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Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images

It seems like a fruitless endeavor to make full season predictions with the uncertainty of when the actual season does begin.

Regardless, here we are. Under ideal circumstances, the season would start as per the current schedule and should both parties salvage a full season, we need to be ready.

Every summer we get the McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook together and about this time, I’m usually done with Leafs predictions.

It’s a summer tradition to post Leafs predictions here, and I wanted to continue the custom.

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Photo Credit: lfpress.com

This is the first part of my transcript of yesterday’s Leafs media day. It focuses primarily on Luke’s deal, with the majority of the quotes coming from our general manager. Part two is coming to you on Monday, with quotes from other players and Ron Wilson for the media day itself.

Brian Burke on life, universe and Schenn’s deal:

“We intend to spend to the cap. He haven’t spent to the cap since I’ve been here, but that’s why you have to work hard at these contracts and Don Meehan’s group did a really good job on Luke’s side and Claude Loiselle did a really good job on our side. I think the deal reached was fair and am very pleased to announce Luke Schenn is a Leaf for five more years…”

As are we. At 3.6 mil. Schenn deal is fair value, especially given the term of the contract. Luke has been a vital cog for this team, led us in hits in the each of the last three years and will keep progressing along with the likes of Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Keith Aulie etc. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native also led the Maple Leafs in blocked shots with 168, and was the only player in the NHL to have over 250 hits and at least 150 blocked shots last season.  If you’re a Leafs fan, this is the news you were waiting to hear all summer long.

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Jeff Finger returns to the line-up tonight in Detroit in what many will suggest is his Maple Leafs swan song/final pit stop en route to the Marlies. Burke is saying the right things about Finger’s right to a “fair look” and the importance of respecting players acquired via free agency as it relates to organizational reputation. But the realities are this: the Leafs are sitting with both Brett Lebda and Finger on the outside of their top six, over the cap by around $300k and uncomfortably close even with Lashoff and his $550k assigned to the Marlies. And that’s assuming Nazem Kadri and his $1.7 million cap hit will not be a part of the roster come opening night. If it’s important to show respect to signed free agents, surely Lebda won’t be Marlie-bound after his first training camp as a Leaf. Simply, something has to give, and the $3.5 million Finger, a Leaf of two seasons now, seems the obvious candidate for demotion.

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In part two of his 12 burning questions series, Derek Harmsworth looks at the Leafs goaltending of the past, and whether this year’s tandem can provide them with healthy, consistent efforts.

The NHL goaltender.

It has been said that there is no more important position in all of pro sports.  And if you believe that, it’s quite easy to see why the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t had much regular season success in the post lockout NHL, and why the post season has eluded them.

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    Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, ridiculed in some circles, heralded in others, after the way the Tomas Kaberle deal went down, has not been hiding in the shadows after his inability, or unwillingness, to trade the Czech born blue liner.  Burke spoke to the media yesterday and made a variety of statements that should peak the interest of Leafs Nation.

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    In case you missed it, here are some of the key points from Burke’s interview on the Fan590 this morning:

    • There have been some legitimate offers made on Tomas Kaberle, though he expects that the quality will continue to increase as the deadline approaches
    • The team continues to look for a top six winger with some size and scoring ability
    • Offers have been primarily “future-oriented”, which would include a quality young player and a high draft pick. He would prefer to receive a package that would help the club more right now, but these offers are serious enough that he may re-evaluate his position and consider accepting one
    • The team is not looking to acquire a big centre. Although they are small down the middle, the priority remains a big, scoring winger.
    • Nazem Kadri has done everything the club has asked him to do and looked “fantastic” at the prospect camp last month. He is stronger in the upper body and is more explosive.
    • They are pleased to have signed Jerry D’Amigo to a pro contract, but were not a factor in his decision to leave RPI. He made that decision on his own and will now battle it out for a spot on the opening night roster. Burke characterizes D’Amigo’s progress over the past season as “meteoric”.
    • He believes that the arbitrator made the right decision in siding with the NHL on the Kovalchuk saga. The Maple Leafs have not and will not take part in these mega long-term contracts that tail off drastically at the end.

    [email protected]

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    - Among the youngsters impressing at the Leafs’ prospect camp is 2006 NCAA draftee Tyler Ruegsegger. Tyler is a smart, skilled winger whose size and skating concerns may limit hit ability to become an impact player in the NHL. He was not offered an entry-level contract by the Maple Leafs after a 4 year stint with the University of Denver, but did finish this past season at a point-a-game rate. However, the club is strongly considering offering Tyler Bozak’s former teammate an AHL contract to play for the Toronto Marlies, though that would leave the door open for another team to swoop in and steal Ruegsegger away with an ELC.

    - Recent Maple Leafs’ free agent signee Brett Lebda is hopeful of taking on a bigger role this coming season. Coming over as a depth defenseman on a very strong Red Wings’ blueline, Lebda hopes to become more of a 4/5 type defenseman with the Leafs. Burke commented on Lebda’s great skating and puck moving ability, though stressed that the signing is not tied to an imminent Kaberle trade.

    - Is there a particular subject you feel strongly about? Feel free to submit a FanPost to MLHS to be displayed on the front page.

    [email protected]

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    As much of the league takes a post-draft/free agent frenzy breather for the Canada Day and July 4th long weekend, I figure I’ll spark some discussion with a bit of educated speculation. In talking to a source over the past week it’s been suggested to me that Brian Burke has a  deal or two on the table for scoring help involving a Leaf asset he’s struggling with the idea of parting with. It’s said at this time Burke is hoping desperation on the part of the involved GMs reduces the price on a few top six trade options as the off-season continues.

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    Considering we were hearing word of $3 million + demands from Nik Kulemin’s camp, this is pleasantly surprising. It gives Kulemin a deserved $800k raise and a couple of years to prove he deserves a bigger, long-term extension, and Brian Burke the chance to see if the 24-year-old’s late season production wasn’t just the result of a default increase in playing time. Come two off-seasons from now, when both sides re-evaluate where they stand, the Leafs will still own Kulemin’s rights as an RFA. There is little doubt the Leafs are paying the extra cash for potential, but it’s certainly worth it given Kulemin’s 24 and was Leafs’ best forward offensively and defensively on several nights during the back half of the ’09-10 schedule. Patience has paid off for Burke and Nonis with a reasonable contract for the next two seasons. At the very least Kulemin will provide a responsible two-way presence with some offensive upside on the second or third line. Beyond that we’ll have to see where he can go in terms of production.

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    It may seem uncharacteristic of  Brian Burke, historically a headline maker at the Entry Draft, to sit essentially idle on the hockey world’s biggest stage. Important to remember is that the big man can be patient when he needs to be. The Anaheim and Calgary deals of last February, when Burke waited until certain pressure points reached a head, were both examples of Burke’s willingness to sit back until the time was right to pull the trigger – despite all the temptations to hit the panic button as his team sat in the Eastern Conference basement with no first round pick to look forward to.

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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 Nikolai Kulemin, profiled by PPP:

      The Summary:

      Nikolai Kulemin continued his development into the Maple Leafs’ best two-way forward just in time for his agent to try to play hardball with Papa Burke over his new contract. Rumours are that they are $1M apart but the reality is that if Kulemin, as he has indicated with his words and his actions, wants to play in the NHL then the Leafs have the upperhand thanks to the CBA.

      But why is this dragging out? Well, let’s look at his season to see why Kulemin might expect more from Burke.

      The Discussion:

      Well, we know where this is going no matter what so knock yourselves out.

      Audience Participation:

      Rate Kulemin below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season.

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      In case you missed it, here’s a brief summary courtesy of Naz:

      - Burke has let it be known to the 29 other NHL teams that Tomas Kaberle is available; he’s received “two interesting package offers” so far for Kaberle and is expecting more in the days leading up to the draft

      - Burke’s priority this offseason will be to acquire top six forward with some size; Acquiring a higher draft pick would be a luxury but is not a priority

      - Wayne Primeau will not receive a contract offer prior to July 1st and his situation will be re-evaluated afterwards

      - Nazem Kadri has a shot at making the Leafs next season but needs to continue to get “stronger” and play a “60 minute game”

      - If Kaberle is moved, Burke explains that one of the Marlies “Big Four” of Juraj Mikus, Simon Gysbys, Korbinian Holzer or Keith Aulie could find themselves with a full-time job in the NHL

      [email protected]

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      I have been listening and watching Toronto media members discuss the Maple Leafs and am honestly beyond annoyed at their commentary and observations around the Leafs performance since the trade deadline.  I am not even certain if this is “blog worthy” (shameless “sponge worthy” reference), but I have officially reached my “B.S.” tolerance threshold.

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        - Tim Brent and Jay Rosehill have been recalled from the Toronto Marlies, while Sjostrom and Mitchell are doubtful for tonight’s game against the Flyers. Brent is a player Burke knows quite well from his years in the Anaheim Ducks organization, whom the Leafs signed this past offseason. Tim has always been a very productive player at the AHL level who has yet to make that successful transition to the NHL. However, he’s only 25 years of age with a strong two-way game and some decent hands, so this may be his chance to surprise.

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          Somewhat understandably, a great number of people will be upset with what ended up unfolding (or not unfolding) as Trade Deadline Day progressed, in particular with regard to Tomas Kaberle.

          A new twist in the latest “will he or won’t he” saga involving a star player for the Toronto Maple Leafs kickstarted a ravenous day of trade rumours, one which ended disappointingly for all those who dared to believe that a King’s ransom was just around the corner.

          However, things are never quite so simple as they first seem.  And where some are seething with rage, others are basking in the glow of a new-found respect for the class displayed today, for all of us to see, by both the player and the general manager in the face of the onslaught which predictably ensued.

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            Brian Burke’s youngest son, Brendan Burke, has passed away due to injuries suffered from a car crash in Indiana earlier today. From everyone here at MLHS, our thoughts and prayers are with Burke’s family. This truly puts hockey into perspective in accordance to life.

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              Being a General Manager of an NHL Hockey team is quite similar to sitting down at a high rollers table at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and having a marathon session of no-limit hold’em poker versus some of the biggest and meanest sharks in the ocean.

              With a Leafs team stuck in the bottom 5 of the league from the first day of the season, and after public proclamations of being aggressive at the draft and public and vocal assurances that he has built one of the better defensive units in the East.  Additional proclamations that it would be reasonable to expect the Leafs to compete for the playoffs this year, spending right up to the salary cap, trading away the clubs next 2 1st round picks and trading away some of the organizations mostly highly thought of prospects for practically zero return, it is safe to say at this point, that if being an NHL General Manager were a game of poker, Mr Burke is “All In” and has absolutely zero chance of winning this round.  He has been effectively cleaned out.

              There is a silver lining however, as Mr Burke is flush, sitting on a recently signed multi-year, multi-million dollar deal and has an opportunity to buy back into the game and try again.

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                After recovering from the initial shock of the Leafs trading yet another highly rated, potentially top end prospect (Tlusty in this case) for picks, prospects (Paradis in this case) or players who at best can be defined as “depth” acquisitions, I decided to sit back, absorb all of the feedback and coverage from this transaction and form an opinion based on rational thought processes and any available factual information.  Past my initial, oh no, here we go again feeling, I was uncertain as to my actual opinion on this deal.  After all, I have never seen the young Paradis play, knew very little about this prospect, and the only information I had available was that he was a late 1st round pick in last years entry draft.  So, I decided to err on the side of caution and keep my initial opinion on this transaction to myself.  After researching this prospect, reading the various scouting reports and watching some film, it became rather apparent that Mr Burke had traded a potential top 6 type of sniper for a 3rd-4th line character guy.  Someone who was physical, had speed, was fearless and could become a real heart and soul leader on an NHL roster one day.  Considering the intangibles this player could potentially bring down the road, I was willing to overlook the obvious imaginary offensive upside Mr Burke was touting with this prospect and the projections of a top 6 “power forward” type in the NHL and was settling in with a comfortable neutral, “Wait and See” decision on this transaction.

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                  Having literally begged and pleaded since before the pre-season for the Maple Leafs to run with their youth and play any semblance of NHL ready prospects and players available to them, is this horrific start actually bad enough and embarassing enough to force Mr Burke to finally and mercifully bring on the youth movement this team has so desparately required for the last decade?

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                    Wanted to take a minute and congratulate our very own Gus Katsaros on his segment on the Fan590 this afternoon.  Outstanding analysis of both the Phil Kessel/Savard relationship and analysis of the Boston Bruins schedule last year vs this year.  The little snip at Mr MacLean at the end was priceless as well..  Congrats Gus, and again, wonderful work..