Darren Dreger reported last night that the Toronto Maple Leafs have received an offer from an unidentified team for UFA to be, Mikhail Grabovski. He went on to say that the proposed deal included a second round pick and a prospect. Today, Dreger expanded upon the topic, noting that the prospect is currently at the AHL level. Everyone already knows my thoughts on dealing Grabovski, if not, you can read them here. There are many components the team should seek to add in order to become better, but subtracting Grabovski – at the price of a second round pick and a prospect – would set the team back in many ways. Unless the team has a deal to bring in another center immediately, they would probably be forced to call up Joe Colborne, unless they plan on promoting Matthew Lombardi or Darryl Boyce up in the lineup. Tim Connolly still has a year left on his deal, but his uninspiring play as of late has me hesitant to pencil him in any higher than the third line. To set the record straight, I don’t think the Leafs will pull the trigger on this deal. If they liked it, it would have been done already. It’s no secret Brian Burke and Grabovski’s agent are probably negotiating, but at this point we’re not privy to the negotiation status or direction. It’s at best a guessing game whether Grabovski will stay with the team, or if his demands will force him out. Right now, here’s where I think we are down the middle:
- Grabovski is our best center, but similar playing styles to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul has him playing on a different line. Grabovski is a playmaker primarily, but can find the net if given the chance. He’s diligent defensively, and he checks effectively.
- Tyler Bozak has developed nicely into a dependable center, and has had the luxury of playing with Kessel and Lupul. Like Grabovski, he’s primarily a playmaker, but can find the net on occasion. Bozak is also considered a defensive asset, and checks industriously. Grabovski is the better center option, but Bozak has found a niche for the time being on the top line.
- Tim Connolly is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. We all know he has the capability to put up some serious numbers, but when you watch him play, his decision making and work ethic makes you sit there and wonder ‘why?’. Why, as in, why we ever signed him. He’s currently playing on the third line, but brings nothing to the line that a prototypical third liner would bring. He’s not overly physical, and his lack of work ethic sets his linemates back.
- Matt Lombardi is the most predictable player in the world. Having watched him closely for most of the season, his only ‘moves’ are driving wide with speed and going five-hole. Seriously, watch highlights of him scoring: he’s in alone, or driving wide, and he scores five-hole. As a checking option, he’s decent but commands a hefty price tag. He’s decent for spot duty in the top six, but I wouldn’t be confident placing him there for an extended time.
- Darryl Boyce is your standard thirteenth forward / fourth line center / AHL call-up kind of guy. I like his work ethic, his physicality, his speed and willingness to battle. For all these reasons, he’s great to have around for the spots I listed above. Any higher, and your just shooting yourself in the foot or being delusional about his skill.
Moving out Grabovski without acquiring an adequate center in return would require Connolly, Lombardi or Boyce to move up into the top six. There’s a big issue with that happening, and thus, at this point its really not ideal to be discussing a Grabovski trade. In an ideal world, I’d look to deal any of the other centers first. Too bad this world isn’t ideal.
There were a few things noticeable in tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, good and bad. We (the fans) can’t really complain much this season: the Leafs have played generally well and the achilles heel of years past – the defense – has looked breathtaking on most nights.
Still, the team is nowhere near perfect or close to being a Stanley Cup contender. We can all take solace in the giant steps the team has taken towards regaining a playoff spot. Heading into tonight’s contest with the Jets, the Leafs stood at a 90.05% chance of making the playoffs. Not a lock, but certainly looking good.
One of the most glaring deficiencies tonight was evident in the Leafs inability to handle the Jets’ speed on the outside.
On the first goal, Chris Thorburn was able to burn down the wing and throw a backhand on net. Evidently, Jonas Gustavsson should have had the shot but that doesn’t leave the defense in the clear either. Luke Schenn was at fault on the play. He’s not the fastest of skaters, but in this case he should have backed off a bit and played a bit more centralized. Still, should have been a more routine play by the goaltender.
The second goal saw more of the same, with Blake Wheeler barreling in on Gustavsson coming from the wing. His driving of the net allowed for a juicy rebound which Jim Slater was happy to tap in. On the play, Matthew Lombardi should have tied up his man, but it all happened pretty quickly, so you can’t be that upset with how it shook out.
Aside from the Leafs’ inability to deal with Winnipeg’s speed (to be fair, they’re playing the second night of a back-to-back) the other most glaring deficiency in tonight’s play was the team’s inability to deal with Winnipeg’s size and tenacity.
Winnipeg’s forwards would come in hard, banging and crashing our forwards and defensemen along the boards, winning battles and creating scoring chances. Usually, the Leafs’ speed out factors a team’s physicality, but tonight it was a sore sight to see. Again, it might be the product of playing on back to back nights but it has to be a cause for concern in the back of everyone’s mind.
It’s been the opinion of some media and fans lately that the Leafs should stand pat in light of recent success. Since when does a team that sits in seventh place – having missed the playoffs every year since the lockout – stand a better chance of winning without upgrading its lineup?
A move for a goaltender isn’t feasible this season, nor is it necessary. Gustavsson and James Reimer have proven capable of at least grabbing wins this season, and this can be re-visited in the offseason. The defense is very deep right now, leading to speculation that a trade would originate from the surplus. Word has it the Leafs feel Korbinian Holzer is ready to be a full time NHLer, and Keith Aulie has played successfully at the NHL level as well.
Any move the Leafs would potentially make would be aimed at upgrading their forwards. We’ve heard all year that Brian Burke has been itching to add some size and tenacity into his top six. The Leafs would definitely be upgrading their lineup by adding a scoring winger/center with size and a defensive forward for the bottom six. It all comes down to availability and price.
We’ve heard the rumoured names, we’ve talked about them endlessly, and we’ve debated their validity all season long. In the end, the Leafs could definitely stand to add a forward or two if they really want to try and achieve something in the postseason, otherwise they’re gunning for a first round failure.
January. The second half of a long season begins as teams begin to converse about potential deals that would seemingly put them over the top, or to restock their cupboards. For many years, this Leafs team has been assuming a seller’s standpoint at this point, but this year it seems the trend will end. With 47 points (21-15-5) in 41 games, the Leafs are on pace for a 94 point season, which should be barely enough to squeak them into the playoffs for the first time since the lockout. To put this into perspective, the Leafs had 38 points (16-20-5) after the same amount of games last year. Playoff-bound? Still too early to tell, but it’s a baby step in the right direction, that’s for sure.
Since the last time I wrote, the Leafs made many rosters moves, and here’s a little recap incase you forgot.
- Korbinian Holzer bounced from the NHL to the AHL, nothing worth commenting about though.
- Maligned forward Luca Caputi was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Nicolas Deschamps, more on that later.
- Philippe Dupuis was demoted to the Toronto Marlies. Now I don’t have to worry about spelling his name wrong anymore.
- Colton Orr‘s time as a Leaf is finished. He passed through waivers, and was demoted to the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
- Matt Frattin was demoted in favour of keeping Nazem Kadri, and in order to accomodate Mike Brown‘s return. More on this later too.
- Returning to the lineup were Mike Komisarek, Matthew Lombardi and Mike Brown.
- Tyler Bozak suffered an injury on the 30th, and should be out for a few games longer.
- John-Michael Liles remains out, so too does Colby Armstrong.
Luca Caputi and Nicolas Deschamps
At times, it was easy to forget about Luca Caputi, aside from his presence on Twitter. He had fallen so far down the depth chart due to lackadaisical play and injuries that this trade seems almost insignificant. In Caputi, the Leafs are losing a big bodied forward who at one time was coveted due to his size and scoring combination. Now, he’s effectively a grinder, but struggles in this role due to poor skating. It’s a wonder we even acquired anything in return other than a late round pick.
In Deschamps, the Leafs are acquiring a prospect which the Ducks deemed was expendable in order to acquire players closer to contributing at the professional level.
Deschamps, a former second round pick of the Ducks (Burke’s own pick as well) had less than impressive numbers this year (34GP – 6G – 8A) after posting decent numbers last year with the Syracuse Crunch (80GP – 15G – 31A). He wasn’t a prolific junior scorer, as are most offensive players in the QMJHL, but still shows some decent upside in terms of work ethic and finding the net.
At this point, the trade gives both players a change of scenery, with the Leafs opting to trade for a player and give him some more time to develop, as opposed to Caputi who was in need of a new contract and could no longer be labeled ‘prospect’.
The End of Orr
I won’t delve too far into this, it would take a lot of time and effort to get to the true underlying issues of fighting, heavyweights and the direction the league is taking. When Brian Burke signed Orr to his contract, he envisioned Orr patrolling the fourth line, playing as decently as an enforcer can (which he did quite well) and reminding other teams not to take liberties with his teammates. Three years later, Colton Orr no longer has a job. Fights do not exist as they once did; players take liberties and skirt away from their traditional consequences, and this makes Brian Burke (an astute traditionalist) furious. Orr’s roll is now filled by Jay Rosehill / Mike Brown: guys who skate faster, can contribute more offensively, and play bigger roles defensively. Also, they cost less than Orr’s $1.00 million cap hit.
Orr now skates for the Toronto Marlies (AHL) and we wish him the best of luck.
On Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri
Firstly, I’ll say this. The Leafs have two good, young players in Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin. They will both be offensive contributors at the NHL level one day. However, at this point in time, given the situation at other spots in the lineup, only one of the two can remain with the big club. Nazem Kadri, since being brought up, has shown that he is ready for prime time, and has been a factor in almost all aspects of the game, including the scoresheet (for all you people that judge a players value solely on his statistics). He effectively bumped Matt Frattin (who has been good, but not as good as Kadri as of late) down to the fourth line. With Mike Brown set to return, Frattin was demoted to the Toronto Marlies (AHL) so that he could play top line minutes and continue to hone his offensive game. Brown – more suited to the fourth line role – adds a defensive element that Frattin does not have, while keeping the speed and tenacity status quo. A lateral move? Perhaps. The effects of the move are primarily for the long term, as opposed to the short.
The Return of Brown, Komisarek and Lombardi
While refreshing to have Brown and Komisarek back from injury, I can’t say I’m too pleased that Matthew Lombardi is returning to the lineup. I haven’t seen much from him that I’ve liked, or made me think “wow”. He plays hard, but brings little to no impact on a nightly basis. He scored a shorthanded goal in the season opener against Montreal, but hasn’t done much since then. He’s never been an offensive juggernaut, but has a measly 7 points in 23 games, well below his standard output.
Hate if you must, but Mike Komisarek has played decently this year. He’ll never impress you with an offensive play or slick pass out of his own zone, but he’s steady when he’s on his game, and he’s definitely been better this year.
You all know what Mike Brown brings to the table, that’s what makes him a fan favourite.
After a couple solid, albeit one nerve-racking, wins to start the season, the Maple Leafs appear to have some swagger that hasn’t been seen since Mats Sundin flanked Jonas Hoglund and Mikael Renberg a decade ago. Optimism is at an all time high throughout Leaf nation as the team gets through a relatively easy opening couple weeks of the season. The questions never seem to end, however, and with the Leafs quality depth (that’s not an oxymoron anymore!) as the Leafs get healthier and less-suspended there is a shortage of roster spots and ice time for players. It appears that amongst all speculation that Brian Burke is hovering around the trigger on a potential trade, but is it really necessary right now? Let’s break this down.
Up front is the primary concern as Clarke MacArthur comes back from his suspension, Nazem Kadri‘s knee is healing quicker than initially speculated, and it would be reasonable to assume we’ll see a Tim Connolly appearance sometime in the next week and a half. Combine that with the unexpected recovery and quality play from Matthew Lombardi and the Leafs have a shocking number of centres available. So where do you put them all? Firstly, Kadri has to start in the minors as Matt Frattin‘s solid two-way play has earned him the right to stay with Leafs for now. It can’t hurt Naz to get up to speed with the Marlies, get big time minutes, work on his defensive game and if he truly dominates the AHL then that will show he needs to be in the NHL. At that point, whether it be a few weeks or a few months, Burke has a better idea to get better trade value from other teams. Very rarely will teams make a substantial deal at this point in the season. This of course only goes with the assumption that the team isn’t struggling and in need of a shake-up, but with the team’s play thus far it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t a combination of lines with this current group that can’t do well enough.
Let’s face it, Connolly likely won’t be the iron man once he heals up from his flavour of the month injury and it wouldn’t be smart to have Lombardi play in every game as the season wears on. Combine that with responsible play of Tyler Bozak, and you have three centres that are capable of playing the pivot between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul or Frattin and Colby Armstrong. Any combination of those sets of wingers with those centres has some offensive upside with defensive capability. It’s also important to recognize that the Leafs now have a quality fourth line in more of a Brian Burke mold. Jay Rosehill and Colton Orr are excellent for spot starts when toughness is needed, and a line of David Steckel – Philippe Dupuis - Mike Brown has an excellent balance. Since MacArthur counts towards a roster spot despite being suspended, that requires only one roster move to make room for Connolly when he’s healthy. When that happens, it would be smart to send down Rosehill and carry those extra centres. This gives good options to match up the line-up on a nightly basis depending on the opponent, as well as gives the opporunity for some more injury prone players to rest for a night if they’re banged up.
On the defensive side, it’s nice to see Toronto finally have a glut of NHL-ready defencemen. Keith Aulie was already sent down to the Marlies to make room for stand-out Jake Gardiner; Mike Komiserek for all purposes hasn’t been terrible; Cody Franson is a big mobile, puck mover who can run a secondary powerplay unit; and Carl Gunnarson has been nothing short of solid. While I agree Aulie deserves to be with the big club after a great debut last season, letting him earn his way back on to the Leafs roster is the best bet. It’s not a bad thing to let the likes of Komi and Gunnar play since it will only boost their trade value if they play well. If not, it’s good to know there are guys ready to answer the call if a shake up is needed. And let’s not forget injuries happen and when they strike the Leafs blue line, we’ll be thankful for this depth.
At this point, Ron Wilson has many options to put a line-up together that can compete with any team in the league on any given night. This capability injects some excitement that hasn’t been found in nearly a decade since the Leafs last made the playoffs.
Yesterday the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they had cut 14 more players from their training camp roster, assigning them to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. The most significant of the cuts was forward Joe Colborne, who was considered to be in contention for a roster spot.
The full list of cuts is as follows. All players were assigned to the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
Assigned to Toronto (AHL) : Luca Caputi, Joe Colborne, Jerry D’Amigo, Ryan Hamilton, Marcel Mueller, Kenny Ryan, Greg Scott, Mike Zigomanis, Jesse Blacker, Jeff Finger, Simon Gysbers, Korbinian Holzer, Juraj Mikus, Mark Owuya, Jussi Rynnas.
The Leafs also announced that they had returned forward Greg McKegg to the Erie Otters of the OHL.
Luca Caputi, Ryan Hamilton, Mike Zigomanis and Jeff Finger will all have to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL.
While there are still more important cuts to be made, you can tell that the Leafs roster is beginning to take shape. The following players remain in camp:
I’ve predicted who I personally think will be cut once the season rolls around, based on keeping two defenders and one forward scratched.
- Matthew Lombardi either slots in the lineup as a center or winger, which effectively forces Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri to the minors. If he’s injured to start the season, Darryl Boyce plays in his stead.
- The Leafs will opt to go with 8 defensemen. My guess is that Keith Aulie and Mike Komisarek will sit.
- Phillipe Dupuis will win fourth line center duties. He’s a fearless shot blocker, speedy and throws his weight around. He’ll be flanked by Mike Brown and Colton Orr. If Brownie is a no-go opening night, look for Boyce to play in that hole.
- The Leafs third line will eventually be Lombardi with Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong.
- If both Lombardi and Brown are both injured to start the season, the Leafs will keep Jay Rosehill around. He’ll patrol the ice with Orr until Brown is healthy. Boyce will play on the third line. Notice how Boyce is very versatile.
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?
May 4th, 2004. That date can mean many different things to people; but for any die hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan like me, you’ll recognize that date as the last time the Leafs saw playoff action. It was game 6 in the conference semi-finals against the Flyers where they lost 3-2 off Jeremy Roenick’s GWG to put away the series. Since then I’m sure many suffering fans have developed distaste for the Flyers, I know I have. But that’s all in the past; it’s time to look ahead to the future which looks very promising.
This year’s free agency class hasn’t created much of a “frenzy” for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s safe to say that the Brad Richards situation put a damper on the Leafs’ hopes of acquiring a top line centre. Despite all this, the Maple Leafs and fans have a lot to look forward to this coming season. Arguably the biggest name the Leafs have signed this off-season is Tim Connolly. The 30-year-old had 13 goals and 29 assists in 68 games last season with the Buffalo Sabres. Connolly will add some jump to the top 6 forwards, and he has the potential to be a 70-point or more player, provided that he stays healthy. He will be contending with Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski to centre the top line of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Mathew Lombardi is also in the mix for the top centre position, if and only if he is healthy enough for action. Nazem Kadri will most likely be moved into a winger position, which will suit his style of play a lot better. Kadri has the skill, but the size factor is his biggest issue. If he wants to have an impact on this time, he’s going to have to train hard so he can provide more “truculence” along with his finesse.
Brian Burke also locked up three of their solid grinders Mike Zigomanis, Darryl Boyce, and Joey Crabb to one-year contracts. Along with the acquisition of Philippe Dupuis, the Maple Leafs will have all the force necessary from their forwards. And who can forget Colton Orr? Expect to see a lot of offense this season. The forwards are developing quite nicely within the organization. Joe Colborne and Tyler Biggs are just two names for fans to get excited about.
With the average height of 6’3, the Maple Leafs’ defense will hopefully live up to the expectations they’ve had on their shoulders for the past two seasons. Look for Luke Schenn to continue his strong and dominate play on the Leafs’ blue line from last season. With any luck, John-Michael Liles will do what he was brought here to do, which is fill in the hole of puck-moving defenceman Tomas Kaberle. Brett Lebda was the closest thing the Leafs had to Kaberle during the second half of the season; that isn’t a good thing. Miraculously Burke was able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and actually acquire something decent for him in Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi. Many fans including myself have been less than impressed with the performance of Mike Komisarek, former all-star defenceman for the Montréal Canadiens. If his dreadful play continues, it is likely that Burke will pool him in a trade for another asset that he may have his eye on. And let’s not forget about Optimus Reim, the Maple Leafs’ number one goalie James Reimer. The 23-year-old from Morweena, MB, had a 20-10-5 record, with .921 SV% and a 2.60 GAA; not bad for a kid buried within the system. He is an outstanding athlete and human being, who this year will give the Leafs some much needed support in goal.
May 4th, 2004. Given some of the additions Brian Burke has made combined with the development of the young players in the system, that date will likely be changed to mid/ late April of 2012 when the playoffs begin. The Maple Leafs are a solid young team and should definitely make the post-season this year.
- Michael Cappabianca