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James Reimer

Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Last week, Steve Dangle sat down with James Reimer for a rookie spotlight piece for the 2011 Maple Leafs Annual. The interview went so well that a lot of good material ended up hitting the cutting room floor. Lucky for you, MLHS and Steve Dangle.com readers, we can pass along the leftovers for your consumption. Consider it the next bonus feature to your copy of the Annual. Interview excerpts with Poulin, Dudley, and Morrison can be found here. Keith Aulie excerpts will be coming later today. Enjoy:

Steve Dangle: How do you spend your summer?

James Reimer: Mostly in B.C. I mean I try and visit back home to Manitoba a couple of times, but I spend most of my summer out in B.C. Just working out at a gym called Fit Life and hanging out and relaxing a little bit.

SD: Why B.C.? When did that come into the picture?

JR: Mostly with my wife, I started coming out here when we were dating, and we really liked it over the years and kind of just kept coming back so it’s nice. It’s where she’s from. She feels comfortable here plus I found a great gym so it’s those two reasons, mostly.

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Dave Poulin and Brian Burke

Dave Poulin and Brian Burke

Photo: QMI Agency

Prior to speaking with Rick Dudley for the Maple Leafs Annual, I also had the opportunity to speak with Dave Poulin, Vice-President of Hockey Operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Having contributed an interview for last year’s edition of the Annual, Mr. Poulin graciously agreed to accommodate our request again this year.

Follow the jump for a few excerpts of our chat.

As was the case with prior excerpts, the following quotes are excerpted from a larger interview and thus the flow of the questions may seem a bit off.  The full interview will appear in the Maple Leafs Annual, due to hit newsstands in September.

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Director of Player Personnel, Rick DudleyLast week I had the privilege of speaking with Rick Dudley, Director of Player Personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs, for a feature in the forthcoming Maple Leafs Annual magazine. We had asked for a few of your questions for Mr. Dudley, and were able to work some of them in during the course of the interview.

Follow the jump for excerpts featuring your questions.  As with Alex’s prior interview with Dave Morrison, please bear in mind that the flow of questions may seem a little off as these are excerpts pulled from various sections.

The full interview will appear in the Maple Leafs Annual this September.

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Brian Burke / Tyler Biggs / Dave Morrison

As mentioned earlier, I had the privilege of chatting with Maple Leafs’ Director of Amateur Scouting, Dave Morrison this morning to glean some his insight for an upcoming piece in this year’s edition of the Maple Leafs Annual. For that content, you’ll just have to wait until September. However, I was given the go-ahead to pass along for your enjoyment some of the content that will not be used in the Annual. Bear in mind, the flow of the interview may appear a little off as these are excerpts pulled from various sections.

James Reimer really burst onto the NHL scene with a fantastic stretch of games as a rookie, but seemed to struggle a little bit toward the end there. Is conditioning one of those things James needs to work on in order to solidify himself as a true number one goaltender?

Morrison – You’re right Alex, this was his first real extended stretch of games at the NHL level and that was a big challenge. He certainly proved himself at the AHL level, but the workload he shouldered there at the end… any goalie would start to feel the effects of that. That part of James’ game and the process of him learning how to be THE guy are going to come with experience and maturity. He understands what he needs to do. The management staff as well… they’re going to work with James as well to know when he’s okay to play and when he may need a night off here and there.

After James Reimer was promoted to the big club, it was Ben Scrivens’ turn to steal the show as a rookie goaltender with the Marlies, putting up some very impressive numbers. Should Jonas and James be looking over their shoulders a little bit at the NHL level?

Morrison – Haha, well any goalie should be always looking over their shoulders. The skaters should be too. There should always be an element of competition there at all times because it forces everyone to stay honest and continue to want to improve. We know Scrivens is a very good young goaltender and that he’s chomping at the bit to see some NHL action. At some point, he will push for an NHL job and that could be as early as sometime next year, but I certainly expect James and Jonas to be prepared for that possibility and to work their butts off to keep their jobs. We’re in a great situation with a bevy of good young goalies moving forward.

Jesse Blacker seemed to have quite the breakout offensive season in the OHL this year thanks to increased ice-time and responsibility. How does he compare to Stuart Percy and Jake Gardiner in terms of puckmoving ability and offensive upside?

Morrison – Oh boy, that’s a tough question. Well Jesse’s definitely a good one. All three of those guys are excellent puckmoving defensemen but each of them approaches the game with a bit of a different feel. Stuart’s not as flashy as Jesse or Jake but his intelligence more than makes up for it as he possesses an excellent understanding of the game. That’s not to take anything away from the other two, but Stuart just seems to incorporate it more into his game. Jesse and Jake on the other hand, are a little stronger on their feet in terms of agility and rushing ability. I suppose in the end, one of them will end up being the best of the group, but it’s doesn’t matter who. We’re in a great situation to have three high upside defensemen who should all be able to contribute at the next level.

You traded up for your top selection of this year’s draft, snagging power forward Tyler Biggs, a ferocious checker, with the 22nd pick of the first round. What were some of the skills you saw that really drew you to him? Word is you guys actually had Percy rated a little higher than Biggs, but you called a draft floor audible to make sure you got both. Tell us about that.

Morrison – Like you said, Tyler is a big, strong guy with a great physical element to his game. He’s got the upside of a power forward because he can play with a hard hitting, nasty edge but he’s also got the offensive skills to complement a scoring line. We love that he goes out there and gets his nose dirty in the corners. These types of players are very hard to find because teams just don’t let them go.

We were sitting there at the draft table with picks 25 and 29 coming up and we knew there was no way we were going to get both where we were. So after trading up for the 22nd pick, I just had a feeling that Biggs was going to go before Percy within the next few picks. This is just one of those instincts you develop after years of experience and being on the floor for several drafts. It was something I discussed with my colleagues, who also shared the feeling. So we went ahead with our selection and just crossed our fingers, hoping that Percy would make it to 25. We really had no idea if it was all going to work out but we’re very thankful that it did.

Let’s switch gears a little bit and finish off with some draft related questions. There was talk this year of teams putting a lot more time and effort into the interview process, even meeting with players that were significantly out of their projected range. Was this simply a matter of the 2011 draft class being one where there was little difference between say picks 20 through 50, thus prompting the need to be prepared for any scenario?

Morrison – Absolutely Alex. That’s one part of it. You always want to be prepared for anything, whether that’s a player being unexpectedly available or trade options presenting themselves. The other aspect of it may simply just be the evolution of scouting as teams realize the importance of drafting well in the cap era. More time and money is being invested into the process and the teams that do so will reap the benefits later on down the road.

With the recent regime change in the management team of the city’s baseball team (Blue Jays), current General Manager Alex Anthopoulos talked about a new approach to drafting where the organization sought out players with a 10% chance at developing into a star preferentially over players with a 50% chance of developing into an average player. What are your thoughts on such a drafting philosophy? Is it realistic to draft that way in hockey?

Morrison – That’s an interesting question. My team and I are always trying to find that diamond in the rough… a true difference maker as it were. But like with baseball, it’s important to keep in mind that there are different ways for a player to positively impact a team. Some organizations have gotten especially good at identifying those riskier, high upside guys. Over the years, our team has been targeting increasingly higher risk-reward type players, much more so than four or five years ago. It becomes a lot easier to do so when you manage to acquire depth through free agent signings like Tyler Bozak, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas. That frees you up to get a little more adventurous on the draft floor.

Let’s say you’ve selected a couple of higher risk players in the early rounds. Do you seek to contrast those selections with some safer guarantees with defined roles in the later rounds? I would imagine it’s quite important to ensure you leave the draft floor with at least a few NHL contributors?

Morrison –Maybe in the past we would do a little more of that. Now, we feel pretty confident taking high risk players because of all the homework we do to learn about a player, from a personal, medical and physical standpoint. A certain player may be further away from becoming an impact player but if we see that they have the right mentality and character to put in the work to get there, that makes us feel a lot better about a particular selection. Extensive homework is what gives us a better chance with these high upside risks.

When scouting a player, on average, how many games do you feel are required in order to make a proper assessment of that player’s abilities?

Morrison – You see Alex, it honestly depends on the game. Sometimes it’s one game… sometimes it’s two games… sometimes it’s six games. I read and receive a ton of reports everyday from all of our scouts and those are extremely important. If I were to go see a player, there could be any number of factors in play that could skew what I’m seeing. It could be a Sunday afternoon game for example where that player is tired after three games in two and half days, so perhaps I would consider coming back and watching him play on a Friday night.

One last question.There seems to be considerable hype building for the upcoming 2012 draft class. What’s your early impression of that next crop of young players? Could it be realistically likened to the 2003 class where you see several all-star calibre players like Getzlaf, Perry, and Parise being selected in the late first round, or is that a little on the optimistic side?

Morrison – That’s probably a little optimistic. I will say that the next group of players certainly looks very good and that throughout the course of this past year, the reviews on some of these underage players have been jumping off the page. However with any young player, a lot can change over the course of a year, so I like to stick with a wait and see approach before passing any final judgment.

Well, that’s it from me. A big thank you from both MLHS and the Maple Leafs Annual for letting us interrupt you during your much deserved time off.

Morrison – My pleasure Alex. Anytime.

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Not only our present, but our future will be shaped over the next two weeks. Both free agency and the NHL Entry Draft are quickly approaching, and the Leafs figure to be highly active at both.

The Maple Leafs, under General Manager, Brian Burke, have built a deep system of prospects which boasts the likes of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne and Jesse Blacker, to highlight a few. Most experts who have been consulted on the issue believe it to stack up anywhere between tenth and thirteenth in the National Hockey League as far as prospect stables go, and it should continue to grow this Friday.

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Probability dictates that, barring a planetary or economic catastrophe of crippling scale, the Toronto Maple Leafs will win another Stanley Cup. At worst, they’ll be defeated in a gut wrenching final paralleling their Canadian, specifically British Columbian buddies of last evening. (Fun fact, to distract from that frustrating reminder of it: The province’s name was chosen specifically by Queen Victoria in 1858, mainly in reference to the then-British local territory drained by the Columbia river1 – in fact having nothing to do, as I had assumed, with being a tea-swilling version of its Latin American counterpart).

If the fervour, emotion, and insanity with which the city of Vancouver reacted to last night’s outcome can be considered a molehill, the passion for hockey in the Greater Toronto Area would undoubtedly be its mountain. Vancouver’s a city placated with success in sport, having hosted a wondrously successful Olympics last year and serving as the focal point for intense national pride as Canada again proved that, as a nation, we’re pretty much still awesome at that sport we’re clearly always awesome at.

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Showing Boyce's face would make this NSFW

All three have notched career highs in games played and points scored in 2010 – 2011, and all three are pending Unrestricted Free Agents in July.  Between the ages of 26 and 28 all three have had breakthrough years.  Yet they aren’t looking to cash in on the open market.  They’re fighting just to make the Leafs 2011 – 2012 roster.

They’ve had to earn every NHL pay cheque they’ve cashed, but who among Darryl Boyce, Tim Brent and Joey Crabb will be back next season in blue and white?

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Prince Albert's Mark McNeill could be a target of Burke's in a trade up scenario. (Photo Credit: Raiderhockey.com)

NHL Prospect writer Brian Huddle of Hockeybuzz.com and FutureConsiderations.ca stops by MLHS to provide a look at what the Leafs’ future might hold:

The rebuild ‘officially’ began June 20th, 2008.

“The Toronto Maple Leafs are proud to select, with their first pick in this year’s draft, from the Kelowna Rockets – Luke Schenn.”

We’ve all heard those words, and likely relived that moment on Youtube. Mike Penny and his staff were all too happy to pick their future defensive stud. It was a moment that would tell the hockey world exactly what the Maple Leafs were going to be; big, tough and physical. No more pushing us over.

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Photo Credit: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

“Plus minus is a very deceptive statistic when a team struggles, and he’s been put in a tough situation. If you look at the defense pairings, on a team that’s below .500 the top defense pairing playing against the other team’s top line is almost always minus, no matter how well they play. So I don’t put a lot of stock in plus minus.”
-Brian Burke on Tyler Bozak.

To a point, we have to agree with Burke’s statement, but only to a point. To say that a negative plus minus (-29) rating is the only reason behind Bozak being viewed as an underachiever this year is making a somewhat big understatement. It’s entirely true that Bozak played some of his toughest minutes this year. The primary reason for that might be that the coaching staff and management had given up on the idea of him being a top line centerman in the NHL, if indeed that was the original plan. It’s important to look at this not as a knock on Bozak as much as the organization crediting his two way, shutdown and penalty killing potential.

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Photo Credit: Paul Chaisson/Canadian Press

One little note: The terms top 6 and bottom 6 are thrown around rather frequently, but they’re anything but that simple in reality. Lines change often and players move up and down based on recent performance. For the sake of the article, I will be naming the following players top 6 players on the Leafs: Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak.

The curtain has closed on another disappointing Leaf season without the playoffs. This year had more than its fair share of ups and downs, but the emotional end leaves hope for the future. Goaltending was certainly the biggest change in the second half, with Reimer stepping up after Giguere and Gustavsson tumbled to the floor. But there was another noticeable improvement to the Leafs this season: top 6 scoring. Two players reached 30 goals this year (Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin), improving on last season’s one (Kessel again). This was helped by two further players getting at least 20 goals (Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur), again improving over last season’s one (Niklas Hagman). However, there is much more to winning NHL games than scoring some goals. With that said, we’re going to analyze the Leafs’ top 6 forwards and see which players rise to the top.

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Nikolai Kulemin

A member of the A+ club.

The season is over, but the postmortem examination is just beginning. I’ll open this period of speculation, hope and dissection of our favorite hockey team with a piece that grades our entire roster beginning with forwards and ending with the masked men of TO.

Players who played part years like Matt Lashoff were not included because I think most would agree 11 games are not nearly enough to grade him on a seasonal basis, nor is it fair to that particular player. The grading system varies from A+ to D- but there is one exception (guess who?). Everyone likes grades.

Well, what are you waiting for? Do continue.

James Reimer (photo credit: Reuters)

(Photo Credit: Reuters)

.
“Put a candle in the window,
’cause I feel I’ve got to move.
Though I’m going, going,
I’ll be coming home soon.
Long as I can see the light.”

- John Fogerty

.

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    Photo Credit: AP

    Nikolai Kulemin isn’t exactly what you’d call a prototypical Russian born player. I’m never the one to succumb to lowly stereotypes but you have to admit that certain countries have a history of developing certain types of players and that solid two way, versatile forwards are few and far between in the more recent history of Russian hockey.

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    Photo Credit: The Star

    Back on December 1st 2010, the Toronto Star broke a story which, if accurate, was poised to change the sporting and business landscape in this city and country forever. It would also represent the largest sporting transaction in Canadian history and will likely represent the most significant indication of the inevitable merging of the telecommunications, media and internet industries of our generation. This transaction will play a huge and direct role in transforming the way business in these sectors is done moving forward in this country.  The story literally broke out of thin air.  The concept that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) would be selling out of their cash cow that is MLSE was nothing more than a fantasy which most Leaf fans would not allow themselves to even consider as a possibility. Now, several months later, and despite repeated denials by everyone involved including the OTPP, MLSE, Rogers, etc., the matter has gone purposefully and strategically public and what was once only a whisper and a rumour has now become a verified fact. The OTPP are mercifully on their way out and will be selling off their ownership stake (66%) of the MLSE sporting empire.

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    The following is a brief summary of a research paper that was presented this past weekend by Michael E. Shuckers at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, MA.

    DIGR: Defense-Independent Goalie Rating

    Goaltenders are generally analyzed and rated using save percentage as a key indicator of performance.  One of the common issues that crops up when using save percentage as an analytic metric is comparing one goaltender against another. Varying degrees of the quality of defense from team-to-team, and the distribution of shots faced by each goaltender, create a large margin of error for goaltender-to-goaltender comparisons.

    Michael E. Shuckers, of St. Lawrence University and Statistical Sports Consulting, has done some fascinating research into ways in which these issues can be resolved so that save percentage can be a more effective comparative statistic.  What he devised, and subsequently presented at the conference, was the concept of DIGR (Defense-Independent Goalie Rating).

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    What man that sees the ever whirling wheel
    Of Change, the which all mortal things doth sway,
    But that thereby doth find, and plainly feel,
    How Mutability in them doth play
    Her cruel sports, to many men’s decay
    ?

    -Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queen

    Change surrounds us.  So powerful and pervasive a part of nature is it that the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus saw in it the unity of all things.  Change played such a central role in the Ephesian philosopher’s beliefs that he became famous (among philosophy geeks, anyway) for his pronouncement that because everywhere things are always becoming, always in flux, a man cannot step in the same river twice.  Heraclitus insisted that our eyes and ears were “evil witnesses” that deceived us, making humans perceive certain things (like mountains or rivers) as static or permanent when in reality, there is only an endless succession of transitory moments.

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    Photo Credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters

    In the aftermath of yesterday’s trade with the Anaheim Ducks, in which Joffrey Lupul joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, many fans expressed concern over two years’ contract term at a somewhat high dollar figure for what was perceived to be declining production.

    Although it is very easy to get caught up in the base stat lines (goals, assists, points), what might be surprising to some is Lupul’s rate of production has actually remained fairly consistent during the past three seasons prior to 2010-11. Despite last season and the start of his current season being cut short due to back surgery and a subsequent blood infection, a quick look at his per-game statistics reveal few recent changes in the winger’s season-to-season productivity.

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    Just finished watching the Brian Burke press conference on my PVR (damn our angry Irish overlord for choosing afternoon drive time to play Meet the Press on this one).  First, a few of the press conference highlights that I noted.  Following that, I’ll share my (hurried) analysis.

    Burke’s Presser

    • The basic structure of the deal (which had previously been widely reported – what an afternoon on Twitter) was confirmed, Beauchemin to Anaheim for RW Joffrey Lupul, D Jake Gardiner and a conditional draft pick;
    • Burke pointed out that Gardiner had played for Wisconsin as a true freshman, and noted “that’s hard”.  Gardiner’s schooling will not be disrupted by the Leafs until (at the very earliest) the end of the season;

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    Photo credit: Getty Images

    The frustration was evident in Phil Kessel’s tone as he answered a stream of media questions regarding his latest goal-scoring slump, now at ten games. Or perhaps, more accurately, his tone was one of resignation.

    Sighing often, Kessel repeated the words “I don’t know” on multiple occasions in response to inquiries as to why he has been so snake-bitten, and what he feels can be done to re-discover his scoring touch. This was clearly a player at his wit’s end, a player who seemed to be completely out of answers as to why the puck won’t go in despite numerous scoring chances of late.

    It was almost enough to make one feel sympathetic toward his plight; to make one feel as though he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, a victim of perpetual misfortune who was giving his all and unjustly coming up short.

    Almost.

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    Matt Frattin introducing himself to 6'3 200 lb defenseman Mark Alt

    A little over halfway through the season, it’s time to tear our eyes away from the bottom of the NHL standings for a second and see how the future of the Maple Leafs are doing. Notable breakout players include Owen Sound’s puckmoving defenseman Jesse Blacker and NCAA goal scoring machine Matt Frattin out of the University of North Dakota. Below is a brief overview of some of the Maple Leafs’ biggest movers, either up or down, the organizational depth chart.