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Since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke has worked feverishly to distance the club from the atmosphere of mediocrity which pervaded during the years of mismanagement that came before.
While upgrading the playing staff and reducing the age demographic of the locker room are the two most apparent hallmarks Burke has placed upon the Leafs, his backstage upgrading of the administrative, coaching, scouting and medical departments have the potential to leave considerably longer legacies.
It was no less than two months ago that I was pondering this same question, that of captaincy, and examining the same factors. Thinking of all the tangibles â€“ speed, talent and scoring â€“ along with attributes that are harder to judge â€“ the ability to command the respect of the team, lead with strength of character and handle the Toronto media through success and failure. The lone difference is that last time, it was the Leafs.
Leafs Preseason Synopsis Part 1Â – Defense and Goaltending
By: Michael Cuttell
With free agency cooling off and countless free-agent and team roster questions floating around, itâ€™s time for Leafs fans to look at what they have, what they can afford to lose , what they need, and what they can realistically get to fill those needs. This is a step by step speculative analysis of those questions.
Why the Maple Leafs should make the playoffs in 2010-11â€
By: Joe Cino
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Maple Leafs in 2009-10 did. A combination of cold streaks, underperforming veterans, bad goaltending and a slew of injuries capped off a basement finish. The roster has been fine tuned, with additions like Giguere, Phaneuf and Versteeg chief among them, but by and large most of the roster is the same as last yearâ€™s iteration. With so many holdovers from the previous year, are the playoffs a realistic goal for the Maple Leafs? I believe that they are, with Corsi ratings, Goals versus Threshold and the realistic impact of the new Leafs taken into account.
Great to see such an active group of readers. Here are a couple of FanPosts for your Friday afternoon reading enjoyment with today’s theme being youth, youth and more youth. Paul LeMay (B. Leaf) takes an in-depth look at the team’s organizational prospect depth while Chuck Johnson compares Nazem Kadri’s chances of making the NHL as a 2nd year player with those of previous high draft picks.
As you’ve probably noticed, the amount of content here on MLHS has slowed down a bit over the last little. We sincerely apologize for this and ask that you remain patient as many of our staff writers are working and re-working their drafts for the 2010 Maple Leafs Annual that comes out this fall. We ensure you that things will be back up and running at a regular pace soon. Now with that said, I do have a couple interesting figures to toss your way.
The two greatest military tacticians of the past 5000 years â€“ Sun Tzu and Sgt. Slaughter â€“ both spoke on the value of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your enemies in the field.Â To effectively assess the situational realities of the Toronto Maple Leafs it pays to look at the status of their direct competition within the Northeast division.Â Playing 24 games against teams from their own division, pride, points and position are all on the line.Â While by no means comprehensive (as yet), take a gander at the past 3 weeks of moves.
The Canadians, Senators, Bruins and Sabres all earned playoff positions last season.Â A successful, playoff calibre Leafs squad must commit themselves to dominating these frequent opponents as more than a quarter of the season will be played against them.
Trades are never won or lost when initially made, and tonight’s multi-player deal with Chicago is the very embodiment of that fact. Analyzing a deal that sent Kris Versteeg and Bill Sweatt to Toronto for Viktor Stalberg, Phillippe Paradis and Chris Didomenico involves a lot of subjective potential measurement. Â Making the task more difficult is that two teams often come together to execute a trade for very different reasons in a salary cap era.
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 Jonas Gustavsson, profiled by Justin Goldman.
The Summary: Back with another guest post is The Goalie Guild’s Justin Goldman. Jonas Gustavsson’s choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer ended a long period of courtship from a number of NHL teams. The world’s best goaltender outside of the NHL’s decision to join the Leafs gave the team a goalie of the future. His season was, to say the least, a roller coaster ride that ended with some decent numbers. Brian Burke has built a strong support system for the young Swede and seems to have a bright future ahead of him.
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 Jean-Sebastien Giguere, profiled by PPP Guest Justin Goldman.
“The Summary: Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s arrival in Toronto represented a lot of things. First and foremost, it represented the moment when, after 100+ days of atrocious goaltending, Brian Burke was finally able to change the Leafs’ fortunes. It represented the first time since the lockout that the Leafs’ defencemen and forwards could be confident that on any given night they were playing in front of an NHL calibre goalie. And it also showed the extent to which Brian Burke was working to put the support network in place to maximize Jonas Gustavsson’s potential. So how do you evaluate a goalie? Well, you ask an expert to offer his thoughts.
In a move that should surprise nobody, a Swedish hockey site has indicated that Rickard Wallin will not be with Toronto next year. Â Wallin, who would have been a UFA for the Leafs, signed a four-year deal with his longtime European team Farjestads. Â This ends a very brief return to the NHL for the Swedish centerman which saw one mediocre-at-best season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Those who know me can tell you I am an avid reader. Â I devour books at a staggering pace, specializing in sports books and autobiographies mostly. Â And as the warm weather approaches, and the hockey season gives way to deck weather, my reading habit ramps up considerably.
Book of choice at the moment? Â ”The Yankee Years” Â by Joe Torre. Â A fantastic account of life in the major leagues and life as the manager of one of the most popular, most traditional, and at times, most dysfunctional franchises in the world.
Torre does an excellent job of taking readers behind the scenes of his time in New York, including a fist hand look of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. Â That is, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
And that’s where the parallels started standing out to me as a Leafs fan.
While the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing and continue to provide us with some fantastic moments of triumph, the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are now forced to once again shift their focus to off ice activities.
And so too has Leafs brass.
Despite his team sitting on the sidelines, Leafs GM Brian Burke made quick work of two signing he was keying in on, signing goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson and newcomer Jussi Rynnas to contracts. Â Continuing with the in-house theme, Burke will now certainly turn his attention to Nikolai Kulemin, if he hasn’t done so already.
And while we are seemingly quite far away this point, it won’t be long before the draft and subsequent free agency period rolls around.
Brian Burke has picked up yet another wallet. According to a Finnish report, the Toronto Maple Leafs have agreed to terms on a two year deal with Finnish free agent goaltender Jussi RynnÃ¤s. Jussi is still just 22 years of age, and is coming off a stellar year in the Finnish SM-Liiga in which he posted a 2.50 GAA and a 0.929 SV%. RynnÃ¤s is still at least a couple years away from being NHL-ready, and will start next season splitting time with James Reimer for the Toronto Marlies. Jussi was arguably this year’s most coveted free agent goaltender, along with NCAA netminder Ben Scrivens, whom the Leafs had also been linked to over the past couple weeks.
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.
While Hockey’s Future has yet to release their top 10 organizational prospect rankings, the highly-respected source for prospect information has released their 11-20 and 21-30 lists. To the pleasant surprise of many, the Leafs aren’t on either of them.
Adding to the joy, division rivals Buffalo, Montreal and Ottawa have all already appeared in the 13th, 16th and 21st positions respectively.
Some reading material for your weekend enjoyment:
- The boys over at PPP provide us with a nice piece about European free agent goaltender Jussi Rynnas. The 6’5 22 year old is coming off an impressive season in the Finnish Elite League, posting a 2.50 GAA to go along with a league-best 0.929 SV%. For comparison’s sake: Mikka Kiprusoff posted a 1.86 GAA and 0.936 SV% during his age 22-23 season in the SM-Liiga. Jussi is in the midst of a five city North American tour, with Toronto not being one of the destinations. However, Burke and Nonis have both made the trip out to Helsinki and later brought Francois Allaire along to speak with Rynnas during his stopover in Montreal. Rynnas is not as highly regarded as Gustavsson was last offseason, and will likely be playing for an AHL team next season. The scouting report on him is that he’s a big guy who can struggle at times with rebound control and positioning, much like our own Gustavsson, and his style of play has been compared to that of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.
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.
Per TSN, the Toronto Maple Leafs have agreed in principle to a 2 year contract with pending-RFA goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. The contract is said to be worth $2.7 million in total (avg $1.35 million per season).
Gustavsson, originally signed to a 1 year contract, struggled somewhat during the first half of a season marred by heart surgery and the inevitable adjustment period required with not only a new league, but a new culture as well.Â As the season progressed, so too did Gustavsson’s consistency and poise. As his comfort level grew, fans began to witness what all the hype had been about,Â his performance culminating with a 7-game winning stretch during the month of March (7-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .929 SV %).
For the season, Gustavsson finished with a winning record of 16-15-9, posting a 2.87 GAA and .902 SV %.
While most Leafs fans are content to sweep the 2009-10 season aside and look ahead to greener pastures, we’re nevertheless forced to look on in envy as sixteen other fan bases get to watch their teams play meaningful hockey with the sun out. It’s a feeling Leafs Nation hasn’t experienced since pre-lockout times, and as low as expectations may have been coming in, it is unexceptionally a failure not to be in the mix this time of year. Brian Burke will be the first to acknowledge that, and did so in his State of the Union address today.
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