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When Brian Burke took over the GM job in Toronto, there was nothing but talk about building from the net out. A defence first philosophy is a valid one, though recent Stanley Cup winners have shed light on the benefits of fast offence. Ultimately, Burke’s initial plan was sidetracked by players like Mike Komisarek and Colby Armstrong. It should therefore have come as little surprise to see Burke dip back into the defensive forward game, snagging Jay McClement for an AAV of $1.5 million.

McClement comes with more defensive pedigree than Colby Armstrong ever did. Avalanche fans were noticeably upset with his departure. In anticipation of the (hopefully) upcoming Maple Leafs training camp, I’ve decided to delve into the depths of McClement’s stats in order to properly gauge expectations for the (hopeful) 2012/13 season.

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Photo: Toronto Star

Recently I had an opportunity to interview Dave Poulin, vice president of hockey operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs, for Lindy’s Sports Maple Leafs Annual magazine.  Poulin, whose job focuses heavily on player acquisition and development at both the pro and amateur ranks, shared rare insight into almost all facets of the game.  From principles of drafting, the mechanics of pro scouting, and internal team growth, Poulin shed light on the important, behind-the-scenes work that dictates the future success of the franchise.

As is often the case in any written work, more is discussed than can be shown.  Inspired by MLHS readers’ questions, here are a couple pearls that Poulin shared with me relating to draft draft methodology, player value and prospect depth within the organization that –  due to space constraints – couldn’t be included in the feature.

Be sure to check out Alex Tran’s mag preview with Dave Morrison, if you haven’t already.  More info on the magazine release and availability will follow soon.  Looking forward to your thoughts; enjoy.

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Photo: National Post

It seems that a large percentage of Leafs Nation is completely convinced that the team they saw in February and March of the 2011-12 season is the true reflection of the roster’s ability. Many have completely disregarded the 99-point pace the team played at for the entire 2011 calendar year and beyond, right up until February 6th of 2012.

This skepticism is not undeserved. The team completely collapsed after that victory over the Oilers in early February that saw the Leafs three regulation wins ahead of the eventual Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings. What followed that victory was one of the worst stretches in the entire history of the franchise. As a result, the fans have decided that a massive roster overhaul is necessary. Now well into the summer, they grow increasingly agitated with each day that passes and does not bring line-up changes.

It is not my intention to try and persuade Leaf fans to get their blue and white goggles back out and start drinking the Kool-Aid again. It is also not my intention to act as a Burke apologist. The Maple Leafs are not a great team, and they do have a long way to go before turning things around in a meaningful way. However, perhaps it would be wise for the fan base’s collective sanity to reel in some of the pessimism and look at some of the reasons that the playoff drought, the embarrassment, and the general mediocrity may be coming to an end within the next couple of seasons.

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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: Sportsnet

As we approach the dog days of hockey, more and more Leafs fans are coming to the conclusion that there’s a strong chance we will see a James Reimer and Ben Scrivens goalie tandem to start the year.

Barring a trade for Roberto Luongo (or a surprise move for another goalie), that’s the duo the Leafs will start the season with. So with that, I decided to take a look at other AHL goalies over the years and how their numbers translated to the NHL.

In a nutshell, Ben Scrivens led the AHL in goals against average this year while also having the fifth best save percentage. A lot of fans have hung their hats on these stats and his generally-speaking strong season, and in light of this I decided to go all the way back to the 2005-2006 season and look up the top three goalies in GAA category of each season. Then, to increase the sample size, I also included the top three save percentages while pointing out notable goalies from each season that year who have had some NHL impact.

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Photo: Reuters

“We need a number one center.”
- Every Leafs Fan

While it may not be seen as the organizations top priority, it is safe to assume that most people who have followed the Leafs in the post-Sundin era have been left wanting in this area. Personally I’d prioritize goaltending, followed by a top four defenseman, but there’s no denying that first center is a glam position and it’s more fun to talk about the guys who score goals than the guys who prevent them.

That’s not to say that Grabovski hasn’t been a revelation, and certainly he can be considered a top center in some capacity, but Connolly and Bozak would be the greater cause for concern.

I didn’t like the Connolly signing, and he didn’t have a great season. That being said, it’s clear he’s capable of more, and a large part of what held him back was that he was focused on filling the duties of a third line role player, not the playmaking center he is capable of being.

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Photo: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Seriously, if a player from Kingston doesn’t shut up Don Cherry, the man can’t be pleased. Other than that, what do we need to know about McClement? He’s not overly big, he’s not overly physical, but he’s not overly expensive either. The 6’1, 205 lb. 29 year old center is signed for the next two years at $1,500,000 a season.

Here are 7 noteworthy numbers for McClement from last season:

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James Van Riemsdyk is finally a Toronto Maple Leaf.

Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The worst kept secret in all of hockey finally became a reality.

Luke Schenn is now a Philadelphia Flyer, and James Van Riemsdyk is finally a Toronto Maple Leaf.

JVR (whose name I’ll probably never type in full again) was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft and has had a slow, but upwards, trend in his development since. After getting drafted he returned to New Hampshire, where he played college hockey, and threw up 40 points in 36 games along with 10 points in six world junior games. He ended that season playing some AHL games, but jumped straight to the NHL the following year and put up a respectable 35 points in 78 games. The next year he had five more points in three less games well also breaking the 20 goal barrier by notching 21.

His big breakout moment though was in the playoffs of last year when he put up seven goals in 11 playoff games while single- handedly dominating some games. To put it into perspective, he had 70 shots throughout those playoffs. That’s over six shots a game. In the playoffs.

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Photo: National Post

Brian Burke recently sat down with TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin for an extensive interview entitled “The Business of Hockey”, available to watch via the TVO website (or YouTube, in case you have the same viewing problems I did with the first link).

The conversation is 27 minutes long and covers topics we’ve heard Burke discuss before – with some of the same philosophies and sound bytes he’s previously delivered – but its best advantage, perhaps, is that we now get to see them in one contextual conversation. When evaluating the Toronto Maple Leafs’ President and General Manager, far too many fans seem to focus on player transactions within the hockey operations department as the sole admissible metric of performance. Which is a fancy way of saying they believe Electronic Arts’ NHL GM Mode captures the minutiae of the job accurately and that it never gets more complicated than compiling XP points to be exchanged for generic “medical staff” upgrades.

Photo: RENE BAILLARGEON/QMI Agency

There are more than a few things I’ll never understand in life. Why do Americans want sports on TV in the middle of the day on the weekend? Who actually likes DJ banter on the radio? And why is the KHL considered to equal death for prospects?

The first two I’ve given up on and accepted as an unfortunate part of life, but the fear of the KHL seems like one that can be addressed easily. Simply put, I think the common perception of the prospects leaving for the KHL is wrong. In fact, the NHL should be encouraging some of their young prospects to consider going this route as it will potentially elevate their game.

Being pro-Russian prospect is easier this week with Vladimir Tarasenko returning to the Blues than it was a few weeks ago when Kuznetsov decided to stay in the KHL for another couple of years. Although, in his decision Kuznetsov does hint at the benefits to his development, and if you scan the Capitals roster there does not seem to be any certainty that a 20 year old offensive player will readily crack the lineup. If he continues to excel in Russia it seems that in two years it could be his spot to lose.

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Did they just get in? Only a fool believes that.

There are two distinct stories on the surface of the upcoming Stanley Cup Finals. The Los Angeles Kings play the role of a team built for a Cup run. Deep down the middle, boasting a solid leadership group led by a hard hitting captain Dustin Brown and a veteran presence of Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi (who won the Cup with the Penguins not so long ago). Then there’s their scoring depth, their stars’ willingness to accept lesser roles (Richards, Carter) and great goaltending provided by Jonathan Quick.

Then there are the New Jersey Devils. No matter how you decided to paint the picture looking at the full length of the regular season, the Kings were always in the running for this year’s Stanley Cup and that percentage didn’t shrink when they traded for Jeff Carter. 8th seed or not, they always had the personnel to make that run. On the other hand, New Jersey took us completely (yes, yes it did) by surprise.

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Randy Carlyle

Photo: Nick Ut/The Associated Press

Can we all agree right from the top that the hiring of Randy Carlyle signals the Leafs are back to following the top six, bottom six formula Brian Burke originally told us he would put into place?

Can we also all agree that it’s nice our General Manager and Head Coach are now on the same page, philosophically speaking?

Okay, good.

So what exactly is a top six, bottom six mold? A few years ago Pension Plan Puppets ran this piece, which explains how each line in this system is utilized. Essentially you have a top line, a shutdown line, a scoring line and an energy line.

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Photo: RDS

As the draft continues to draw nearer, the Mikhail Grigorenko story becomes more and more interesting. A player once believed to be a lock for the 2nd or 3rd spot in the draft is beginning to slide down the rankings, and is currently pegged anywhere from 4th to 20th. This opens up a scenario where a supremely talented, albeit inconsistent, 6’3 centre is on the board for the Maple Leafs at the fifth selection. What to do… What to do…

The Basics: An elite offensive-minded centre, a high risk/reward type prospect; 40 goals and 45 assits for 85 points in 59 games played for the Quebec Remparts

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Photo: Associated Press

It’s 46 days until the draft, 55 until Free Agency, but it’s also 131 days from the expiration of the CBA.

What a terrible summer to rebuild a bad team. An expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement there hasn’t been any negotiations on is a pretty big elephant in the room for teams looking to scratch and claw their way out of the basement.

Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that failed to recognize the new direction after the last CBA. A team that has remained devoted to spending to the salary cap and a team that has no foreseeable long term planning beyond the acknowledgement that younger players are the best option when you’re not yet ready to seriously contend for a Stanley Cup.

The next CBA could potentially provide even greater challenges as the league is more focused on closing cap loopholes than allowing any form of free spending ways. Below are ten possible scenarios that could come up in the CBA and how the potential fallout could affect the Leafs.

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Photo: Dave Abel/Toronto Sun

We’re ecstatic to welcome Jon Steitzer to the MLHS blogging team. He formerly blogged at Bloguin’s Leafs site Puckin’ Eh and now runs his own blog Yakov Mironov. He’s also a funny twitterer who can be followed here. With the introductions out of way, settle in for Jon’s in-depth look at the long-term sustainability of Burke’s team building.

I wrote the bulk of the post you are about to read shortly before the deadline. It is a call for building a roster that is sustainable in the long term in exchange for some short term pain. It was originally written at a time when the Leafs were just beginning their downward spiral that would ultimately consume all hope. A few of things came out of it.

The first was that the Leafs are not as far along as I may have originally hoped. The second is that an extended rebuild will not be tolerated, and a modest milestone of success (like, I dunno, making the playoffs for the first time since the lockout) must be achieved next season. Finally, this is now a team being built for Randy Carlyle, and with Carlyle’s philosophy being closely aligned with Burke’s there is a potential for finally achieving some synergy when it comes to team building.

While the short term goal of the playoffs must be achieved, the case must be made that long term sustainable success still has to be the priority of the Leafs front office. I have tried to write a blog post a number of times looking at what a successful long term plan would look like for the Leafs. I thought I would apply some principles from Workforce Planning which seems infinitely relevant as I can’t think of think of any other field that treats people more like commodities than professional sports. The goals I’m attempting to accomplish are to make sure we have a sustainable supply and demand model, proper development of employees, succession planning, and are putting people in a position where they can have the highest level of success all while balancing a labor budget.

Stuart Percy - July 12, 2013

Leafs fans are showing heightened interest in the Marlies lately, and deservedly so as they have officially begun their run for the Calder Cup. While AHL success in the playoffs is always a fantastic experience for any player – especially young ones – fans of Toronto hockey at the end of the day are asking themselves one thing: How does this help the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Earlier in the year, I wrote a piece looking at Calder Cup Finalists translation to NHL success. That leads into the current edition of the Marlies as we look at who on this team is being counted on to help the Leafs moving forward and which players are likely to become productive NHLers and part of the long-term solution here.

Now, I want to stress that there is a difference between a long-term NHLer, and a fringe AHL-NHL tweener. A player like Darryl Boyce is an AHL-NHL tweener, meaning he’s a very good American league player, but struggles to get into a National league lineup consistently. Usually players that struggle to translate their games are missing one key ingredient that they can get away with in the AHL, but not the NHL – Be that a lack of speed, size, vision, strength, shooting ability, defensive ability, and so on.

So, inevitably, when someone says “where is Greg Scott,” well, Greg Scott brings a lot to the table, and hey, he could potentially make the Leafs as their 12th or 13th forward, but he is not a long-term solution to anything for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thus, when we are looking at the players below, we aren’t just looking at players who may or may not crack the Leafs next season, we are looking at players who are being counted on to be contributing Toronto Maple Leafs for years to come in the ongoing quest to make the playoffs.

Photo: Marlies.ca

It was another 4-3 game in which the Marlies gave up a two goal lead and Jerry D’Amigo scored twice, including the game winner in the final minutes. In many respects it was like watching the same game as Thursday night’s. Did we mention that Zigomanis scored and Foligno, Verone and Brennan were the same Rochester goal scorers from Game 1? All that matters from the Marlie perspective is that it was the same result and they now hold a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

An announced sell out crowd of towel wavers provided a good atmosphere, particularly in the final moments following the D’Amigo winner. Onto the notes:

-For whatever reason the Marlies have let up on those – cliched, but true – always dangerous two-goal leads, but you can tell when it comes down to it, and when the Marlies need to score the next goal, they seem to believe in the game plan and that they’re capable of pulling it out. Winning a game despite giving up a two goal lead – and giving up leads in the third on both occasions – is not as easy as the Marlies have made it look the last two games. That type of resilience and abiding belief in their abilities should help take them deep in these playoffs.

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Photo: Mark Blinch/Reuters

How many notable Brian Burke quotes has he unleashed for our constant reiteration? Too many to count.

You have your pugnacity, testosterone, and truculent quote, which now might be the three worst words to utter in Toronto. You have your “top six and bottom six” quote. You have your “build from the net out” spiel or the “I don’t want to get into the first round just to get my ass kicked” declaration. There’s a whole host of other gems, complaints, theories, one-liners to come out of Burke’s mouth that are now used to mock him, to cheer him, to evaluate his roster, or as Twitter handles.

But what is often forgotten, and often left not discussed, is his core belief. His central theory to building a team, which is: