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No games for three days makes for very little in Maple Leafs land development. There’s Komisarek’s laughable trade request, there’s Frattin’s potential return to the lineup this week, and there’s still the question of why isn’t Gardiner on the Maple Leafs, but for the most part all of it is nothing more than a waiting game. Instead, I’m going to look at the most basic of stats (goals and assists) and how the first line forwards are doing in those categories.

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After 22 games, the one thing Leafs fans can agree on is that Randy Carlyle’s coaching methodology can be frustrating as hell.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the deployment of Mikhail Grabovski.

After signing a five-year, 27.5-million dollar contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs last March, it seemed as though the Leafs had shored up a terrific top-six centreman who could be counted on for 50 points a season.  But after 22 games Grabo sits with a modest 10 points (six goals, four assists); good for about 37 points in an 82-game schedule.  Yet under Carlyle he’s developed into the team’s top shutdown pivot.  So what’s to make of it?

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The month’s half over, and after Monday’s game, the season is a third over. The Leafs are sitting three games over .500, holding 6th place in the East, and are currently on pace for 58 points (rounded up from 57.6) in a season where many prognosticators have considered 54 the magic number for making the post season.

So far, the Leafs are sitting pretty despite now being without Reimer, Gunnarsson, Frattin and Lupul. The Leafs have benefited from a friendly schedule. The average 2011-12 point total of their opposition has be 91, which averages out to facing a bubble team every night. This also doesn’t account for the dramatic drop off in teams like Washington, Philadelphia, and now Ottawa. Compare that to the average of 95 points in March and the average of 94 in April and it makes sense that the Leafs are coming out of the gates strong.

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On Wednesday, Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel’s agent, indicated his client’s apparent desire to spend the rest of career playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  This, despite being disappointed in the club’s performance last season (I don’t even want to know what adjective he’d use to describe the two previous seasons in Toronto), and with little guarantee yet that this team is primed for long-term playoff success.

We’ll probably never know why the camera-shy Kessel wants to remain in a media-laden Toronto; Arnott seems to suggest it is an admirable inner desire to win in hockey’s mecca. Perhaps the better question is, what could it cost to keep him?

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When the Leafs get a couple of days off, bloggers have a little bit of extra time to take a wider look at things.  I’ve spent a lot of time this year watching CHL games, pouring over AHL stats and looking at the player development side of hockey.  Unsurprisingly, that has led to a lot of conversations about the draft itself and it was one of these conversations that spurred me to look into some draft outcomes.

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It’s painful for me to admit, but as much I will continue to bitch about how useless Colton Orr, Mike Brown, and (presumably) Frazer McLaren are, they will always have a spot on a Dave Nonis/Randy Carlyle run team. This is clearly an issue that I and many others have a difficult time coming to terms with, but it’s true. An enforcer will be dressed every night, and we’ll all be treated to a sideshow (admittedly an entertaining sideshow most of time) before proceeding to move on with the game, and coming back to terms with the other shortcomings of the lineup. Since I’m ready to concede that there will be an enforcer, I’d like to make the following asks. They will fall on deaf ears, but I’m going to make them anyway. Hopefully we can move past this annoying little issue and begin discussing the bigger issues of the roster.

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At the start of this season, noise was made that the current Leafs roster would be ill-equipped to serve under Randy Carlyle’s tough-nosed, nasty, defense-first style of play.  That there was not enough team truculence to compete.

Despite the team placing 3rd in the league in fighting majors with seven, the club has been shorthanded a surprisingly low 23 times (3.29 penalties per game), fifth least in the league thus far.  It’s quite early still, but the disciplined play is a stark change for a team coached by Carlyle.  And that’s all for the better.

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Mike Kostka

One of the more positive stories in Leafland a week ago was Mike Kostka earning a spot on the Leafs blue line coming out of camp. The 27-year-old career AHLer made his NHL debut in Montreal and was able to pick up his first point. He didn’t look horribly out of place against a horrible team. It also probably didn’t hurt to have a guy who has been playing all season, eating 20 minutes a night, in the first couple of shakedown games.

Kostka certainly seemed like a reliable option that would slowly slide down the depth chart as Carlyle had a better chance to assess his regulars. To date (albeit it’s been five games) that hasn’t happened. Kostka played 22:59 minutes against Montreal, and that ice time has climbed up to over 31 minutes against New York on Saturday night (he was also minus -4). He’s currently 10th in the league in Average Time on Ice per game, ahead of recent Norris Trophy winners Zdeno Chara and Erik Karlsson.

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Brian Burke held his final press conference as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization at noon Saturday, the hosting of which is a bizarre decision at best on the part of his still-employer and, at worst, a welcome dose of some universal justice to the fans who still aren’t feeling all that great about this. I sort of eulogized his tenure on Thursday and thought that would be the end of it. Today’s session, however, did offer a few salient points worth a brief follow-up.

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“He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him.”
- Happy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

I can’t say I am as distraught as some of the other writers on this site about Burke’s departure (I’m not). I will say I’m shocked by the timing. Coming out of a Collective Bargaining Agreement that sees many of Burke’s personal principles put into play league wide, and the amount of cap space he to work with this summer, it gave me the feeling that he would’ve been given the benefit of doubt running the team through the 2013-14 season. Guess not. Can I blame them? No.

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When the NHL finally decided to have a season last week, many Leafs fans knew Brian Burke was on thin ice. There was a large segment of fans who believed Burke had only the upcoming shortened season to turn things around. Arguably, there was an even bigger group of fans who believed Burke had the current season, and then the offseason – where two of his former star players could be available – to turn the Leafs into a contender.

No one believed Burke wouldn’t oversee the Leafs starting the season on January 19th.

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This feels like writing a eulogy. I hate it.

You win. Let’s start with that concession, up front. A straightforward address to every fan who wanted Burke gone. I anxiously and hopefully await confirmation that this still-vague, as-yet-in-progress, largely-similar-but-supposedly-slightly-new direction will provide the amazing results that you’ve been adamant it hypothetically will.

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Brian Burke Fired

By Alec Brownscombe & Declan Kerin

Shocking, is the only way to put it.

No, this wasn’t a move that was waiting in the wings. Last night, Dave Nonis and Brian Burke were taking in a Marlies game expecting to be the assistant GM and President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, for the upcoming 2012-13 season. It came as a bombshell to absolutely everybody short of Tom Anselmi and some board members. If that’s not raising red flags in your head already, it should be.

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With the NHL lockout behind us and anticipation building ahead of a season that will start next week, a lot of the discussion surrounding the league has started to focus on actual hockey again. Not the business of hockey, but lineups, coaches, potential roster movement, the salary cap, and so on. It’s great.

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Nikolai Kulemin

The NHL lockout has ended, rejoice! After a long-fought battle between the players’ union and the NHL owners, fans will finally see a season. It will be a shortened one, sure, but I doubt many care right now. Once again, the Stanley Cup will be raised and to the fans, for now, it’s all that matters.

As the season finally nears, there are a few Leafs for whom the resumption of an NHL season is a continuation of 2012-13 campaigns that started abroad. While it does seem like a paradox, quality hockey was indeed played – mostly in the KHL. Below are short notes about the progress made by Leafs players who decided to spend the lockout in Europe, as well as their stories from far away.

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The plan? First make peace with the fact that the NHL latest work stoppage will become a reality. Check. Watch as much non-NHL hockey as I could get my hands/eyes on. Check. During these couple of months I’ve watched the KHL, AHL, SM-liiga, Elitserien, Czech Extraliga, OHL, QMJHL, EBEL, NCAA, and the CHL vs. Russian selects Super Series.

All of this gave me more insight about our beautiful game as well as new appreciation of both the NHL and hockey in general. Here are some of the things that stuck with me as I video traveled across the international hockey stage.

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In case you haven’t noticed, there is a lockout going on. As the league continued to chop of more bits from the 2012-13 NHL season the fans are getting increasingly frustrated. During work stoppage, those frustrated people tend to talk about various things. One of those things is pending expansion. As Ken Campbell wrote in the latest edition of the Hockey News, the league has gone 12 years without expanding, making it the longest expansion drought since it grew to 12 teams.

Sure enough, there are plenty of reasons in favor of not expanding. The league needs to control its suffering markets before it can ever think about adding teams in new ones. It also needs to accept that appeasing the fan bases deprived of hockey to lessen the negative impact of the lockout isn’t really a solid motive for expansion.

This list is long and could go on for another few paragraphs so let’s end it here.

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Nikolai Kulemin

Nikolai Kulemin, 2011-12: 70 games, 7 goals, 21 assists – 28 points. Numbers far below his NHL caliber.

“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.”

- Marcus Garvey

Lockout. KHL, Metallurg Magnitogorsk with Evgeni Malkin. Nikolai Kulemin, 2012-13: 17 games, 6 goals, 5 assists – 11 points. Average ice time: 18:37.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been one to look on the bright side of things. The aforementioned trio (“Magnitka”, Malkin and lockout) could turn out to be very bright for Kulemin’s future.

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So this week is do or die time for the 82 game season. Odds are we will see one last save face meeting between the league and PA and the result will be somewhat similar to what we’ve seen so far.

At this point neither side has been able to get past posturing and resentment. While I don’t doubt that the current proposals aren’t too far off of what will ultimately be the final deal, neither side is ready to make additional concessions.

For the NHLPA, there is a need to move to past the fact that this is the second recent lockout demanding serious concessions. That’s not to say don’t voice concerns if they take issues with the current agreement, but as long as everything is being done relative to last CBA they won’t be able move forward.