I came across an interesting Leafs article from a few days ago. Â This article was in the sports section of a popular mainstream newspaper, best known for areas other than hockey but with well-known and established reporters that should know their way around a rink. Â Now, if the writer of this article was Toronto-based you would be virtually guaranteed that it would feature one (or more) of the following: biting sarcasm, mockery, painfully awful attempts at humour (at the expense of the Leafs of course) or sheer factual inaccuracy. Â Blissfully, this article was written by George Popalis of the Sports Network, whose articles are featured outside of the demented fishbowl that is Toronto (and Canada at large) and thus requiring genuine attempts at realistically assessing this franchise.
You know that dreadful time of the year known jointly as summer and hockey's offseason is nearing it's end when you're able to preorder the latest edition of the Maple Leafs Annual. Â Many fine writers have put forth an inordinate amount of quality hockey material in the 2011-2012 MLA, be sure to read more about the details from the architect of the masterpiece himself, Alec Brownscombe.
In other news, Brian Burke loathes the shootout and so do I. Â In a classic Burke stance (what does he not have a strong opinion on?), the man spits vitriol concerning the circus act that currently follows overtime in the regular season, but insists that he'll continue to vote for it. Â Why? "The fans" that love it, of course. Â He also has a valid point in that other options (such as an extended 3-on-3 OT) would add more wear and tear to the players and would likely result in the odd injury. Â Whatever, here's one fan who would be more excited if the shootout was left for filthy trick shots during all star games, allowing teams to fight for those extra points as a collective entity.
The Leafs continue to plug the holes on their roster with today's signing of bottom-six center Philippe Dupuis, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche.Â Dupuis secured himself a two-way deal from Toronto, hoping to build onÂ 2010-2011, hisÂ first full NHL season in which he accumulated 17 points in 74 games.Â More importantly, he displayed energy and hustle on most nights, above and beyond that of his at-times despondent teammates.Â He has a penchant for hitting with some penalty killing aptitude and should compete for the fourth line center spot with the Leafs this fall.
Exciting game sevens be damned, Brian Burke has shown an active hand in the undrafted free agent market once again, inking Swedish tender Mark Owuya to a two-year contract. The 21 year-old has been moving steadily through the Djurgarden system, beginning with their U18 team in 2005-2006. Owuya quickly moved onto the U20 incarnation of the Djurgarden franchise and even made his first appearance in the Swedish Elite League early in 2008. Yet the 6' 2'', 198 lbs netminder bounced around various teams on a loan basis before entering this campaign's preseason competing with Stefan Ridderwall for the number one slot.
14th place in the Eastern Conference? Thoroughly victimized over the last few seasons by the Toronto Maple Leafs? Yes, these Ottawa Senators appear to be ripe for the picking for a surging Leafs squad. Â A Leafs squad that must also anticipate the final three games of the season, must-wins against opponents stronger than a suddenly-rebuilding Senators team. This also appears to be a situation that could evoke the sort of mental relaxation and carelessness in the Leafs that would see Ottawa happily steal away two points at Scotiabank Place.
"Do or die", a phrase that can be used for pretty much all of the games remaining on the Maple Leafs schedule as they attempt to maneuver themselves into that final playoff spot. Â Yet this blog's tagline uses this redundant sports idiom for more than it's alliterative appeal, as tonight's visit to Colorado will reflect the ability of our young Toronto team to close out those "winnable" games. Â Yes, the Avalanche are an up-and-coming team laden with skilled youngsters. Â If I were a member of the finger-wagging MSM, I would make it clear that they are a team rebuilding the "right way", and that the Leafs own efforts are misguided and inferior. Â But at this point in the season, only one thing matters: this is a team with just three wins in their last 23. Â They are abysmal right now, with inadequate goaltending and the motivational issues that inevitably arise in bottomfeeding NHL clubs. Â Toronto trotted out what some would call the quintessential road game against Minnesota on Tuesday night. Â The mark of good teams in this league is the ability to execute such performances consistently when it matters. Â As such, regardless of this team's playoff destiny, tonight (9 PM, Sportsnet) will be a test worth watching.
You know Toronto is close to their playoff goals when the mainstream media begins to reluctantly acknowledge it's (slightly) more than just a pipedream of starved Leafs fans. Â Their push will be challenged tonight by the streaking Blackhawks, the epitome of a talented young squad, a team whose recent success Toronto is looking to emulate. Â Both teams will come into this contest hungry for points as the regular season winds down and the playoff picture becomes progressively more crowded. Â With a Buffalo win over Philadelphia earlier today, the Leafs will need these points to keep pace and close ground on the Rangers and Hurricanes. Â While Chicago is fresh off a victory over said Hurricanes, there will be no letup in a team that sits fourth in the Western Conference, considering they are but four points up on the eleventh-placed Minnesota Wild. Â If the Leafs can buck the usual listlessness they display on Saturday nights (4-9-4 on HNIC this season), this will be a good one, as neither team is ready to quit.
Tonight's matchup between the Leafs and the New York Islanders will be viewed by outsiders as a tilt between two of theÂ bottom-feedersÂ of the Eastern Conference, devoid of much interest or playoff relevance. Â Yet for the fans of both these teams, this game and those of the recent past have been of definite significance for the futures of these franchises. Â The Islanders have been on an offensive surge, surprising opponents with their speed and tenacity in an attempt to somewhat salvage an otherwise dismal season. Â This has given the New York faithful reason to eb confident in the offense of their young core going forward, lead by the likes of John Tavares and Michael Grabner. Â While the defense and goaltending are still a work in progress, hope and potential lies in the likes of Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, and recently acquired Al Montoya. Â Montoya, who has yet to lose in his career with the Islanders, will be in net against a Toronto team that is heading in a similar direction (up!) from both the long and short-term perspective.
The Leafs are hoping they won't need heroics from Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel to pull out a win tonight. Â Unfortunately, knowing how it goes in Buffalo these days, they probably will. Â The Sabres rested Ryan Miller last night, politely skipping over Patrick Lalime to call up Jhonas Enroth, who then backed them to a shootout win over Montreal. Â Buffalo will return home tonight in hopes of propelling themselves into a tie with Carolina for the final playoff spot (provided the Hurricanes lose to the Devils). Â From a Toronto perspective, the players have to know that taking these two points from the Sabres will be monumental in preserving their playoff aspirations. Â With the raucous atmosphere you get from a Leafs-Sabres tilt at the HSBC Arena and the fast paced action that normally develops, this promises be a good one (7 PM, TSN).
Brian Burke wasn't kidding when he said he likes to move in advance of the NHL trade deadline. The Leafs GM, fresh off of moving Francois Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg, has been reported to be in talks with Boston concerning Czech blueliner Tomas Kaberle. Unfortunately, it seems that Toronto's own 1st round pick is not involved in discussions at the time, although it is surely a desired target in Burke's negotiations. [more…]
The Carolina Hurricanes will be desperate for points when they visit the Leafs tonight. Â On the other hand, Toronto would need to take care of the Hurricanes in regulation if they are serious about keeping themselves in the race for that final playoff spot. Â It has yet to be seen if the Leafs players truly believe they can work their way into that conversation. Â Regardless, Toronto fans have to hope their team fares extremely well over the upcoming stretch of games, as they feature numerous Eastern Conference opponents directly above the Leafs in the standings. Â The Maple Leafs will be giving James Reimer the start in hopes that he fares better than his two fellow netminders have against Eric Staal and the Hurricanes.
In their final match of the campaign with the New York Rangers, the Leafs will be aiming to even up the season series (1-2-0 against NYR thus far) and end a two-game losing streak. Â Mike Brown will serve the second game of his suspension. Â Kris Versteeg will return from a minor ailment in a lineup change that will immediately infuse offense and change the dynamic of the Toronto powerplay.