To say the least, it was a disappointing weekend in Leaf land. A decent effort Saturday versus the Canucks was spoiled, Kadriâ€™s season debut will mostly be remembered for losing the puck on a 3-on-1, and ex-Leaf Viktor Stalberg scored his 6th goal of the season for the Blackhawks…in overtime…with Brian Burke in attendance.
The Maple Leafsâ€™ losing streak ballooned to 8 games after falling to the Canucks on a weak goal on J.S. Giguere in the third period Saturday. Giguere made some big saves throughout the game, but couldnâ€™t make an easy one in the end. Perhaps Brett Lebda should have gotten his stick out of the way, but itâ€™s still one that Giguereâ€™s got to have. I still think Jonas Gustavsson should be getting more games in goal.
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.
Trades are never won or lost when initially made, and tonight’s multi-player deal with Chicago is the very embodiment of that fact. Analyzing a deal that sent Kris Versteeg and Bill Sweatt to Toronto for Viktor Stalberg, Phillippe Paradis and Chris Didomenico involves a lot of subjective potential measurement. Â Making the task more difficult is that two teams often come together to execute a trade for very different reasons in a salary cap era.
On the eve of unrestricted free agency, the Maple Leafs made a big first move to upgrade their forward group. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the club has swung a deal to acquire Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg and prospect Billy Sweatt in exchange for winger Viktor Stalberg, along with forward prospects Chris Didomenico and Philipe Paradis.
Versteeg, still just 24 years of age, will instantly become a big component of the Maple Leafs’ core moving forward. He has two seasons of 20+ goals under his belt already, and is under contract for two more years at $3.08 million per season.
Meanwhile, Sweatt, the Blackhawks’ 2007 2nd round pick, was ranked as the 7th best prospect in the Chicago farm system by Hockey’s Future. He is described as a talented two-way player with top end speed and finishing ability on the rush. By all accounts, Sweatt is also an excellent defensive player and effective penalty killer, which should ease the pain of losing Paradis.
It was a quiet Day One at the 2010 NHL Draft for the Maple Leafs, but the team stepped up its game in a big way on Saturday afternoon. The club wheeled and dealed its way into the 2nd round of the draft and through some crafty maneuvering in the later rounds, managed to add seven new players into the organization.
The Leafs were able to significantly upgrade their depth up front, by grabbing six forwards to go with one defenseman. Surprisingly, Leafs’ Swedish scout Thommie Bergman had a big day, selecting three players from the Swedish leagues.
Strengths: Prior to the start of this season, the Leafs prospect list was a list full of question marks. But it has become clear that the Leafs at the very least have some talent to work with in the coming seasons. First and foremost would be OHL star Nazem Kadri, who has come on in the second half of the season after a slow start in London. Two other forwards that appear to have a future with the Leafs are former collegians Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg. Jerry D’Amigo, one of the stars for Team USA at the 2010 WJC, is another promising forward currently in the college ranks. The acquisition of Luca Caputi adds another solid forward with some size, a trait valued by Leafs’ GM Brian Burke. In goal, Jonas Gustavsson has emerged as a legitimate future starter.Â Weaknesses: Where the Leafs may lack future support is along the blueline, with trade deadline acquisition Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson representing the only current prospects of real magnitude at defense. But, considering where the Leafs were after last season, the future is looking brighter. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nazem Kadri, C, 2. Jonas Gustavsson, G, 3. Tyler Bozak, C, 4. Carl Gunnarsson, D, 5. Viktor Stalberg, LW -Hockey’s Future
Of no surprise is that signings Jonas Gustavsson and Tyler Bozak played a major role in boosting the Leafs up the rankings. That’s not to say that they don’t count the same as key young assets, but both Gus and Bozak will not qualify for this list next season after turning 24 and/or surpassing the 65 game mark of their NHL careers. To see Stalberg and Gunnarsson listed in the top five of a sixth-ranked prospect group as former sixth and seventh round picks respectively certainly represents some form of silver lining from John Ferguson Jr’s reign.
The author’s omission of the name Jesse Blacker in assessing our blueline depth weakness was curious to me. After standout performances at the rookie tournament in Kitchener in September, Blacker notched 30 points in 48 games following a trade request to the Owen Sound attack from Windsor in search of increased playing time. Granted, past Aulie and Blacker among players yet to feature in a Leaf uniform, depth certainly does thin out, and this is likely a priority for Burke with the remaining picks he has to work with come June 25.
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.
While Hockey’s Future has yet to release their top 10 organizational prospect rankings, the highly-respected source for prospect information has released their 11-20 and 21-30 lists. To the pleasant surprise of many, the Leafs aren’t on either of them.
Adding to the joy, division rivals Buffalo, Montreal and Ottawa have all already appeared in the 13th, 16th and 21st positions respectively.
With the final bell about to ring season most fans would be happy to forget – although the impending draft all but dictates they most assuredly will not – the Maple Leafs will officially enter the offseason five campaigns removed from the playoffs at the conclusion of Saturday night’s game in Montreal.
Unlike previous years, however, this season has revealed to fans — amidst the rubble of far too many losses — a silver lining of sorts: the promise of youth.
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.
It’s special this week because most have seen him already in blue and white. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this next Stalberg Prospect Report should be worth about 100,000 .. here you are folks, from the talented Bloge Salming.
Prior to the lockout, undrafted college free agents were a rare, straight to NHL commodity. Either serving out their apprenticeships as minor league signees or plying their trade overseas, few players transitioned directly from the ranks of college hockey to the NHL without enduring prolonged development curves. However, in a post-lockout landscape where GMâ€™s clutch their most valued assets and superstars to their clubs with dynasty length deals, and where dollars and ice time are apportioned in equilibrium, graduate aged (or younger) players progressing from the NCAA as free agents are providing comparatively cheap labour in an increasingly scrutinized marketplace.
Not too surprisingly, considering both his hockey heritage as a former captain of the Providence College Friars and his somewhat condensed timetable for rebuilding the Leafs, Brian Burke has been one of the first to plunder the verdant college market in recent seasons, in turn providing a quantum shift from the conventional dominance of the CHL at the junior level.
Phil Kessel has but one point in five games against his former side while recurrent Leafs nightmare Tuukka Rask, league leader in goals against average and save percentage, stands 3-1-0 against the club that drafted him. This match-up tonight marks the final opportunity this season to get a little bit of that sour taste out of the fan base’s collective mouth and perhaps symbolize that we, too, can make good trades.
Irwin that is. It was reported last night that the Maple Leafs had agreed to terms with 23 year old free agent forward Brayden Irwin, a former teammate of Viktor Stalberg at the University of Vermont. Irwin is Toronto native power forward, standing at 6’5 215 lbs, but does possess a bit of skill, a good shot and skates well for his size. He had a breakout 2009-2010 campaign in which he recorded 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 39 games played, totals that would surpass his two previous seasons combined. Irwin also leads his team in shots, penalty minutes and boasts a team-best 55% win percentage in the faceoff circle. Irwin struggled through a terrible junior season, but Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon believed from the start of the year that Irwin had all the tools to become one of the top players in the league. Guess he wasn’t too far off.
While it’s not quite as high profile a signing as Minny’s Casey Wellman, it’s still a step in the right direction: the accumulation of free assets, in this case a player with some interesting skill and size. Personally, I’m still holding out for New Hampshire sniper Bobby Butler or my personal favourite from this year’s crop: Stephane Da Costa out of Merrimack College.
First and foremost, let me apologize for my absence. Â As some of you may know, I am in school completing my Sports Marketing degree, and things have gotten really hectic in crunch time. Â I am also organizing a golf tournament for this summer in Strathroy, Ontario. Â Anyone who would like to golf can get in touch with me anytime.
You know, another season of hockey is winding down.Â At least, it is in Toronto with the Maple Leafs.Â While the sun has been shining and treating us to above average weather the past week or so, it does come at a price.
It has become all to accustomed.Â As soon as the sun begins to melt the snow, and the grey, dull sky is replaced by a ray of sunlight, you know that the Maple Leafs arenâ€™t long for this world.Â That the season is just about wrapped up, and lockers will soon be cleaned.
We have all had a few days to digest Sunday’s trades, but there is still a well of untapped implications. Â Here’s a closer look at the forwards involved: both the outgoing Leafs and our lone newcomer. Â Be sure to check out Garrett’s excellent pre-game analysis here before tonight’s tilt with the New Jersey Devils.