There was a lot ofÂ trepidationÂ going into the Toronto Maple Leafs' season opener against the Montreal Canadiens, to be sure. Interviews with Brian Burke - featuring sometimes snippy comments and a seemingly reduced air of confidence - have started to show a dent in his armour. Between having to answer questions about his inability to secure a true #1 centerman, the job security of his friend and colleague, Ron Wilson, or the investment of faith in what could be a one-year wonder in net with James Reimer, it's certain to have had its effect on him.
Ron Wilson is sure to a be a lame-duck coach if the 2011-12 Leafs get off to a bad start. As good of a job Brian Burke has done rebuilding the entire organization at all levels, there is only so much losing a team can take before fingers start to be pointed at Father Burke, himself.
Key pre-season injuries to top 6 centerman Tim Connolly, center-turned-winger Nazem Kadri and a suspension to Clarke MacArthur all added even more uncertainty to a team that needed solid footing to start off their 2011-12 campaign.Â They got it last nightâ€”and they got it in spades. [more…]
Leave it to the Toronto Maple Leafs to have more roster questions heading into the regular season than heading into camp.Â Suspensions, injuries and trades have forced more confusion as to who fits where in the forward corps.Â Wednesday afternoon, reports came in from Leafs practice of Wilsonâ€™s impromptu line combinations heading into tonightâ€™s home opener against the Montreal Canadiens.Â 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 tonightâ€™s first tilt, but the wackiness wonâ€™t end just yet.Â 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.
So, the Leafs have improved to 3 - 3 in preseason with last nightâ€™s victory over the Senators.Â 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.Â 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. Â 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.Â There are some trends, both disturbing and positive, becoming visible in Leaf land.
The early '90s were an incredible time to be a Toronto sports fan. The Blue Jays captured back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, while the Maple Leafs, in those same years, traversed the road back to respectability following the tumultuous (and largely disastrous) Harold Ballard era.
Following successive seasons of seemingly-endless roster turnover (the 1991-92 Leafs closed out the year with only 4 members remaining from the 1989-90 squad) and less-than-stellar results, Leafs' GM Cliff Fletcher felt he had finally established the right mix of youth and veteran experience to produce a legitimate contender. In fact, during the 1992 offseason, the man known as Trader Cliff somewhat surprisingly made only one deal of note: sending a future 3rd round pick (Martin Belanger) to Montreal for 25-year old shutdown defender Sylvain Lefebvre.
But Fletcher's most impactful move would not prove to be a trade; rather, it would be the offseason hiring of former Montreal coach Pat Burns, whose fiery, no-nonsense approach would translate almost immediately to his players -- especially franchise centrepiece Doug Gilmour.
Part 1 can be foundÂ here.
Notes on Day 2 of training camp:
I didn't watch any of the drills and instead took in more of the scrimmages today. Here are the notes for the second day of training camp: [more…]
Training camp is set up with a scrimmage in one rink and drills going on in the other rink. The notes are about the scrimmages. Camp was split into three squads. The notes below are observations from the scrimmages.
Toronto Maple Leafs training camp opens today, with an enormous player base of 70 invitees. Some are guaranteed spots, some are looking to secure one. All of them want to make a positive impression. Here are some thoughts on the camp outlook.
At forward, Tim Connolly, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong are guaranteed spots on the roster. For Lupul, training camp and the preseason this year is an opportunity to show coach Ron Wilson that he has what it takes to be a first line forward. If he fails in doing that, someone like Nazem Kadri could easily come in and usurp that position with a strong preseason. MacArthur, Kulemin and Grabovski will be looking to show that their line wasn't a one year wonder and, with Grabovski in a contract year, I wouldn't be surprised to see some explosiveness from this line in the preseason contests. [more…]
Camp is around the corner, the Leafs are playing golf, and like many of us, Ron Wilson is projecting line combos already. The Leafs head coach voiced to the media on Tuesday that right now he envisions a lineup with Lupul - Connolly - Kessel, MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin, and Kadri - Bozak - Armstrong going into the season.
Of course this is preliminary, but it's good news for Leafs fans nonetheless, and even more so for Nazem Kadri, who looks to finally become a National Hockey League mainstay.
Competition for Kadri's wing position will likely come by way of Matt Frattin and Luca Caputi (who seems to have become somewhat forgotten this off-season.) However, the general feeling around Leafs Nation for a while has been that it's truly Nazem's spot to lose. Wilson's comments today just confirmed it.
In part five of his 12 Burning Questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at whether Joffrey Lupul can finally find a long-term fit with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In part four of his 12 Burning Questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at whether Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski can continue their goal scoring ways.
In part three of his 12 Burning Questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at expectations for Phil Kessel, and whether or not this is the year he cracks the 40 goal plateau.
Twenty years ago ... still feels like yesterday.
1991-92 was a season of note. In celebration of the NHL's 75th anniversary, the Original 6 teams introduced throwback uniforms -- the dawn of 3rd jerseys in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks entered the league as the first expansion team since the 1979 NHL/WHA merger. Top draft pick Eric Lindros refused to sign a contract with the Quebec Nordiques, leading to a controversial trade with the Philadelphia Flyers which would turn the Quebec franchise into a powerhouse. The league endured a 10-day NHLPA strike, resulting in the season ending in June for the first time. Following the season, longtime NHL President John Ziegler would step down, paving the way for Gary Bettman to take over as Commissioner in two years' time.
It was a banner season for several players of note: Mario Lemieux captured the scoring title and led the Pittsburgh Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup victory. Nine players topped the 100-point plateau, including Brian Leetch -- a feat no defenseman has matched since. Jeremy Roenick and Kevin Stevens topped 50 goals for the first time each, while Brett Hull hit 70 goals for the third straight year. Legendary blueliner Larry Robinson played his final NHL game, while a future superstar named Martin Brodeur made his first appearance for the New Jersey Devils ... who drafted another future superstar, Scott Neidermeyer, with a pick acquired two years' prior from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As for those lovable Leafs, change was in the air following yet another season in the cellar -- with the team poised to take its first steps toward 1990s respectability.