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One of the more interesting subplots to the Maple Leafs’ 2010-11 preseason has been the Michael Liambas situation. Offered a tryout – amidst much fanfare – in time for the team’s annual Rookie Camp, the infamous winger was ultimately released on Thursday, during the first round of cuts at the NHL training camp.

Ordinarily, such a move would be regarded as no more than a footnote, a regular or even “to be expected” occurrence which takes place in any training camp. But Liambas’ situation was – and remains – anything but ordinary.

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I was recently invited to a Canadian Tire press conference announcing their new five-year partnership with the NHL to become the League’s Official Sporting Goods Retailer of the NHL in Canada. While I was unable to attend the event, which included a one-on-one interview with Olympic Gold Medalist and Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Toews, the promotion company generously offered a media release for the site.

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Somewhat surprisingly, there has been a fair amount of debate over yesterday’s signing of Colby Armstrong.

I find this interesting because  much of the criticism seems to revolve around the notion of $3m equating to more than a 15 goal career average, even though Armstrong wasn’t exactly acquired for his offensive prowess.   The main criticism seems to be, why would the team be willing to make a $9 million investment over 3 years, when similar production can likely be found at a cheaper rate?

Now, it seems most decided to stop at that point and take the easy road; that being negativity for the sake of negativity (a known idiosyncrasy of Canadian hockey fans).  But instead of screaming “WHY did they sign him?”, I propose a different question:  Why DID they sign him?

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Whitby born, Ryan Hamilton has signed a 1-year, 2-way deal worth $500k (at NHL level) with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hamilton, who came to the Leafs organization in a trade with the NHL Wild (AHL Aeros) during the 08/09 season, was scheduled to test the free agent market if unable to resign with Toronto.

Though he finished the season leading the team in goals and among the top-five in assists, Hamilton’s contribution to the Toronto AHL club is far deeper than what can be recorded on score card.

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JESSE BLACKER (#21) – D
Date of Birth: April 19, 1991
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Height: 6'2" | Weight: 190lbs | Shoots: Right
Drafted: Toronto's 3rd Choice, 58th Overall, in 2009
Price Tag: AHL $67,500 | NHL $640,000
Signed Through: 2013

Career Notes:

  • Won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in 2009
  • Lead all Owen Sound defensemen during 09/10 in goals (6), assists (24) and points (30)
  • Made his AHL debut on March 20th 2010 vs. Hamilton
  • Registered one assist and a plus-two rating in first AHL appearance

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Despite modest numbers in terms of offensive production, winger Nikolai Kulemin has made great strides in becoming a indispensible, two-way threat that all winning teams require. The young Russian worked up the hopes of Leafs Nation with a dazzling array of speed, skill and finishing ability in various Youtube highlight reels prior to coming over to the NHL, but it’s been his tremendous effort, work ethic and defensive play over here that has won me over thus far this season.

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    He glided down the ice, not showing any sort of intimidation despite the fact he was a little out of his element.  Like a veteran, he flew down the wing and fired a shot that eluded the goaltender.  It was his first NHL goal.  It was his first NHL game.

    He skated through the neutral zone, accepting a stretch pass, only to be met by a member of the opposition, who’s eyes were as big as saucers, knowing he was going to catch him.  He was leveled, sent for a trip down dream street.  A hit that caused a nasty gash to open up over his eye, blood streamed out of his nose.  It was his 425th NHL game.

    All 425, as a member of his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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      Toskala, YouTube star, put us all in a pretty bad mood last night.  We’ll see what Gustavsson and co. can do against the Bruins!

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        There are a lot of exciting new faces making up the Leafs roster this season, and here are a few quick links of those recent additions answering some media questions and talking about their aspirations for the upcoming season. Included below are video and audio links from goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, NCAA forward Tyler Bozak and recent 1st round pick Nazem Kadri.

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          Not a whole lot of news coming out of the NHL ranks these last few days, as the few free agents still available are playing the waiting game (kind of surprising to note that Alex Tanguay’s still out there). As we try to make it through the last work day before the weekend, let’s touch upon more trade speculation out of Chicago, Leaf prospect Mikhail Stefanovich, early playoff predictions and the Leafs’ second annual Coca Cola Fans First Game.

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            So the Leafs are interested in throwing their hat into the ring as netminding bad boy Ray Emery looks for a new home? Somebody should warn Brian Burke about Razor Ray’s aversion to head gear following his altercation with Atlant Mytishchi’s team trainer Roman Sokolov last month. Yes we’ve all had a good laugh on YouTube at the expense of hockey’s self destructive answer to Britney Spears but hot of his hat phobia fisticuffs Emery has now walked out on the KHL’s second best team for another far more disinteresting reason.