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Boston

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It’s around 2PM eastern time, meaning National Hockey League GM’s are likely getting ready to juggle their BlackBerry’s while getting set to sit down for lunch at a local Los Angeles hot spot.  With the many fantastic views and atmosphere, it may be the last relaxing moment of the day for these GM’s.

And most wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I’ve been holding off on posting one of these, as the sheer volume of Toronto-borne speculation renders separating the plausible from the impossible a rather difficult task.

Without further ado, here we go:

  • There is no guarantee that Tomas Kaberle is traded this weekend. Sources say the chance that he could remains a member of the Maple Leafs beyond the Draft is increasing by the day.  The reason?  “Burke wants a player who can step in and play right away. He wants to win now, and is far less concerned about getting draft picks than he is about getting an impact forward.”
  • .

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The word out of Los Angeles today remains that Brian Burke has yet to receive an acceptable offer for Tomas Kaberle. While talks are said to be heating up according to Pierre LeBrun’s twitter (rumoured to involve Buffalo, Boston and Los Angeles), Burke appears to be tempering expectations and maintaining the possibility that Kaberle remains a Leaf come Saturday. It could well be that Burke quietly slips out of Los Angeles with only with only six third – seventh round picks to his name. TSN has released a sleeper list with some names Leafs fans can keep an eye on for Saturday:

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The Leafs will start and end with Montreal as to be expected. The schedule includes nine back-to-backs, an increase over the seven they played last season. The Leafs will head northwest March 22-24 to play Minnesota and Colorado after hosting them last season. The most taxing travel appears to be a four game stretch from January 7 – 13 when the Buds will make stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix. The Leafs will also conduct a potentially critical division tour from February 12 – 19 when they face off consecutively with each Northeast rival. From December 14-18, the Blue and White will go on a Western Canada road trip where they can visit Taylor Hall, Matt Stajan and Kyle Wellwood. The full sched after the jump:

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    We’ve partnered up with Pension Plan Puppets to bring to you a Player Review series, where we will be evaluating and grading the 2009-10 season for every Leaf who featured in a significant number of games for the Blue and White last season, with an eye towards 2010-11.Today we feature Phil Kessel, profiled by Garrett Bauman.

    Acquired via a controversial trade during the 2009 offseason in which three draft picks were sent to the Bruins, Kessel rebounded from shoulder surgery to become the Maple Leafs go-to guy in the offensive zone.

    Despite missing a month of the season, the electrifying 22-year old winger led the Maple Leafs in several offensive categories while providing the team with a legitimate scoring threat — and their first 30-goal scorer of the post-Sundin era.

    Only 22, Kessel has a bright future ahead of him and many suspect it will be only a matter of time before 40-goal seasons become the norm.

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      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.

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      Yesterday was a big day in Leafs Nation.  And I think I speak for all fans when I say it’s about time.  While two teams are currently battling for the opportunity to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been forced to sit on the sidelines and watch, bide their time with the other half of the league who wasn’t fortunate enough to make into the NHL’s playoffs.

      And while they have kept themselves busy, and Brian Burke has shown a penchant for rarely letting his team slip into the background, a lot of hype has been leading toward this time of year.

      Even without a first-or second-round draft pick, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still making plenty of waves, and it appears Burke is fit to make an impression at the draft, whether he is selecting or not.

      Which, although he would never admit it, would be the perfect way to steal the spotlight back from the doom and gloom position of Boston using the Leafs pick to select a potential franchise cornerstone.

      Tomas Kaberle, long been rumoured to be on his way out of Toronto, may be inching closer and closer with each passing day.  As the calendar flipped to June yesterday, and now with the entry draft and free agency now firmly in sight on the horizon, it appears Kaberle’s time with the Toronto Maple Leafs is now being measured in days.

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        According to LA Kings beat writer Rich Hammond, it appears as if Kings winger Alexander Frolov is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Citing an interview with Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi, Hammond explains that the team is “not optimistic” about their chances of retaining their young sniper. Should the Leafs be interested in his services?

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        National Hockey League

        NHL ShieldThings may be relatively quiet in Leafs Nation these days, but that doesn’t mean there has been a lack of excitement elsewhere in the NHL.

        As such, here are a few quick takes on some of the headlines dominating the NHL landscape these days (including the Phoenix Coyotes situation, the Patrice Cormier charges, and Willie Mitchell’s controversial comments),  as well as a quick glance at the nearly-completed 2nd round of the NHL playoffs.

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        Those who know me can tell you I am an avid reader.  I devour books at a staggering pace, specializing in sports books and autobiographies mostly.  And as the warm weather approaches, and the hockey season gives way to deck weather, my reading habit ramps up considerably.

        Book of choice at the moment?  ”The Yankee Years”  by Joe Torre.  A fantastic account of life in the major leagues and life as the manager of one of the most popular, most traditional, and at times, most dysfunctional franchises in the world.

        Torre does an excellent job of taking readers behind the scenes of his time in New York, including a fist hand look of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports.  That is, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

        And that’s where the parallels started standing out to me as a Leafs fan.

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        During his first full year at the helm in Toronto, you could make the case that Brian Burke was the league’s most active general manager. There was the Kessel summer blockbuster with Boston and then the mega-deals on January 31st that brought in Phaneuf and Giguere. It’s quite obvious that he’s willing to expend assets to target any top notch premium young talent when it’s made available. Both of those trades were opportunities: Kessel was a restricted free agent on a team with cap issues. Burke often spoke of inquiring on Phaneuf several times throughout the year until the “pressure points” of the cap and the struggles of the Flames pushed Sutter into making a bold move. This summer should be no different. Let’s take a look at some of the young RFA’s that might potentially attract Burke’s interest.

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        Whichever way you cut it, the Leafs endured a torrid season that no statistical tinkering can mend. Regardless, if there is one thing most opposing NHL fans can agree on it’s the increasing need for an overhaul in the leagues points’ structure and the farcical awarding of points in the overall standings.

        Where once every game had two points at stake, either by means of two for the win or split after an OT tie, the inclusion of an extra point for teams losing in OT or, more prevalently, after the shootout, has spawned an lopsided points structure that favours teams and coaches who adopt an cautious approach toward the end of regulation time that is the polar opposite of what was originally intended.

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        While most Leafs fans are content to sweep the 2009-10 season aside and look ahead to greener pastures, we’re nevertheless forced to look on in envy as sixteen other fan bases get to watch their teams play meaningful hockey with the sun out. It’s a feeling Leafs Nation hasn’t experienced since pre-lockout times, and as low as expectations may have been coming in, it is unexceptionally a failure not to be in the mix this time of year. Brian Burke will be the first to acknowledge that, and did so in his State of the Union address today.

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        As you are no doubt well aware, the NHL draft lottery will be held tonight in New York to determine the order of the 14 non-playoff teams heading into the June 25-26 draft in Los Angeles. You can catch coverage of the lottery at 8pm on TSN.

        Update
        And the winner is … Edmonton.  Leafs fans, prepare yourselves to endure “Kessel Trade” debates for the better part of the next decade.

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        With the NHL season now officially over, the Leafs’ players and coaching  staff spent Monday afternoon cleaning out their lockers and addressed the media for the final time. Below is a recap of important comments made. It’s generally just the usual lines about how they plan to work hard during the offseason in preparation for a big  year but there are a few interesting tidbits as well. The full audio/video can be accessed in the LeafsTV archive on the Maple Leafs’ official website. On to golf season!

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        We will do an extended Torontosaurus Rex after preparing for the playoffs is over, later on in the week. But since the regular season is over, it’s time for some numbers. It’s also interesting to note how the two teams Flyers and Rangers with the lowest amount of shootout games with six, decided their playoff fates with a shootout.

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          The NHL has released the playoff schedule for the first round, along with the list of networks airing each series.

          Here are the start dates for Game 1 of each series, and the network airing each opening match.

          Full schedules for each series, including networks airing each game, are posted at NHL.com.

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            Leafs NationLine-up Note: Tim Brent has been recalled from the Marlies and will feature tonight. He has recorded 26 points in 35 games this season, third on the team among active Marlies. Caputi or Primeau will sit according to AM640′s Jonas Siegel.

            The planets have aligned and the gods of hockey have shined their countenance upon the Leafs. Considering of course the various permutations that have to yet play out, it could still end up for nought at the close of play Sunday night. But after a favourable series of results, Toronto now has the chance to topple the Montreal Canadiens wavering playoff aspirations and boy do they owe the fans a blistering performance to give the Leafs faithful some tangible highlight from a season resplendent in lows.

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              Phil Kessel has but one point in five games against his former side while recurrent Leafs nightmare Tuukka Rask, league leader in goals against average and save percentage, stands 3-1-0 against the club that drafted him. This match-up tonight marks the final opportunity this season to get a little bit of that sour taste out of the fan base’s collective mouth and perhaps symbolize that we, too, can make good trades.

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                Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs will host the Atlanta Thrashers at the Air Canada Center. Atlanta is hoping to catch the Boston Bruins for the 8th seed in the East and snag a post-season berth, while the Maple Leafs are looking to continue a playoff of their own – the quest to get out of the bottom five.

                NOTE: Newly signed Brayden Irwin will not make his debut tonight. He will likely see action Thursday or Saturday.