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phil kessel

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Corey Perry

With just over three weeks to go until the trade deadline, I feel as if I can get away with a rosterbation post without too much scrutiny. I’ll do my best to not go full HFBoards with my ideas, but certainly have a few players in mind that I’d like for the Leafs to target, and a few that I’d like Nonis to jettison. While I’m sure this won’t be the most intelligent post you’ll read this morning, hopefully it will at least spark some Monday morning conversation.

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Tyler Bozak

I took in what felt like a one-point win last night at the ACC. I of little faith was thinking “blow out” after the bang-bang goals in the first, but there seems to be something different about this team (visible in the Bruins game as well). They didn’t slip silently into the night, and by the end of it you had the feeling Crosby, Malkin and co. snuck away, or limped away, with the extra point.

I’ll ignore the awful first period from the Leafs – and how deeply underwater the first line was in its head to head with Crosby’s line, or how off Reimer was for the first 20 – because in many ways the fight back was just that good. Reimer played one of his poorer periods of the season in period 1, but his overall performance matched the trajectory of the rest of the team – started slow, but without him the Leafs don’t get the point.

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The Leafs welcomed the Penguins in what was their second meeting of the season. A win in the first game in Pittsburgh certainly felt good, but this was a Penguins team that has 7 wins in their last 10 games and has just now started to push for the top of the Conference standings. It was a different game entirely.

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Since we are almost at the halfway point, I thought now would be a good time to write some notes on each individual player thus far. Here is the close-but-not-quite-halfway Leafs Notebook:

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On Wednesday, Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel’s agent, indicated his client’s apparent desire to spend the rest of career playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  This, despite being disappointed in the club’s performance last season (I don’t even want to know what adjective he’d use to describe the two previous seasons in Toronto), and with little guarantee yet that this team is primed for long-term playoff success.

We’ll probably never know why the camera-shy Kessel wants to remain in a media-laden Toronto; Arnott seems to suggest it is an admirable inner desire to win in hockey’s mecca. Perhaps the better question is, what could it cost to keep him?

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The Leafs have had a lot of positives to start this season, but the power play isn’t one of them.

Last year, Toronto’s power play was a team strength finishing tied for ninth with Colorado in the league clicking at 18.4% over 82 games. After eight games to start this season, the Leafs are currently converting 14.3% of their man advantages, which is 22nd in the league.

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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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Courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Through a season of inconsistencies, the one thing that has remained constant for the Maple Leafs is the production of Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The duo surely formed one of, if the best, forward duet in the league, consistently tussling with the Sedins for the highest scoring pair (they’re trailing the race by a single point currently). All the while still keeping pace in the Art Ross race individually, as well. With all the success created and sustained, it was at one time far-fetched to believe the two could be split him for any reason.

With a three game losing streak in hand – one that all but made the Leafs four game win streak irrelevant – Ron Wilson made the peculiar coaching decision to split them up. And early progress reports signify it could turn out for the better.

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Photo Credit: Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images

It was far from a satisfying send off but last night’s 4-1 loss to the Habs was in some ways a microcosm of 2010-11 season that was. With their powerplay quite literally working against them, the Leafs put themselves in a hole early, showed some fight back and ultimately fell short, while some promising youthful performances comprised a silver lining for a better tomorrow. That said, it seemed a good portion of the Leafs roster was still suffering from the hangover of a playoff run fallen short, the giveaways and breakaways against were plentiful and the effort generally uninspired.

It’s important to keep one game in perspective but debutants Frattin and Colborne gave Leafs fans a pretty good feel for what the future may hold last night. Colborne’s frame will need some further filling out but he looked like an unrefined model of that big-bodied skilled center fans have been yearning for since Mats Sundin’s departure. Matt Frattin showed no hesitation in getting right in the mix with a high-tempo game and some good offensive instincts in finding the good scoring areas, registering five shots in 15 minutes of icetime. Frattin would have notched his first NHL goal if not for a couple good saves from Carey Price.

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Photo Credit: The Canadian Press via Marlies.ca

It was a relatively uneventful off day for the Leafs, with the only noteworthy news being the report from AM640 that J.S. Giguere will undergo a sports hernia surgery this summer. The team is back on the ice today to prepare for tomorrow’s game when they play host to the Montreal Canadiens. Just like the Leafs final game one year ago, they will be playing for pride and would like nothing more than to finish off their season series with Montreal by defeating their original six rivals in front of the hometown fans at the Air Canada Centre.

There are only ten returning Leaf players from the team that defeated Montreal 4-3 in overtime on April 10th of last year. Among those players includes a strong trio of defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek. Up front, Tyler Bozak, Tim Brent, Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and Fredrik Sjostrom were all members of last year’s team. One key player in last season’s finale against the Canadiens was Christian Hanson, who scored two goals and added an assist in the win. Fellow Marlies teammate and recently acquired centre Joe Colborne is expected to be recalled by the Leafs prior to the game, so he can get a taste of NHL action before heading into the off season.

Colborne has had an impressive stint since joining the Marlies, exhibiting a real scoring touch with eight goals, seven assists and 15 points in 19 games. If Leafs brass decides to bring him up, he could be sampled in various spots in the lineup, perhaps spending some time centering Kessel or Marlie teammate Nazem Kadri. It should be a nice taste of NHL action at the very least and at most his first step in making the case for full-time NHL duty as early as this fall.

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Photo Credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images

Despite a late third period rally with quick goals by Phil Kessel and linemate Tyler Bozak, the Leafs weren’t able to mount a comeback over the Devils in their final road game of the season. The Leafs looked a team understandably disheartened by the realization they were no longer playing meaningful hockey. Hopefully the final game against an arch rival on Saturday provides a better send off in front of the home crowd.

James Reimer had a strong start to the night, with several impressive stops through the opening frame, but appeared to show signs of fatigue after surrendering three straight goals, including a snipe by Ilya Kovalchuk on the powerplay. Reimer was replaced by Giguere to open the third period, who fared much better in his first appearance in several weeks.

As the Leafs prepare for their final game of the regular season on Saturday against Montreal, Ron Wilson and the rest of the coaching staff will evaluate the roster and likely recall a forward from the Toronto Marlies. All signs point to Joe Colborne, who was expected to replace Armstrong in the lineup after he went down to injury, but was sidelined with a head injury of his own. It will be an excellent stage to audition for a full time spot on the Leafs next season.

The Marlies will get a new arrival of their own in near-50-goal-man Greg McKegg after the elimination of his Erie Otters from the OHL playoffs was followed quickly by a three year entry level contract with the Maple Leafs. McKegg is eligible to play out the season in the AHL given his junior season is finished but as an 18-year-old he cannot play there until the same juncture next season.

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Photo Credit: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

The Flyers – Rangers game is available on TSN. 12:30 p.m. start. Carolina – Buffalo face off at 5 p.m., check back for a stream link.

On the eve of the Leafs meeting with the Ottawa Senators, James Reimer was named the NHL’s top rookie for the month of March in what has been a whirlwind season for the recently turned 23-year old goaltender. After making his first career start on January 1st against the Senators in Ottawa, Reimer returned yesterday in hopes of recording his 20th win of the season in only his 34th career game. Not bad for a former fourth round pick who began the season as a Toronto Marlie.

With an impressive 20-8-4 record, including a 2.54 goals against average and 0.922 save percentage, Reimer has earned his stay as a starting NHL goaltender. Not only is he capable of playing in the pressure packed market in Toronto, but he is embracing the spotlight with his calm and collected attitude. Again last night Reimer made the saves that mattered and showed no signs of being fazed after a quickfire double from Ottawa Senators erased a 2-0 lead.

Barring a meltdown from either the eighth place New York Rangers or ninth place Carolina Hurricanes, the Leafs will finish out of the post season for a sixth consecutive season. Despite that likely result, there is a long list of reasons why this team has what it takes to ride back to the glory land next year.

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Abelimages/Getty Images

Phil Kessel has been one of the most polarizing figures in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs during his short tenure with the blue and white.  Kessel will forever be linked with 2010 #2 overall selection Tyler Seguin and the jury might never come to a firm conclusion if that deal was in the best interest of the Leafs short or longer term.

Recently Kessel has come under heavy fire for his pointed comments regarding his lack of recent scoring and suggesting that maybe it “isn’t working here”.  The Toronto media and fans of the team instantly took offense to this comment and basically hung him out to dry.  I’ll admit it made me pause but this is Toronto, one of the largest media hubs in the world where even marginal players have microphones and cameras shoved in their grills, after a practise. 

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs had one day to stir over their frustrating overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and were hoping to turn the page and move forward as they welcomed the Edmonton Oilers to the Air Canada Centre. With the Oilers in town, fans were treated to a battle between two of the league’s youngest and quickest teams. Unfortunately for both organizations it seems the inexperience is keeping them among the bottom of the NHL Standings and in most statistical categories. On this night, that youth and excitement was one sided as the Oilers counter attacked their way to a 5-0 victory.

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      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 offense 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 dropping 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.

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      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.  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.  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.  With the current supply and demand the way it is the pricing issue will not go away or change, ever.

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      Claus Andersen/Getty Images

      It is a popular war cry teams will make when in the midst of an unlikely or unexpected championship run.  But what exactly is needed to make a championship contending hockey club and just how far are the Maple Leafs from truly becoming one?  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.

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      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.

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      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.  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.