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Nikolai Kulemin

A member of the A+ club.

The season is over, but the postmortem examination is just beginning. I’ll open this period of speculation, hope and dissection of our favorite hockey team with a piece that grades our entire roster beginning with forwards and ending with the masked men of TO.

Players who played part years like Matt Lashoff were not included because I think most would agree 11 games are not nearly enough to grade him on a seasonal basis, nor is it fair to that particular player. The grading system varies from A+ to D- but there is one exception (guess who?). Everyone likes grades.

Well, what are you waiting for? Do continue.

James Reimer (photo credit: Reuters)

(Photo Credit: Reuters)

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“Put a candle in the window,
’cause I feel I’ve got to move.
Though I’m going, going,
I’ll be coming home soon.
Long as I can see the light.”

- John Fogerty

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Reimer on the forecheck. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

You probably don’t need the following statistical breakdown to know the answer to the above question. I’ll try to keep the anointing oil on the shelf but we haven’t had a Leaf rookie step into the lineup and make this type of immediate impact since Felix Potvin. Just as the post-lockout plight of terrible goaltending looked to be continuing to haunt the Leafs, the new year brought new hope; Optimus Reim rolled out, and Leafs Nation has been walking in a Reimer wonderland ever since.

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Last night’s 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers combined with the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 (OT) victory over the Boston Bruins has nearly sunk the fading playoff hopes of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  In fact, the Maple Leafs are almost in need of a miracle to regain any real chance of actually making the big dance.  According to Sports Club Stats the Leafs current chances of making it are now sitting at an all-time low of 2.3%.

To make the playoffs the Leafs are going to have to nearly run the table to get to the needed 92 or 93 points.  With 14 games remaining in the season the Leafs will have to go 11-1-2 just to get to 92 points, and that might not even be a guaranteed playoff spot.  If I just killed your spirit I apologize but this is just the reality of the extremely bleak situation facing the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Photo Credit: Reuters

With another trade deadline behind us, the NHL season truly enters “crunch time” as rosters are set (for the most part) and the push for the Cup gets underway.

Most teams, including the Leafs, chose not to ripple any waters on February 28th – save for a few minor deals and an even smaller amount of major transactions.

While some media outlets will suggest that the teams surrounding the Leafs in the playoff race added key components while Brian Burke sat on his hands, this simply isn’t true.

If Toronto fail to make the postseason, it won’t be due to the fact that the Hurricanes and Thrashers added Bryan Allen and Radek Dvorak, respectively. Nor will it be because Brad Boyes is now a Buffalo Sabre.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

in return for prospect Mikhail Stefanovich.

Update: Brian Burke tells MLHS Brunnstrom will start with the Marlies – “we’ll see how he does.” He adds that there’s no change in the Standard Player Contract count as Stefanovich was still Leaf property, “but he had time left, Fabian does not.” A trade off of term for salary from the sounds of it.

The 25-year-old Brunnstrom, who generated a sweepstakes of sorts after a big year for Farjestads, was originally a target of John Ferguson’s when he opted for the Dallas Stars as his NHL destination in spring, 2008. A promising if injury shortened rookie campaign of 17 goals in 55 games preceded a disastrous sophomore season that saw him spend some time with the AHL’s Texas Stars and nearly led to arbitration after he felt he was lowballed by the Stars’ initial qualifying offer. The sides settled on a one-year, one-way contract extension worth $675,000.

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Phoenix moved Wojtek Wolski today to the New York Rangers for Michal Rozsival. Wolski represents the prototypical power forward/winger that Brian Burke has insisted that he may be after in leu of a legitimate front line center most are reporting the Leafs most desperately require.  Was Brian Burke trying to acquire Wolski? Absolutely…

Dave Sandford/Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that James Reimer received an opportunity to start in the NHL, during his re-call to fill in for the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere. What is somewhat of a surprise is the amount Reimer has played (3 starts in the past 4 games) during a time where Jonas Gustavsson was expected to seize the opportunity to prove himself the Maple Leafs’ netminder of the future.

The question is, to what degree has Reimer’s performance  influenced the decision to use him as the de-facto starter, rather than the incumbent? Is Reimer receiving an extended look as part of an evaluation toward his future in Toronto — or are the Leafs showcasing him to other teams?

Update: Reimer gets the start tonight … his fourth in the past five games.

(Toronto – Gus Katsaros) I tried to put together something that leads to the state of the Leafs, but it gets pretty intense and too much for a single blog so I’ve broken it down in two. Before we move forward we should acknowledge what is happening with the current club and I do that with just some observations.

I’ve broken down what I feel are some of the more important points of the Leafs forwards and defensemen while not being entirely thorough, leaving something for future blogs. I’ll follow this up on Friday tying in the coaching, the Burke regime and vision of the team in the future.

It can be safely said that Saturday night’s tilt between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs will go down as one of the best hockey games of the year.  It had a little bit of everything; bone crunching hits, jaw jarring fights, ridiculous saves, last minute heroics, and a shootout victory that included a killer backhand, and a former Bruin getting at least some measure of revenge.

With all that action in mind, it is somewhat ironic that the player who stood out the most in my mind was someone who didn’t even get his name on the scoresheet.

Colby Armstrong returned from injury and joined the Leafs top line, paying immediate dividends in the Leafs 3-2 shootout victory at home on Hockey Night In Canada this past Saturday.  Armstrong had missed time with an injured hand.


Goal difference vs. Points – A simple statistical analysis
by MLHS’ Great Dane (written before the weekend games)

There has been some talk on the site lately as to whether or not the playoffs remain in reach for the Maple Leafs despite a less than mediocre record a quarter of the way through the season, a subject Derek Harmsworth broached in his blog “At the Quarter Pole, Leafs Improved, But Is It Enough?” Statistically speaking, is 20, 21 or 24 points at the quarter pole enough to make the playoffs?

What follows is a small regression analysis of goal difference vs. points based on the records of the 30 teams in the NHL before American Thanksgiving.

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For the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans, the last two seasons of hockey have combined for some roller coaster level of emotions.  There was the bringing in of Brian Burke, the general manager with the pedigree to lead this team back to respectability, and back to the playoffs, with ultimately the goal of ending the Stanley Cup drought.

Then the hope was awash when the Leafs started the year off with a thud, winless in their first seven games, a stretch that they never did quite recover from.  The trades in January that brought Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, Fredrik Sjostrom, and J.S. Giguere to the organization brought about a new sense of optimism for the long suffering fans in Leafs Nation.

And when the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the 2010-2011 NHL campaign with four straight wins, the optimism levels couldn’t have been higher.  After a lengthy losing streak, the team is back to playing more consistently, and with complete confidence you can declare that the Toronto Maple Leafs of 2010-2011 are an improved club.

Just how much they have improved, and whether it will be enough for them to break the postseason drought this April, is another question altogether.

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"Interesting offer. Throw in a slice of pie. Apple. Then we're talking."

For as much as Brian Burke continues to show the fanbase that no stone will go unturned in his quest to rebuild the franchise, the fact of the matter is, the consummation of a trade is extraordinarily difficult in a salary-capped league where parity reigns. Especially this early into the season, at a point where many teams are still in the process of determining their needs.

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Syl Apps was the face of the Maple Leafs during the franchise's greatest era.

On this Remembrance Day, 2010, I’d thought it would be fitting to take a look back at the Toronto Maple Leafs during the years of the Second World War.

Having been on the losing side of the Stanley Cup Finals for three consecutive years (Chicago, Boston, New York) to close out the 1930s, the Leafs remained on the verge of becoming a championship team. Unfortunately, pending greatness would instead be put on hold as the roster would be decimated while players answered their country’s call to duty in the early 1940s.

The following is a quick synopsis of the Maple Leafs’ successes and struggles during the war years, and the glory that would ultimately follow.

I recall our old colour commentator Harry Neale being asked what he thought made a great coach and he shrewdly remarked “great players”.  Now I know the topic of firing Ron Wilson has been beat to death but I wanted to further comment after reading a story from our friends over at Pension Plan Puppets who feel he should absolutely be fired now.

It was an entertaining piece “Why Ron Wilson Should Get Fired ASAP” asking a tough question and answering unequivocally:

“The question isn’t whether Ron Wilson is or isn’t a good coach. The question is will replacing Ron Wilson improve our record? If the answer is “yes”, obviously, we should do it as soon as possible. But how can we know? This got me to thinking, maybe there’s some historical evidence to shed some light on this issue.”

Chris Young/Canadian Press

Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star reports that the job of  Ron Wilson remains safe for the moment as the Head Coach received yet another vote of confidence from GM Brian Burke. Wilson has drawn the ire of Leafs Nation on a number of occasions over the past couple seasons every time the team has gone into any sort of prolonged struggle, but Burke remained steadfast in his support for his friend:

“I’m told (Wilson) got blasted in the media today. Let me ask you a question. Did Ron play poorly last night? No. Why don’t you guys focus on the players who played poorly last night instead of questioning the coach? It’s a very bizarre twist to this market place that when players play poorly, the coach gets hollered at. This is new for me. In Vancouver when the players played poorly, the players got blasted so I’m perplexed by this.”

So in Vancouver… the fans are tougher on the players than the coach… Interesting. On a completely unrelated note, here’s what Burke had to say about the fans booing Dion Phaneuf:

“All the time I worked in Vancouver I don’t think I ever had a player booed.”

Well, I’m stumped. Anyways…

By laying the blame primarily on the team’s on-ice product, it’s patently clear that Burke is itching to make a move to upgrade his roster. With both “cap room and budget room” created by the Finger demotion, the club is listening in intently on any possible trade talks around the league. There were rumors swirling a few weeks ago regarding a smaller depth move to pick up a bottom six forward with some size or jam ala Blake Wheeler or David Clarkson, but club’s #1 priority remains the search for a bonafide top line pivot to complement Kessel.

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According to Nick Kypreos, the Maple Leafs could be without winger Colby Armstrong for four to six weeks as he may need surgery on his hand. Dreger adds that the team is expected to call up Luca Caputi from the Marlies to replace Armstrong on the third line, but Colby’s absence will leave a void in terms of physicality and strong board play.

Caputi has recorded just 2 goals and 1 assist through 6 games played for the Marlies, but showed improved skating ability and poise playing against NHL players this preaseason. Prior to the start of the season, Burke alluded to the improvement in the organizational depth as a key factor in the team’s potential success, and this will be the first test of that theory.

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Week two of the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs schedule is in the books, and once again it was a week in which the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers, both tough road wins in which the Leafs showed strong character.

With that in mind, here is week two of the Maple Leafs Player Power Rankings.  The rankings will read the players ranking, their stats, as well as their last week’s position.  Spoiler alert: There’s a new number one!

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Okay, so it took a while to get to the post game wrap up ’round here.  What can I tell you, I was waylaid by ecstasy (NOT the pharmaceutical kind); and that sort of joy has been in kind of short supply for Leaf fans since the lockout.  Aside from the 4-3 Leaf OT Victory, I was enjoying (via the wonders of the PVR) the Ticats’ triumphant 30-3 curbstomping of the Argonauts to formally clinch a playoff berth.  I can tell you from personal experience as a Leafs fan for more than 35 years and a Ticats fan since the days of Jason Maas, there haven’t been a lot of nights like that in recent days.  Good times.

Here’s how the Leafs game went as I saw it (note: this is an impressionist recap, not an excursion into hyper-reality. If you want that, wait for James Cameron’s next 3-D extravaganza):

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Nick Kypreos has tweeted this little gem today:

#Leafs put Jeff Finger on #NHL waivers today.

This finally puts an end to the long period of speculation over the future of Jeff Finger. When he clears tomorrow, it will be interesting to see where he ends up playing. Renegotiating with another NHL team or even playing in Europe would perhaps be more entertaining to Finger but wouldn’t be the wise financial move as he’d have to opt out of his current contract by not reporting to the Marlies. While Wilson has been adamant that a return to the NHL this season isn’t an impossibility, it seems Finger will be left to lead a Marlies team that has started with a 0-2 record.

Where would you like to see Finger play?