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Note: With the playoffs being the focus of the hockey world right now, there isn’t a whole lot of big stories breaking in Leafland these days. As such, I’ll be helping out Alec with his “Bits & Pieces” articles, touching briefly on various topics, and providing the occasional draft primer for the Entry Draft this coming June.
This session’s topics include the Phoenix Coyotes, Mike Komisarek and 2010 draft prospect Joey Hishon.
It was reported yesterday that former New York Rangers back up goaltender, Steve Valiquette, will be heading to the KHL next season. Today, it appears more movement will be taking place from the Rangers organization as newly acquired Olli Jokinen is currently in discussions with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.
For longtime fans of the NHL, it was nothing new.
An organization set to come in, guns blazing, and attempt to be “competition” for the National Hockey League. Â On the surface, perhaps not a bad idea. Â After all, competition creates creativity. Â Competition brings out the absolute best in everyone.
However, there have been two big attempts by rogue organizations to dethrone the NHL from atop their perch as the number one hockey league.
And just like the WHA years earlier, is it possible that the KHL is going the way of the dodo bird?
Strengths: Prior to the start of this season, the Leafs prospect list was a list full of question marks. But it has become clear that the Leafs at the very least have some talent to work with in the coming seasons. First and foremost would be OHL star Nazem Kadri, who has come on in the second half of the season after a slow start in London. Two other forwards that appear to have a future with the Leafs are former collegians Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg. Jerry D’Amigo, one of the stars for Team USA at the 2010 WJC, is another promising forward currently in the college ranks. The acquisition of Luca Caputi adds another solid forward with some size, a trait valued by Leafs’ GM Brian Burke. In goal, Jonas Gustavsson has emerged as a legitimate future starter.Â Weaknesses: Where the Leafs may lack future support is along the blueline, with trade deadline acquisition Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson representing the only current prospects of real magnitude at defense. But, considering where the Leafs were after last season, the future is looking brighter. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nazem Kadri, C, 2. Jonas Gustavsson, G, 3. Tyler Bozak, C, 4. Carl Gunnarsson, D, 5. Viktor Stalberg, LW
Of no surprise is that signings Jonas Gustavsson and Tyler Bozak played a major role in boosting the Leafs up the rankings. That’s not to say that they don’t count the same as key young assets, but both Gus and Bozak will not qualify for this list next season after turning 24 and/or surpassing the 65 game mark of their NHL careers. To see Stalberg and Gunnarsson listed in the top five of a sixth-ranked prospect group as former sixth and seventh round picks respectively certainly represents some form of silver lining from John Ferguson Jr’s reign.
The author’s omission of the name Jesse Blacker in assessing our blueline depth weakness was curious to me. After standout performances at the rookie tournament in Kitchener in September, Blacker notched 30 points in 48 games following a trade request to the Owen Sound attack from Windsor in search of increased playing time. Granted, past Aulie and Blacker among players yet to feature in a Leaf uniform, depth certainly does thin out, and this is likely a priority for Burke with the remaining picks he has to work with come June 25.
More on the Leafs’ top ten placement here.
Now that the Leafs’ most important pending free agent — goaltender Jonas Gustavsson — has been signed to a two-year contract extension, it is time to take a look at their remaining free agent players.
Notably, the list of expiring contracts includes pending RFAs Nikolai Kulemin, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell. Pending UFAs on the Leafs’ roster include Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin, Jamie Lundmark, Garnet Exelby and Mike Van Ryn.
David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail speculates that Burke’s first move this coming offseason will be to find a taker for forward Mikhail Grabovski. Shoalts explains that with Bozak and Kadri likely penciled into the team’s top two centre roles, it is unlikely that Burke will opt for three undersized centres on his roster. Add in a $2.9M pricetag for a primarily offensive-mindedÂ player who scored only 35 points in 59 games, and the writing seems to be on the wall. Shoalts warns fans not to expect a hefty return: likely less than the 2nd round pick Fletcher gave up to acquire him.
With the final bell about to ring season most fans would be happy to forget – although the impending draft all but dictates they most assuredly will not – the Maple Leafs will officially enter the offseason five campaigns removed from the playoffs at the conclusion of Saturday night’s game in Montreal.
Unlike previous years, however, this season has revealed to fans — amidst the rubble of far too many losses — a silver lining of sorts: the promise of youth.
An active voice in the betterment of the sport of hockey, Brian Burke has three rule change proposals according to Darren Dreger. And I like all three, with some trepidation.
Irwin that is. It was reported last night that the Maple Leafs had agreed to terms with 23 year old free agent forward Brayden Irwin, a former teammate of Viktor Stalberg at the University of Vermont. Irwin is Toronto native power forward, standing at 6’5 215 lbs, but does possess a bit of skill, a good shot and skates well for his size. He had a breakout 2009-2010 campaign in which he recorded 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 39 games played, totals that would surpass his two previous seasons combined. Irwin also leads his team in shots, penalty minutes and boasts a team-best 55% win percentage in the faceoff circle. Irwin struggled through a terrible junior season, but Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon believed from the start of the year that Irwin had all the tools to become one of the top players in the league. Guess he wasn’t too far off.
While it’s not quite as high profile a signing as Minny’s Casey Wellman, it’s still a step in the right direction: the accumulation of free assets, in this case a player with some interesting skill and size. Personally, I’m still holding out for New Hampshire sniper Bobby Butler or my personal favourite from this year’s crop: Stephane Da Costa out of Merrimack College.
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.
(On the road … so here is a quick thread for tonight’s action.)
The Toronto Maple Leafs (21-33-12), who are coming off a hard-fought overtime win over the Boston Bruins, are host to the Tampa Bay Lightning (27-27-11), tonight at 7pm.
The Leafs, who are all but officially out of the playoff race, are playing for jobs next season. To that end, the young players on the roster have put together a string of impressive efforts, and if their resilient play continues, few players will anonymously refer to them as an “AHL team”.
TSN’s Bob Mckenzie is reporting that the Maple Leafs have claimed forward Jaime Lundmark off waivers from the Calgary Flames. The 29 year old Lundmark was originally drafted 9th overall in 1999 by the New York Rangers. In 280 career NHL games, Jamie has recorded 39 goals and 57 assists. In 47 games with the Flames over the past 2 seasons, Lundmark has accumulated 12 goals and 25 points, while also earning 15 minutes of ice-time this season. In Lundmark, the Leafs will hope to reproduce the same waiver wire success they experienced with Dominic Moore, picking up a feisty two-way player with respectable offensive numbers at other levels.
The Toronto Maple Leafs visit the St. Louis Blues tonight, in the Leafs’ final game prior to the NHL’s Olympic break.
The Leafs are coming off a narrow loss to the West-leading San Jose Sharks, a game which left the team with much to feel good about. Â Tonight, the team will look to resolve their road woes and enter the break on a high note, by capitalizing on what has been an inconsistent and underachieving Blues squad.
The Carolina Hurricanes are closing in on a deal with the San Jose Sharks for Niclas Wallin, while Leafs fans were begging it was Rickard. Kovalchuk turns down $101M, while the Rangers pull out of the sweepstakes due to the asking price. Find out what the Thrashers wanted in return. Also, Dion Phaneuf has his own plan for the remainder of the Leafs regular season.
We have all had a few days to digest Sunday’s trades, but there is still a well of untapped implications. Â Here’s a closer look at the forwards involved: both the outgoing Leafs and our lone newcomer. Â Be sure to check out Garrett’s excellent pre-game analysis here before tonight’s tilt with the New Jersey Devils.
Those were the words of Chief disciplinarian Raymond Bolduc after handing out the ruling on Patrice Cormier's hit. The forward, who elbowed Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts in the head, received a suspension for the remainder of the QMJHL regular season, as well as the playoffs. The elbow sent Tam into convulsions, followed by a visit to the hospital in which he was treated for brain trauma and broken teeth.
Per the Toronto Star, it appears as though Tyler Bozak may be the latest player to get a shot at centring the Maple Leafs’ top line alongside Phil Kessel and Nik Kulemin, beginning tonight against Carolina. Â Â With Kessel having recorded only 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 12 games, the Leafs are desperately hoping this change may be the tonic required to get their star winger back on track.
Update: confirmed by am640′s Jonas Siegel.
- On Leafs Lunch this afternoon, it was mentioned that rookie forward Viktor Stalberg has been medically cleared to play and will suit up against the Calgary Flames tonight. No official word yet on who will sit out.
- Forward prospect Chris Didomenico will re-join the Drummondville Voltigueurs and continue his rehab process after suffering a gruesome leg injury late last season. He has been back on his skates for about 2 weeks now, but is not expected to see game action until late February – early March.
Reports indicate that young forward Jiri Tlusty has been traded to the Hurricanes for Philippe Paradis, Carolina’s first round pick (27th overall) in 2009.
The Toronto Maple Leafs begin a 3 game road trip tonight as they visit the long time rival Montreal Canadiens tonight for an Original Six Battle. This is the third time these two clubs have met this season, with Montreal taking the first two games by scores of 4-3 in overtime, and 5-4 in a shootout. The Habs will celebrate their 100th anniversary on Friday against another original six club in the Boston Bruins, but will first have to deal with the always threatening but rarely scoring Leafs.
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