Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Authors Posts by Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens

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Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike

Jay McClement
Photo: Windsor Star

Here’s five Leaf thoughts to get you through your Friday, with five links at the bottom.

Steckel and McClement Faceoff Woes

I was taking a look at the faceoff numbers, and I noticed some altogether startling numbers from Steckel and McClement.  Both were once kings of the faceoff circle, with McClement averaging 51.6% of his 1152 draws in 2010-2011 and 51.3% of his 873 draws in 2011-2012, whereas Steckel won 62.3% of his 820 draws in 2010-2011, and 58.0% of his 1108 draws in 2011-2012.

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Photo: ChrisD.ca

Former Leafs Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood came back to haunt their old club with five points between them, as the Winnipeg Jets trounced the Leafs 5 – 2 on Tuesday night.  Blake Wheeler scored two goals, while Ondrej Pavelec had a rare good showing with 24 saves for the victory.  Phil Kessel scored both goals for Toronto, and now has nine on the season, and five in his last five games.

CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR

With the first half of the season in the books, the Toronto Maple Leafs sit firmly entrenched in fifth place in the East with an impressive record of 15 – 10 – 0.  So who should we thank for the great successes so far at the midway mark?

Top Forward:
In the least interesting reveal of the article, Nazem Kadri wins this first Middy™ by a wide margin.  He took the team lead in points in the third game of the season and hasn’t looked back, having tallied 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 25 games.  His arrival to the Leafs may have had few more layovers than anyone hoped, but he’s now showing every night just why Brian Burke was right to draft him seventh overall in 2009.

The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in the alley and on the ice in the first period and survived a late push on the way to a 5 – 4 win on Wednesday night.  The Leafs took a lead early, and chose not to look back, with goals coming from Tyler Bozak, Jay McClement, James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri.  James Reimer made 39 saves, while Kessel recorded two assists for his first three point night of the year.

After 22 games, the one thing Leafs fans can agree on is that Randy Carlyle’s coaching methodology can be frustrating as hell.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the deployment of Mikhail Grabovski.

After signing a five-year, 27.5-million dollar contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs last March, it seemed as though the Leafs had shored up a terrific top-six centreman who could be counted on for 50 points a season.  But after 22 games Grabo sits with a modest 10 points (six goals, four assists); good for about 37 points in an 82-game schedule.  Yet under Carlyle he’s developed into the team’s top shutdown pivot.  So what’s to make of it?

Phil Kessel FLEX

The Toronto Maple Leafs continued their winning ways on the road, dropping the toothless Florida Panthers 3 – 0 on Monday night.  Ben Scrivens made 37 saves in his second consecutive shutout and the Buds were buoyed by goals from Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Clarke MacArthur.  The win was the Leafs second in a row, and broke a 5-game losing streak in Sunrise, Florida.

Abelimages/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel’s agent, indicated his client’s apparent desire to spend the rest of career playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  This, despite being disappointed in the club’s performance last season (I don’t even want to know what adjective he’d use to describe the two previous seasons in Toronto), and with little guarantee yet that this team is primed for long-term playoff success.

We’ll probably never know why the camera-shy Kessel wants to remain in a media-laden Toronto; Arnott seems to suggest it is an admirable inner desire to win in hockey’s mecca. Perhaps the better question is, what could it cost to keep him?

Photo: Getty Images

At the start of this season, noise was made that the current Leafs roster would be ill-equipped to serve under Randy Carlyle’s tough-nosed, nasty, defense-first style of play.  That there was not enough team truculence to compete.

Despite the team placing 3rd in the league in fighting majors with seven, the club has been shorthanded a surprisingly low 23 times (3.29 penalties per game), fifth least in the league thus far.  It’s quite early still, but the disciplined play is a stark change for a team coached by Carlyle.  And that’s all for the better.

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Photo: Frank Franklin/Associated Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ offense disappeared down the stretch and the defense had no answer for the “22-Million Dollar Line” en route to a 5 – 2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday night.  This was a funny game, because the Leafs never really had any business winning, yet carried a lead for 40+ minutes.   That said, when Henrik Lundqvist has an average night, he ought to face more than 17 shots.

Nazem Kadri
Photo: Abelimags/Getty Images

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs put on a classically Toronto Maple Leaf performance, falling 7-4 to the New York Islanders.  It got ugly late, as an out of synch, laboured Leaf club seemed to erode in the final 40 minutes.  It was an all-too-familiar sight to behold.  And it has, perhaps unduly, substantially darkened the opinions of the team.

So what can be made of Leaf’s four game season?  Here are a couple quick thoughts on the manic life of a rebuilding club.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost the services of forward Keith Aucoin on Thursday, when he was picked up by the New York Islanders off of waivers.  Jokingly mourned about online, Aucoin’s departure comes less than six months after then-GM Brian Burke signed the veteran to bolster the AHL Marlies.  His acquisition by the Islanders marks the Leafs first loss to the roster due to waiver eligibility, but it probably won’t be the last.

Indeed, both the Leafs and the Marlies seem poised to lose some assets, all because timing is everything.  And because the Lockout has far reaching effects that we’re still learning about.

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Randy Carlyle spoke with reporters at the ACC for about 20 minutes Monday morning and shed some insight into the Leafs roster heading into training camp (thanks to Declan, you can check it out here).

The most promising and immediately important news from the interview is that Jake Gardiner, who has missed a month with concussion-like symptoms, is getting better and working out.  Carlyle remained hopeful that Gardiner, who tallied nine goals and 17 points in 22 games with the Marlies prior to the injury, would be back in time for training camp.

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Photo: Toronto Star

Recently I had an opportunity to interview Dave Poulin, vice president of hockey operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs, for Lindy’s Sports Maple Leafs Annual magazine.  Poulin, whose job focuses heavily on player acquisition and development at both the pro and amateur ranks, shared rare insight into almost all facets of the game.  From principles of drafting, the mechanics of pro scouting, and internal team growth, Poulin shed light on the important, behind-the-scenes work that dictates the future success of the franchise.

As is often the case in any written work, more is discussed than can be shown.  Inspired by MLHS readers’ questions, here are a couple pearls that Poulin shared with me relating to draft draft methodology, player value and prospect depth within the organization that –  due to space constraints – couldn’t be included in the feature.

Be sure to check out Alex Tran’s mag preview with Dave Morrison, if you haven’t already.  More info on the magazine release and availability will follow soon.  Looking forward to your thoughts; enjoy.

Not too much of this for Kulemin this season (Photo Credit: AP).

Not too much of this for Kulemin this season (Photo Credit: AP).

The Toronto Maple Leafs have re-signed winger Nikolai Kulemin to a two-year, estimated $5.6-million contract this morning.  The Leafs avoided the potentially acrimonious arbitration process, signing the Magnitogorsk native to a deal with a modest cap hit of $2.8-million.

Kulemin, a 2006 second round draft pick, struggled mightily prior to a season-ending finger injury last season, posting career lows with seven goals and 28 points in 70 games.  He scored 30 goals for the Maple Leafs in the 2010-2011 season.

The two-year term means Kulemin will be a UFA at deal’s end, as opposed to a “show me” one-year deal which would’ve seen him become an RFA again next off-season, but there’s little doubting this is good value if Kulemin’s offensive game even half rebounds.

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Anthony Petrielli and I will be interviewing Toronto Maple Leafs Vice-President of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, tomorrow afternoon for an upcoming feature.  The discussion will revolve mostly around recent player acquisition and attempt to glean some insight on the day-to-day operations of the club from a management perspective heading into the 2012-2013 season.  Please feel free to submit any possible questions you might have in the comments section below.  Looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with.

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Photo: Toronto Star

Photo: Toronto Star

The Toronto Maple Leafs have – even by their standards – had a very quiet offseason.  Since late May, GM Brian Burke has focused almost entirely on improving the forward corps for the 2012-2013 season with the signings of both Leo Komarov and Jay McClement; and trading for potential sell-low steal of the year, James van Riemsdyk.  The acquisitions have mostly been lauded as beneficial to the club, in particular for infusing some snarl, defense and skill into the beleaguered club’s front ranks.

But it takes only the most cursory of sifting through tea leaves to discover that these moves, while improving the team, are a precursor to even more change in the appearance of the forward ranks heading into next season.

Even without the additions of Komarov, van Riemsdyk and McClement, the Maple Leafs already have 13 forwards under contract for next season who played at least 10 games for the club in the 2011-2012 season.

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Photo: Getty Images

With the Toronto Maple Leafs set to select fifth overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft on June 22, most Ontarians seem to be impatiently pining for an all-world talent to fall into GM Brian Burke’s lap.

Speculation will run rampant up until the moment just before Burke steps to the podium, when he caustically taunts a rival GM about his pending selection, ruining the reveal.  But is there something we should know about Burke that he’s not telling us?

I back-tested the last seven drafts that Burke has participated in – three with Toronto, four with Anaheim – going back to 2005.  In those seven drafts, Burke selected a total of 52 players.  Only eight of them, or 15.9 percent, are European-born or European-trained (all others are North American).

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Scott Laughton
Photo: oshawagenerals.com

After jumping 30 spots in the most recent International Scouting Service report, the 2012 MLHS Draft Profiles turns its watchful eye to Oshawa Generals centerman and Jack-of-all-trades, Scott Laughton.

There’s a lot to like about Scott Laughton, who recorded 21 goals, 32 assists and 101 PIM in 64 games, skating mostly on a line with Christian Thomas (40th overall in 2010 by NYR) and Andy Andreoff (80th overall in 2011 by LAK).  After starting the year slowly, Scott Laughton has developed into a reliable two-way force in the ‘Shwa.

What Scott Laughton has that should separate him from the pack is will.  Simply put, the guy works hard each night and was relied upon as a special teams cog over older, more established players on the Generals roster. He initiates contact, and is dogged in his pursuit of the puck.  And despite a relatively average frame (6-foot-1, 178 pounds), he’s a willing pugilist.  He might want to rein-in that last element of his game for future success, as his any-situation utility is moot while he’s in the sin bin.