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Leafs

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The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back from last night’s drubbing, defeating the Washington Capitals 3 – 2.  But did you really expect a team with Tim Hunter coaching and Joey Crabb featuring heavily on the PK to actually win a game?

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This is a big of a test as there is in game #8 of the season for Carlyle’s team. How the Leafs look against the 5-1-1 Boston Bruins tonight is going to be an early measuring stick when it comes to the team’s level of improvement this season over last.

In the process of losing all six games to the Bruins last season, the Leafs never allowed less than four and were lit up by scores of 7-0, 8-0, 6-3 and 6-2 throughout the season series. The way in which the Leafs were roundly outplayed in all facets of the game, and at times physically outmatched to an extent hard to imagine of an NHL team, in those blowouts was an embarrassment to all wearing Blue and White; the types of performances against a hated division rival the Leafs must avoid if, as Carlyle pledged, his team isn’t going to be a laughingstock.

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Dion Phaneuf

The Capitals are not a good team at the moment and for a while there the Leafs looked in danger of walking away with nothing in a winnable game. Thankfully, a two-goal third period saves the day and the Leafs move to 4-3-0 with their first home win.

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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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The Islanders are obviously a beatable opponent, but don’t face the same mental and physical challenges of a back to back cross-border scenario after a high-tempo game for the Leafs last night. The key for Carlyle’s team will be avoiding the let down coming off of the high in Pittsburgh.

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The Leafs are 1-1-0 after a 2-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in the home opener despite a 35-20 shots advantage. The shot clock doesn’t tell the whole story, but this one was first and foremost about Ryan Miller.

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Brian Burke Fired

By Alec Brownscombe & Declan Kerin

Shocking, is the only way to put it.

No, this wasn’t a move that was waiting in the wings. Last night, Dave Nonis and Brian Burke were taking in a Marlies game expecting to be the assistant GM and President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, for the upcoming 2012-13 season. It came as a bombshell to absolutely everybody short of Tom Anselmi and some board members. If that’s not raising red flags in your head already, it should be.

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Brian Burke Fired

Brian Burke spoke to reporters out East at the P.E.I. Special Olympics Festival Luncheon on Wednesday.

“With the salary cap and the new collective bargaining agreement that’s coming up, I don’t know what our plans are for filling out our roster,” Burke told the large gathering at Credit Union Place.

“Free agency starts on July 1, it’s a really thin group.

“Teams are locking all these quality players up now, so the group that is getting to the market is thin, it’s shallow. There are really two high-end players and that’s about it, (Nashville defenceman) Ryan Suter and (New Jersey forward) Zach Parise.

“I don’t think we are going to be in on either one of them.”

Burke continued:

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Ben Scrivens

Ben Scrivens

Photo: Marlies.ca

If you haven’t been able to get to a game at Ricoh and don’t have local Toronto Rogers TV, tonight is your first chance to get a good look at Marlies playoff action. Leafs TV will be broadcasting games 3, 4 and 5 live from Abbotsford, British Columbia. The games are late—10 p.m. (EST) starts—with Game 3 going tonight, Game 4 on Tuesday and Game 5 on Wednesday. The series sits 1-1 going into tonight’s game.

Onto a few links:

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Photo Credit: petrtitarenko.com

Now that we pretty much agreed that tanking is the way to go (had to drag this writer in chains and he’s still not at peace with it), let’s try to examine how much Leafs Nation really needs that high end first round pick/player.

When you take tanking out of the equation (and if you’re like me, you have to, because it’s not like you’re going to stop watching this team) you realize that watching the current day Edmonton Oilers really seems more fun than watching the current day Maple Leafs. The amount of sheer young talent and hope for the future makes games exciting, makes fans watch even though they are losing games. Watching Taylor Hall fly down the wing, Eberle’s quick hands or an 8 point night by Sam Gagner beats watching basically the same result with no such talent on the roster.

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Photo: Getty Images

Of course, the acquisition of Jeff Carter by the Los Angeles Kings couldn’t simply put to bed the rumours surrounding one potential Leaf trade target, it sprung to life another. Word broke yesterday that, in wake of the Carter acquisition, Kings GM Dean Lombardi could be open to moving power forward and captain Dustin Brown if the price is right.

Now, every name that hits the rumour mill gets dressed in an imaginary Leafs uniform, but a name like Dustin Brown strikes me (and surely Burke) with considerable intrigue. At 27, signed for two more seasons at 3.175 million, the possibility of Brown’s availability must make Burke’s eyes light up. A member of his Team USA silver medal winning 2010 Olympic team, Brown brings experience, leadership, a physical presence for the top six (2nd in the NHL in hits, and he hits hard), and could add a new dimension to the Leaf attack. Not to put too much value or significance into any one player, Brown poses an attractive solution, or at least part solution, to many of the Leafs deficiencies in the forward ranks with his skill and toughness package. It’s no wonder there’s consensus among the insiders that Burke would have a major interest in the 27-year-old if available.

The tie's coming undone.

This is part one of a preview series on potential trade deadline targets for the Leafs. Important to keep in mind is the framework in which I’m analyzing these trade options in this series: Brian Burke will be weighing the future against the present. Burke’s only going to be dealing for immediate help if it equally benefits the team long term. There will be no selling out for this season; as much as Burke is feeling the pressure to make the playoffs in his fourth season as Leafs czar, more patience is needed as his team simply isn’t at that stage of the competition yet.

Evgeni Nabokov:

The attraction to the 37-year-old pending UFA is one, how well he’s fared in front of a porous Islanders defense since his return to the NHL, and two, his history of success under head coach Ron Wilson in San Jose.

The Islanders have struggled to find consistent reliability in net as much as the Leafs have in recent seasons, so dealing Nabokov as opposed to signing him seems unlikely at this point barring an inability to come to terms in contract negotiations.

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Arbitration for Clarke MacArthur?

Will we see Mac receive more awkward Kulemin embraces next season? (Photo Credit: DAVID DENOMA/REUTERS)

As usual, Brian Burke looks and sounds really confident. “Clarke MacArthur has arbitration rights and he may well file for arbitration. We’re fine if that’s what he chooses,” said Burke. “We have a lot of financial clout behind this team and we have a lot of cap space. We’re not worried about someone trying to take a player out of here through an offer sheet and we anticipate we’ll be able to re-sign all the players we want to re-sign.”

Considering how fond the management and coaching staff are of MacArthur, the fact his contract status remains an unsolved problem for the Leafs is somewhat surprising. On the other hand, him having a career year while being the league’s best bargain last season in Clarke’s mind could just as easily warrant a big pay day.

We could argue both sides equally. Clarke doesn’t fit the bill of a greedy player. He clearly stated he wants to stay in Toronto, and showed he’s a emotional, character player who played his heart out for the Leafs last season. On the other hand, we know how reluctant Burke is when it comes to giving significant salary increases to one year wonders. The differential between his second best season in the league and his career high last season is almost double in points; it’s no wonder this is a tough negotiation in which Burke is playing hardball.

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Photo Credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images - Richie Rich?

July 1st is finally here and regardless of a limited pool of exciting free agents, expectations in Leafs Nation are once again sky high. The big fish is obviously Brad Richards, a 31 year old skilled passing center, out of Murray Harbour, P.E.I., Canada.

Obviously, the biggest and most discussed need the Leafs have is at that top line center position and that’s exactly where the majority of fans and pundits keep putting Richards. His offensive acumen, imagination and playmaking ability would surely benefit Phil Kessel and his leadership already helped the development of players like Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

Brad Richards tallied 90+ points twice in the NHL (91 both times) and crossed the 70 point plateau four more times. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts during the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Stanley Cup run and was selected for the All Star game in 2010-11. Such a player would certainly help the Leafs gain instant playoff credibility around the league but would undoubtedly come with a long term price tag.

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Max Talbot

If you count today, there are just four days left until July 1st, a day when Brad Richards hits free agency and hopefully, Toronto. As nerve-wracking at it might be, there are no other options but to wait and hope for the best.

However, I won’t be talking about Brad Richards today. I know the team’s prime need comes in the form of a top flight, highly skilled No1 C, but are other interesting names to consider for the bottom six positions.

Max Talbot can play all three forward positions. He excels as a penalty killer and brings a high amount of leadership qualities to boot. One of his biggest strengths just might be his performance in clutch games and the postseason. Talbot was an integral part of the Penguins Stanley Cup run in the 2008-2009 season fighting Dan Carcillo and willing the team to very important Game 3, 6-3 victory over the Flyers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals over the Flyers. In Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit in Joe Louis Arena Talbot scored both goals in a 2-1 victory. During that run, he had 13 points, 8 goals and was +8 in the postseason.