TheÂ Leafs play their third from last game tomorrow in Buffalo as the season winds down to a depressing close. I hate having to ask the following question, but here's your conversation starter for this morning: say the Leafs lose to a hungry Sabres team tomorrow, fall to the Lightning in the home finale, and the second or third overall draft pick - depending on how the Oilers finish - is up for decision this Saturday against Montreal. Would any bit of you want the Leafs to lose to the Canadiens in the season finale, in Montreal? I only ask the question because many still curse Boyd Devereaux's and Martin Gerber's names for what effectively ruined the Leafs' chances at Brayden Schenn in 2009, and Devereaux's hat trick came against the Senators.
I hope the Leafs pick up a win in their next two - and they've owned the Lightning this season - so this is all hypothetical. I'm tired of us having to ask the question and the only way the end to this season could get more depressing is if Leafs Nation is torn on whether or not we want the Leafs to beat the Habs. I think Burke should aggressively pursue a trade up scenario anyways, targetting that Edmonton pick for a package involving the Leafs' pick and a defenceman.
Links after the jump.
Yesterday, the always attention-seeking Damien Cox published his weekly feature with the Star. To summarize, he stated that Phil Kessel should be traded while his value is high, and not doing so would be yet another mistake by Brian Burke.
Cox used numerous illogical and irrelevant points to back up his argument. Like so many times before, his desire for publicity far outweighed his wit. This particular piece baffled me so much that I had to commit an entire article to discussing his lacklustre and poorly executed analysis. Maybe it doesn't deserve the time of day, but as a magnification of too many people's out-of-touch expectations on who Kessel is or should be as a player, it struck a nerve.
I'll start with the following statement:
Phil Kessel should not be traded, and doing so would be a monumental mistake by Brian Burke. [more…]
In the big picture, Jonas Gustavsson has had his best NHL season yet. When given opportunity, heâ€™s usually excelled and shown the potential for stardom. He's also battled inconsistency issues, for the exact same reason â€“ the opportunity wasnâ€™t enough. Many will often point to Jonas as being the victim of his own demise here in Toronto. I call foul. The notion that itâ€™s Jonasâ€™ own fault he wonâ€™t receive a contract extension is absurd. I wouldn't even put it on Ron Wilson more than the simple fact that Gustavsson was in an unfavourable situation this season. He was finally performing to his capability, but at the wrong time.
Despite his concussion, James Reimer was always the teamâ€™s number one goaltender. Thatâ€™s why he received the majority of the starts in December, despite his inconsistencies and Gustavssonâ€™s success. At the time, the coaches were trying to get Reimer into a groove, which was hypothetically the beneficial move long-term. He was under contract for two more years, and starting Gustavsson over him would have only stalled the 24 year old Reimerâ€™s development. There was no denying that Gustavsson had been better. A 92.2 SP in games leading up to Reimerâ€™s return and his three December starts far exceeded Jamesâ€™ number of 87.3 in the same time frame. It was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For that, I donâ€™t blame anyone. Starting Reimer was undoubtedly the logical move. [more…]
Just some quick links to toss along.
The Leafs' season is over, but playoff prediction talk is starting to gear up. Right now we have a pretty good race in the East for the last playoff spot, but it looks as though the Caps should take it. The West is simply loony - Calgary, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose are to the wire for those last two spots.
My prediction for the SC Final at the beginning of the season was Washington and Vancouver, but now I don't feel the same way. Looks like Pittsburgh and Vancouver could be the way to go. I'd like to see the Blues take it far, personally.
What are your predictions? Any team you'd like to see go on a good run now that the Leafs are in "look ahead to the draft" mode?
Randy Carlyle certainly didn't join the Maple Leafs at an easy point in their schedule. Tonight's game against Boston will test the club's new direction and resilience. The damage the Bruins inflicted in their last two trips to Toronto definitely hasn't been forgotten by the players, as they were blowouts that saw Boston hit six and seven goals in the month of November. Although one cannot expect a massive difference in play over the span of a week, this matchup will serve as a good benchmark for the team's progress.
Previously, the Bruins were one of those teams that were able to shut down the speed in Toronto's game. In doing so, they created numerous turnovers and odd-man chances that, as a good team (against questionable goaltending), they capitalized on. As Carlyle is attempting to instill a conservative approach that only deploys the speed in safe, calculated attacks, it would seem fair to guess that success on his part would see this team eventually be a better match against the Bruins. [more…]
As the Leafs were in the midst of their free fall out of a playoff spot, it occurred to me that this team, taking into account its strengths and weaknesses, was best suited to play a counter attacking style of game, one that focuses on defense first and utilizes its speed in transition. Ron Wilson's Leafs constantly tried to play outside of their means with a true run and gun, high-risk brand of hockey that asked way too much of its defencemen and goaltenders. For those reasons, the words of Randy Carlyle after practiceÂ yesterday - one of very few Sunday practices this season, something the team will have to get used to under the new boss - were manna to the ears:
â€œWe want to improve our defensive-zone coverage. We want to improve on our neutral zone â€“ not turning the puck over as often as we had in the past. In the offensive zone, donâ€™t make those Hail Mary plays. Play conservative, yet be an attacking hockey club.â€ [more…]
Randy Carlyle is 1-0-0 as Leafs head coach following a 3-1 win at the Bell Centre last night. The Leafs had not limited the opposition to less than two goals in their eleven games prior to last night. After an early goal was conceded and it seemed like March was already a continuation of February's struggles, the Leafs buckled down in impressive fashion, playing a more diligent defensive game and letting the opportunities come naturally at the other end.
According to the players, the focus in yesterday's practice, the team's first under Randy Carlyle, zeroed in on the defensive side of the puck. Said Luke Schenn:
"We were talking more about defence than we were offence, obviously we changed up the forecheck a little bit and some neutral zone stuff, but it was more about being on the right side of the puck defensively and that created chances for us tonight." [more…]
The Leafs are truly a hilarious team to follow right now. A couple weeks ago it was frustrating to watch them drop some games, but now things have gone to such an extreme that I'm not upset in the least.
The next four games are against Montreal, Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - a possible eight points. I'd be absolutely floored if the Leafs can come away with three. Managing to push one to overtime would be a minor miracle in itself it seems. The Leafs playoff chances have now plummeted to 11.1%. I think everyone should enjoy a good chuckle at the Leafs' expense this season, considering the Lightning and Sabres (both one point back of Toronto, with a game in hand) have been ridiculed so often. It's our turn to field some insults.
I'm still expecting things to turn around for this club at some point in March. To what extent remains unseen. It's likely that the Leafs let themselves go to ten points out then rip off a few at the end of the season to land in 9th, giving everyone one last laugh before the playoffs start. Perfect.
Links after the jump.
With its typically confusing mix of excitement, frustration and dissapointment, the NHL trade deadline has come and gone. Â For better or for worse, the Toronto team that will hit the ice tonight against the Florida Panthers will have to be the one that ends this franchise's absence from the NHL playoffs. Â Taking into account the tantalizing possibilities of player acquisitions (and departures) that flitted through the collective mind of Leafs Nation over the last few months, it is at first a bit surprising to realize that Burke has made no significant changes to the roster this year (apart from the early, calculated decision to acquire David Steckel).
But with time and consideration of the considerable expenses that would have gone into any theoretical acquisitions, it should be clear that Burke's path was a wise one. Â It's become obvious that Burke hoped to acquire his impact forward without shipping any personnel that are needed for this team's playoff push. Â This choice was an indication of the GM's adherence to his long term plan and player valuations. Â He has thrown all his chips in with what he has built over the last few years, rather than rushing to siphon off talent which he has accumulated in an effort to bring in a big fish. [more…]
Of course, the acquisition of Jeff Carter by the Los Angeles Kings couldn't simply put to bed the rumours surrounding one potential Leaf trade target, it sprung to life another. Word broke yesterday that, in wake of the Carter acquisition, Kings GM Dean Lombardi could be open to moving power forward and captain Dustin Brown if the price is right.
Now, every name that hits the rumour mill gets dressed in an imaginary Leafs uniform, but a name like Dustin Brown strikes me (and surely Burke) with considerable intrigue. At 27, signed for two more seasons at 3.175 million, the possibility of Brown's availability must make Burke's eyes light up. A member of his Team USA silver medal winning 2010 Olympic team, Brown brings experience, leadership, a physical presence for the top six (2nd in the NHL in hits, and he hits hard), and could add a new dimension to the Leaf attack. Not to put too much value or significance into any one player, Brown poses an attractive solution, or at least part solution, to many of the Leafs deficiencies in the forward ranks with his skill and toughness package. It's no wonder there's consensus among the insiders that Burke would have a major interest in the 27-year-old if available. [more…]
Since starting the season on a 4-0-1 tear, the Leafs have performed at a consistently-inconsistent 25-25-6 clip. The story of pretty much any Leafs game this season can be summarized as follows: You've got offense, defense and goaltending: Pick one.
Rare has been the occasion where even two of those facets has performed up to expectation at the same time. With all of three days to go until the trade deadline, the talk is permeating every corridor of Toronto: Who is available? Who will depart? And is there enough time left for the Leafs to turn their season around?
Is it possible the volume of trade talk has had a negative impact? Players will always claim they don't pay attention to it, but where in Toronto can one turn without smacking face-first into the subject? Telling is the Leafs' 1-6-1 record in their past 8 games. As recently-traded Kyle Quincey told reporters, "There's a lot of guys whose bags are packed outside their door." If it's a distraction in Colorado, how could it not be one in Toronto? These next three days can't go by quick enough.
Recommended reading after the jump.