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Tim Brent

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    Anybody still want to debate the wisdom of starting Gustavsson against the Penguins?

    For my money, this was the right play.   Anyway you slice it, after a 2-0 start against two undermanned/terrible teams,  tonight’s game against the Penguins was set to be a measuring stick of sorts (despite the fact that they were somewhat undermanned themselves).  If Wilson runs his number one guy out there and he gets torched, the Leafs’ momentum comes to a crashing halt: we are measured, and found wanting.  Instead, the coach pitches the Monster at a talented (and desperate for a home win) Pittsburgh team, and sends a message to the rest of the squad: bring your lunchpail and hardhat, it will be necessary to win the little battles along the boards and elsewhere on the ice to have a chance at two points in this game.

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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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    Mike Brown

    Mike Brown

    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.

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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.

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      Not much to dislike about tonight’s performance as the Leafs get off to their best start to a season since the 1999-2000 campaign with a 5-1 win over the 0-2 Senators. The Leafs next travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday after a three-day break in what figures to be their toughest test of the young season.

      A few quick thoughts:

      Systematically, the forecheck was relentless and the defence looked as organized as it was disorganized this time last year. A full 60 minute effort, when it was tempting to let off in the third. Phil Kessel is looking stronger, better conditioned and even more lethal than where he left off last season. The four forward lines are clicking on all cylinders and serving their functions. The penalty kill is a night and day difference so far. The powerplay production/finishing is still lacking but it is showing serious signs of promise in terms of pressure, movement and the number of chances generated. Clarke MacArthur is not only living up to his top six billing so far in terms of goal output but is making a difference on a shift to shift basis, setting up the opener on a great pass to Kulemin out front. He, along with Kessel and Tim Brent are on pace for 82 this season (TSN’s player profiles don’t lie). Giguere should’ve had a shut out if it wasn’t for a fumble on the icing touch-up. Kaberle was brilliant and even shot the puck lots. Orr fought Carkner. Versteeg fought Fisher to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick. ‘Twas a good night.

      Highlights and stats pack courtesy of NHL.com after the jump. The event summary is here.

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      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.

      After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the new look squad hit the ice Thursday night for their home opener against the arch rival Montreal Canadiens, and with it marked the true dawning of a new age in Leafs Nation.

      While it’s true the hiring of Ron Wilson and Brian Burke will go down as the day the team began to turn the page on years of management misfortune, and the Dion Phaneuf day could very well end up being the trade that sparks the team forward much like the Doug Gilmour trade before it, Thursday night’s season premiere was really the first time since all this has taken place that it was truly a different roster.

      Gone were the incumbents of past regimes, It was finally Brian Burke’s team.  Having flipped the entire roster (sans Tomas Kaberle and Jeff Finger) Burke’s vision of the team could finally be implemented, his stamp beginning to form.

      And it was, for one game at least, as advertised.

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      It’ll probably be labeled as a “typical Leafs fan” debate given their status as lower roster players but there has been a number of questions arising out of yesterday’s demotion of Christian Hanson and Luca Caputi in favour of John Mitchell and Tim Brent… and rightfully so, in my opinion, given the “earn your spot mentality” conveyed by Leafs brass and that both followed the off-season regimens recommended to them and came into camp by storm looking bigger, faster, stronger and more dynamic offensively.

      While it’s too early to judge, I am not saying the decisions to originally sign either player in John Mitchell or Brett Lebda were wise; in the cap sense and numerically, both signings have me wondering, particularly in Lebda’s case. It’s hard to see where Burke arrived at the need for someone of Lebda’s ilk and price tag unless better offers were assumed to be incoming for Tomas Kaberle. But the decision made by coach Wilson yesterday, forgetting arguments about the off-season decisions and shifting to training camp and preseason, can be understood:

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      It is by no means the end of his career, strictly the next step.

      On Monday, Nazem Kadri, 7th overall selection in the 2009 draft, was assigned to the Toronto Marlies. The player in whom a whole city had welcomed, became enamoured with and inked into their own starting lineup will not appear at ACC at all… at least not yet. It will prove to be a powerful lesson for the 19 year old, if not the whole city of Toronto; the Toronto Maple Leafs are about winning hockey games, not necessarily selling tickets.

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      Here are tonight’s lines courtesy of Pension Plan Puppets:

      Versteeg – Bozak - Kessel
      MacArthur – Grabovski - Kulemin
      Sjostrom – Brent - Armstrong
      Orr – Zigomanis – Brown

      Beauchemin – Phaneuf
      Kaberle – Komisarek
      Gunnarsson – Schenn

      Giguere
      Gustavsson

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      Perhaps the best part about Nazem Kadri’s two-goal, three-point performance last night against the Ottawa Senators is that he can start the season with the Toronto Marlies with his head held high. Certainly, Leafs fans, management and Kadri alike will hope he can relay last night’s performance on the wing into another strong showing against Detroit on Friday and make a case for a place in the big Leafs’ top six for the October 7th date with the Habs. But should Kadri’s play return to the form he exhibited in previous preseason showings – by no means terrible, but not as impressive as it will take – he can take solace and confidence in last night’s achievements and start off on the right foot at the Ricoh.

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      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 ‘oh, the water’s cold, I’ll wait until it warms up a bit’. Nope, you’re diving in and the guys who didn’t, as [Leafs' GM Brian Burke] said, they’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.

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      The shoe is on the other hoof for tonight’s Leafs-Sabres rematch at the ACC as the Leafs are putting just about their best foot forward and the Sabres are sitting much of their core group. The Leafs will dress their complete top six on the back end, with Kaberle-Komisarek, Phaneuf-Gunnarsson, and Beauchemin-Schenn making up the pairings. Jonas Gustavsson will go the distance in net and a near-complete four lines (with one question mark remaining at the third line centre position) will dress up front. The full line-ups and a few notes are after the jump.

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      The Leafs won a game in the shootout. I’m as confused as you are. It was certainly an interesting one, going for 11 rounds before Colby Armstrong put Philadelphia out of their misery. Here are my game notes:

      - The goaltending was great for the Leafs tonight, with Reimer in particular having a very strong performance. Both goals for Philly were flukey and both goalies played strong positional games. The shootout in particular was very impressive for Reimer, showing off his fast reflexes. Reimer is becoming a top goaltending prospect for the Leafs and his year with the Marlies should be very interesting.

      Bring On Training Camp!

      The Toronto Maple Leafs held their on-ice portion of training camp today. Players have been split into three squads to accommodate the 63 players invited to camp.

      Among the contingent of fans outside the ice surface at the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence was a throng of media and of course, Leafs staff.

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      And here you thought a magazine couldn't have add-on features.

      Midway through the month of July, I had the privilege of chatting with Dave Poulin, Vice President of Hockey Operations with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for an article appearing in Maple Leafs Annual.

      Having a professional background in publishing, I was not the least surprised that limitations on available space, plus design and layout constraints, resulted in the necessity to crop certain parts of the interview.

      With the Annual due to hit stores next week, I thought I’d share a few of the “lost excerpts” from the cutting room floor in which Poulin offers his thoughts on the progress of the Toronto Marlies, as well as the emergence of the NCAA as a growing prospect pipeline.

      Think of it as the equivalent of a “DVD extra” to your copy of MLA.

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      It was no less than two months ago that I was pondering this same question, that of captaincy, and examining the same factors. Thinking of all the tangibles – speed, talent and scoring – along with attributes that are harder to judge – the ability to command the respect of the team, lead with strength of character and handle the Toronto media through success and failure. The lone difference is that last time, it was the Leafs.

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      - 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.

      [email protected]

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      Now that the Leafs’ most important pending free agent — goaltender Jonas Gustavsson — has been signed to a two-year contract extension, it is time to take a look at their remaining free agent players.

      Notably, the list of expiring contracts includes pending RFAs Nikolai Kulemin, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell. Pending UFAs on the Leafs’ roster include Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin, Jamie Lundmark, Garnet Exelby and Mike Van Ryn.