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Dion Phaneuf

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Jake Gardiner

Thanks to @mORRganRielly for the following submission:

Jake Gardiner sucks.

No, just kidding.  He’s pretty awesome.  He is an immensely gifted, up-and-coming defenseman, but he does have a little bit of learnin’ to do.  In light of his recent scratch, I wanted to take an opportunity to delve more into his role with the Leafs and the relationship of his play against the overall performance of the Leafs defense over the course of the season.  To that end, I will be looking strictly at even-strength play rather than specialized roles like the power-play or the penalty-kill.

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‘Tis the season for Leafs trade rumours.

Now, I’m not about to dig up every rumour out there on the internet and go through it, but I do want to provide some thoughts on the team, the direction of the organization, and what’s out there before the Leafs do (or don’t) make any moves.

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Tyler Bozak

I took in what felt like a one-point win last night at the ACC. I of little faith was thinking “blow out” after the bang-bang goals in the first, but there seems to be something different about this team (visible in the Bruins game as well). They didn’t slip silently into the night, and by the end of it you had the feeling Crosby, Malkin and co. snuck away, or limped away, with the extra point.

I’ll ignore the awful first period from the Leafs – and how deeply underwater the first line was in its head to head with Crosby’s line, or how off Reimer was for the first 20 – because in many ways the fight back was just that good. Reimer played one of his poorer periods of the season in period 1, but his overall performance matched the trajectory of the rest of the team – started slow, but without him the Leafs don’t get the point.

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Since we are almost at the halfway point, I thought now would be a good time to write some notes on each individual player thus far. Here is the close-but-not-quite-halfway Leafs Notebook:

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On Wednesday, Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel’s agent, indicated his client’s apparent desire to spend the rest of career playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  This, despite being disappointed in the club’s performance last season (I don’t even want to know what adjective he’d use to describe the two previous seasons in Toronto), and with little guarantee yet that this team is primed for long-term playoff success.

We’ll probably never know why the camera-shy Kessel wants to remain in a media-laden Toronto; Arnott seems to suggest it is an admirable inner desire to win in hockey’s mecca. Perhaps the better question is, what could it cost to keep him?

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Randy Carlyle has not been with the Leafs for long, but he’s beginning to put his stamp on this team.

Hired on March 2nd 2012, the former Ducks bench boss inherited a team on the decline and wound up finishing with a 6-9-3 record to close out the season in his first 18 games as the Leafs head coach. Questions and attention were given to things such as whether or not Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, could turn around Luke Schenn’s game, how he was using Connolly-Steckel-Crabb as a shutdown line, whether he and Joffrey Lupul could get along, if Phil Kessel could produce with him, and the intrigue of the looks he was giving Matt Lombardi and Matt Frattin on the top line.

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Photo Credit: Mike Cassese/REUTERS

The Maple Leafs earned an uplifting 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres last night to a thunderous ovation from the ACC faithful. While the Leafs live to fight another day, the odds are still heavily stacked against their favour and they will have to hope the Sabres begin to wilt underneath the added pressure starting tonight against the Rangers.

Led by a three-point performance from Clarke MacArthur, Nazem Kadri’s best game in a Leaf uniform and an energized Dion Phaneuf, the blue and white dropped the Sabres for the third consecutive time in the span of about a month. While the Sabres are still five points ahead of the Leafs with a game in hand, admirably this Leafs hasn’t seemed to have gotten the memo about their season being over, and do maintain a slim chance of crawling back into the top-eight of the Eastern Conference if they can start getting a few favours.

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Brian Burke has been oft-criticized for various moves since beginning his tenure as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs but after witnessing the recent Brian Rolston waiver situation I think we should start to also give him at least a tiny bit of credit.  Burke has gone on record as saying he doesn’t believe in the long term contracts that NHL teams are throwing around in recent years and he won’t be giving any Leafs player this type of deal anytime soon – though hard to say if any of the current Leafs are worthy.

When asked about the Kovalchuck circumvention case he was quoted as saying “The risk a team assumes with a long-term deal is a different issue [than] whether it’s permitted under the CBA. So that’s a different issue.”  It’s clear he doesn’t believe this is a prudent way to do business and although I wish we actually had a Jeff Carter to lock-up, maybe he is right.

“We’re two years away from expiration of the CBA. My mindset hasn’t changed. The league sets the rules here, they’ve given us the rules and now we’ll go forward under those rules. I’m not going to rule out anything that’s permissible under the league bylaws or under the CBA.”

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The big question that will need to be answered by Ron Wilson and company over the next couple of games is who sits?  With the return of captain Dion Phaneuf the Maple Leafs officially have a logjam on the backend and not only will one of Keith Aullie, Carl Gunnarsson or Mike Komisarek have to sit but a guy like Francois Beauchemin might also be forced into a less meaningful role.

Will this finally force the hand of Brian Burke and the need to move some of the excess bodies and salary on our backend?

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Week one of the Toronto Maple Leafs schedule is in the books, and while it only featured two games, there is plenty to talk about as far as the season goes.  The Maple Leafs are off to a 2-0 start, having won their second game of the season nearly one month ahead of the time they got win two last season.

Through week one of the season, here are the Maple Leafs player power rankings, as seen by me.

After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the new look squad hit the ice Thursday night for their home opener against the arch rival Montreal Canadiens, and with it marked the true dawning of a new age in Leafs Nation.

While it’s true the hiring of Ron Wilson and Brian Burke will go down as the day the team began to turn the page on years of management misfortune, and the Dion Phaneuf day could very well end up being the trade that sparks the team forward much like the Doug Gilmour trade before it, Thursday night’s season premiere was really the first time since all this has taken place that it was truly a different roster.

Gone were the incumbents of past regimes, It was finally Brian Burke’s team.  Having flipped the entire roster (sans Tomas Kaberle and Jeff Finger) Burke’s vision of the team could finally be implemented, his stamp beginning to form.

And it was, for one game at least, as advertised.

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Here are tonight’s lines courtesy of Pension Plan Puppets:

Versteeg – Bozak - Kessel
MacArthur – Grabovski - Kulemin
Sjostrom – Brent - Armstrong
Orr – Zigomanis – Brown

Beauchemin – Phaneuf
Kaberle – Komisarek
Gunnarsson – Schenn

Giguere
Gustavsson

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The shoe is on the other hoof for tonight’s Leafs-Sabres rematch at the ACC as the Leafs are putting just about their best foot forward and the Sabres are sitting much of their core group. The Leafs will dress their complete top six on the back end, with Kaberle-Komisarek, Phaneuf-Gunnarsson, and Beauchemin-Schenn making up the pairings. Jonas Gustavsson will go the distance in net and a near-complete four lines (with one question mark remaining at the third line centre position) will dress up front. The full line-ups and a few notes are after the jump.

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Coming off a tough shootout loss against the Flyers last night, the Leafs will look to rebound on the road against the Sabres tonight at HSBC Arena. Despite blowing a late third period lead, there was a lot to like about the Leafs’ performance, including a strong bounce back game from captain Dion Phaneuf and spurts of brilliance from the club’s new top line of Versteeg, Bozak and Kessel. The Buds will be in tough tonight against the Sabres, who will be icing a lineup very similar to the one they will open the season with.

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An intriguing top line of Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel will feature in tonight’s rematch with the Flyers following the Leafs’ 11-round shootout win over Philadelphia last night at the John Lebatt Centre in London. The trio is the most skilled iteration of forwards the Leafs’ roster has to offer, and combined with Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle on the blueline (who will also dress) represent an interesting potential powerplay option for coach Wilson. The results with the man advantage tonight, then, will be well worth monitoring.

Be sure to check out Nikhil’s post-game thoughts from last night.

Tuesday night, September 21st, about 6:40 p.m.  I am dancing – yes, dancing, provided you can call a kind of frenetic spasticism punctuated with finger snaps and some twirling hands “dancing” – to no music in my kitchen as I cook our pasta for dinner.  I am in a rush, and I am excited, because after a long summer of legal wrangling over the Kovalchuk contract, eternal speculation about Tomas Kaberle’s status and apparently endless MSM vs. blogger hissy fits, the puck is finally dropping on the preseason.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that the preseason sucks.  I know it’s not reflective or in any way predictive of how the team will do during the regular season – I’ve been a hockey fan long enough to know that, and last year’s brilliant exhibition campaign is still fresh in my memory.  Almost as fresh as the oh-and-eight start that followed it, once the games counted.