The two greatest military tacticians of the past 5000 years â€“ Sun Tzu and Sgt. Slaughter â€“ both spoke on the value of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your enemies in the field.Â To effectively assess the situational realities of the Toronto Maple Leafs it pays to look at the status of their direct competition within the Northeast division.Â Playing 24 games against teams from their own division, pride, points and position are all on the line.Â While by no means comprehensive (as yet), take a gander at the past 3 weeks of moves.
The Canadians, Senators, Bruins and Sabres all earned playoff positions last season.Â A successful, playoff calibre Leafs squad must commit themselves to dominating these frequent opponents as more than a quarter of the season will be played against them.
Next up, Viktor Stalberg by PPP:
The Summary: Viktor Stalberg made a big splash in the pre-season as heÂ led the NHL with 6 goals in 8 games. Then came game number three of the season andÂ the player known as the A-Train. AfterÂ Anton Volchenkov‘s hit Stalberg began a steep decline that led him to the AHL for 39 games. He returned in December but his impact was minimal until he found a bit of chemistry with his fellow Frat PackersTyler Bozak andÂ Christian Hanson. It was enough to make someÂ wonder if there was any hope to marry his exceptional speed with a more physical game.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a rebuild, or a re-tool, whichever you prefer. Â In any event, a process such as this requires a team to have a plentiful prospect pipe, ripe with blue chippers are all positions. Â The Leafs certainly may not be plentiful when it comes to blue chip prospects, but they do have a few who are developing quite nicely.
And you just never know when and where a potential blue chipper may come from.
If drafting has taught us anything, it’s shown to be far from an exact science. Â Can’t miss prospects turn out to be busts occasionally, and sometimes late round picks have proven to be key components for a team, just ask, among others, Tomas Kaberle, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Viktor Stalberg.
Okay, while he may not garner enough adulation to be put in a group with some of the NHL’s top stars, there is plenty of reason to believe he may in fact one day be worthy of the mention.
The Maple Leafs are creative. You have to hand it to them for finding new ways to lose games all the time. In the home opener against Montreal, it was sloppy turnovers and poor special teams leading to a blown late third period lead. On Saturday night, they decided to pack it away early against the Caps before going on a late run at the end to make the score more respectable. Tonight, it was a listless effort physically and emotionally, creating virtually nothing in the way of offense and falling victim to a pair of strange plays.
As has been the case for most of this season, rookie defenseman Luke Schenn was one of the lone brights spots as the Toronto Maple Leafs came away with yet another disappointing result on Friday night against the Atlanta Thrashers. Schenn logged nearly 25 minutes of ice-time, 4 minutes on the PK, recorded an assist, made a brilliant defensive play on the Kovalchuk near-breakaway and threw in a couple of resounding hits for good measure. Among the 4 defensemen who logged 20+ minutes of ice-time (Kubina, Kaberle, Schenn, White), Luke was the only one not to finish with a minus rating.
I don’t care where in the tanking/playoff spectrum you stand, beating the Ottawa Senators is always sweet. Especially in a game riddled with physicality and controversy, against a rival considered at season’s dawn a contender vastly more talented than the re-building Maple Leafs.
The status and whereabouts of Russian defenseman Dmitri Vorobiev has been an ongoing question mark for Leaf Nation. The robust blue-liner was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the 5th round of the 2004 Entry Draft. Originally touted as a second round pick by scouts, Vorobiev stuck around until the 5th round largely due to weight concerns. But it’s gradually become clear that the Maple Leafs shrewdly gambled on the Togliatti native after an impressive couple of seasons with RSL side Lada. He’s now regarded as one of the best young power-play point-men in his league and he supplements his offensive skill with a solid, physical own-zone game. He’s ranked 5th in the team’s “Top Prospect List” on Hockey’s Future.com, behind Justin Pogge, Nik Kulemin, Jiri Tlusty and Anton Stralman. The lone but major problem being, however, that Vorobiev doesn’t appear to have any interest in embarking on a career overseas.
Vorobiev remains Leaf property, but seemingly in name only. The 22-year-old is contractually committed to two more seasons with Lada Togliatti having signed a four year deal prior to the 06/07 campaign; a deal which tripled his initial salary. Fortunately, the Leafs hold Vorobiev’s rights indefinitely due to the absence of a transfer agreement. There is currently no agreed-on date for when a team’s rights to players like Vorobiev will expire. According to Bill Meltzer, “the NHL and NHLPA have more or less agreed to overlook what’s written in the CBA at least until there’s a clear direction on what’s going to happen in terms of a new transfer agreement (or lack thereof).” So how are we to know just how long the Leafs will hold onto Vorobiev’s rights? Meltzer suggests any of these three scenarios could occur:
“1) The CBA is amended to include a provision for how long European draft picks’ rights can be retained
2) At the point the direction of the NHL’s transfer relationship with the KHL (and other European countries) is determined, a deadline could be set for NHL teams to sign their picks whose rights would have expired under the two-year window specified by the current CBA.
3) They could simply continue the status quo — which essentially readopts the old system in which NHL teams could hold European players’ rights more or less in perpetuity.”
The last scenario is obviously the preferred one in this case.
I should preface this blog with the caveat that fishing information out of Russia is at best tenuous and details of Vorobiev’s contract status remain ambiguous. But according to a European-based scout, the bottom line seems to be that from a personal standpoint, Vorobiev just isn’t interested in the North American game as it stands. He’s comfortably settled in with Lada, whom he’s belonged to for 7 years now. He’s steadily improving, his point totals growing as his career progresses. Vorobiev was originally described as a more of a defensive specialist who plays an awkward, but effective own-zone game. His offensive skills are now burgeoning and he has assumed a top four role on his team’s back-end. One might describe him as a more offensively-inclined Anton Volchenkov.
The only way Vorobiev could theoretically join the Leafs in the next few seasons would be to buy-out his own contract, similar to what Jonas Frogren did in order to cross the pond earlier this summer. With the way the league has come down hard on the Leafs’ actions in regards to Frogren, it wouldn’t be easy. It could probably be managed, however, if the desire was there on Vorobiev’s part. It’s not for a lack of trying on the Leafs’ end, who’ve kept in regular contact with Vorobiev and his agent.
A source heard during the World Championships that Vorobiev was thinking of extending his contract with Lada. With his role expanding and his name gaining more and more recognition, Vorobiev couldn’t be happier in his current situation. It would require a sudden 180 for Vorobiev to opt for change from his current, stable situation. He’s presently focused on helping his side Lada succeed as they transfer to the Kontinental Hockey League next season. When Vorobiev reaches the peak of his ascension over in Russia, perhaps he’ll look for a new challenge elsewhere. At which point, the Leafs may just be one of 20-odd clubs interested. A different avenue the Leafs could explore would be to offer Vorobiev a tentative contract that comes into effect upon the expiration of the defenseman’s contract with Lada, similar to the arrangement the team formed with now-Leaf Nik Kulemin. Again, the stimulus doesn’t appear to be there for Vorobiev.
The fact of the matter is that it takes relentless desire and overarching ambition for European players of Vorobiev’s ilk who must risk the possibility of lower salary (due to entry-level restrictions), demotion, and an often-tumultuous transition into a foreign setting in order to realize their NHL goal. Athletes such as Nik Kulemin, Alex Nikulin, and Nikita Filatov appear to have this drive. Many less ambitious and driven athletes would be tempted to settle for a comfortable and well-compensated home setting. And for some the NHL just isn’t the be-all end-all career objective. There is an interesting and unexpected result of league-wide parity, in that it has not only leveled the playing field amongst the rich and less-moneyed franchises domestically but also between the NHL and Europe. The NHL through its entry-level deal basically assumes that everyone wants to play here, even at the cost of a salary discount. I’m not saying that money is the one and only factor playing into the equation, but it warrants consideration and is definitely some food for thought.
Perhaps once Vorobiev reaches his prime in Russia and past the entry level age he will look for a new challenge overseas. The ship may be sailing for the ACC to be his port of arrival, and if I had to bet right now, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be on board.