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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

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Photo: Reuters

Putting their unbeaten record in regulation on the line in tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking for offense from new sources.

Owners of a 2/21 powerplay, and with just 7 of their 13 goals coming from someone not wearing the #81, its become clear that the Leafs’ early successes have been more the work of a one man magic act than 4 line team play.  If this sounds familiar, its because last year’s hot start was predicated on the dazzling offensive production from the aforementioned Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur.  But after an even better record after 4 games, an unreliable offense emerged and the Leafs tumbled down the standings behind a 9 – 19 – 4 record to close out the year 2010.

The Leafs schedule will soon turn from favorable to formidable after tonight’s tilt with 7 of the next 8 games on the road including visits to Philadelphia, Boston and New Jersey.  Its not a stretch to suggest that it will be in these next 2  – 3 weeks will prove whether or not the Leafs are a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.  While it was positive to see the Buds grind out a point Monday night, too many players have been absent from the score sheet thus far.  Very simply, for Toronto to have a meaningful season the rest of the top 9 forwards have to show up in numbers.

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Photo: Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

True to form, the Leafs have found a way to disappoint, this time it’s the media falling victim to the “surprisingly” unbeaten Leafs.  For a team surrounded by questions October 6, their critics have been mum about the club during this early, extended respite.  With four days remaining on the sojourn, the only real news of import is that Tim Connolly is doubtful to play and that Cody Franson will finally draw into the line up.

Quite simply, it’s like there’s nothing much to talk about.  Or rather, there’s no pot to stir.  There are the inevitable and inescapable roster questions.  However there’s no immediacy or concern, either temporally or in the standings.  This reprieve from the 82 game grind has granted an amnesty to the franchise.  But eventually the rubber will meet the road, so let’s take a look at some of the more compelling questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Photo: David Cooper/Toronto Star

Leave it to the Toronto Maple Leafs to have more roster questions heading into the regular season than heading into camp.  Suspensions, injuries and trades have forced more confusion as to who fits where in the forward corps.  Wednesday afternoon, reports came in from Leafs practice of Wilson’s impromptu line combinations heading into tonight’s home opener against the Montreal Canadiens.  While it seemed to answer a few questions, the current status of the Leafs roster longer term remains up in the air.

The programme editing department at the ACC must be a comedy of errors heading into tonight’s first tilt, but the wackiness won’t end just yet.  October has already been a surreal month for the Buds, with so many questions remaining. Let’s take a look at the leafs concerns up front.

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Photo: Reuters

Anyone remember the Leafs’ Skyline? Nieuwendyk between Ponikarovsky and Antropov? See, it was funny because all three are tall guys, and cities have buildings so tall as to shape the sky.  Okay, maybe not, but the nicknames given to forward trios are more than just humorous monikers.  They serve as touchstones in the NHL’s long history.

The Production Line; The Hound Line; The Legion of Doom.  As hockey fans, you know the team, the era, and the players.  Storied seasons, tenacious play, total on ice dominance are implied just by hearing the name.

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So, the Leafs have improved to 3 – 3 in preseason with last night’s victory over the Senators.  Making it all the more memorable was the fact that this Leafs squad managed to rally back after being down two goals in the first.  While the points mean nothing, and the record of the Leafs preseason will be forgotten from collective consciousness by game 2 of the regular season, the story lines of the Leafs season are already taking shape.  Ron Wilson will be on the hot seat this coming season, his 4th attempt as the Buds bench boss to make good on playoff promises past.  There are some trends, both disturbing and positive, becoming visible in Leaf land.

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Be sure to check out Mislav’s recap of the Leafs-Sens rookie game last night. Garrett has your Luke Schenn contract update here.

Alas, the Rookie tournament is over, but thank god for a sighting of hockey players wearing the blue and white. The Leafs showed well, winning twice over the weekend before succumbing to a hard fought loss against the hated Ottawa Senators.  The loss, while disheartening, showed more about the Leafs than either of their two wins.  Turnovers and defensive lapses put the baby buds into a hole early, but they fought back to tie it twice.  While ultimately unsuccessful, the kids showed they had character and determination.

I’ll admit that I actually spent three good nights watching the guys play, and after the jump, we’ll take a look at some parting thoughts from an exciting, optimism inducing Rookie Tourney.

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We get a lot of Leafs content on the site.  That makes a tonne of sense given the URL.  But every once in a while, it’s nice to take a look at some of the early storylines that could define a team’s success or failure over the course of the year.  So join me after the jump for 30 insights (okay that’s a strong word) on the league and your daily dosage of links.

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Hey, they happen to all of us.  But as it pertains to the Toronto Maple Leafs, there are a few players in particular that both fans and management are hoping to have some major breakouts in the 2011-2012 season.  In the 2010 – 2011 season, Leafs fans were treated to the coming out parties of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, and Clarke MacArthur.  The trio brought both life and excitement to an otherwise unsuccessful squad by playing above and beyond the expectations of cynical Leafs fans and expert NHL analysts alike.  So who amongst the Leafs are poised for a breakout year in the 2011 – 2012 season?  Join me after the jump for my answers, as well as your daily stipend of links.

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While the off season has been relatively quiet, something is becoming very clear about Brian Burke’s reconstruction of the storied Toronto Maple Leafs, especially as it pertains to the salary cap.  He’s perhaps more aware of it than any other GM, using the Leafs financial strength to broker trades of a magnitude rarely replicated.  Soon after taking the helm of the franchise, he began shedding the worst of the Leafs bloated contracts to underperforming veterans (Hagman, Kubina, McCabe, Toskala, the list could go on forever).  Since then he has fostered a group that consists of young guys (be they blue chip prospects, late blooming college guys, re-treads or bonafide stars) that have a lot reasons to push each other towards respectability on the ice.  What’s more? He might have given us a pretty big tell about how close this team is to being a contender and how soon the next group of prospects will be ready for prime time.

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Photo Credit: NHL.com

The rivalries remain, but the faces change.  For all the substantial additions that the Leafs have made, the 29 other teams in the league have not been idle.  Though its anyone’s game any given night, it’s the contemplative, patient process of adding the right pieces during the summer that allow continued success over the marathon half year regular season.  Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be looking at all 6 divisions in the NHL team by team, how the Leafs compared to them last season, their improvements, additions, subtractions and the Leafs outlook against these revamped teams come the fall.

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"l'enfer, c'est les autres"

What a difference a week makes, eh? Last week, all the buzz was about the now forgotten and insignificant Dry Island fiasco (only jerks use the Woodward and Bernstein ‘-gate’).  But it’s August now and while it’s cooling off outside, things are heating up around the league.  Most significantly, Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators need a mediator and Ryan Kesler has gone under the knife. Join me after the jump for news, commentary on Weber and links

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For a long while I’ve held off discussing the depth of uncertainty surrounding the club’s post season chances in 2012, because I hold out hope and I don’t wish to alienate my fan base before it reaches double digits.  Here we are, almost a month since July 1, and while there are a plethora of additions to the roster, coaching staff and front office, there are still potential weaknesses, holes and question marks surrounding the team.  With a core so young, nothing is given and little is certain.

I feel there are 3 questions yet to be definitively answered in this offseason that have the most improving or limiting effect on the Leafs chances next spring.  They seem as simple as coin flips to determining success, and harder than Rubik’s cube to solve.  If they pan out, it’s post season; if they don’t, its going to be a long year.

After the jump, we’ll take a look at some of the ifs and buts surrounding the Maple Leafs before we pay tribute to the other fine news breakers, fact finders and satirists in the Barilkosphere in our Links section.

"I never liked Carrie Underwood anyway" (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

In part 2 of our ongoing analysis of the 2011 Off-season, we’ll be looking at the July 3rd, 2011 trade that saw Brett Lebda, a conditional 4th round pick in 2013 and Robert Slaney (who?) shipped out to Nashville in exchange for head patient Matthew Lombardi and Leaf-fan Cody Franson.  After the jump, we’ll take a longer look at the acquisitions and what it means for the Leafs come October

Matthew Lombardi

His tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs might only be a footnote in the annals, albeit an expensive one.  Lombardi comes to Toronto as the 7 million dollar service charge for Cody Franson one year into a 3 year-10.5 million dollar deal he signed with Nashville.  His 2010 – 2011 season was cut short when he suffered a devastating concussion – his second – on October 13, 2010 against the Chicago Blackhawks.  The reality is that Lombardi isn’t ready resume workouts, almost nine months after sustaining the injury.

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Showing Boyce's face would make this NSFW

All three have notched career highs in games played and points scored in 2010 – 2011, and all three are pending Unrestricted Free Agents in July.  Between the ages of 26 and 28 all three have had breakthrough years.  Yet they aren’t looking to cash in on the open market.  They’re fighting just to make the Leafs 2011 – 2012 roster.

They’ve had to earn every NHL pay cheque they’ve cashed, but who among Darryl Boyce, Tim Brent and Joey Crabb will be back next season in blue and white?

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    ...s at allYes, its time again for another non-Leafs game day thread.  Tonight marks the start of the 3 other conference quarter finals games, with the Montreal Canadiens in Boston; Buffalo will be in the city of brotherly love for their first date with the Flyers and for a night cap the Battle of California will begin between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks.

    Though our boys in blue won’t be playing tonight, these three series are chock-full of ex-buds.  5 of the 6 clubs playing tonight have former Leaf products.  The rosters are a gold mine Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Leaf fans, as Brad Boyes, Tukka Rask, Tomas Kaberle, Tyler Seguin (well…sort of), Kris Versteeg, Hal Gill, Jamal Mayers, Ian White and Kyle Wellfed will be on the ice tonight.  Only the Kings are without a Leaf alum… which oddly doesn’t help their chances.

    Stats, storylines, and erroneous predictions after the break

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      …this is it.  Tonight marks the start of the 2010 – 2011 NHL playoffs.  5 of the 8 Conference Quarter Final match-ups will open tonight.  In the east, Pittsburgh will play host to Tampa and the New York Rangers will be visiting Washington.  Out west, Phoenix will be in Detroit, Nashville will be in So-Cal to take on Anaheim and Chicago will be in the Cable Box taking on Vancouver.

       With names like Datsyuk, Kesler, Ovechkin, Gaborik, Perry and Stamkos set to take the ice tonight, it’s worth mentioning that there’s still time to join Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Hockey Pool.  All ya gotta do is register for an account on cbc’s site, search for the Maple Leafs Hotstove league and input MLHS as the password.  Then you pick six forwards (three from each conference), four defencemen (two from each conference) and two goaltenders (one from each conference) while staying within the 30 point “player value” limit.  The MLHS reader who wins this pool gets a free Pucking Hilarious t-shirt for their trouble.  Here’s a tip…don’t pick Tukka Rask.

       Stats and story lines after the jump!

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      "Maple Leafs...transform and roll out!"

      Your Toronto Maple Leafs are in action tonight against the no-pronged attack of the Philadelphia Flyers.  Despite the absence of Pronger, the Leafs will be in tough against the deepest and possibly most balanced defense in the league.  Optimus Reim will make his 12th consecutive start for the buds who are hoping to break out of a 2 game skid while the Flyers will counter with Brian Boucher.  The game can be seen on Leafs TV at 7pm tonight.

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      I'm praying for a Belorussian bout tonight

      The Leafs are in Montreal tonight trying to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive against the recently flaccid Montreal Canadiens.  The Leafs enter tonight’s contest 8 points out of 8th place, but have been hot of late going 4 – 1 – 1 in their last 6. Montreal comes into the contest ‘ce soir’ with a firm hold on 6th place in the East but are losers of three straight.

      Tale of the Tape:

      Record (W – L – OTL):

      Leafs: 23 – 26 – 6

      Canadiens: 30 – 20 – 6

      Goals for:
      Leafs: 144 (23rd)
      Canadiens: 148 (21st)

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      The Hundred Million Dollar man with a ten dollar haircut.

      The new look Leafs will play host to the red-hot New Jersey Devils tonight in a match-up of surging cellar dwellers.  Both teams are well out of the playoff picture as of now (the Leafs sit 8 points out, the Devils 15), yet both teams are also coming into tonight’s contest with 2 consecutive wins.  The Leafs are also on a longer hot streak of 4 – 1 – 0 in their last 5.

      Incredibly, the Devils have gone 8 – 1 – 1 in their last ten.  Those 8 wins account for 40% of their wins through 54 games. Magically (or so it seems) all the problems in New Jersey – From the coach getting canned to Kovalchuk getting benched to Brodeur’s meteoric fall to mediocrity – were solely Jamie Langenbrunner’s fault.

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      The Leafs will be back in the Hanger tonight to take on the (formerly mighty) Anaheim Ducks.  JS Giguere will get the start for the Leafs after last night’s debacle in the big apple.  The Leafs, who have lost their past three games will be hoping that a return home will see a return to the win column.  Jonas Hiller will get the start for the Ducks, who are resting shoot out specialist Julie Gaffney from Bangor, Maine (yeah, that’s a D2 reference).