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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.
In case you haven’t already heard, the Maple Leafs have broken off negotiations with prospect Bill Sweatt, acquired in the Versteeg trade from the Blackhawks. In a statement to the Toronto Sun, Burke explained that the club would rather keep a spot on the 50 contract limit open than continue discussions with Sweatt. As the talks continued to stall, the Leafs likely turned and upped their offer to Marcel Mueller, whose ELC contract value sits at $1.12 million. Sweatt is likely looking for a figure close to Blake Wheeler’s $2.825 cap hit as a 4-year college free agent, which is a steep price to pay for a player with speed but limited offensive upside.
Maybe it was indicative of how fragile the Leafs psyche had become after relinquishing such an unexpectedly high draft pick to the Bruins, or maybe it was just a reaction to the mid-summer boredom brought upon as the Kovalchuk saga stop-gaped the NHL trade wires, but the recent trade rumours surrounding Luke Schenn suggests a seismic shift has taken place in Leafs Nation with regards to the future and how to obtain long sought after success.
One that seems to have embraced a cap defiant means of rebuilding in an age of tank-to-win.
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.
- The Toronto Star has a nice piece up about Kadri’s offseason workouts and training regimen. The youngster has bulked up to an impressive 185 lbs, up from 170 lbs at this time last season and credits his success to being able to train regularly with Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. The Maple Leafs player development staff are quite pleased with Nazem’s progress, as he continues to vie for a role in the team’s top six forward group.
- Not to give away too many details, but I conducted my interview with Leafs’ Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison yesterday for the 2010 Maple Leafs Annual and he confirmed that if Kadri does not make the team out of camp, the organization will send him to the Marlies rather than back to the Knights.
- The Montreal Gazette provides some insight into how prospect Brayden Irwin, a late season NCAA free agent signee, is preparing for upcoming year.
- CapGeek notes that the Maple Leafs have re-signed forward Tim Brent to a 1 year, two-way contract worth $575,000. Brent will likely provide some scoring depth for the Marlies, having scored 28 points in 33 games last season.
- Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski confirms that the lack of movement on the free agent front is due to fact that several teams are facing financial restrictions. Free agents were aware that several teams were trying to offload cumbersome contracts, but were surprised at the lack of success in doing so. The teams trying to climb to the cap floor are preferring to do so by bidding on second or third tier players, which in turn is inflating the market for these secondary contributors. Several teams are in the “wait-and-see” mode with an eye on scooping up bargains around July 10th.
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.
It’s been a hot topic, and a touchy one at that for the better part of almost a year, since the day the trade was consummated. Â The Toronto Maple Leafs, toward the end of the pre-season, announced that they had traded two firsts and a second round pick to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Phil Kessel, a young American born sniper who the B’s were having issues resigning.
It was a steep price to pay, but you have to give to receive, and in Kessel the Leafs got a bona fide goal scorer who looks like he could be a perennial 30 goal scorer (more on that later.)
And yet some people have cast Kessel to fail, no matter what impact he has on the Leafs, attaching him forever to the trade that brought him here.
This past week, Bill Watters took that to the extreme, and took a piece of integrity written journalism and turned into something sensational and downright wrong, all in the name of making Phil Kessel look as bad as possible because he doesn’t agree with the trade.
According to Howard Berger, who reported live from the NHL Entry Draft this weekend, there is a ton of steam behind the Leafs and Bruins looking to make a trade for forward Marc Savard. It seems the Leafs understand he could have a long-term effect from a concussion injury, but the upside of putting him and Kessel back together is just too good to pass up on. Berger explains that the deal does not involve Tomas Kaberle and that Kaberle talks are actually down to minor whispers at this point. Expect that situation to become more relevant as the off-season continues. The trade for Savard surrounds the availability of forward Nikolai Kulemin, who is a pending RFA and is seeking more money than the Leafs are willing to offer. That said, the Bruins could move forward with a $3M dollar Kulemin if they shed the contract of $5M plus from Savard. All in all, it becomes a win/win with the Bruins getting younger and cheaper, adding a player with high potential to become a solid defensive forward, while the Leafs would get their number one center, elite playmaker, and instant chemistry with Phil Kessel. SilverSevenSens now state he has waived his NMC to play for either the Leafs or Senators. ESPN chimes in on it as well. “Reports started to surface that Bruins forward Marc Savard and his agent have eased off the player-s limited no-trade claue that allows the Bruins to deal Savard to only five undisclosed teams. Chiarelli would not confirm or deny the reports. ‘I’m not really into speculating that kind of stuff,’ he said.”
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 Phil Kessel, profiled by Garrett Bauman.
Acquired via a controversial trade during the 2009 offseason in which three draft picks were sent to the Bruins, Kessel rebounded from shoulder surgery to become the Maple Leafs go-to guy in the offensive zone.
Despite missing a month of the season, the electrifying 22-year old winger led the Maple Leafs in several offensive categories while providing the team with a legitimate scoring threat — and their first 30-goal scorer of the post-Sundin era.
Only 22, Kessel has a bright future ahead of him and many suspect it will be only a matter of time before 40-goal seasons become the norm.
In 2005, the NHL was returning to work after a year long lockout, a bitter battle between players and owners over cost certainty. Â The entry draft in June of 2005 was really the beginning of a new era in hockey, and a new era for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who drafted Sidney Crosby first overall, a move that would change their fortunes forever.
Drafted second that year was Bobby Ryan. Â A big bodied power forward with tremendous skill, I had the chance to watch Ryan in person blaze up and down the ice for the Owen Sound Attack. Â One look at Ryan moving swiftly between checkers, puck on a string as he bobbed and weaved his way into a prime scoring area, and it was clear.
This dude was one heck of a consolation prize.
And the GM who was afforded that consolation prize, as you are all aware, was one Brian Burke.
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 Tyler Bozak, profiled by PPP:
“The Summary: Tyler Bozak picked the Maple Leafs over theÂ Ottawa Senators so right away it’s clear that he has a high hockey IQ. He signed a hell of a deal that, based on how people react toÂ Mikhail Grabovski, will be tough to live up to. He’ll likely get a break because if he costs the full cap hit he’ll presumably have achieved some decent points totals. Not to mention, his age andÂ provenenance as a found player in addition to an electric understanding withÂ Phil Kessel likely gets him a free pass. A solid first half season in the NHL certainly bodes well for the young centreman.
Though the news in Leaf Nation has been relatively quiet of late, there have been a few intriguing storylines making the rounds. Joel Champagne will re-enter the draft, Nik Kulemin and the Maple Leafs have hit a contract impasse, Tomas Kaberle is reportedly gathering interest from a number of teams, and a member of the Toronto media raised a few eyebrows with a blog post regarding the relationship between Dion Phaneuf and Ron Wilson.
(Authorâ€™s note: the intent of this analysis is not to ignore the great work of Nik Kulemin, I just couldnâ€™t really find any particularly compelling or solvent data to include in this article. Also, I just graduated university, so for the 0 fans of my work who were wondering where I was…uhhh… drinking, mostly)
The 2009 â€“ 2010 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs was one of transition, the decrepit monolith created by John Ferguson Junior being thoroughly and carefully dismantled by Brian Burke in an attempt to bring back league-wide respect and playoff aspirations to the storied franchise we know and (as of late) begrudgingly love.
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.
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.
Lots of reading today: Gus chips in an Â analogical look at the NHL playoff series; Alex has your links with a look at potential Leaf Jussi Rynnas.
In what was Brian Burke’s first summer on the job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was clear from the get go that he put an onus on improving specialty teams, and also team defense. Â The brash Toronto GM made a lot of moves as it related to improving these areas, and on paper they looked like a sure recipe for change and improvement.
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.
When Brian Burke became the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2008, Leafs Nation embarked on a new journey. Â A new beginning. Â With Burke at the helm, the Leafs organization finally had a general manager who had credentials. Â Who had a winning pedigree. Â Who had the exact type of attitude the Toronto market needed.
A man who wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone, and a man who wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a big move that may set the team up for the better in the long term, a characteristic it seemed so many Leafs GM’s lacked in between the time of Fletcher’s first run, and Burke being christened as the new head of the front office.
Finally, Leafs fans were able to legitimately talk about the “Big O”, and they weren’t faking it either.
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