not been deemed an exceptionally  high priority?

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The excitement never ends, does it? Days after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the NHL Awards capped off the season with a somewhat surprising (albeit well-deserved)  Hart Trophy nod to Corey Perry. A day later, the Philadelphia Flyers rocked the hockey world with two major trades … with reports suggesting the Leafs were nearly a trading partner in both.

As if that hasn’t been enough, trade and free agency rumours continue to run rampant. The Leafs have several of their own player re-signings still on the horizon, and somewhere in all that a draft is about to take place.

Some late-night thoughts on all the madness, after the jump.

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According to a report in the Toronto Star, Maple Leafs’ goaltender James Reimer has signed a multi-year contract with the club.

While terms of the deal have yet to be released, the contract is believed to be similar to that of Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick, who last season signed a 3-year contract valued at $1.8 million per season with Los Angeles.

More details to be posted as they become available.

Update: CapGeek has listed the deal as 3 years at $1.8 million per (5.4m total), identical to that of Quick.

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What was interesting about Friday’s late-breaking report by Stephen Brunt of a deal between the owners of the Atlanta Thrashers and True North Sports & Entertainment was less the news of a possible deal to bring hockey back to Winnipeg (the story of True North’s – and particularly part-owner David Thomson’s – interest in buying the Thrashers was first reported by Al Strachan on HNIC back in 2009), and more the mini-controversy that immediately followed the report.

While Brunt’s report claimed sources had confirmed a deal was finalized, TSN followed with a report of their own claiming their sources suggested a deal was definitely in the works but stressed that nothing was finalized. What’s interesting about this are the connections at play: The highly-respected Brunt writes for the Globe & Mail, whose Chairman is none other than David Thomson … a fact not lost on the many joyously quoting said report. TSN, on the other hand, was using sources tied to the NHL, which as a matter of policy (and legal protection) will not confirm any deals until everything is signed, sealed and delivered.

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I’ve noticed lots of questions about the new comment system.  Here’s an easy step-by-step to getting yourself set up.

1. Scroll to the bottom of a post, click Login just above the comments box.

2. At the bottom of the login popup, click the “Register a new profile” link.

3. Enter your email address (the same one you used for your old MLHS account). Also enter a username and password. Don’t worry if your old username was taken just yet … this is only necessary for login purposes.

4. Once registered, you will be sent a verification email. Go to your inbox, click the verification link, and you will find yourself at the Disqus page (Disqus manages the comments system).

5. At the top right, you will see your username. Hover over it, and select “Edit Profile” from the dropdown list. Here you can merge with your prior MLHS account (provided you used the same email address as before), set your Avatar, and tie in other services such as Twitter and Facebook.

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The NHL and NBC/Versus have announced a 10 year broadcast and media rights agreement, valued at approximately $2 billion or roughly $200 million per year, a sharp increase from the $77.5 million arrangement currently in place.

On a short-term basis the deal, essentially a 150% per-year increase, is a good one for the NHL, which you may remember did even not have a US television deal in place coming out of the lockout.  Only six years later, an arrangement of this value represents a major coup for both Gary Bettman and the NHL as a whole. However …

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Photo credit: Getty Images

Mikhail Grabovski will be looking for number 30Â (Photo credit: Getty Images)

A day after seeing their playoffs hopes dashed by a combination of a shootout loss to Washington and a Sabres win over the Lightning, the Maple Leafs find themselves in New Jersey for their second-last game of the season, and final game on the road.

Although the excitement and momentum of an impressive second half run has been somewhat dampened by inevitability, the Leafs still have much to play for.

Not only is there a chance to overtake Carolina and further impact Boston’s draft position, there remains also opportunity for players to impress coaches and management with an eye toward establishing/cementing roles for next season.