Ducks and Leafs Have Goalie Issues

October 23, 2009

by  Brandon Warnes… Its funny how Burke’s previous team, Anaheim, and his current team, Toronto, both have their fair share of goaltending issues.

However one is more of an issue and the other is more of a gift, really.

Much was said of how Burke left his old team (cap issues etc.) but not much was said of what he left there. Anaheim has two solid NHL-capable goalies in Hiller and Giguere, and one of those two is most likely to be dealt at some point this season.

That’s where the idea of it being a gift comes into play. Goalie surplus is always a good thing.

Say a team like Chicago came calling for a goalie, as Huet may not be the guy to carry that team. They would need to first address the Huet situation either through trade or waiving him.

Still a deal could be worked out that sees Chicago getting Hiller or Giguere and Anaheim might receive a few guys from Chicago (say Sharp, Versteeg, or Barker).

That would allow Chicago to get some cap room (Hiller is a free agent after this season) as well as getting a No. 1 goalie. Anaheim would be receiving a solid forward or defender from Chicago.

Either way, the door is open for Anaheim to make some moves and should improve the club after it is all said and done.

Now for Toronto and their goalie issues, which are more of a problem for Burke and his coaching staff. Surely Burke would like to have two goalies who are capable of being the No. 1 guy and trading one of them for some prospects.

But that’s not going to happen for them.

Goalie problems are the norm for Toronto, at least post-lockout. Belfour, Raycroft, Pogge, Tellvquist, Aubin, Toskala, Joseph…the list goes on. Not having a go-to guy each night is all part of why this team hasn’t made the playoffs four years in a row.

It’s still a little early to be writing off Toskala as the No. 1 guy but he appears to be carrying the same play from last season. Even if he shows up, no one will want to take a chance on him through trades because of his injury history and poor play.

Gustavsson still hasn’t been given enough of a chance as his groin injury has stopped him from playing. If he plays to his potential, Toronto won’t want to trade their only goalie who can win games for them.

Throw in the fact Toronto has to use McDonald and Reimer while Toskala and Gustavsson rest their injuries, it’s just more goalies who don’t appear ready to take this team far.

All of which only has to make Burke even more angry and concerned. After trading first rounders for Kessel this season, having a proven goalie who’s expendable because you have another capable NHL goalie could allow you to get a few picks back.

As this season progresses it will be interesting to see how both stories unfold.

Boy wouldn’t it be something too if Pogge ends up playing Monday night against his old team after being dealt after last season?

Time Off Might Just Be What The Doctor Ordered For Toronto

October 22, 2009

by Brandon Warnes…

So far this season, things aren’t working right in Toronto. While its only seven games in, and despite missing the playoffs four years in a row, they haven’t stumbled this badly out of the gate.

The goalies have looked weak and defensive play has been poor. Adding to the issues has been a lack of offense. Last season Toronto got points from unusual places and they found themselves able to score goals each night.

After a busy preseason schedule that saw the team win most of their games, they haven’t  been able to carry that play over to the regular season. So maybe that little time off caught up to them.

Other than last Saturday’s game against the Rangers, this team has looked awful in each contest. They couldn’t hold the lead against Montreal opening night and haven’t scored enough goals since to even have a lead.

Last game they looked different though, they seemed to get the message that coach Ron Wilson was trying to convey. They crashed the net and took several shots creating plenty of scoring chances. Joey MacDonald, while not making overly huge saves, made enough key saves to get the team some confidence.

After hitting the net hard with both shots and bodies, nothing came of it and they found themselves down a few goals about halfway through the game. Whatever confidence they had vanished as they weren’t the same team after that. They stopped shooting and throwing the body around and it allowed for New York to pull away.

So currently Toronto is sitting at 0-6-1 to start the season and looking for answers. Can the offense carry over the play from the early parts of last game and can the defense hold off opponents long enough to get a lead. Most of all can the goalies play well enough to win/steal a few games in the process.

All of this certainly won’t happen overnight, but with a week off since their last game they have time for improvement. Most importantly this could allow Toronto to have four healthy goalies able to play by Saturday. Three at the very least. Gustavsson has been out since playing against Ottawa with a groin injury and is most likely the first one to return to action. Toskala meanwhile is still nursing a knee injury and may need another few days to rest up.

All these days of practice might just be enough to turn this season around for Toronto. And everyone from the coach, to the general manager to the fans is hoping that will be the case.

Survivor Toronto: Who Will Be the Sole Maple Leafs Survivor?

February 26, 2009

by Brandon Warnes… Alright, so Survivor isn’t coming to Toronto anytime soon. Nor will a player win money for being the only not being moved at the trade deadline on March 4. However the only player who appears to be untouchable is rookie Luke Schenn.

Burke is keeping his cards close to his chest at the moment but admits talks have heated up over the course of the week. He has said a few times now that everyone won’t like the moves he makes but they are moves that he views are helpful to this club.

So who goes and who stays exactly? Well if this rebuilding process is really underway, surely Burke isn’t considering trading some of the better young players they have right now like Grabovski and Kulemin.

What about some of the veterans who weren’t moved last year? Well it turns out that those players are the best assests Toronto has at the moment if any deal is to be made.

Both Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina have said time and again that they have no plans of leaving this team but would be open to the idea. Kaberle has given his agent 10 teams he’d be willing to get moved to if deal was to happen, all are believed to be from the east.

Kubina now has said he has no intention of waiving his no trade clause but both players can get traded no matter what once summer rolls around if they miss the playoffs this year.

Likelihood:

Kaberle - 50/50, Burke has said that Kaberle is a good player he’d love to keep around. He would have to find a defender that plays his style anyways if he does get moved and Burke has to be blown away by any offers in order for it to be considered. Ideally a young player in the NHL, prospect and high draft pick.

Kubina - Not moving at the deadline, may get traded this summer. Little to no interest for Kubina and he appears to be willing to ride this season out with Toronto.

What happens once you have a career year, and what happens when you bounce back from a poor season? Well talks heat up about shipping you out of town while they can. Dominic Moore is on pace for a career year and Jason Blake has rebounded from a terrible season last year that saw him only score 15 goals.

Toronto currently is working out things with Moore and trying to resign him. While Moore is a good player, if he was anywhere else he would be a mediocre third/fourth line player with limited ice time and the value in return for a trade would not be great.

As for Jason Blake he still has a few years left on his deal and a lot of money to go with it. Despite him having a better season, no team will be willing to take on this aging winger.

Likelihood:

Moore - 50/50, wouldn’t get much in return and may demand too much for Toronto to resign him. Although a possible trade and sign could occur where Burke would get what he could for Moore then resign him in July.

Blake - Not going anywhere, little interest for aging winger will a bad contract. Buyout in the summer could be possible but don’t expect him to be traded by March.

What happens to guys who have worn out their welcome in Toronto? Well they too get shipped out of town, or are heavily pushed by fans and management who have seen enough. Players falling into this category are Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Matt Stajan.

All of these guys are having respectable seasons but management and fans are starting to feel like its time for both sides to move on. Antropov is on pace for a career season and was regarded to be the only top six forward by then general manager Cliff Fletcher.

Burke now believes Antropov isn’t worth re-signing and would rather trade him and not lose him for nothing.

Ponikarovsky has never really broken out into a great player, but has the potential to score 20 goals a season. Too often than not he does things one night and then goes quiet the next, and that quietness sometimes lasts awhile.

Stajan had always been said to be the future captain of this team because of his maturity and leadership. He too is having a career season and many people feel Toronto should trade him while his value is high.

Likelihood:

Antropov - 50/50, could get dealt at the deadline or could be lost to free agency in July. Asking price is said to be a first round pick and teams may not be willing to pay that.

Ponikarovsky - 50/50, teams could be looking to add a big body with scoring touch. Deal is attractive and has one year left for $2.1 million. If Antropov is too steep a risk, teams could call for Poni.

Stajan - Not likely, similar circumstances to Moore. He would be a third line guy on a good team, so return won’t be great.

Last but not least is one of the more important positions on the team, goal-tending. Vesa Toskala seems to have fallen out of favour with Toronto and hasn’t quite played like he did last year. Maybe a change of scenery would be good for Toskala and he’s been playing a bit better as of late so stock could be on the rise.

Likeliness:

Toskala: Not going anywhere, no interest in him. Would leave a hole in their goal-tending which Toronto has paid too dearly for in the past. Holding on to him until Pogge develops or someone better becomes available.

The next few days leading up to the deadline will be interesting ones indeed. These players on this list could be moved or other players not on this list could be move. One thing is for sure, Toronto won’t be standing pat come March 4.

Maple Leafs Dominate Canadiens, Win 5-2

February 8, 2009

by Brandon Warnes…

Judging by the build-up for this game, you knew you were in for a treat. Kostitsyn vs. Grabovski was heavily discussed and both teams were looking to bounce back from tough losses.

Toronto set the tone early as they took a lot of shots compared to how they played in Buffalo a few nights before. It was a chippy affair, as both teams were trading hits early on.

Toronto had the 1-0 lead after the first period. Rookie Luke Schenn has been a great defensive player who has worked hard this season. It payed off as he was able to net his first NHL goal and give his team the early lead.

The officials were not letting a lot go in this, rather than letting them play they called several penalties. It seemed like they called the wrong things and missed calls they should have made, but it didn’t change the course of the game.

While this game was meant to be Kostitsyn vs. Grabovski it never ended up being like that. They both played different shifts and other players on each team were targeting these guys. Montreal would rather see Grabovski sit on his pants all night as that is all they focused on it seemed.

With Montreal something appears to be missing. They have lost too many games as of late and are losing to teams “they’re supposed to be beating.” Carey Price has looked shaky as of late and tonight was no different.

Jason Blake continued his fine play and scored two goals on Price, with one being sent to the top of the net glove side. Price seemed to have his mind elsewhere and was just not into the game at all. Losing focus of the puck and not positioning well to stop shots led to Toronto goals.

That was another story in this game too, the struggles of both team’s goalies. While Price was poor, the same can not be said for Toskala who took the criticism from his general manager and coach to heart. Toskala made the saves he needed to and made some he had no business making, like a Chris Higgins breakaway shot.

Price showed similar signs to the way he played in last year’s playoffs. His start was okay, but as time went on he just wasn’t able to make the key stops and that is how this season has gone for him.

Maybe leaning on him too early wasn’t a good move when they dealt Huet, but either way Montreal needs him to be solid if they have any hopes of doing anything this season.

Toronto looked like a great hockey team, something that hasn’t been seen too much this year. Some nights they are good and the next they are downright awful.

Tonight, though, they got shots on net, forechecked well, and used their speed and made good passes to open up the game and get them a lead. If they could play like this on a nightly basis then they would be a really good team.

Stempniak and Jeff Finger scored for Toronto as well, and D’Agostini and Kostopoulos added makers for Montreal. Next game for Toronto goes Tuesday when they roll into Florida looking to make it two in a row. Montreal is set to start on a six game road trip looking to turn around their as of late.

Minnesota Runs ‘Wild’ On Toronto

January 28, 2009

by Brandon Warnes…

It started out as a feel good story, Mike Van Ryn returns from injury and youngster Justin Pogge is called up to showcase his stuff once again. Sadly, it turned into something you would see in a slasher flick by the end of the game.

Toronto just looked flat. Maybe it was the time off that got to them, but they looked very out of place. Early on they managed few shots and chances, and found themselves down 1-0 because of it. By the end of the night the score was 6-1 for Minnesota.

Maybe its the trade winds howling that is getting to Antropov as he was unable to find the net once again. He had his fair share of chances; 6 shots early in the game but he couldn’t capitalize.

For Minnesota, their fast paced style of play seemed to be the right formula to beat Toronto. Many times they caught Toronto flat footed and were in alone on Pogge, or were in two on one situations. Bouchard was the spark for the team, using his speed and determination to net a pair of goals.

Once again it was Jason Blake finding the net for Toronto. This has been the story for the last month or so now as Blake has already matched his total from last year with fifteen goals so far this season.

As for the return for Van Ryn, maybe he should have waited until Colorado to come back. The whole defense looked shaky, aside from strong play from Luke Schenn. Too many turnovers and bad decisions on offense led to Minnesota goals.

Pogge was called up again to show how capable or incapable he is of playing at this level. Was it a fair assessment tonight? Not in the least, as many of the goals were not his fault. Sure, he looked slow to move on a few goals but if Toronto had not turned the puck over so often and if the defenders didn’t leave him out to dry the score may have been a little less than it ended up.

Leaving Pogge in for all the goals may have hurt his stride but its all part of the learning process. Hopefully his next outing is much better for him.

All in all it was a bad effort on all fronts. Forwards didn’t look sharp, nor did the defense. Clearly a shakeup is needed, although significant deals may be far away.

However what they may need is another spark from players returning from injury. In Colorado, they may just get that as Williams plans to return from his shoulder problems, and Finger may want to play his former team again. Toronto should be ready to go Thursday as they are set to face former Leafs Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft.

Toronto Hockey: What’s Wrong In Leaf Land?

January 9, 2009

by Brandon warnes…

Not much was to be expected this season in Toronto. The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs for three years now and were without their longtime captain Mats Sundin. Many figured the Maple Leafs were a sure bet for the lottery at the end of the season. The team is in rebuilding mode but have done much better than they could have even imagined.

Still though, it’s not hard to be a better team than the one that suited up last year. Additionally, the team is still struggling and something seems to be missing.

Forwards:

Scoring  a lot more goals than many could have predicted. Without Sundin leading the way the team has scored 121 goals in total. Two players having breakout seasons are Matt Stajan and Dominic Moore. Aside from those two and Antropov and Ponikarovsky though, someone else needs to step up. A common thing for this team is to score goals later in the game when it may already be over.

Solution: Find that veteran presence needed to ensure that the team plays a full game. Possibly acquire a young forward with some upside.

Defense:

Luke Schenn has been a rock on the blue line, Van Ryn has been a nice addition and Jonas Frogren seems to be making fans everywhere he goes. Sadly, they have allowed 142 goals which doesn’t exactly read “good job.” Kubina and Kaberle have been making far too many errors for two veteran players. Injuries have taken their toll as well but the overall play on defense has been poor.

Solution: Trade Kaberle and or Kubina for prospects and picks, allow younger defense to play at high level. Clear cap space for signing other defenders or use it in other areas.

Goaltending:

Toskala hasn’t been the number one goalie many were used to seeing and Joseph hasn’t looked like a reliable back-up so far this season. The problem with Toskala may lie with Raycroft, last year Raycroft was there and both were trying to be the number one guy. This year, Raycroft is gone and Joseph comes in already aware of the role he has on the team. Throw in friends being traded from the team and perhaps Toskala doesn’t find Toronto too cozy anymore. In any case his game needs to pick up, whether he knows it or not. As for Joseph his time in the NHL appears to be over, allow him to be part of the organization in another form.

Solution: Call up Pogge and allow Joseph to retire. A young goalie looking to prove himself may be the kick Toskala needs. Or get rid of Toskala all together as the return for him later in the season could be good.

Coaching:

Nothing seems to be too bad here, Ron Wilson appears to be fitting into his role quite nicely. However he seems to be unsure of what the problem with his team is. He seems to blame the older players but doesn’t give the younger guys enough chances in key situations.

Solution: Keep him around for sure, but tell him to be harder on the veterans and give younger players more ice time.

General Manager:

It’s hard to really judge Brian Burke at this point as he has yet to do anything really worthwhile to this team. Cliff Fletcher built the team we have now and most of his moves have been good. He rid the team of older overpaid guys and brought in guys like Grabovski and Hagman. He had deals in place for Sundin (Higgins, first and second round picks) and Kaberle (Carter and first round pick) but both refused to waive their no trade clauses. Even his move before he handed the team over to Burke, which saw them give up Steen and Coliacovo for Stempniak seemed alright at the time and has been the real big deal for them this season.

Burke recently acquired Brad May as his first move, but what message does this convey? He is older and won’t do much more for the team aside from adding some leadership and toughness. Burke is sure to do something more soon but he should be stocking up on prospects and picks and avoid the older players completely. His trading pieces appear to be Kaberle, Kubina and Antropov, all of which would get a great return if the time came. Stajan too could get a decent return, especially since his stock won’t rise much more than the point it is this season.

Solution: Start testing the waters, look to see what picks and prospects teams would part with for the Leafs better players. Avoid older and overpaid players entirely.

Overall the Maple Leafs are not in rough shape, teams like the Senators are in a much worse spot at the moment. Things aren’t perfect in Toronto though, as a few key areas need to be addressed. It will be interesting to see what transpires in the rest of the season and more importantly what happens at the deadline.