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The Toronto Maple Leafs are officially in the playoffs.
I hope that felt as good to read as it did to write.
It has been a long nine years since Jeremy Roenick broke Leafs Nations’ hearts in 2004. The excitement that year was nuts. The Leafs traded for Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch for a bunch of guys nobody knew existed and Toronto was buzzing with Stanley Cup hopes. I remember Leetch’s first game against the Islanders; Leetch had three points and the TV broadcast had this stupid iso-camera on Leetch every time he touched the ice. (Ironic side note: the only player traded in the deal who became relevant in the NHL was drafted with the expended second round pick, a player by the name of Michael Sauer – you know, the guy who had his career ended by Phaneuf).
Friends, we are gathered here today to honour the man and the legacy that is Jeff Finger. Itâ€™s hard to believe itâ€™s been four years next Saturday, but Jeff Fingerâ€™s contract is finally coming to a close. It might have been easy to forget this momentous occasion, but luckily about three and half years ago I put a reminder in my Outlook calendar so I couldnâ€™t let this day pass without celebrating it.
Way back in the summer of 2008, Jeff Finger joined the Leafs on the strength of a breakout season with the Colorado Avalanche. A season that saw him average over 19 minutes of ice time, and as Cliff Fletcher said play over 23 minutes down the stretch (in fact he did this once in his final 10 regular season games.) Jeff Fingerâ€™s breakout season would also see him pinball between 19-24 minutes of ice time, and more often than not be a healthy scratch in the Avs two playoff rounds. Four of the five games he dressed for were losses.
The following is a live, up to the minute game blog featuring the rookie tournament game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Â Remember to hit refresh for the latest updates.
For the first time in years, the Marlies will be bristling with young talent hoping to make the big club. From top prospect Nazem Kadri to hopeful enforcer Richard Greenop, this Marlies squad should be a team to watch. Letâ€™s take a look at the forward prospects that can be reasonably expected to be on this Marlies team:
In part 11 of his 12 Burning Questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at one of the hottest topics in Leafs Nation today: just how long of a leash does Ron Wilson have?
In the summer of 2008, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the midst of a major overhaul. Â Much maligned general manager John Ferguson, Jr. had been relieved of his duties with the organization, and as nice a man as JFJ was when I met him at the Leafs rookie and orientation camp a year prior, there is no solid argument that can be made for him as a good GM.
Ferguson Jr, to his credit, can take solace in the fact that a few of his draft picks are now cracking the Leafs as legitimate players, Kulemin and Gunnarsson among them, although even that fact can be debated Â - how much was scouting and how much was general managing?
In a word, John Ferguson Jr. left the Toronto Maple Leafs in shambles, and some of the moves he made, continually sacrificing youth for a quick fix solution (or at least something he thought was a quick fix) have very well set the Maple Leafs back at least an additional few years in the rebuilding process.
Brian Burke must have felt a lot like the eponymous Old Mother Hubbard when he first reached into the Leafs prospects cupboard. Of course, unlike the elderly dog-mistreating crone of the rhyme, Burke already knew what lay in stock prior to his arrival in Leafs country. In short: a few notable exceptions to a decade of draft property mismanagement.
Subsequently, the draft of 2009 looked to be a vital cornerstone in Brian Burkeâ€™s rebuild. The first chance for the Leafs to restock in a new, finally directed era.
It’s not every day the Maple Leafs name a new captain. In fact, it’s not every decade. Sundin was named in 1997, 13 years prior to the Leafs appointment of Phaneuf. And with the announcement being made in front of a room of roughly 100 media personnel, the message was relayed to the world using every different angle imaginable.
Instead of weighing the pros and cons, balancing the collective good choices of Burke and Wilson against the bad, MLHS is going to bring you into the event. Thousands of writers have provided their opinion but little time has been spent enabling the reader to form their own. So please, if you will, grab your notepad and follow us past the security and the media media check-in, and into the press conference that will see Dion Phaneuf named the 18th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Weâ€™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 Jeff Finger, profiled by Alec Brownscombe.
A former 1999 eighth round pick, Jeff Finger came to the Leafs via unrestricted free agency as a 29-year-old who was skating in the ECHL the last time Toronto made the playoffs. After his first steady NHL season with Colorado in ’07-08, Cliff Fletcher rolled the dice on a $3 million-per-year raise for the journeyman that will cost the Leafs 3.5 million against the cap annually until 2012. Fletcher obviously thought there was a lot more to come from Finger in his late development as a two-way defenceman, but let’s just say on that fateful day in July, 2008, the optics weren’t good.
In the second installment of the Prospect Season In Review, we will take a look at a couple of Maple Leafs prospects who have proven a positive product of the John Ferguson Jr / Cliff Fletcher draft era.
Profiles in this segment include German DEL winger Jerome Flaake and defender Korbinian Holzer, as well as a prospect closer to home: Windsor Spitfires winger Dale Mitchell.
When Brian Burke became the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2008, Leafs Nation embarked on a new journey. Â A new beginning. Â With Burke at the helm, the Leafs organization finally had a general manager who had credentials. Â Who had a winning pedigree. Â Who had the exact type of attitude the Toronto market needed.
A man who wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone, and a man who wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a big move that may set the team up for the better in the long term, a characteristic it seemed so many Leafs GM’s lacked in between the time of Fletcher’s first run, and Burke being christened as the new head of the front office.
Finally, Leafs fans were able to legitimately talk about the “Big O”, and they weren’t faking it either.
As the playoff hopes gradually continue to fade for even the most optimistic of fans, the focal point of the Maple Leafs over the last few weeks has been on the stellar play of several key young players. Bozak, Kulemin and Kessel have been dynamic and dangerous in spurts as the team’s first line, building chemistry together and showing real signs of promise. Caputi, Hanson and Stalberg are giving indications that they could be part of a solid supporting cast someday, with strong board play, good size and tenacity in chasing down loose pucks. On the back end, Gunnarsson has been nothing short of a tremendous surprise, coming in mid-year as a 23 year old rookie, but playing with the poise of a 10-year veteran in over 21 minutes a night. But today, the focus will be on the more subtle progression of a another young blueliner who is reminding Toronto fans why the team took him with its highest draft selection in 20 years.
Couple of intriguing tidbits from HB/ESPN’s Andy Strickland: Defenseman Jeff Finger WANTS to be sent down to the AHL to save a few bucks? Are the Leafs planning to place forward Jamal Mayers on waivers soon?
It seems just a few months after an investigation was done on the Maple Leafs regarding the Vancouver Canucks Sedin twins prior to free agency day, the Leafs face yet another potential charge for tampering. Once again, it involves the Canucks, and Vancouver’s GM Mike Gillis is not standing back this time.
Earlier this week, I was able to catch up with a few Leafs at Lakeshore Lions Arena. I’ve gone a few times already this August, and the closer we get to the opening of camp, more and more players are showing up. Notable attendants have included Finger, Tlusty, Bozak, Hamilton, both Mitchells, Schenn, The Monster, Toskala, Mayers, Poni, Stajan and Oreskovic. More than likely, some players were missing due to Olympic camp tryouts and practices.
So few players seem to ignite the dichotomy of emotions Jason Blake inspires. Undrafted, undersized and inconsistent, Blake rode the wave of a steep and late developmental curve and earned himself a five year $20 million contract at 34. A prototypical throwback to the malaise of JFJ’s overpriced veteran acquisitions, Blake has taken his lumps in the media, demands for his trade by fans and rekindled some of the form that made him a 40 goal scoring all-star on Long Island.
Yet regardless of his contemporary state of play or his trading value, few have a bad word to say about the Moorhead, Minnesota native.
Small wonder, with an immovable contract analogous to maligned teammate Jeff Finger, Blake has ebbed and flowed in rhythm with the turbulence of back room upheaval like no other. Dubbed a one season wonder whose goal scoring exploits for the Islanders were anomalous to a side lacking offensive leadership, Blake went from big fish in a shallow pool to floundering in the Toronto fishbowl.
Coming into this offseason, GM Brian Burke promised to drastically overhaul the Maple Leafs roster, and he knew that the primary asset at his disposal was cap space: lots and lots of it. After handing out long-term contracts to Orr,Â Beauchemin, and Komisarek, he’s got a little under $3 million left to play with in order to add an impact top six forward. In an attempt to minimize the amount of outgoing “talent” via trade, it’s no secret that he’s been trying to corner GM’s of teams that are pressed right up against the cap.
Thanks a lot to Mr. Morrison for taking the time out of a busy schedule to answer a few questions.
In the MLSE land of unreasonable expectations, even a superstar troupe like Burke and Wilson will not be afforded another record breaking season; at least not if said record is a fifth consecutive season of playoff free hockey. Subsequently Burke is going to be looking for a catalyst to the rebuilding project come summer and the most obvious route will arrive in early July, not a week earlier in Montreal.
Alright, here we go! As the scouting world shifts its gaze to the NHL Combine, which kicks off today in Toronto, this will signal the beginning of the home stretch for this year’s crop of draft hopefuls. The draft itself may be just two days long, but the process and preparation for it will include hundreds upon hundreds of viewing hours for the scouts, and months of training for the players.
Rewind a year to Ottawa, when interim GM Cliff Fletcher was preparing to make his last great splash. Trading up to secure hard hitting blueliner Luke Schenn, a player unto which the Leafs hoped to bank their revival, set in motion a summer of upheaval paving the way for Brian Burke to step in mid-season. For many the draft of 2008 marked an era of realization, that change was required and perhaps finally the Leafs were going to commit to a full scale rebuild based on the youth model in Pittsburgh.
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