Whichever way you cut it, the Leafs endured a torrid season that no statistical tinkering can mend. Regardless, if there is one thing most opposing NHL fans can agree on itâ€™s the increasing need for an overhaul in the leagues pointsâ€™ structure and the farcical awarding of points in the overall standings.
Where once every game had two points at stake, either by means of two for the win or split after an OT tie, the inclusion of an extra point for teams losing in OT or, more prevalently, after the shootout, has spawned an lopsided points structure that favours teams and coaches who adopt an cautious approach toward the end of regulation time that is the polar opposite of what was originally intended. [more…]
Line-up Note: Tim Brent has been recalled from the Marlies and will feature tonight. He has recorded 26 points in 35 games this season, third on the team among active Marlies. Caputi or Primeau will sit according to AM640's Jonas Siegel.
The planets have aligned and the gods of hockey have shined their countenance upon the Leafs. Considering of course the various permutations that have to yet play out, it could still end up for nought at the close of play Sunday night. But after a favourable series of results, Toronto now has the chance to topple the Montreal Canadiens wavering playoff aspirations and boy do they owe the fans a blistering performance to give the Leafs faithful some tangible highlight from a season resplendent in lows. [more…]
Prior to the lockout, undrafted college free agents were a rare, straight to NHL commodity. Either serving out their apprenticeships as minor league signees or plying their trade overseas, few players transitioned directly from the ranks of college hockey to the NHL without enduring prolonged development curves. However, in a post-lockout landscape where GMâ€™s clutch their most valued assets and superstars to their clubs with dynasty length deals, and where dollars and ice time are apportioned in equilibrium, graduate aged (or younger) players progressing from the NCAA as free agents are providing comparatively cheap labour in an increasingly scrutinized marketplace.
Not too surprisingly, considering both his hockey heritage as a former captain of the Providence College Friars and his somewhat condensed timetable for rebuilding the Leafs, Brian Burke has been one of the first to plunder the verdant college market in recent seasons, in turn providing a quantum shift from the conventional dominance of the CHL at the junior level. [more…]
One of the more enigmatic problems facing Brian Burke in an summer that will see much of the contemporary Buds negligible talent headed for the door, is the impending contract crunch ofÂ now go-toÂ starter Jonas Gustavsson. Touted by many as the best netminder outside of the NHL last season, Gustavsson has shown exciting, if fleeting moments of the form that earned him widespread acclaim backstopping last seasonâ€™s Elitserien champions Farjestads BK.
Unfortunately, Gustavssonâ€™s dominant play in the SEL has failed to translate on a consistent basis in the NHL and much of the season many saw as the coronation of a new number one has been overshadowed by a significant heart problem. Supraventricular tachycardia aside, Gustavssonâ€™s woes in the aftermath of his worrisome sidelining have seemingly stemmed from a crisis of confidence borne out of the inconsistent, Jekyll and Hyde defense, The Monster has had to deal with on a night by night basis, as well as the organizationsÂ early and now aborted attemptsÂ at blooding Vesa Toskala as trade bait.
The pre-season Buds may have exuded that truculent belligerence so deeply worn into the modern Toronto fans lexicon, but they rarely looked convincing. Either letting leads slip or being forced to fight back from poor starts, the Leafs managed to scrap their way to a strong 6-3 record. But as the 2008 Detroit Lions will attest to, a good pre-season rarely translates into a successful regular season.
Subsequently, while it is easy to buy into the hype of September hockey after the barren months of Summer, the Leafs will do well to learn from the more lackadaisical moments of their 6-3 warm up before they start lacing up against the cream of the leagues â€œAâ€ squads. After all, rallying performances aside, the pre-season has done little but affirm that the Leafs own one of the strongest depth charts in the league, not necessarily the strongest team.
The baby Leafs cruised past a Philadelphia Flyers B team playing an increasingly dirty game Thursday evening. The first victory in a, so-far, entertaining pre-season; the Leafs acquitted themselves well with a lineup that could be argued weaker than that iced the night previous.
It took sometime to manifest, prolonged in the wake of shoulder surgery and stunted contract talks, but the September 10th news that negotiations between the Boston Bruins, Wade Arnott and Phil Kessel had come to an impasse reignited the rumor mill that has surrounded the Leafs and the Madison, Wisconsin sniper since Brian Burke first tabled Tomas Kaberle in the infamous draft day â€œmisunderstanding.â€
In the week that has passed since negotiations broke down, the value of Kessel has skyrocketed beyond the original RFA compensation of a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round selection in the 2010 draft.
Former NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly finally broke his silence yesterday following his firing early Monday morning. In a vicious 24 hours that also witnessed Glenn Healy's resignation, Kelly was forced to defend himself against allegations he misused his office having reputedly been caught reading a confidential transcript from a players meeting.
For his part, Kelly admitted reading the document to the Executive Board meeting that preceded his departure, saying he felt â€œduty boundâ€ after union members, concerned that the NHLPA constitution was being violated, actively sought his participation.
Â Jeff Finger's name may be rampant with tireless innuendo, but few Leafs fans were laughing when interim GM Cliff Fletcher tied the unknown, but apparently much coveted Colorado Avalanche defenseman to a four year, $14 million contract in the summer of 2008.
Working out at $3.5 million a year, the ultra late developing Finger went from no name, to fifth highest earner on the blue ribbon Leafs payroll creating a maelstrom of discontent amongst fans that remains to this day.
From full term college player and three year AHL blue liner with only 94 games of (then) experience in the big leagues, Finger quickly became synonymousÂ as the â€œman with the contract,â€ reddening faces further still in the land of blue and white where the overpay became talk of free agency.
One would be forgiven for trying to avoid the latest behind-the-scenes circus to befall the league and its players association. Amid the ongoing and incredulous tug of ego's taking place at the now infamous Phoenix courthouse, Paul Kelly, Executive Director of the NHLPA was fired after a ten hour marathon of meetings in Chicago on Sunday.
Kelly, who was thought to support expansion or relocation back into the Canadian market, was reportedly relieved of his duties following an expensive, ramshackle and unconstitutional investigation fronted by interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove.
The investigation cited internal disputes surrounding Kelly's direction, a lack of face time with the members of the union and an deep rooted belief that Kelly was becoming too close to the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy Bill Daly.
Resulting in a vote of no confidence from the 30 players who make up the NHLPA's executive board, Kelly's position within the union was terminated after just 22 months in office and Ian Penny, former second in command as General Counsel, was installed as the interim executive director.
So few players seem to ignite the dichotomy of emotions Jason Blake inspires. Undrafted, undersized and inconsistent, Blake rode the wave of a steep and late developmental curve and earned himself a five year $20 million contract at 34. A prototypical throwback to the malaise of JFJ's overpriced veteran acquisitions, Blake has taken his lumps in the media, demands for his trade by fans and rekindled some of the form that made him a 40 goal scoring all-star on Long Island.
Yet regardless of his contemporary state of play or his trading value, few have a bad word to say about the Moorhead, Minnesota native.
Small wonder, with an immovable contract analogous to maligned teammate Jeff Finger, Blake has ebbed and flowed in rhythm with the turbulence of back room upheaval like no other. Dubbed a one season wonder whose goal scoring exploits for the Islanders were anomalous to a side lacking offensive leadership, Blake went from big fish in a shallow pool to floundering in the Toronto fishbowl.
As promised it has been a summer of comprehensive retooling both on the grind lines and perhaps more pertinently on the blueline. With Brian Burke hitting the fast forward on the once anticipated rebuild, the Leafs have become a tougher proposition with a prospects chart expected to feed into that ethos for years to come. Meanwhile, the defensive corps has become deeper and more pugnacious than any Leafs setup in the past decade... at least from a utilitarian standpoint.