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195

When Brian Burke added Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin to an established Leafs cast of Luke Schenn, Tomas Kaberle, Ian White and Jeff Finger it looked to all that the Toronto GM had built himself an enviable problem. A premium blueline, arguably one of the finest in the Eastern Conference, that also came with a premium price tag.

Of course, what began an enviable problem on paper quickly devolved into an actual problem when the new additions failed to mesh into a cohesive unit with defensive and special team frailties more apparent than those of an comparatively budget offense.

1618

According to the Toronto Maple Leafs official Twitter feed, the club announced today the signing of free agent defenseman Brett Lebda to a two-year deal worth $1.45 million per season.

Lebda spent the last five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings after the organization signed him as a free agent in 2004, picking up a Stanley Cup ring in during his stay in ’08.

Lebda’s career high in points is 18.  He had 16 two years ago, but saw his total fall to just 8 points last year, though he did only play 63 games due to a back injury.

Lebda has great pace and puck-rushing ability, though his point-total doesn’t necessarily reflect that.  The Buffalo Native is thick for his height at 195 pounds, but is a bit undersized at 5’9. He does play a game bigger than his frame would suggest. $1.45 million seems a tad pricey, but hopes will be that Lebda will be able to improve production on a Leafs blueline that doesn’t have the type of elite offensive weapons from the blueline like Detroit had in Brian Rafalski and Nik Lidstrom (this providing Kaberle is dealt, and no doubt this seems like a poor-man’s replacement).

518

According to the Toronto Star‘s Damien Cox, the Maple Leafs have targeted three potential players to bolster their lineup heading into next season.

For starters, the club is poised to make a run at impending unrestricted free agent defenseman Dan Hamhuis. Hamhuis is a good all-around defenseman who plays 21-22 minutes a night, makes a decent first pass, and can contribute a little bit in the offensive zone. His calling card is predominantly solid, if unspectacular even strength play, while eating up a ton of ice-time against the opposing team’s top lines. Still just 27 years of age, Hamhuis ranked 6th among NHL defenseman in takeaways last season. The potential link to Toronto is interesting because you’d think they’d already have enough money tied up on the blueline when Hamhuis could potentially be looking at upwards of $3 million on a long-term deal.

The team is also said to be kicking the tires on wingers Nathan Horton and Patrick Sharp, none of whom are strangers to the trade rumor mill. As mentioned previously, Horton has a no-trade clause that goes into effect on July 1st, which may motivate Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon to move the underachieving youngster at the draft. Meanwhile, Sharp is garnering plenty of interest around the league after an impressive point-a-game Stanley Cup run, but it’s likely that Chicago will exhaust all other possible trade alternatives before deciding to trade their valuable two-way forward.

182

According to the Daily Herald, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets are believed to have expressed serious interest in Chicago winger Patrick Sharp. The author explains that Sharp would likely bring the highest return of any of the Hawks’ players rumored to be on the trading block, in the form of a high draft pick of top prospect. One rival executive deemed Sharp to be “one of those players every team loves to have” and who has “no flaws in his game”.

The Toronto-Sharp connection has been red hot for over a year now, as the Daily Herald reported last summer that the Hawks and Leafs had already been discussing a potential swap. At the time, ESPN had speculated a return of an affordable defenseman along with a high end prospect. The 28 year old Sharp scored 25 goals and 66 points during the regular season, and stepped it up to the tune of 11 goals and 22 points during the Hawk’s Stanley Cup run.

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    6

    The Chicago Blackhawks are just 60 minutes away from drinking out of Lord Stanley, and it will be present at tonight’s game at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Should the Blackhawks win, it will be their first championship in 49 years.

    “It has been flashing in my head since Game 1 of the playoffs,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “Every time you win one game, it feels like you’re going all the way to the Cup. I’ve always said when you lose a game it feels like your season is going to be over. It just has been such a crazy ride.”

    126

    According to TSN, it’s looking like the 2010 free agent class could get a boost this summer when Hurricanes’ winger Ray Whitney hits the market on July 1st. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford is less than optimistic about his chances at re-signing the talented playmaker:

    “I think it will be difficult with where he will be at, contract-wise. I expect him to go into July. It appears that’s the way it’s going to go.”

    Could Whitney provide an interesting fit for the Maple Leafs?

    90

    It’s time for another draft profile, and Brock Beukeboom has the honour of being the first defenseman featured in our MLHS draft preview series. Ironically enough, Beukeboom is a physical blueliner with a “booming” point shot from Uxbridge, Ontario. Brock plays for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL and is the son of former Edmonton Oiler and 3-time Stanley Cup winning defenseman Jeff Beukeboom. Great bloodlines, offensive potential and the complete physical package should certainly pique the interest of Leafs’ scouts come draft day.

    201

    Ron Wilson, an alumnus from Providence College, was playing for Davos in the Swiss National League A in 1985 when pivotal Minnesota North Stars defenseman Craig Hartsburg was injured. Embroiled in a battle for a playoff spot, Minnesota were in tough to find a stabilizing replacement to hold down the North Stars backend whilst Hartsburg recovered. Ron Wilson, a standout collegiate defender who never rose above major league stopgap, became the go-to-guy having already played 13 games for the North Stars the season previous. A span that bullet pointed five seasons in Switzerland.

    A grizzled journeyman by age 30; Wilson would provide stellar coverage in Hartsburg’s absence securing an presence on the North Stars blueline in the 1986-’87 season before completing his NHL playing career with Minnesota a year later.

      254

      The news that the Tampa Bay Lightning have Dave Nonis at the top of their shortlist for general manager candidates was perhaps an instance of the inevitable. If Tampa or Nonis deem it not a right fit, we can only expect more of the same from other owners looking to fill vacant general manager positions.

      It was reported at the time of Nonis’ signing that a one-year clause was included to assure Nonis’ services belonged to the Leafs for 2009-10 at a minimum. When Nonis’ contractual obligation ends is unclear, but from Joe Nieuwendyk to Steffan Kronwall to Justin Pogge, it’s clear Burke will never step in the way of an employee’s desire to advance professionally.

      But not all hope is lost. First, let’s look at what the Leafs have in Nonis, and hopefully what they don’t end up losing.

      95

      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.  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.

        8

        The Playoffs are about to start and what better time than now for the CFB predictions. We highlight every series with individual writers giving their own opinion on why or how a particular team can win the series. This is the Round 1 Predictions for the Western Conference.

          15

          It’s that time of year again.  The most wonderful time of the year.  No, not Christmas, and no, you won’t see any of those silly Staples commercials.

          It’s time for the NHL playoffs.

          The annual spring tournament that features some of the most exciting hockey of the season.  It’s  triple overtime games that rage on long into the night, games so long that you’ll hope you saved some sick days.  It’s players skating through pain, all for the common goal of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

          And the great fans of the NHL, well they have the best seat in the house.

          Around this time of year, especially the first round, marriages are postponed.  Assignments are left on desks unfinished.  Scheduled are cleared, or built around.  Kiss your wife or girlfriend, and tell her you’ll see her in a few months, a better person than when you last saw her.

            13

            The Torontosaurus Rex for Week 23 is fitting and also notoriously absent from the only Leafs extra time loss in the last seven overtime/shootout games. In that loss, the Maple Leafs and Penguins tied a dubious NHL record, one night after the Leafs/Rangers surpassed 100 overtime games in the NHL this season.

              622

              The Leafs are looking to post their third straight win as they roll into Pittsburgh for this Sunday afternoon tilt.  On the surface, this may seem like a run-of-the-mill Sunday game as there is no obvious importance in a matchup between the defending Stanley cup champs and our basement-dwelling team.  However, there are a multitude of underlying storylines that should make this a very interesting game.

                118

                Submitted by Michael Stephens (a.k.a.  Baumgartner)

                Apparently Sidney Crosby still lives with Mario Lemieux. Anyone else find that weird? Dude, you’re almost 23. You’ve got a Stanley cup ring, an Olympic gold medal, an 8.7 million dollar per year salary (to say nothing of the endorsements). Damn man, move out already. But I digress…

                  565

                  Somewhat understandably, a great number of people will be upset with what ended up unfolding (or not unfolding) as Trade Deadline Day progressed, in particular with regard to Tomas Kaberle.

                  A new twist in the latest “will he or won’t he” saga involving a star player for the Toronto Maple Leafs kickstarted a ravenous day of trade rumours, one which ended disappointingly for all those who dared to believe that a King’s ransom was just around the corner.

                  However, things are never quite so simple as they first seem.  And where some are seething with rage, others are basking in the glow of a new-found respect for the class displayed today, for all of us to see, by both the player and the general manager in the face of the onslaught which predictably ensued.

                    520

                    Earlier today on a certain Toronto radio show, a grim portrait of Jonas Gustavsson’s future was painted, citing the 32 games he has appeared in so far in his career – most of those starts behind a lacklustre team – as evidence that he may never develop into the sort of goaltender the Leafs envisioned when signing him out of the Swedish Elite League.

                    The crux of the argument was that 32 games should be enough for Gustavsson to have shown some ability to adapt to goaltending coach Francois Allaire’s techniques, and that at 25 years of age it may be too late for him to make the necessary adjustments for NHL success.

                      48

                      Tyler Bozak now has 4 points in three NHL games as a Maple Leafs, and one of those points came last night in a 4-0 victory for the Maple Leafs over the Philadelphia Flyers. Bozak – known for his playmaking capabilities and hockey intelligence – was nothing short of flashy and brilliant on a play that few talented players can make. In one swift motion, he turned Ole-Kristian Tollefson inside out before beating Michael Leighton clean top shelf.

                        20

                        Former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph announced his retirement today. He was perhaps the single-biggest piece of the Leafs’ two runs to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999 and 2002. Joseph retires as the fourth-winningest goalie in NHL history with 454 victories.

                          191

                          The second half of the season is underway, and the Maple Leafs continue to struggle. Naturally, speculation has begun to shift to what can be done to improve the roster, and which buyers on the market may have interest in what the Leafs have to offer.