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Wilson

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Phil Kessel made a statement today. A big one. It’s now put Brian Burke between a rock and a hard place. A decision must be made and it looks as though the Leafs (arguably) best sniper has put that responsibility on Brian Burke and only Brian Burke.

“It’s not working out here,” said a frustrated Kessel after being demoted to the third line during practice on Sunday. He’s now sitting on the right wing of one Darryl Boyce and one Joey Crabb. “Maybe there needs to be a change.”

Phil Kessel has sounded an alarm today, and all Leafs fans should be listening.

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After surviving fans literally chanting for his head at the ACC, receiving the backing of Brian Burke with a very believable reaffirmation and absorbing the endless abuse from fans on every Leaf related website on the internet, Ron Wilson is still left standing.  The scape goat that the entire Leafs Nation wanted to noose for their team’s lousy performance coupled with the potential consecutive lottery pick finishes without possessing a lottery pick seems to be getting the last laugh. Burke did the right thing by refusing to scapegoat Wilson.  Will he now retain Wilson for next season and possibly sign an extension for beyond?

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Nick Kypreos has tweeted this little gem today:

#Leafs put Jeff Finger on #NHL waivers today.

This finally puts an end to the long period of speculation over the future of Jeff Finger. When he clears tomorrow, it will be interesting to see where he ends up playing. Renegotiating with another NHL team or even playing in Europe would perhaps be more entertaining to Finger but wouldn’t be the wise financial move as he’d have to opt out of his current contract by not reporting to the Marlies. While Wilson has been adamant that a return to the NHL this season isn’t an impossibility, it seems Finger will be left to lead a Marlies team that has started with a 0-2 record.

Where would you like to see Finger play?

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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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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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Coming off a tough shootout loss against the Flyers last night, the Leafs will look to rebound on the road against the Sabres tonight at HSBC Arena. Despite blowing a late third period lead, there was a lot to like about the Leafs’ performance, including a strong bounce back game from captain Dion Phaneuf and spurts of brilliance from the club’s new top line of Versteeg, Bozak and Kessel. The Buds will be in tough tonight against the Sabres, who will be icing a lineup very similar to the one they will open the season with.

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An intriguing top line of Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel will feature in tonight’s rematch with the Flyers following the Leafs’ 11-round shootout win over Philadelphia last night at the John Lebatt Centre in London. The trio is the most skilled iteration of forwards the Leafs’ roster has to offer, and combined with Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle on the blueline (who will also dress) represent an interesting potential powerplay option for coach Wilson. The results with the man advantage tonight, then, will be well worth monitoring.

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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.

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Day Two of on-ice participation is now in the books .. the sessions all had a purpose, as camp not only winds down, but clear decisions need to be made on who will remain with the main roster and who will be going to the Marlies or back to their original junior team.

A breakdown of the drills and more observations from the intra squad game after the jump.

Sunday Training Camp Day 2 practice

Teams A and B practiced with Team A on the main ice. (Breakdown of teams is here.

The drills weren’t very different from the previous days, they all focused on a real-game situation and the coaching staff made variations along the way.

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Leafs Preseason Synopsis Part 1  – Defense and Goaltending

By: Michael Cuttell

With free agency cooling off and countless free-agent and team roster questions floating around, it’s time for Leafs fans to look at what they have, what they can afford to lose , what they need, and what they can realistically get to fill those needs. This is a step by step speculative analysis of those questions.

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Maybe it was indicative of how fragile the Leafs psyche had become after relinquishing such an unexpectedly high draft pick to the Bruins, or maybe it was just a reaction to the mid-summer boredom brought upon as the Kovalchuk saga stop-gaped the NHL trade wires, but the recent trade rumours surrounding Luke Schenn suggests a seismic shift has taken place in Leafs Nation with regards to the future and how to obtain long sought after success.

One that seems to have embraced a cap defiant means of rebuilding in an age of tank-to-win.

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It’s not every day the Maple Leafs name a new captain. In fact, it’s not every decade. Sundin was named in 1997, 13 years prior to the Leafs appointment of Phaneuf. And with the announcement being made in front of a room of roughly 100 media personnel, the message was relayed to the world using every different angle imaginable.

Instead of weighing the pros and cons, balancing the collective good choices of Burke and Wilson against the bad, MLHS is going to bring you into the event. Thousands of writers have provided their opinion but little time has been spent enabling the reader to form their own. So please, if you will, grab your notepad and follow us past the security and the media media check-in, and into the press conference that will see Dion Phaneuf named the 18th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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    We’ve partnered up with Pension Plan Puppets to bring to you a Player Review series, where we will be evaluating and grading the 2009-10 season for every Leaf who featured in a significant number of games for the Blue and White last season, with an eye towards 2010-11. Today we feature Garnet Exelby, profiled by Alex Tran.

    The Summary: Exelby came to Toronto from Atlanta as part of the Pavel Kubina trade last summer, when Brian Burke needed to clear cap space for the free agency season. Essentially viewed as a salary dump with one year left on his contract, Exelby was given a shot to show Leafs’ management that he could contribute to the team as a useful third pairing defender. But when you’re ranked 6th on the defensive depth chart for the 2nd worst defensive team in the NHL, you can imagine expectations were already pretty low.

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    According to TSN, it’s looking like the 2010 free agent class could get a boost this summer when Hurricanes’ winger Ray Whitney hits the market on July 1st. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford is less than optimistic about his chances at re-signing the talented playmaker:

    “I think it will be difficult with where he will be at, contract-wise. I expect him to go into July. It appears that’s the way it’s going to go.”

    Could Whitney provide an interesting fit for the Maple Leafs?

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    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 Hartsburg’s absence securing an presence on the North Stars blueline in the 1986-’87 season before completing his NHL playing career with Minnesota a year later.

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    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.

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      As the playoff hopes gradually continue to fade for even the most optimistic of fans, the focal point of the Maple Leafs over the last few weeks has been on the stellar play of several key young players. Bozak, Kulemin and Kessel have been dynamic and dangerous in spurts as the team’s first line, building chemistry together and showing real signs of promise. Caputi, Hanson and Stalberg are giving indications that they could be part of a solid supporting cast someday, with strong board play, good size and tenacity in chasing down loose pucks. On the back end, Gunnarsson has been nothing short of a tremendous surprise, coming in mid-year as a 23 year old rookie, but playing with the poise of a 10-year veteran in over 21 minutes a night. But today, the focus will be on the more subtle progression of a another young blueliner who is reminding Toronto fans why the team took him with its highest draft selection in 20 years.

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        Although the Maple Leafs did not dip into the trade waters just yet, there were a couple events of importance that may determine how the next two days will shake out:

        - Alexei Ponikarovsky left practice with a knee injury but did later return to finish it, albeit gingerly. Nearing its conclusion, he did head into the locker room accompanied by the team’s trainers, but it appears as if he was walking under his own power. Needless to say, any potential injury scares may affect the number of bidding for the Ukranian winger, particularly if teams are unable to get one last look at him on Tuesday night.

        - The Penguins swung a trade for some veteran help on the blueline, sending a 2010 2nd round pick to the Panthers for Jordan Leopold. Later on during the day, the Predators sent their 2010 2nd round pick to the Oilers for Grebeshkov. This certainly puts an interesting twist on things if you believe the rumors and speculation. The Leafs were apparently offered a 2nd round pick and prospect for Ponikarovsky a few weeks ago, but now two of the most prominent teams mentioned in rumors (Pittsburgh this year and Nashville at last year’s deadline) have dealt that selection away.

        With Wilson, Burke and Kessel all taking the day to fly back from Vancouver, we might expect to finally see some action on Tuesday.

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          While the Maple Leafs struggled through a horrific 3-10-2 record to start the new year at the NHL level, many of the organization’s top young prospects enjoyed a very productive month of January on the scoresheet. Jerry D’Amigo (left) continued to build off a strong World Junior tournament, Mikhail Stefanovich seemed to finally turn the corner, while Nazem Kadri took his game up to that dominant level we all know he’s capable of.