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Things may be relatively quiet in Leafs Nation these days, but that doesn’t mean there has been a lack of excitement elsewhere in the NHL.
As such, here are a few quick takes on some of the headlines dominating the NHL landscape these days (including the Phoenix Coyotes situation, the Patrice Cormier charges, and Willie Mitchell’s controversial comments),Â as well as a quick glance at the nearly-completed 2nd round of the NHL playoffs.
After stockpiling up on picks during the past couple drafts as well as cornering the European and college free agent markets, the Maple Leafs’ farm system is beginning to reap the rewards of unprecedented depth and talent. In the first installment of our MLHS “Prospect Season in Review” series, I’ll be taking a look at three of the team’s top prospects: Kenny Ryan, James Reimer, and Joel Champagne.
Dave Nonis on his new two-year contract extension with Toronto:
“I’m very lucky. I have more to say about our team than some GMs do,” said Nonis of his unique position as Brian Burke’s right hand man. “It’s not a job that’s comparable with other positions around the league.”
“If you look at our roster now and compare it to 16 months ago, it’s not only different, it’s younger and better,” he said. “But we’ve still got lots of work to do. The job is not done by a longshot. There are more pieces to add.”
-Toronto Star’s Damien Cox
Cox reports that one of those pieces may be 25-year-old center Roman Cervenka of Czech club HC Slavia Praha, perhaps familiar to you from his international appearances alongside Jaromir Jagr on Czech Republic’s Olympic side in February.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Leafs vice president of hockey operations Dave Nonis is on the verge of agreeing to terms with the organization on a contract extension that will see him stay in Toronto at least through the 2011-2012 season.
For the last several weeks, it’s been rumored that Nonis was among the top candidates on the shortlist for Tampa Bay’s vacant GM position, but he has now apparently pulled out of the running. Looks like Brian Burke gets to keep his right hand man for the foreseeable future. Nice signing.
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 Hartsburgâ€™s absence securing an presence on the North Stars blueline in the 1986-â€™87 season before completing his NHL playing career with Minnesota a year later.
Note: With the playoffs being the focus of the hockey world right now, there isn’t a whole lot of big stories breaking in Leafland these days. As such, I’ll be helping out Alec with his “Bits & Pieces” articles, touching briefly on various topics, and providing the occasional draft primer for the Entry Draft this coming June.
This session’s topics include the Phoenix Coyotes, Mike Komisarek and 2010 draft prospect Joey Hishon.
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.
During his first full year at the helm in Toronto, you could make the case that Brian Burke was the league’s most active general manager. There was the Kessel summer blockbuster with Boston and then the mega-deals on January 31st that brought in Phaneuf and Giguere. It’s quite obvious that he’s willing to expend assets to target any top notch premium young talent when it’s made available. Both of those trades were opportunities: Kessel was a restricted free agent on a team with cap issues. Burke often spoke of inquiring on Phaneuf several times throughout the year until the “pressure points” of the cap and the struggles of the Flames pushed Sutter into making a bold move. This summer should be no different. Let’s take a look at some of the young RFA’s that might potentially attract Burke’s interest.
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.
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.
Brian Burke has picked up yet another wallet. According to a Finnish report, the Toronto Maple Leafs have agreed to terms on a two year deal with Finnish free agent goaltender Jussi RynnÃ¤s. Jussi is still just 22 years of age, and is coming off a stellar year in the Finnish SM-Liiga in which he posted a 2.50 GAA and a 0.929 SV%. RynnÃ¤s is still at least a couple years away from being NHL-ready, and will start next season splitting time with James Reimer for the Toronto Marlies. Jussi was arguably this year’s most coveted free agent goaltender, along with NCAA netminder Ben Scrivens, whom the Leafs had also been linked to over the past couple weeks.
Is it just me, or has the hockey season passed us by far quicker than usual? It seems like I just finished making arrangements for the home opener against Hamilton (which, might I add was a win) and here I am already looking back at the season that was.
It was an absolute blur of call-ups and injuries. The bright young stars that comprised the frat-pack line (Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg) all found their way up to the Leafs. Carl Gunnarsson, the player I was most keen on going into the season, left the Marlies early on for the big club and never looked back.
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.
Some reading material for your weekend enjoyment:
- The boys over at PPP provide us with a nice piece about European free agent goaltender Jussi Rynnas. The 6’5 22 year old is coming off an impressive season in the Finnish Elite League, posting a 2.50 GAA to go along with a league-best 0.929 SV%. For comparison’s sake: Mikka Kiprusoff posted a 1.86 GAA and 0.936 SV% during his age 22-23 season in the SM-Liiga. Jussi is in the midst of a five city North American tour, with Toronto not being one of the destinations. However, Burke and Nonis have both made the trip out to Helsinki and later brought Francois Allaire along to speak with Rynnas during his stopover in Montreal. Rynnas is not as highly regarded as Gustavsson was last offseason, and will likely be playing for an AHL team next season. The scouting report on him is that he’s a big guy who can struggle at times with rebound control and positioning, much like our own Gustavsson, and his style of play has been compared to that of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.
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.
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.
As you are no doubt well aware, the NHL draft lottery will be held tonight in New York to determine the order of the 14 non-playoff teams heading into the June 25-26 draft in Los Angeles. You can catch coverage of the lottery at 8pm on TSN.
And the winner is … Edmonton. Â Leafs fans, prepare yourselves to endure “Kessel Trade” debates for the better part of the next decade.
Line-up Note: Tim Brent has been recalled from the Marlies and will feature tonight. He has recorded 26 points in 35 games this season, third on the team among active Marlies. Caputi or Primeau will sit according to AM640′s Jonas Siegel.
The planets have aligned and the gods of hockey have shined their countenance upon the Leafs. Considering of course the various permutations that have to yet play out, it could still end up for nought at the close of play Sunday night. But after a favourable series of results, Toronto now has the chance to topple the Montreal Canadiens wavering playoff aspirations and boy do they owe the fans a blistering performance to give the Leafs faithful some tangible highlight from a season resplendent in lows.
Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to even themselves up with a few clubs by securing two points in a win against the Philadelphia Flyers in their final home game of the season. Meanwhile, Philly is trying to keep their playoff hopes alive in a crucial night in which the Rangers, who trail the Flyers by two points, are also playing and looking to oust the Flyers from the post-season picture.
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