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.
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.
Pension Plan Puppets’ Chemmy has the details on why turn-coating for the Habs for the sake of returning the Cup to Canada is staggeringly ludicrous. Here’s why, if you must cheer for someone (a better alternative: perusing Down Goes Brown‘s youtube Wendel collection for your spring-time fix), the Hawks are your safest bandwagon to board while maintaining some sense of pride and loyalty:
Tonight, the Buds and Habs are set to battle it out and put their win streaks on the line. The Leafs are 5-1-0 in their last 6 outings, while the Canadiens are riding an impressive 6 game string of victories. With Toronto now over 0.500 at home (15-14-5), they are looking to play the role of heartbreakers this season, and what better way to continue doing so then by throwing a big fat L at Montreal tonight?
Picking up on the “defenseman for a forward” trade offer that Burke received the other day, ESPN’s Al Cimaglia speculated on a possible fit with the Chicago Blackhawks. After accomodating the acquisition of Hossa and the significant raises to Versteeg, Bolland and Barker, the Hawks find themselves pressed right up against the cap and still requiring a tough, stay at home defender. With Burke having up to six NHL defensive defensemen on his roster right now, Cimaglia suggested the newly acquired Garnet Exelby as a possible fit since he’s young, cheap and would fit the mold of what GM Dave Tallon is looking for to round out his defense core.
After taking a short pause to catch his breath after the Jonas Gustavsson deal was all sewn up, GM Brian Burke got right back down to business, as the Toronto Star is reporting that he placed calls to six free agent forwards. His top two priorities at the moment include a skilled forward for the top six group, and a versatile player for the bottom six group that will contribute to the team’s penalty kill. Briefly skimming through the list of free agent forwards still available, I’m going to toss out the names PJ Axelsson and Tom Kostopoulous into the already rumored group of Manny Malholtra, Blair Betts and Travis Moen. As a 29 year old, 6’3 210 lb player from Western Canada, Betts was the #1 forward on the league’s #1 PK unit last season for the Rangers.
The Leafs have a tad over $3M left to play with this offseason, and Burke mentioned that he had received a significant offer for one of his defenseman not named Kaberle, in a deal that would involve a forward coming back with a greater salary. So he’s going to have to weigh his options over the next few days, as he prioritizes how to allocate the remaining cap space.
4 years at one million per season. Rumours that Chris Neil and Travis Moen could be next… the theme is obvious here.
Some quick rumour updates entering the final stretch before the free agent spending spree begins.
In the MLSE land of unreasonable expectations, even a superstar troupe like Burke and Wilson will not be afforded another record breaking season; at least not if said record is a fifth consecutive season of playoff free hockey. Subsequently Burke is going to be looking for a catalyst to the rebuilding project come summer and the most obvious route will arrive in early July, not a week earlier in Montreal.
So you’re Brian Burke and it’s July 1st.
Who do you go after? And what is the contract you offer?