First of all, I’d like to thank the fine folks at LeafsWire for giving me the opportunity to write for them. I hope you, the readers, will enjoy the perspective I have to offer.
For my first post, I’m going to take a look at three players on the Leafs team I’m looking to have strong rebound seasons. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll take one from each position: forward, defence, and goalie.
Goalie – Jonas Gustavsson
This is a timely pick considering he’s getting his first full 60 minutes tonight in Buffalo. “The Monster” had a disastrous 2010-11 campaign. He won just six of his 21 starts, with a .890 save percentage and a 3.29 goals against average. Those Toskala-esque numbers really can’t get any worse for the young Swede. He’s pegged as the backup to James Reimer right now, but I’m expecting him to open some eyes this year.
At the beginning of last season, he was playing fairly well, just not getting any goal support. But in December things sort of fell off the rails and he never got back on track. He was strong in an AHL conditioning stint, but never got a chance to prove himself on his return to the NHL. I expect him to be highly motivated this season, and I think he will, at times, push Reimer strongly for the #1 job. That’s not to say I expect Reimer to struggle. I just think Gustavsson will be playing so well, that he’s going to make it difficult for Ron Wilson to sit him for extended periods of time. That’s going to be huge, since it will decrease Reimer’s workload and keep him fresh for the full season.
Forward – Matthew Lombardi
I’m well aware of the fact that Lombardi is not likely to be ready for Opening Night, but in all honesty, I’m not expecting him to be that far off. Given the fact that the Leafs will have only played four games by October 17, it’s not crazy to think he can get into the lineup by about the sixth game of the season or so.
Lombardi is known as a speedy two-way centre with good play-making skills. Sounds like something Leafs fans have been starving for, no? He was on my wish list in the 2010 free agency season. I was not a fan of the contract the Predators gave him, but now that the Leafs will only have him on the books for two years of that deal (at $3.5 million per season), it seems much more manageable.
Where he fits into the lineup is a bit of a question mark. Tyler Bozak has looked fantastic on the third line with Nazem Kadri and Colby Armstrong. Mikhail Grabovski is cemented on the top line with Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur. Wilson has suggested Lombardi could play wing on the third line, but with Kadri playing as well as he has, it would be foolish to remove him from that role. Tim Connolly hasn’t dazzled on a line with Phil Kessel yet, but he’ll be given plenty of time to build that chemistry. If I was in Ron Wilson’s shoes, I would slot Lombardi in on the fourth line, but use him almost as a roving centre. Give him a shift here and there with each line to give the regular centre a break, and have him on the first or second penalty kill unit. If Lombardi can get into the lineup for almost a full season and influence the special teams, the Leafs’ chances of making the playoffs jump immensely in my mind.
Defence – Mike Komisarek
Here’s another character who might not be in the lineup on Opening Night. He’s looked much better in pre-season, but that still might not be enough to crack the top six. You could make the argument that he has been out-performed by Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarson, the two defenders he is fighting for ice time. If and when Komisarek gets into action, I expect him to have a quietly solid season. I honestly think the opening might come if Keith Aulie struggles (and for the record, I do expect him to struggle). Whether he would jump in with Dion Phaneuf, or on the third pair obviously remains to be seen.
However, I do believe he finally realizes that he has to bring his absolute best every night to find himself on the ice. That’s not something he’s really been faced with over his first two seasons in blue and white. The prospect of such humiliation might serve as a very valuable motivating tool. If that’s the case, I believe he can return to the form he showed in his final season with the Montreal Canadiens.
These are my picks to have solid seasons for the Leafs, despite some expectations to the contrary. Who do you think will come out of nowhere and help get the Leafs to the post-season?
After an impressive showing against the Senators last night, the Leafs are back in action tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. The lineups are slightly altered, but presumably the effort and tenacity will still be there as yet another wave of players try and make their mark, and land one of those exclusive NHL roster spots. Lineups, notes and more after the jump.
Last night’s game against the Senators was great to watch, not only because it means hockey is back, but because several things happened that give credence to this season being much better than last.
Here are my notes on last night’s game:
- All players look a few steps faster than last year, including Nikolai Kulemin, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak who looked really good all night.
- John-Michael Liles will immediately help the Leafs powerplay this year. His PP-QB abilities are better and less predictable than Tomas Kaberle‘s, and he will shoot the puck as well. He made a few nice passes / plays to keep the puck in and moving around. Looks like a solid pickup.
- Keith Aulie made a few great offensive plays which is odd coming from him.
- The penalty kill, which almost everybody noted, is very much different this year. Instead of being passive, it takes a more aggressive approach which seemed to already pay dividends last night.
- How about Kenny Ryan? Speedy, physical and wouldn’t let any Ottawa player have an easy shift. Odds are he doesn’t stick with the big club, but he could challenge for a spot next year. Looks to be Marlies bound. (OHL eligible as overager)
- Jonas Gustavsson looked decent. Seemed to be swimming a bit on a few plays, but he played OK. Scrivens had a great game as well, he’ll assume starter duties with the Marlies this year.
- The Mikhail Grabovski-Kulemin- Clarke MacArthur line didn’t overly impress, but there’s still time for them to regain form.
- Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin had decent games as well. Although neither did anything too impressive, they both did most of the little things right. Frattin gave the puck up which eventually led to a goal, but he also made a few offensive chances. Colborne’s stick checking is superb; he must have stole the puck away 4-5 times last night.
- Colby Armstrong - Bozak – Kadri line looked really good. They’ve been practicing together for a while now, and they could be the team’s third line this season. It’s important to note that they were essentially the team’s second line last night, and received more ice time than they would normally get, so you’ll have to temper expectations. Speaking of Bozak: a season in a lesser role should help his game all around.
- Jake Gardiner made a very strong case for staying with the team last night. Will be interesting to see what happens with the logjam on defense.
- Philippe Dupuis had a good first game, playing a strong checking game and looking fearless with shot blocks.
Tonight’s lineups feature the Schenn and Kessel brothers. Phil Kessel and Luke Schenn will suit up for the Leafs, while Blake Kessel and Brayden Schenn will lineup with the Flyers.
The Leafs will ice the following lines tonight:
Joffrey Lupul – Tim Connolly – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Joe Colborne – Marcel Mueller
Nazem Kadri – Darryl Boyce – Luca Caputi
Greg Scott – Mike Zigomanis – Colton Orr
Cody Franson – Mike Komisarek
Jeff Finger – Luke Schenn
Simon Gysbers – Jesse Blacker
My thoughts on tonight’s lineup:
- Potential first line of Joffrey Lupul – Tim Connolly – Phil Kessel tonight. Keep an eye on how they play.
- Both Colborne and Kadri are getting an extended look, along with Marcel Mueller and Luca Caputi. (All for the third line winger spot)
- Darryl Boyce and Mike Zigomanis both play tonight as they, along with Dupuis, compete for the Leafs’ fourth line pivot duties.
- Greg Scott gets a shot tonight, he plays a similar game to Kenny Ryan.
- Simon Gysbers and Jesse Blacker are an interesting pairing as they could be the Marlies top line pairing this season.
- James Reimer will supposedly play the entire game.
The Flyers will counter with this lineup:
Sergey Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton
Oskar Bartulis, Matt Carle, Erik Gustaffsson, Blake Kessel, Olivier Lauridsen, Andreas Lilja, Matt Walker
Sean Couturier, Ben Holmstron, Adam Mair, Michael Nylander, Matt Read, James van Riemsdyk, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn, Tom Sestito, Wayne Simmonds, Mike Testwuide, Eric Wellwood, Harry Zolnierczyk
The game will be on LeafsTV at 7PM EST. The next set of cuts (around 30 of them) will take place tomorrow or the day after. Stuart Percy and David Broll are both injured and are unlikely to see preseason action.
Who wins tonight? What’s the score going to be? Which player(s) will stand out? Let us know below, or through Twitter.
The Leafs officially kick off the 2011-2012 NHL preseason with a classic clash against the Ottawa Senators. Tonight’s battle features a healthy portion of skill and grit for both teams, as players are vying to earn NHL spots for the coming season. This tilt should be a great game as two rivals square off and begin their prospective campaigns. After the jump we’ll take a look at the lineups, and some other interesting notes for camp.
The Leafs will ice the following lineup tonight:
Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolai Kulemin
Nazem Kadri – Tyler Bozak – Colby Armstrong
Joey Crabb – Joe Colborne – Matt Frattin
Kenny Ryan – Philippe Dupuis – Jay Rosehill
Keith Aulie – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – John-Michael Liles
Carl Gunnarsson – Matt Lashoff
Some notes about the lineup:
- The Leafs look to have two “projected” lines in action tonight. By projected, I’m referring to lines that have been predicted to be together to start the regular season. These two lines are Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolai Kulemin and Nazem Kadri – Tyler Bozak – Colby Armstrong.
- The Leafs also appear to be icing the Marlies likely top line for this season, consisting of Joey Crabb – Joe Colborne – Matt Frattin.
- Kenny Ryan‘s appearance on the fourth line tonight likely means he’s considered for AHL duty this season, as he is eligible. It also speaks of how highly the organization regards him. He’s an excellent checker and should do well tonight.
- Philippe Dupuis gets his first chance to impress as he’s anchoring the fourth line tonight.
- Leafs (likely) top pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie get the call tonight, will probably see tons of minutes.
- Jake Gardiner and John-Michael Liles? Interesting combination of speed, skill and offense here.
- Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens will split time tonight, with Gustavsson getting the initial nod.
Alex Auld, Robin Lehner, Craig Anderson.
Jared Cowen, David Rundblad, Filip Kuba, Tim Conboy, Patrick Wiercioch, Eric Gryba, Erik Karlsson, Mark Borowiecki.
Milan Michalek (LW), Peter Regin (LW), Colin Greening (LW), Zack Smith (C), Bobby Butler (RW), Nikita Filatov (LW), Stephane Da Costa (C), Chris Neil (RW), Mark Parrish (RW), Zenon Konopka (C), Francis Lessard (RW), Mark Stone (RW), Mike Hoffman (LW), Nick Foligno (LW), Mika Zibanejad (C).
This one should be a dandy folks, make sure you tune in to LeafsTV for this one tonight (or by radio!).
The Leafs are changing up their alternate jersey for the upcoming season. If you haven’t already heard, they’ll be using this gem as an alternate. This comes via icethetics.
What are your thoughts on the Luke Schenn extension? You should vote in the latest poll.
With the calender reaching August, the 2011-12 season is right around the corner. It seems Brian Burke is done signing free agents, due to the abundance of forwards and defense. Tons of questions still remain on the Toronto Maple Leafs. But here are a few thoughts and opinions on their upcoming season.
1.I feel that Komisarek and possibly Bozak will be dealt this season for a prospect or a mid round pick. Possibly packaged together, or separately in bigger deals.
2.Frattin will out play Kadri in preseason and will take his spot in the line-up. Kadri will start the season with the Toronto Marlies, and will build chemistry with Colborne. Is it a good thing? I say yes. Kadri should be top 6 or AHL bound this season. Putting him on the third line is going to hurt his development.
3.During pre-season, Ron Wilson should put Kulemin on a line with Phil Kessel and Tim Connolly, and put Lupul with Grabovski, and Macarthur. With Kulemin’s strong board play, and his great defensive play; him and Connolly would really help that line defensively and offensively.
4.Cody Franson won’t live up to the high expectations many Leaf fans are already putting on him. Unfortunately, many Leaf fans only see his size, offensive capabilities, and age, and think he will be a stud. Playing on a great defensive team, Franson wasn’t that good in his own end, and using a better choice of words than Bill Watters– Franson is “soft”.
5.If the rumours of Phil Kessel training with Gary Roberts are true; And with the addition of Tim Connolly–who is known to be a play making centre; Kessel will score 40 goals this season.
6.With the additions of Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon to the coaching staff, and a few new additions to the Leafs line-up; The Leafs power play will rank around 15th in the league.
7.Dion Phaneuf will return to his old self. With the additions of Connolly and John-Michael Liles, Dion Phaneuf will improve this season, and will get most of his points on the power play.
8.Mathew Lombardi won’t be healthy enough to start the season in October. He will play his first game as a Maple Leafs late November or Early December.
9.James Reimer won’t be as good as he was last season. But he is still going to be a steady goalie this season. His attitude will help him get out of funks, and won’t allow him to go into a sophomore slump.
10.If the Leafs aren’t over .500 in the first 3 games, the famous “Fire Ron Wilson” line will come back more than ever.
11.If Lombardi is indeed healthy, there will be no need to panic if Tim Connolly goes down with an injury. In the 09-10 season, Lombardi was able to put up 53 points in 78 games with the Phoenix Coyotes, registering 19 goals and 34 assists.
12.If he is still a Maple Leaf this season—Tyler Bozak will be an effective third line centre with Colby Armstrong. The 2 have shown chemistry in the past, and have been very effective on the penalty kill.
13.Luke Schenn will be re-signed in the next 2 weeks. Don Meehan—the agent of Luke Schenn; has publicly stated Schenn’s contract will be an “August issue”.
14.Brian Burke will get a first line centre sometime this season. Burke knows the Leafs desperately need a true number 1 centre, and he will work harder than ever to acquire one.
15.If the Leafs get out to a steady start, and don’t go on 5 game losing streaks like before, they will make the playoffs.