As the season winds down ever so slowly, it’s time to start looking ahead to next season. Although there are many areas that need to be addressed, and many more areas from which to find solutions, the NCAA free agent pool is today’s topic of discussion.
Brian Burke et al are usually very active when it comes to the college FA scene, as we have seen in years gone by. To refresh your memory, here is a short list of his college free agent work:
- Christian Hanson now plays in the Washington Capitals organization, but Burke pursued him for his combination of size and skill.
- Tyler Bozak was the top free agent of his class, and rightly so. He has become the de facto top line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, alongisde Phil Kessel.
- Brayden Irwin was a big forward that Burke signed, but hasn’t shown much in his time here. He was re-signed to a minor league contract, and spends his time mainly in Reading, the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Marlies.
- Ben Scrivens was the top goaltender available, and has become one of the best goaltending prospects in the system. He’s the starter for the Marlies.
- Simon Gysbers is a smart, offensive puck moving defender currently manning the blueline for the Marlies this season.
- Tyler Brenner was last year’s college free agent signing, and has split time evenly between the Marlies and Reading Royals. Hasn’t show much offensively just yet.
As the NCAA itself begins to conclude it’s season, more and more players are becoming available to sign as their respective teams are eliminated. You can bet that Burke will be ready to pounce as soon as these players become available, ready to hand a bag of cash at them.
Just to clarify, the Leafs will be able to sign college free agents this year because they are only at 48 of the 50 allowed contracts. Technically they have 53 contracts, but five of these players (Greg McKegg, Stuart Percy, David Broll, and Andrew Crescenzi) don’t count because they have not played at least 11 NHL games this season (and were returned to their junior teams).
Regardless of the above, since a player doesn’t count against the reserve limit unless they play 11 NHL games, any signed free agent would not count against the reserve limit for this year, but would have a year burned off their contract.
This leaves the Leafs able to pursue any and all free agents they can throw their money at.
So, just who could the Leafs be targeting?
The number one option in my mind would have to be Justin Schultz who is currently property of the Anaheim Ducks. He’s a former teammate of Jake Gardiner‘s, and he had a standout year with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Schultz scored 44 points this season (16g – 28a) continuing on his 47 points last season (18g – 29a). Speculation holds that Schultz will hold out on the Ducks until July 1st, where he can then field offers from all teams as an unrestricted free agent.
Should the Hobey Baker candidate become a free agent, you can bet your bottom dollar Brian Burke will probably be taking a run at him. He’s about as good as they get coming out of college, and it would give Burke more depth on the blueline from which to make a deal.
Mark Zengerle – Center – Wisconsin
Attended Toronto Maple Leafs prospect camp last summer and the Maple Leafs still have interest in the sophomore forward … Tied for most points among all second-year players in the country … Had second-longest scoring streak in program history at 20 games. – Tim Wharnsby – CBC
Spencer Abbot – Left Wing – Maine
Spencer Abbott leads the nation in both points (56) and assists (37). And not surprisingly, he has become one of the top candidate’s for this year’s Hobey Baker Award as well. In addition to his point production, Abbott’s quickness and game-changing ability are among the assets that have put him squarely on the NHL radar. One team that has reportedly paid close attention to Abbott’s development at Maine this season is the Toronto Maple Leafs. - DJ Powers – Hockey’s Future
Dan DeKeyser – Defense – Western Michigan
With 30 NHL teams pursuing him, Dan DeKeyser has become the hottest commodity on the collegiate free agent market this season. And it’s not hard to see why. Two NHL teams that have shown some of the greatest interest in the Broncos rearguard are the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. – DJ Powers – Hockey’s Future
These are just a few of the more popular names out there, and the Maple Leafs are probably interested in many others. At this point, we know the flood gates are opening and Brian Burke loves his free wallets.
The Toronto Maple Leafs announced today that the club has resigned Mikhail Grabovski to a 5-year contract extension, worth $27.5 million dollars. Grabovski will see a healthy raise from the $2.9 million he earned annually in his last contract. The extension makes Grabovski the highest paid forward on the team now, surpassing Phil Kessel‘s $5.4 million per annum deal.
Without getting too deep into it about his contract, I believe the deal is a tad overpriced (perhaps closer to 5 or 5.25 mil would have been better value) but I’m glad to see Grabovski will remain with the team for the next 5 years. Hopefully his performance Saturday night against the Habs, along with Randy Carlyle’s willingness to use him, is a sign of good things to come.
One thing to note: perhaps the Leafs search for the elusive number one center has finally ended. My ‘theory’, if you can even call it that, stems from reading @APetrielli‘s latest Leafs Notebook. Here is the excerpt:
When Carlyle won the Cup with Anaheim, his top three lines, by ice time, were as follows: Kunitz-McDonald-Selanne, as the top line, played the most, then Neidermayer-Pahlsson-Moen as the shutdown line played the second most, then there was a “soft” line in Penner-Getzlaf-Perry, who were a group of young kids that Carlyle would use to exploit the other team offensively.
Andy McDonald, the team’s de facto first line center at the time had 78 points the year Anaheim won the Stanley Cup. Although no center has come close to this number as of late, the ‘makeup’ of the team may have changed with Carlyle at the helm. Petrielli notes the existence of an offensive line, a shutdown line, and a soft line. One would assume the last line was the energy line, featuring players like Drew Miller, George Parros, Todd Marchant, Brad May and Ryan Shannon.
It’s plausible Grabovski could become this team’s ‘McDonald’, or he could be a more offensive ‘Pahlsson’. Grabovski could be used as the pivot on a ‘shutdown’ line, but could provide a lot more offence at the same time. He could also bloom with higher numbers offensively if given better linemates and used more appropriately.While nothing is set in stone just yet, he’ll certainly have to play in a role that will justify his shiny new pricetag.
Few things are certain going into next year, but at this point we know Mikhail Grabovski is a Leaf for the foreseeable future, and that’s alright with me.
As our friend Super Mario would say, “Yahoo!”.
I happened find that exact word leave my mouth in that loveable tone after the Leafs finally got back in the win column, and who better to get back on track against than Montreal. I was out for dinner for the first period and a half, but was able to conspicuously stream the radio feed with one speaker in my ear as to not miss anything. Finally, we were able to put forth a complete 60 minute effort and grab that first win for Mr. Randy “Kiddie” Carlyle. With the blue and white down by 1 in the first, Browny stepped up big in the first with a seismic tilt against Staubitz, which seemed to spark the team. The coaching change was really noticeable in the ice times of certain players, and I especially liked the move of the big bodied Steckel onto the third line. Matt Frattin had a great game and seemed energized by the vote of confidence given to him by the new bench boss. The MacArthur – Grabo – Frattin line was clearly favoured by Carlyle and accounted for all of the leafs goals with Grabo netting a couple timely beauties late in the third. The offence wasn’t the only part of the Leaf’s game that returned to form as The Monster came up with some timely saves to keep the Leafs in the game and eventually hold on to the win. The biggest difference I saw in our game was the desperation the Leafs played with in the last couple minutes and was epitomized my Lupul’s diving blocked shot.
For now at least, it seems that the Leafs have found their game, and hopefully they can keep it going against Boston on Tuesday. Which by the way would be a really great time for Kessel to get over his inconvenient, but totally reasonable fear of Zdeno Chara, and bury a few in the back of the net against his old team. As of today however, Leaf nation let out a collective sigh of relief last night (that apparently raised CO2 levels in Toronto by 15%), and praise Randy Carlyle for getting this team off their losing streak.
Now we can finally answer the question posed by notorious Leaf fan Mike Myers many years ago…
Do I make you Randy? <– Click it
When you watch a game like the one the Leafs put together last night, it’s easy to find yourself in panic mode. A few things about this version of blowing a point that stand out, at least to me, are the way the Leafs played in the 3rd period, as well as the way that Phil Kessel was able to be a steady threat throughout. In a game where the Leafs played their usual rope-a-dope style; coming out with guns-a-blazing, then playing dead, then coming to life to give the fan base a collective coronary, one has to ask themselves: Is this exciting, end-to-end style of hockey that our staff employs, going to give this team a chance to be consistent contenders for the playoffs, and furthermore, the big prize?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to come out and start calling for Ron Wilson’s head. I don’t necessarily believe Ronnie and Co. are the problem here. All I’m questioning is the pledge to play “exciting hockey” that Burke and Wilson made when Burke was brought in to rebuild the club. We understand that you want to put a product on the ice that puts fans in the seats, but let’s face it, despite years of mediocrity and astronomical ticket prices, the seats are full REGARDLESS of the product they ice. The fact of the matter is, You could make an argument on either side. Is it the style of hockey? Or is it the players tasks to carry it out? Whichever you may believe, there is a problem here.
I’ll take a stab at problem #1. When you play a run-and-gun style of hockey, you automatically lend yourself to high scoring affairs, usually on both sides. Playing a game that is based around building speed and moving the puck through the neutral zone the way the Leafs do, will inevitably result in dangerous turnovers, as most opposing coaches adjust to clog the neutral zone and force you to earn every inch of ice. This isn’t a problem for a lot of teams. A team that employs a run-and-gun, whom also has the kind of size and jam to win critical puck battles along the boards, will adjust to this defensive modification seamlessly, and begin a gritty dump and chase campaign. That’s where the Leafs have great trouble. With a glaring lack of size in the ranks of the Leafs’ top three lines, dump and chase style hockey rarely works, unless you can avoid puck battles by winning races. This is something that goes out the window if the opposition maintains defensive posture and positioning. It also makes for a frustrating night. The argument can be made that Wilson had great success with this system in San Jose, but the big difference in the two situations is easy to spot. Their names are Thornton, Marleau, Clowe, and Pavelski.
Assumption/Conclusion: Size in the top-9 is a HUGE need (change the record…..)
Let’s have a look at what many see as the biggest (immediate) problem. Dependable and consistent goaltending has been missing in Toronto since the lockout. The Maple Leafs have employed a laundry list of beauties in the post-lockout era, from such gems as Andrew Raycroft (Rayflop, as it were) to Vesa Toskala (Toskalol). JS Giguere was brought in to be a solid veteran presence, and a mentor to a young and developing Jonas Gustavsson, but injuries, and a lack of consistency out of the Monster opened the door to youngster James Reimer. Reimer shone down the stretch last season, and provided Leafs fans and the organization moments of brilliance. Coming into the season, Burke and Co. were happy to pin the teams fortunes on the young netminder, with every reason to believe that his high level of play would continue, as Reimer learned the ropes of being a starter in the league. The early injury, and once again inconsistent play of Jonas Gustavsson, led the Leafs to give the developing Ben Scrivens a look, to which he responded by showing good future potential, although not enough un-seat either netminder from the Leafs rotation. With the circus that Jonas put on in the crease last night, giving up 3 duffers, We’re back to square one. The most unfortunate aspect of the situation is the fact that for the first time in a long time, we don’t have a goalie standing on his head down the stretch, where they normally would, putting us just outside of the playoffs, but downgrading our draft pick. Sometimes the draft pick part isn’t the goalie’s fault. See: Boyd Devereaux
To close this random rambling, I’ll say this: The trade deadline, for better or worse, will determine this team’s fate. If Burke is unable to add some size and grit to the lineup (nevermind star power), this team is dead in the water. Even if the Leafs are able to squeak into the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed, do they have kind of players through the roster like Gary Roberts and Darcy Tucker, in the pre-lockout era, that play such important roles in the post-season? The answer, my friends, is no. Burke will have to make some tough decisions in the coming week, possibly having to part with pieces that are hard for the fan base to swallow, but we all know you have to give quality to get quality.
Hang on folks, it’s going to be a rocky ride.
You can (and should) follow me on twitter with the handle @LeafswireJus
**Well, we’re now getting into that time of year when pre and post game clichés referring to game outcomes come out in full force. Such clichés include: “this a a game they can’t afford to lose”, “the dreaded three-point game”, “at least they got a point, and my personal favourite “this is a must-win game”!” These clichés spread like a virus, and will soon be seen and heard before and every NHL game for the rest of the year. In regards to the Leafs I feel it is safe to assume that every game from now on will be a “must win game”, and my promise to you is that I will never say “must win game” in any of my posts, but instead will try and come up with a new and exciting way to say it, so that I don’t go crazy writing it over and over again, and vise-versa for you my cherished reader.
Now that thats out of the way, on to to post-game analysis:
Tonight was a game where the Leafs needed to score more goals than the Devils. The Leafs came out flying and seemed to have all the momentum, but Petr Sykora felt like scoring apparently. I do applaud the team with coming back with a quick goal after Jonas Gustavsson let in that weak goal on David Clarkson, but something was wrong between the pipes tonight.
It seemed like we had a Robert Louis Stevenson novel going on in our crease tonight as Jonas Gustavsson switched back and forth between “Dr. Gustavsson”, making game-saving stops and keeping the Leafs in the game, and “Mr. Jonas”, with a five-hole that only a mother could love and forgetting that you don’t need to save a shot that is missing the net. Its never a good thing when 3/4 goals scored on a goalie have no business getting over the goal line, but that was the case tonight. The worst was the OT goal, and I shuddered as I had flashbacks of Andrew Raycroft.
Besides the goaltending the Leafs played a pretty solid game with the Clarke Macarthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolai Kulemin line showing shades of its former awesomeness (Grabovski was flying at the end of the game if anyone noticed), Tim Connolly getting a nice tip in, and “Mr. On the Spot”, Phil Kessel sending it to overtime.
After all is said and done the Leafers did pick up a point, and with some help from our new best friends Philadelphia we remain tied for 8th with The ‘Peg. We have been playing terrible hockey as of late and perhaps we did deserve to win this game tonight (i.e. Jake Gardiner ringing the bells of St. Mary’s in OT), but sometimes after a bad streak, you need to play well and deserve a win before you actually get the two points. Until next game.
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.
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.
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.