The Toronto Maple Leafs met their first serious opponentÂ this season, facing the defending champions, the Boston Bruins, last night at TD Garden. It was a wake-up call for the Leafs, who have mostly faced non-playoff teams as opponents and have receivedÂ out worldly performances from Phil Kessel to save the game for them, game-after-game. Toronto has had glaring issues with their specialty teams, and even their 5-on-5 play, that has to be raising big concern for the players and coaches involved despite a 4-1-1 start. Facing the Boston Bruins brought this team back to earth and revealed a number of areas in need of work, merely covered up by Phil Kessel's dominance in the four games preceding last night's tilt.
It's not inconceivable that the Leafs would have had a 1-4 or 2-3 record going into the game against Boston if not for their offensive leader's best streak in a Leafs sweater. This team has not clicked as a unit from game one and it finally caught up with them in the form of anÂ embarrassing 6-2 loss.Â There was very little to like about Toronto's game and, as has become tradition, Toronto's stacked defence core largely underperformed. [more…]
As you might have heard, Cody Franson made a really messy debut with the Toronto media today. Here are my two cents on the matter.Â Before you start reading, this is part of what was said:
â€œI donâ€™t want to be a guy that misses games,â€ says Franson, who is in the final season of his contract. â€œIâ€™m supposed to be coming into my own. This was supposed to be my breakout year. Thatâ€™s what I was working towards this summer. I was getting myself into shape to play bigger minutes and a bigger role. I prepared myself for that. For some reason, it just didnâ€™t turn out that way.â€
On the first day of a new season, the only real question on the minds of Leafs fans is: Will the Toronto Maple Leafs make the playoffs in 2011-12? After a franchise record six consecutive seasons without playoff hockey in the city of Toronto, the startling reality is that there is no guarantee it won't be seven consecutive seasons without playoff hockey. Brian Burke is entering his third full campaign as the General Manager, and while making substantial improvements in several areas of the organization, improvement at the NHL level has been slow.
Brian Burke is an extremely smart man, and isn't one to blindly step into a situation. As a General Manager in the league it is more than reasonable to assume that he understood the difficulty of the job facing the new man in charge. Burke is also not the type of guy to back down from a challenge, and although he was undoubtedly aware that the Toronto franchise was in shambles, it's tough to imagine he knew he was stepping into a runaway train. Regardless of who came in to clean up the mess left behind by the team's prior mistakes, no quick fix was really possible that could get this team back into the playoffs quickly without repeating the same errors that led the team to the state it has wallowed in for years. [more…]
This summer was very bleak and devastatingly unkind to hockey. Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien all lost their lives on dark summer days. An entire KHL hockey team perished in one single moment. We keep talking about racism, headshots, homophobic slurs and concussion effects.
While they are all worthy topics and certainly merit their place in hockey discussions around the globe, right now, at the beginning of a new season, I feel itâ€™s best to focus on the positive things surrounding our great game.
A new season always brings fresh optimism about your teamâ€™s chances. Itâ€™s like a drug to us hockey fans. Anything seems possible. This writer is starting his season talking about all the things that fill him with joy and excitement when watching a hockey game.
I am a big believer of creating teams by having the players grow up together. It's exactly what we have here. Our core is extremely young and everybody is developing, maturing together. It creates a bond which cannot be duplicated otherwise. Psychologists will tell you that having players (young men) go through stuff together in roughly the same period of their lives has an unparalleled bonding effect.
Teams that are put together in that manner are almost always successful. And those that are the exception to that rule certainly canâ€™t be blamed for their lack of team spirit or â€œtogethernessâ€. More often than not, just putting together a group of talented players, or big money free agents gets you nowhere, except maybe in a big hole you dug up for yourself.
The Leafs' top-six forwards of 2010-11 were a mix of pleasant surprises and bitter disappointments. Most notable among the surprises was the emergence of a not-so-second line consisting of Grabovski, Kulemin, and MacArthur. This line produced at a clip well above last yearâ€™s expectations and will now be expected to repeat that success in 2011-12. The teamâ€™s best line in 2010-11 almost certainly will be held together, barring a complete collapse, and should see much stronger support from other forward lines, and the defence core, in terms of secondary scoring and a spreading out of opposing defensive specialists. Though the skill of this line has somehow managed to slip under the radar of media analysts around the league, the statistics put this trio among the more dangerous units in the league and opposing coaches have definitely noticed. [more…]
The Leafs are expecting to see some major improvements in their bottom six forwards over last yearâ€™s starting roster. Last yearâ€™s group failed to consistently provide any of the criteria intrinsic to bottom-six role players. Improvements to this group, as energy providers, momentum shifters, penalty killers and a source of secondary scoring, is key to the Leafsâ€™ playoff hopes in 2011-12. Though the PK made strides in front of Reimer in late season 2010-11, the thirdÂ and fourthÂ lines were very often limited to a defensive role that saw them on their heels most nights, relying on a few heart and soul players to lift the team with a strong individual effort. [more…]
I'll start off by saying that the NHL is, in my book, the greatest of all the sports leagues in the world. But hockey is also the greatest game. Lately, thatâ€™s exactly why I'm having a really tough time accepting or justifying the NHLâ€™s debate about letting NHL player participate in the next winter Olympics in Sochi, 2014. Iâ€™m really not sure why the debate even exists.
Is it a really sneaky revenge aimed at the IIHF because of all the accusations about the NHL, CHL, OHL development programs stealing Europeâ€™s best and brightest prospects and making them a part of the North American game? Letâ€™s just clarify. I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s the case at all, since every player has a choice, and they choose to come to North America. Why is that?
Itâ€™s because the development programs in place throughout the continent are unmatched in the world of hockey. Itâ€™s because it gives players healthy competition against best players their age in the entire world which in turn makes them better players. And yes, itâ€™s because one day, they just might make it in the NHL. You can hardly blame the NHL, or the North American game for a) being the best, having the best programs or b) the fact they offer more hockey education to players neglected in their home countries which put hockey not second or third, but forth, fifth on their list of sporting interest.
An annual tradition, here's the scoring predictions for the 2011-12 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I won't get too much into player specifics since my scouting reports are in the Maple Leafs Annual with further expansion in the McKeen's Yearbook to be released soon.
Some minor commentary on Kulemin winning the scoring title. When coming up with predictions, the hold of the top spot was so delicate any slump/streak could cost some player the scoring crown. If it wasn't Kulemin, it could be Grabovski coming off a breakout campaign (and entering a contract year) or Kessel for a third straight season. [more…]
There probably isn't a coach in the NHL on a shorter leash going into the 2011-12 season than the Leafs' own Ron Wilson. Without a contract extension, and entering the final season of his existing deal, the bench boss is fully aware that if he fails to deliver results early on, he's done. It's really as simple as that.
In the past we've often questioned whether Wilson would survive a brutal losing skid here or there (or everywhere.) ManyÂ of usÂ haveÂ discussed -Â at length -Â the possibility of Burke exploring other options in the offseason. But none of this has ever come to fruition.
Firing a coach is a pretty enormous decision - even moreso when that coach happens to be a friend of yours, with whom you also share a past professionally. [more…]
Two and half weeks have passed since the July 1st free agent frenzy, and many in Leafs Nation continue to ponder the unsigned status of Maple Leafs' defenseman Luke Schenn.Â With GM Brian Burke currently taking a well-deserved vacation, odds are it may be a while yet before pen is put to paper on a new deal for one of the franchise's cornerstone players.
Were Schenn the only prominent restricted free agent remaining unsigned, his status as such would be apt cause for concern. However, Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos, and the Los Angeles Kings' superstar-to-be Drew Doughty also remain unsigned to date.Â Â Is this perhaps a case of waiting for the shoe to drop with one of the aforementioned (Doughty), or simply a case of the formalities of a contract having not been deemed an exceptionallyÂ high priority?
In a lacklustre free agent market where a James Wisniewski can get $33 million dollars, it can sometimes be advantageous to be extremely deliberate when it comes to throwing around the dollars.Â The only truly worthwhile UFA offensive option was of course Christian Hanson Brad Richards but looking back it almost appears obvious why the Toronto Maple Leafs were among the â€œfinal fourâ€ teams in the â€˜B-Richâ€™ derby - to drive up the price for the New York Rangers.
Brian Burke in particular has taken a bit of heat for not being physically present during the â€œpitchâ€ for Brad Richards.Â It is hard to fault the man for taking such a noble once in a lifetime trip (along with stud defenseman Luke Schenn) and it appears the writing was on the wall from the jump - Brad Richards was never going to don the blue and white.
Many opinions have already been made on this site and others and I will keep mine relatively short.Â To invest six (or more) years in a player who has already won a cup, been through the gruelling battles that take a toll on the professional athleteâ€™s body and who is on the downswing of a fairly impressive career is not prudent.