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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. Â 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.
The wait is over. After yet another long off-season following a fifth consecutive year of missing out on the NHL post-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are set to kick off the 2010-11 season against their oldest rival, the Montreal Canadiens.
Both teams have undergone an off-season where – despite the lack of a full-scale overhaul – crucial moves were made to bring in key players or (in Montreal’s case) provide a better opportunity for players already in the organization. Gone from the 2009-10 Toronto lineup are Viktor Stalberg, Rickard Wallin and Keith Primeau, replaced by Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, and Brett Lebda. In Montreal, the most impactful move was the trade of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St Louis in exchange for Lars Eller, a move which paves the way for Carey Price to assert his standing among starting NHL netminders.
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 allâ€¦ 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.
As we await the season opener for the big club, let’s see how some of the kids are doing:
- Greg McKegg is off to an excellent start with 8 points in 5 games played for the Erie Otters. Greg recorded two shorthanded goals and added another assist for good measure in a 5-2 win last night over the London Knights. McKegg is currently tied for 5th overall in OHL scoring.
- Brad Ross has also started well out of the gate with 4 goals and 5 points in 3 games played for the Portland Winterhawks. Without Nino Niederreiter and possibly Ryan Johansen this season, Ross will be counted upon to shoulder a much bigger offensive load. He’s responded well so far, taking a hold of the team’s scoring lead in addition to posting a team best +5 rating.
- Jesse Blacker is back with the Owen Sound Attack and has 2 points through 2 games played. It’s clear that Blacker has plenty of offensive potential, but he will have to work at rounding out the other areas of his game and improve upon last year’s team worst -22 rating.
- The Toronto Marlies have started their hockey season on a positive note with back to back preseason wins over the Rochester Americans. Forward Marcel Mueller has been an absolute force so far, recording 4 goals and 1 assist for 5 points through the pair of games. The much maligned Mikhail Stefanovich will look for a big rebound year and is off to a good start with a pair of goals in the preseason opener. James Reimer was the winning goaltender on Friday while Ben Scrivens stopped 21 of 24 shots for the victory on Saturday. Toronto will open the season Saturday, October 9th against the Rochester Americans at the Ricoh Coliseum.
Here are tonight’s lines courtesy of Pension Plan Puppets:
Versteeg – BozakÂ - Kessel
MacArthur – GrabovskiÂ - Kulemin
Sjostrom – BrentÂ - Armstrong
Orr – Zigomanis – Brown
Beauchemin – Phaneuf
Kaberle – Komisarek
Gunnarsson – Schenn
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.
Darcy Tucker has officially called it a career. “After spending the whole summer anticipating I would play, it got to a point where I knew it was time.”
“I just knew, during workouts I didn’t have that same feeling,” Tucker told TSN, “and I needed to be fair with my family.”
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.
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.
Hey, let’s get this straight right off the bat: it sucks to lose 5-0 to the Ottawa Senators. Â Any day of the year, any type of game. Â There will undoubtedly be at least one mainstream media headline out there along the lines of: “Leafs back to losing ways”. Â But a step back will tell us this is the first of a whopping nine exhibition matches Toronto will be playing and a ton can (and probably will) change in the next two weeks.
After months of nothing but Kaberle rumours and Grabovski lawsuits, Leafs Nation will finally get a glimpse of their 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs.Â Being the first game of the preseason, Toronto is going with a healthy mix of youngsters, borderliners, and veterans.Â Luckily, fans will not have to wait to see most of the new Leafs (Clarke MacArthur excepted) as off-season acquisitions Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown and Lebda will all be hitting the ice.
A quick note:
I’ll be attending the on-ice portions of training camp on the weekend. I’ll do a blog about the day that will be a little different from the traditional coverage. If you want to know what Grabovski said, or how Kaberle felt … well, there’s other outlets for that. Here, I’m hoping to provide a different outlook of the camp that doesn’t get touched upon by traditional coverage.
Contrary to numerous but erroneous reports this morning that he had succumbed to his battle with lung cancer, Pat Burns is still alive at his home in Quebec with his family.
Apparently, Burns has even had a little fun with all of the reports, telling Bob McKenzie;
“Here we go again. They’re trying to kill me before I’m dead. I come to Quebec to spend some time with my family and they say I’m dead. I’m not dead, far (expletive) from it. They’ve had me dead since June. Tell them I’m alive. Set them straight.”
Image c/o J.P. Nikota / PensionPlanPuppets.com
“Being a kid growing up just outside Toronto, you always want to play for your team you watched growing up, and Toronto’s my team.”
It was one of the last things Andrew Engelage said after a lengthy discussion at the Ricoh Coliseum, but it definitely resonated the loudest.
There’s nothing quite like the story of the home-grown athlete. Everyone likes asking Oakville’s John Mitchell what it’s like to put on the Leafs sweater every day, or trying to find some way to relate to Jesse Blacker’s being drafted by his local club. But when adversity is thrown into the mix, when a player has to go through some degree of hardship to make it to not only the level he wants to be, but for the team he wants to play for, that’s when a story becomes a best seller.
The following is a live, up to the minute game blog featuring the rookie tournament game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Â Remember to hit refresh for the latest updates.
As much as I tried to just sit back and enjoy the game as a fanÂ last night, I couldn’t help but take a few notes (this might have been because we ended up sittingÂ among the scouts). So without further ado, here are a few additional observationsÂ from last night’s tournament opener to supplement Derek Harmsworth’s excellent coverage.
The following is live, up to the minute coverage of today’s rookie tournament game between the Ottawa Senators and the Chicago Blackhawks. Â Remember to refresh the page to get the latest updates.
After the jump, Derek Harmsworth recaps last night’s action in the NHL Rookie tournament, including locker room access, and looks ahead to today’s action.
The following is an up to the minute, live game blog of tonight’s rookie tournament game featuring the Chicago Blackhawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Â Remember to hit refresh to see the absolute latest updates.
Finally the day many of us have been waiting for has arrived. Â The NHL Toronto Maple Leafs rookie tournament kicks off this afternoon in London, Ontario, and for many it’s a chance to catch on ice hockey for the first time in quite a while.
Today’s action features the Pittsburgh Penguins rookies taking on the Ottawa Senators rookies in afternoon action. Â Also on the bill today, the Maple Leafs rookies will play the Chicago Blackhawks rookies in the nightcap.
Here is all you need to know about today’s games.
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