According to the Daily Herald, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets are believed to have expressed serious interest in Chicago winger Patrick Sharp. The author explains that Sharp would likely bring the highest return of any of the Hawks’ players rumored to be on the trading block, in the form of a high draft pick of top prospect. One rival executive deemed Sharp to be “one of those players every team loves to have” and who has “no flaws in his game”.
The Toronto-Sharp connection has been red hot for over a year now, as the Daily Herald reported last summer that the Hawks and Leafs had already been discussing a potential swap. At the time, ESPN had speculated a return of an affordable defenseman along with a high end prospect. The 28 year old Sharp scored 25 goals and 66 points during the regular season, and stepped it up to the tune of 11 goals and 22 points during the Hawk’s Stanley Cup run.
Though the news in Leaf Nation has been relatively quiet of late, there have been a few intriguing storylines making the rounds. Joel Champagne will re-enter the draft, Nik Kulemin and the Maple Leafs have hit a contract impasse, Tomas Kaberle is reportedly gathering interest from a number of teams, and a member of the Toronto media raised a few eyebrows with a blog post regarding the relationship between Dion Phaneuf and Ron Wilson.
Leafs prospect, Mikhail Stefanovich was quoted in an interview on the internet site of Belarussian newspaper, ‘Sports Panorma’ about his relationship with Patrick Roy, the Canadian lifestyle contrast and commentary on the people of Quebec City … the article also mentions his favorite NHL team, which isn’t the Maple Leafs.
It was reported yesterday that former New York Rangers back up goaltender, Steve Valiquette, will be heading to the KHL next season. Today, it appears more movement will be taking place from the Rangers organization as newly acquired Olli Jokinen is currently in discussions with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.
Strengths: Prior to the start of this season, the Leafs prospect list was a list full of question marks. But it has become clear that the Leafs at the very least have some talent to work with in the coming seasons. First and foremost would be OHL star Nazem Kadri, who has come on in the second half of the season after a slow start in London. Two other forwards that appear to have a future with the Leafs are former collegians Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg. Jerry D’Amigo, one of the stars for Team USA at the 2010 WJC, is another promising forward currently in the college ranks. The acquisition of Luca Caputi adds another solid forward with some size, a trait valued by Leafs’ GM Brian Burke. In goal, Jonas Gustavsson has emerged as a legitimate future starter.Â Weaknesses: Where the Leafs may lack future support is along the blueline, with trade deadline acquisition Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson representing the only current prospects of real magnitude at defense. But, considering where the Leafs were after last season, the future is looking brighter. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nazem Kadri, C, 2. Jonas Gustavsson, G, 3. Tyler Bozak, C, 4. Carl Gunnarsson, D, 5. Viktor Stalberg, LW
Of no surprise is that signings Jonas Gustavsson and Tyler Bozak played a major role in boosting the Leafs up the rankings. That’s not to say that they don’t count the same as key young assets, but both Gus and Bozak will not qualify for this list next season after turning 24 and/or surpassing the 65 game mark of their NHL careers. To see Stalberg and Gunnarsson listed in the top five of a sixth-ranked prospect group as former sixth and seventh round picks respectively certainly represents some form of silver lining from John Ferguson Jr’s reign.
The author’s omission of the name Jesse Blacker in assessing our blueline depth weakness was curious to me. After standout performances at the rookie tournament in Kitchener in September, Blacker notched 30 points in 48 games following a trade request to the Owen Sound attack from Windsor in search of increased playing time. Granted, past Aulie and Blacker among players yet to feature in a Leaf uniform, depth certainly does thin out, and this is likely a priority for Burke with the remaining picks he has to work with come June 25.
More on the Leafs’ top ten placement here.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Katrina Cady of Psycho Lady Hockey about an aspect of the game which receives less recognition than perhaps deserved: the fan experience.
Katrina was gracious enough to agree to share her thoughts with the readers of MLHS on a variety topics, including the culture of hockey in traditional and non-traditional markets, the impact of social media in terms of coverage and fan involvement, and of course, your Toronto Maple Leafs.
This isn’t exactly the typical blog you’ll find here at MLHS, but I figured it was definitely something worthwhile to share. I recently came across an extremely well written excerpt from the book, The Joy of Sports, by author Michael Novak. While not relating directly to hockey or the Maple Leafs, it is certainly a reflective piece with an interesting philosophical twist that speaks to the needs, desires and hopes of the common sports fan. Â Â