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Editor’s Note: Please welcome Tim Bayer to the MLHS writing staff. Tim contributes at Editor in Leaf and can be followed on Twitter @tj_bayer. He’ll be contributing some Sunday mashups for us here at MLHS.
Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. How many days during the year are you encouraged to eat food, watch sports and hang out with family and friends all day? As the weather is starting to cool down (although it’s been absolutely beautiful here in Southern Ontario this weekend), the NHL season is just warming up, and Thanksgiving is even more enjoyable when the Leafs are winning. I like to take some time during this great holiday weekend to reflect on the many blessings I enjoy that I usually take for granted. On that note, here are some NHL- and Leafs-related things I’m thankful for:
The Leafs dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in a sloppy second game of preseason. Remarkably, Phil Kessel took 6 minutes worth of aggressive stick infractions.
“When the schedule first came out, you know, you look forward to it. But I think both teams have moved on now and they’re having some success, too.” – Luke Schenn
The definition of success is a funny one. It seems like it should be the Flyers who are proudly sitting in fifth place in the East, poised to make a leap into a tie with Pittsburgh or surpass a division leader with a victory on Monday night. It seems like it should be the Leafs who are taking pride in getting over the hiccups of a slow start, pleased to be part of an early tie for the last playoff spot in the Conference. Surprisingly, the tables have turned, and with very little changing for either team besides the Schenn/van Riemsdyk trade, it seems like Schenn has a lot to prove against his former club on Monday. Moreover, he’s got to show his current club that he can eventually become the type of shutdown defenseman that can warrant giving up a player who now seems to be discovering his true offensive upside.
Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
While I had begun to sour somewhat on Schenn’s potential last season, it was a little odd to wake up this morning and remember #2 was now a member of an organization not named the Toronto Maple Leafs. Schenn was celebrated as the first pillar of the Leafs’ rebuild when Cliff Fletcher drafted him in 2008. Many a fan bought his jersey. Some said we had future captain material in Luke. Few would’ve predicted Schenn would be with a new organization before he turned 23.
I’m not going to call Schenn’s rookie season a mirage, but it was somewhat of a tease. We heard Pierre McGuire call this guy a Human Eraser and we saw it with our own eyes when he stepped onto NHL ice as an 18-year-old and tossed a 245-pound Keith Tkachuk to the ice. What seems to have happened between the Schenn we knew then and the one Burke just traded was a combination of expectations heightening and his development traveling the trajectory of a more normal young defenceman, as opposed to the beyond-his-years beast we came to know him as in junior and very early on in his NHL career.
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.
According to Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun, a new contract for Luke Schenn could be announced by the end of the week, putting to rest a source of offseason unease for many Leafs’ fans across the nation:
An NHL source indicated on Tuesday that a new contract for Schenn â€œshould be done by Friday.â€
In other words, the expectation is Schenn will be at camp on the first day, when players undergo medicals.
Josh Rimer, producer for NHL Home Ice on SiriusXM, added to the speculation on Twitter:
I’m hearing Luke Schenn deal will most likely be officially announced Friday. Trying to confirm but hearing 3year deal around 4million per.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie weighed in with his thoughts, also:
My take on RFAs: Schenn, Marchand, Bogosian, Bailey more likely than not will get done by the weekend. Dialogues ongoing, which is +ve sign.
While all of this remains speculation at the present moment, it is not absent of merit; getting a contract done by Friday would allow Schenn — who spent part of the offseason working out with Shea Weber — to get to training camp in the nick of time.Â No time lost, no harm.
One can only hope that “no time lost” does indeed turn out to be the case.
With a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche last night, the Leafs have moved into a tie with the Carolina Hurricanes for ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 78 points, putting them three back of the Buffalo Sabres, whoÂ sit in eighth with two games in hand. Based on the past few seasons, the minimum number of points needed to qualify for the playoffs falls between 90 and 92 points. In order to reach that mark, the Leafs must win at least six of their final seven games. The goal heading into this west coast road trip was to collect four out of a possible six points, which has already been accomplished, so earning at least one point in Detroit on Saturday will be a major bonus for the team.
James Reimer is clearly the engine that drives the Leafsâ€™ success, however there is one player in particular who hasnâ€™t garnered nearly the amount of attention that he deserves based on his play this season. With spotlight shining on Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and of course Phil Kessel, there has been less talk of Nikolai Kulemin and his under the radar performance. With two goals last night, he has moved within two tallies of the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. The 25-year old forward hasÂ not only set a career high in goals (28), assists (26)Â and overall points (54), but he has also been one of the team’s best penalty killers.
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You can never give up hope especially with 51 games remaining in the NHL schedule but with the Toronto Maple Leafs currently eight points out of a playoff spot with four teams also ahead of them to get there the odds are pretty stacked against them.Â Last season I believe only one team made the playoffs that werenâ€™t already officially among the top eight seeds as of December 1/2009 and that was the Philadelphia Flyers and we all remember how they managed to squeak in.Â
One could argue that they [Flyers] probably should have been in the race from the first game of the season given the roster of talent they possess and eventual trip all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.Â Nobody would make that same argument for this yearâ€™s version of the Leafs and while there is always a chance, I am not overly optimistic.Â
So if we arenâ€™t looking at a playoff berth what are we playing for?
Finishing 0-2 and recording just one goal following their weekend road trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs anxiously returned home to the Air Canada Centre, looking to their steady play there as inspiration to get back on track. Despite their dreadful offenseÂ on the road, the Leafs have managed to score 12 goals at home in their last three games, all of which have been victories. Eager to continue that trend, the Leafs would need a flawless effort to contain a hungry Tampa Bay Lightning team. After droppingÂ their last two games, the Lightning’s schedule was blessed with a game against the desperate and fragile Leafs. Although the score was in their favor and the game in their hands, the seemingly inevitable collapse transpired and the Lightning took full advantage, bolting to a 4-3 overtime victory.
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images
During the doom and gloom of a lengthy losing streak it can be easy to focus only on the negative aspects of a hockey team and I have noticed my last few pieces have done just that.Â Today I thought I would take a look at some of the positive and promising assets the Toronto Maple Leafs currently possess as opposed to what they ultimately lack.
Although they are much maligned and even despised by some the ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs has never been a serious impediment to the success of the team, contrary to popular belief.Â Sure MLSE values a profit as most corporations do and yes they charge an arm and a leg for even a lousy ticket, but the fact is the market for all things Leafs is extremely strong.Â With the current supply and demand the way it is the pricing issue will not go away or change, ever.
Claus Andersen/Getty Images
It is a popular war cry teams will make when in the midst of an unlikely or unexpected championship run.Â But what exactly is needed to make a championship contending hockey club and just how far are the Maple Leafs from truly becoming one?Â I thought I would attempt to answer that very question while trying to look at how a successful championship contending hockey team is currently composed and then comparing it to the Leafs situation and roster makeup.
Relief, thatâ€™s the feeling I get when watching our young and improving defenseman Luke Schenn night in and night out this season.Â Oh admit it you were a touch worried as I was that Schenn might not ever reach this day but I think we can all just say it and say it with pride, Luke Schenn is a stud.Â Although heÂ was neverÂ really that bad for most of last seasonÂ the fact is Schenn was unfairly judged (as a 20 year old defenseman in his second season) by most Leafs fans.Â
The Toronto Maple Leafs are set to visit the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at the Consol Energy Arena. The Penguins have yet to win at home this season and get another opportunity to erase that stat tonight against a Leafs team that is hoping to remain undefeated. Jonas Gustavsson will get his first start between the pipes according to Sportsnet.
Mike Brown planking.
Mike Brown does his best Bobby Orr impersonation before later settling for a Colton Orr impersonation. Never underestimate the value of versatility.
Two games in, and the Maple Leafs are 2-0 for the first time in 11 years. While some might be tempted to find meaning within that number, the truth is that in terms of history the number is rather meaningless.
With still 80 games left on the docket, and the Leafs about to embark on their first road trip of the season, expectations must be tempered despite the hot start (and the rare sight of a 4th overall placement on the ESPN Power Rankings).
In other words, a 7-0-1 start (to counter last season’s 0-7-1) is probably just a little too much to ask. As if I had to tell you that. Then again, this IS Leafs Nation; somewhere, someone surely needed the reminder.
Follow the jump for a few first-week impressions and musings.
Week one of the Toronto Maple Leafs schedule is in the books, and while it only featured two games, there is plenty to talk about as far as the season goes. Â The Maple Leafs are off to a 2-0 start, having won their second game of the season nearly one month ahead of the time they got win two last season.
Through week one of the season, here are the Maple Leafs player power rankings, as seen by me.
The winless Ottawa Senators visit the undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the ACC. With a victory this evening, the Leafs would have their best start to a season since ’99-00 when they won three straight out of the gate. It’s just two games, but the symbolism of a return to the pre-lockout days – let alone a chance to put the Sens at 0-2 and gain early points on another division rival – would be nothing but sweet.
Jeff Finger returns to the line-up tonight in Detroit in what many will suggest is his Maple Leafs swan song/final pit stop en route to the Marlies. Burke is saying the right things about Finger’s right to a “fair look” and the importance of respecting players acquired via free agency as it relates to organizational reputation. But the realities are this: the Leafs are sitting with both Brett Lebda and Finger on the outside of their top six, over the cap by around $300k and uncomfortably close even with Lashoff and his $550k assigned to the Marlies. And that’s assuming Nazem Kadri and his $1.7 million cap hit will not be a part of the roster come opening night. If it’s important to show respect to signed free agents, surely Lebda won’t be Marlie-bound after his first training camp as a Leaf. Simply, something has to give, and the $3.5 million Finger, a Leaf of two seasons now, seems the obvious candidate for demotion.
The Leafs head to the capital tonight to take on their bitter provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators, for the third time in seven preseason games.
Tonight’s game figures to be the last chance for players on the bubble, including highly-touted Nazem Kadri, to make a lasting impression. When asked about these players, head coach Ron Wilson was emphatic:
“When the puck drops on the first day, you better be ready to go. No tip-toeing around. No â€˜oh, the waterâ€™s cold, Iâ€™ll wait until it warms up a bitâ€™. Nope, youâ€™re diving in and the guys who didnâ€™t, as [Leafs' GM Brian Burke] said, theyâ€™re waiting by the bus stop. Well, they missed it, the bus already left. Now their job is running down the road hoping they can get on.” (via)
With the pre-season set to end with a home-and-home against Detroit to open the month of October, the general sentiment is the Leafs will use a roster for those games comprised of the players who are expected be with the NHL club on opening night. For Nazem Kadri, John Mitchell, Jay Rosehill and Mike Zigomanis, tonight (or by a slim chance the first of the two Detroit games) may be their last shot.
Coming off a tough shootout loss against the Flyers last night, the Leafs will look to rebound on the road against the Sabres tonight at HSBC Arena. Despite blowing a late third period lead, there was a lot to like about the Leafs’ performance, including a strong bounce back game from captain Dion Phaneuf and spurts of brilliance from the club’s new top line of Versteeg, Bozak and Kessel. The Buds will be in tough tonight against the Sabres, who will be icing a lineup very similar to the one they will open the season with.
Kessel will see his first action of the 2010 preseason.
After a disappointing Fans First preseason opener, the small upside of this overtaxing preseason schedule is that the Leafs get right back at it tonight, against the same opponents and with what appears to be a stronger line-up than last night’s edition. Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski all sub in up front while Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin will get their first tastes on the back end. Meanwhile, the Senators will ice a similar line-up to last night and will again sit their big names as all of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek and Chris Phillips did not make the trip to Toronto.
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