Listening to Maple Leafs’ Vice President of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, brought about some interesting thoughts as we wind our way toward this year’s edition of the NHL Trade Deadline. During his conversation, Poulin talked about building a team and an organization as you would a house and property. The analogy is one that speaks to patience and careful planning, something that is necessary for any successful front office staff, when it comes to building a winning product.
Looking at the foundation upon which the house that Burke and Co. has put together, it’s easy to forget that before Burke was brought to Toronto to lead the organization, it would have been difficult to look through the organizational depth chart, and find a solid pillar for the future. Since his arrival, Burke has made a number of moves to improve a talent pool that was on serious life support in terms of young talent. Through drafting alone (something that Burke has taken heat for in his time here), Burke has added first round picks in the likes of forwards Nazem Kadri and Tyler Biggs, as well as the smart, economical defenseman, Stuart Percy from the Mississauga Majors. He supplemented those selections with picks from rounds 2-7 with promising youngsters such as Gregg McKegg, Sondre Olden, Josh Nicholls, and Bradley Ross. Burke and Co. have approached the draft with a clear strategy, adding size and skill to the prospect pool, and for better or worse, fans of the organization are soon to see these selections given the chance to show their stuff at the AHL level.
The most important thing that Burke and his team of executives have done in his 4-year tenure with the Blue and White is add cornerstones through trade. The much-debated trade for Phil Kessel was the first major move that Burke made, adding a cornerstone talent to the organization, in a move that divided the fan base. Kessel’s talent is not in question, and shouldn’t be at this point, given that he currently sits among the top-5 in league scoring. In landing Phil, Burke surrendered two first round selections, and a second round selection to the Boston Bruins, and allowed the Bruins to land Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The miscalculation of the team’s ability at the time of the trade is well known, and is the subject of the on-going argument among fans as to whether or not the trade was beneficial to the club’s long term success. Whether or not you believe in the move, Burke added the missing piece from the Sundin era, the high scoring winger.
The second pillar that was added was Captain Dion Phaneuf. In a trade that sent pieces like Matt Stajan and Jamal Mayers to Calgary, Burke was able to not only pry Dion, but talented young defenseman Keith Aulie. The addition of Aulie is what sweetened the pot. Calgary was looking to shake up their roster, and Burke was able to turn a mole hill’s worth of talent into a mountain-esque return. In Dion’s time here, we’ve seen the return of his offensive game, as he struggled in the early stages of his Leaf career. Keith Aulie remains one of the organizations top prospects, as he has seen time with both the Leafs and the Marlies, and continues to round out his trade to become a full-time NHL defenseman.
The last player to discuss, in terms of pillars, is one that is currently cementing his status as just that. Young defenseman Jake Gardiner, acquired as the incentive in the deal for Joffrey Lupul, has stepped into the spotlight this season, and is making his case for being a future top pairing defender. Gardiner has the ability to take over the play from the back-end, and on a number of occasions this season, has been the best player on the ice in Blue and White. His skating is some of the best on the team, and at times, Gardiner has displayed poise and patience beyond his years. As is the case with any young player making the transition to pro hockey, Gardiner has had problems with turnovers, and getting caught on the pinch, but increased trust and TOI awarded to him by the coaching staff has certainly paid off.
Honourable mentions would go to talents like Matt Frattin, who at times, has shown NHL ready ability on both the rush and the back check. Joe Colborne is yet another, added in the Kaberle trade, as well as Jesse Blacker, a defenseman chosen 58th overall in the 2009 draft.
Although not all of the young talent made this article, the point of the matter is this: Burke and his team have made great strides to not only build a foundation, but build pieces around it. Leading up to the deadline, in one week’s time, there will be a lot of pressure on management to acquire a key piece to help get the club into the playoffs for the first time since the lockout. As Poulin stated this morning, the key to the process is patience and poise, knowing that a move cannot be made unless it improves your house going forward in the long term. Given this model, it’s hard to imagine Burke mortgaging the future for Rick Nash, even if bringing home the GTA native would see his statue built in the front yard.
I would first like to thank LeafsWire for adding me to their team, and apologize that my first post has to come on the coat tails on this of all nights.
The script was set for the perfect night. Coming off back to back losses and at risk of falling out of the 8th and final playoff spot, the Leafs were set to face their arch-rival ‘Habitants’, and arguably the greatest Leaf of all time was to have his number raised to the rafters. What a night it would be. The Leafs would be inspired by their former captain’s prescence, and the magic of the night would overcome them. They would break their slump and beat the Canadiens to a pulp.
Everything started beautifully, Mats shed some tears, and the crowd stood and cheered and time seemed to stand still for that historic moment. Everything was perfect… and then the game started. Well, I guess someone forgot to mention that to the Leafs, who seemed to be taking part in an optional pre-game skate. It might have been easier if Dion Phaneuf had just bent over after he somehow won the ceremonial faceoff, and took one for the team, rather than having our logo sodomized for 60 minutes.
The Leafs just could not get any momentum going, much like a ‘retarded hamster’ falling off his wheel. Every shot they took seemed to get blocked in front or float over to Carey Price like an oversized beach ball. Our only good chances of the game came from Phil Kessel, who unfortunately forgot how to raise the puck again, which has been known to happen from time to time. Not everything was negative however. On the bright side Tie Domi seemed to be sporting a phenomenal spray tan, and Nikolai Kulemin hit two posts…with one shot!! Even our old friend Mr. Bryan “He shoots he scores! Oh wait that’s our net!” McCabe managed to pass through the threshold of the ACC without dematerializing, which was a miracle in and upon itself.
Then things continued to get worse, and after the 4th goal I’m pretty sure I even saw Wendel heading down to the dressing room to lace em up, before being told he wasn’t on the roster for the nights game. This was a relief for PK Subban who did not realize how close he came to being pummeled, but felt a strange twinge in his heart when Clark’s moustache clenched its fist.
After that …’display’, the Leafs need to get their game into gear and come out ready to beat up on Calgary or risk going the way of Dorothy and falling deeper into the rabbit hole. Until then Leafs Nation, try and get your hands on one of those mind wiping devices from Men in Black (I found a pretty good deal on eBay) and forget this ever happened. Goodnight, and don’t watch SportsCentre tomorrow, it will only bring grief and despair.
With last night’s win against the Edmonton Oilers bringing the Toronto Maple Leafs playoffs chances to 90.05%, it looks as if the Maple Leafs are finally heading towards their first playoff berth since the NHL lockout. It’s never a good idea to assume anything, so I won’t be congratulating the boys on anything until we see an ‘x’ beside them in the standings.
Still, the success has to be coming from somewhere. Players finally developing and hitting their strides? Improved goaltending from both James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson? The additions of Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon? Perhaps.
There’s no way to determine for sure what the cause is, that’s the beauty of sports. There are so many variables that go in to winning, it’s hard to pinpoint the driving force behind success. At best, we can make cases for aspects of improved play that have a part in the overall effect.
Today I want to look at the phenomena that is ‘scoring by defensemen’. As the season has unfolded, I’ve noticed a few distinct differences between this years team and those of seasons passed. One of the most glaring differences is the involvement of the defense in offensive production.
The chart doesn’t include Tomas Kaberle (3g – 35a – 38 pts) and Francois Beauchemin (2g – 10a – 12 pts). In total, the Maple Leafs defense scored 139 points. This may have been impacted by the fact Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson both missed a good amount of games.
Obviously management saw this was an issue as well, as they tried hard to land John-Michael Liles at last year’s deadline. Ultimately, they acquired him before the NHL Entry Draft, but it was obvious the team wanted to improve their production from the back end. To supplement Liles’ addition, the team traded for young Cody Franson as well.
The offensive expectations coming into this season were obviously higher with a healthy Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson along with the arrival of Liles and Franson. Luke Schenn was coming off a breakout year offensively, and Mike Komisarek was expected to be a healthy scratch most of the time in favour of Jake Gardiner. Gardiner, a noted offensive defensemen was expected to contribute along the blueline as well.
So, how have Maple Leaf defenders fared so far this season? Refer to the chart below:
First thing to address: Maple Leafs have scored a total of 122 points after just 53 games. They’re on pace for 189 points by the end of the 82 game schedule.
The second thing to look at is the amount of games missed by key players.
- John-Michael Liles missed 16 games to concussion
- Jake Gardiner has missed 7 games as a healthy scratch
- Cody Franson has missed 15 games as a healthy scratch
You have to imagine if those players (all considered mainstays in the lineup at this point) had played every game so far, they’d have a few more points. It’s no use speculating on what-ifs, but rather, we should acknowledge that there is a direct correlation between the increased offence generated by Maple Leafs defensemen and the success the team has seen this year.
At this point, it’s not known for sure whether or not the Leafs will make the playoffs, or even have consistent success for the rest of the season. All we can do is note that this year’s team is much better (wins and points wise) and it is no coincidence that the defensemen have played a bigger role offensively.
By the numbers: points by defensemen for Stanley Cup champions (regular season)
- 2011 Boston Bruins: 149 points by defensemen.
- 2010 Chicago Blackhawks: 222 points by defensemen.
- 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins: 148 points by defensemen.
- 2008 Detroit Red Wings: 204 points by defensemen.
- 2007 Anaheim Ducks: 209 points by defensemen.
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?
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.
With yesterday’s blockbuster deal now in the books, and another potential top 4 defenceman added to this year’s squad the Leafs now have 8 NHL ready defencemen. With that said, it is always good to have an abundance of defenders because injuries are bound to happen and men will always go down at some point in the season. However these 8 NHL ready defenders are realistically all top 5 on any NHL team, therefore the opportunity cost of trading one for either forwards, prospects, or picks is less than keeping all of them around.To put it more simply, these 8 defenders which consist of:
Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, Cody Franson, and Matt Lashoff
are all very good players and would be a waste to keep more than one of them sitting in the press box each game, when we can trade them for an asset that will be much more useful to us in the long run. Also in the case of Mike Komisarek, who is now the most likely trade candidate and rumoured to be on the move; the removal of his 4.5 million dollar salary would free up a great deal of cap space for us moving forward into next year.
Knowing Brian Burke and his creative and “ballsy” antics, anything is possible so I also would not be surprised if he tries to turn this deal into another blockbuster which would involve another top tier forward (most likely first line centerman) coming back our way. However any deal involving a star player, would most definitely include one of Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne going back the other way, in addition to one of the defenders we are looking to dump. But if all that fails, and Burke is content with going into next season with Connolly, Grabovski, and Bozak/Lombardi as our top 3 centers (which to be honest is not so bad), then a simple dumping of one of our d-men for prospects or picks will happen.
Another reason why I personally see us dealing one or maybe even two of our NHL ready defencemen is the emergence of players/prospects Jake Gardiner, Jesse Blacker, and Korbinian Holzer. Any one of these defenders will be able to step into our NHL lineup next season no doubt, therefore this fact alone makes many of our defenders that much more expendable.
If I were a betting man, I would predict Komisarek to be leaving town before the beginning of next season. Realistically because it would be more of a salary dump, and a trade to get another team to the cap floor, not much would be coming back our way. However for the services he provides, and abundance of d-men as mentioned above, not to mention cap space he frees up for us, any deal would be a good deal. A mid-level prospect and mid round pick is the potential asking price I can see GM Burke asking for. All I know forsure is the Leafs are not done wheeling and dealing. I fully expect Burke to complete another few deals before next season begins, as he revamps our team into a contender. Exciting times leafs fans… stay tuned!