Toronto Maple Leafs Could Use Help

October 20, 2009

by Derek Harmsworth… As October quickly bleeds away from us, two things are certain.  Number one, it’s getting quite cold outside.  Number two, the reception for the Leafs during home games so far has been that much colder.

If you didn’t hear (please note the sarcasm) the Toronto Maple Leafs are marred in the worst start in their storied history.  To make matters worse?  Well, the NHL schedule makers have Leafs games so spaced it, there is nothing to do but talk about the woeful state of the team.

As I sat the other night watching the third period of yet another embarrassing game, I was approached online by a friend who follows the sport as well, albeit one who’s allegiances lie with a different team.  After we exchanged brief greetings, he asked me what just about every person I know has asked me in the past five to seven days.

“What the heck is wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs”

That’s what he said.  Or, something like that anyway.  A few of the words may have gotten lost in translation.

And to be honest, I simply couldn’t tell him the answer.

A brand new year, the first full year for the illustrious Brian Burke.  New players.  Skaters who at the time looked tailor-made for this team (and I am not saying they still aren’t mind you.)  All this leads to one thing.  Expectation of a team that should be improved.

It started in June.  Continued into July.  And with a 6-3 pre-season record that saw the team play very well during the entire exhibition schedule, expectations were raised.

And perhaps expectation is the fly in the ointment if you will.

If you look at teams rebuilding, it is fair to say only Toronto has a group of fans who feel the rebuilding process is taking longer than it should.

After all, the Kings and Coyotes are off to fast starts.  But there is no reason to believe they can continue these winning ways, just as there is no reason to believe the Leafs will continue to bomb this 2009-2010 season as bad as they are currently.

It’s about time.  And it’s about basics.  These two things will be the key to the Leafs turning this season around.

First up, time.  Chemistry usually isn’t an instant thing.

Very rarely do teams, or players, who have undergone such upheaval as the Leafs, click this quickly.  Despite having the longest pre-season schedule, this is very much still a maturation process between players, coaches, and management alike.

The second thing is basics.

Obviously it’s easier said than done as they are proving, but the Leafs simply need to nail down a win and get some darn confidence back.  It’s a group that looks scared to play at home.  They look terrified to give up that goal that will put them down on the scoreboard.

Simply put, they are forgetting why they are in the NHL in the first place.

To have fun, and play a game that they love.

For the most part, these are good players.  They simply need to loosen up and get back to doing the little things that make each of them as a group effective.

It’s a very quiet room.  It doesn’t look like any leader is stepping up to break the silence and jilt these players out of their slumber.  Players are already avoiding media, and we’re only weeks into the season.

It has quickly become a toxic environment in Toronto for the players.

The Stock Report: Maple Leafs Training Camp Gains and Losses

September 4, 2009

Vesa Toskala will be looking to regain his number one status this season in Toronto.

by Derek Harmsworth… Vesa Toskala $93 Toskala had a great first season with the Maple Leafs, but stumbled heavily in year two, eventually being shut down for the year on trade deadline day.  While it may have been the best decision for the player and the team at the time, there is no reason to believe Toskala cant regain his crown as the team’s number one goalie.  A native of Finland, Toskala is a smaller goalie who plays the butterfly style, something that is a little troubling for a goalie who has had a history of groin problems in the past.  Still, one bad season doesn’t make a career, and I think Vesa can return to form and be a solid starting goaltender for the team, though his leash is certainly shorter than it was one year ago this time.

Jonas Gustavsson $91

“The Monster” as he is known, was one of this year’s most sought after free agents.  And like Bozak and Hanson before him, Gustavsson was convinced to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and will certainly push Vesa Toskala for time in between the pipes this season.

Widely regarded as the “best goalie not in the NHL” last season, Gustavsson has come to the NHL with something to prove.  Despite being a rookie to the National Hockey League, he flat out told Toronto media earlier this year that he plans to steal as many games from Toskala as possible.

Toskala definitely has the edge when it comes to experience, but a shaky start to the season (which is typically something he has done in the past) could open the door for Gustavsson to get in quality starts early in the season.

Joey MacDonald $75

Rated so high on the mere fact that A) the Leafs have little depth in goal, and B) injuries to the Leafs current goalies aren’t a stretch, and MacDonald could find himself in the thick of things during camp.

While it’s clearly a two horse race between Toskala and Gustavsson, it’ll be interesting to see how many minutes MacDonald gets with the big club during the pre-season, and how interesting he makes the decision for the coaching staff.  After all, this is a goalie who sported a .903 save percentage last year, not bad numbers when you consider he was a member of the last place New York Islanders.

MacDonald is nothing more than a reliable back-up/minor league goalie, which is precisely what the Leafs brought him on board for.

Final Thoughts On The Goaltending

As it is with the rest of the roster, the goaltending situation is a very interesting one that will be fun to watch unfold as the training camp and pre-season schedule goes along.

Vesa Toskala has been at his best during his NHL career when pushed by another starter who has the ability to steal games from him, which is precisely what Gustavsson can do.  It’s a season of optimism yet uncertainty for Leafs fans when it comes to their goalies.  Can Toskala rebound from the groin and hip issues and prove he is a starting goaltender in the NHL?  Can Gustavsson has as much success in the NHL as he did in Sweden?  Can MacDonald be the surprise of training camp and make this a three horse race?

It’s all shaping up to be yet another interesting aspect of the pre-season schedule for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Leafs Raising Stock: On The Defensive

September 3, 2009

by Derek Harmsworth… After looking at the forwards, and what their current worth is, it’s time to take a look at the defensive side of the equation.  Different position, but just as crowded as the forwards, and just as competitive.  With that in mind, lets take a look at the portfolio of defenseman, starting with a couple of sure things.

Francois Beauchemin $93

Beauchemin, one of several defenseman to sign with the Leafs this summer, will be very important to any development with the Toronto Maple Leafs, both on the blueline, and as a whole.  A consummate leader, Beauchemin is a hard hitting defender who is a very smooth skater and while he isn’t an offensive dynamo, he certainly isn’t desolate in that area of the game either.  A very good signing at a very good price tag, Burke went with something he knew and felt comfortable with, and it should pay off for Toronto in spades.

Tomas Kaberle $93

It’s been a bit of a crazy half year for Kaberle, the longest serving member of the Maple Leafs.  Rumoured to be heading out of town several times, Kaberle’s no trade clause window is officially closed, and while it still isn’t impossible for him to be dealt, it looks as if Kaberle will stay in blue and white f0r a little longer, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Kaberle is a highly skilled defender who is exceptional at making the first pass, or any pass for that matter.  With a lack of true offensive players on defense, Kaberle may be forced to shoot a little more often this season, something Leafs fans have been shouting for in the past.  Surrounded by talented defenders, Kaberle will be the gear that makes the back end work this season.

Garnet Exelby $89

I know there is a logjam on defense.  I know there are people who play a similar role with the team.  But in my humble opinion, anyone who feels Garnet Exelby is nothing but a spare part on this team clearly hasn’t watched enough Thrashers games over the last few years.  A hard hitting, in your face defender who reeks of attitude, Exelby will no question become a fan favourite in Toronto by Christmas time (I am making a written guarantee.)  As I said, with about four similar defenders battling for just two spots, it won’t be a walk for Exelby to make this team, but I have a hard time believing he won’t be in the lineup on opening night.  He hits, he fights, he chirps opponents, and comes with a cool nickname (XLB) what’s not to like?

Jeff Finger $9o

Let’s get something out of the way here.  Jeff Finger is slightly overpaid.  Having said that, he has been one heck of an addition to the Toronto Maple Leafs since being brought in by interim GM Cliff Fletcher last summer.  Being a member of the 100 hits, 100 shot blocks club, Finger played a valuable role on the team last year.  Aside from those stats, he also wasn’t afraid to mix it up with opponents, and was an off-ice leader for the team, without even being asked by management.  Finger is a good guy, and played a great role last year, unfortunately, he may be a victim of a cap crunch, which is too bad, because he can be a valuable shutdown blueliner, if given the opportunity to prove that in Toronto.

Jonas Frogren $80

Jonas Frogren, known among teammates as “Froggy” is a quiet guy off the ice who is loved by his teammates.  On the ice, he does everything a coach wants in a five/six defender.  He is a tough guy who blocks shots, hits, fights, and would do anything the coaching staff asks of him.  Unfortunately, he just might not have enough to separate himself from the other shutdown defenseman trying to make the team this year, meaning Frogren could start the season as the seventh defenseman, or in the Marlies of the AHL.  Still, if there is an injury to one of the top six, Burke and Wilson have more than enough confidence to insert Frogren into the lineup for a little added sandpaper.

Mike Komisarek $93

Possibly the crown jewel of the Toronto Maple Leafs off-season free agent signings, Komisarek jumped ship from the rival Canadiens and will no doubt be counted on to step into the Leafs top four and eat up valuable minutes on the back end.  Komisarek is not overly offensive, but does have a decent slapshot from the point.  His bread and butter is his defensive game, which is best described as a bull in a china shop.  Komisarek loves getting in opponents face and making them uncomfortable while they’re on the ice.  Leafs fans can recall a few years back when Komisarek had little problem containing big bodied Mats Sundin down low behind the net.  Komisarek will likely be paired on the top line alongside Tomas Kaberle to form a little bit of “thunder and lightning.”  Leafs fans, myself included, are expecting big things from Komisarek this season.

Phil Oreskovic $75

Another person in a similar situation to that of Jonas Frogren, Phil Oreskovic is a very hard guy to dislike.  He works hard, leans on opponents well, and doesn’t take playing in the NHL for granted, not for one day.  However, like Frogren, his one dimensional style may hold him back right now.  For a big man he can move, but his foot speed is average really, and that may be the difference between starting the season in the NHL, or riding the bus with the Toronto Marlies.

Luke Schenn $93

Last year, people were wondering whether or not the Leafs should keep Luke Schenn in the NHL, wondering if he truly was ready to make the leap to the big leagues.  I believe Schenn answered that question resoundingly, with a stellar rookie campaign that saw him log twenty plus minutes a night for the majority of the year, playing big minutes against big name players, and not looking out of place.  Schenn is a nice mix of two way defending, a true hard hitter at heart, Schenn is also developing a nice offensive game, and his shot from the point certainly gained confidence as the year went on.  Schenn is proving to be a bona-fide top four defender, and I am hoping to see him paired with Francois Beauchemin this season, which will surely aid him in his development.

Mike Van Ryn $85

Another case where your heart goes out to a guy, which is a dangerous game when you consider hockey is truly a business.  When healthy, Van Ryn was a marvel for the Leafs.  He showed confidence quarterbacking the powerplay, and routinely found lanes and created offense from the back end with shots that were not only on net, but also got through low enough to create rebounds.  But, there were also serious injury troubles for Van Ryn last year.  It’s a tough thing to judge however.  Some of the injuries were beyond his control, and some of them were bad luck.  If he can stay healthy, he can no doubt be a positive addition to the team.  However, if his first year was any indication, that may be troubling for him.  Still, many have hopes Van Ryn can make this team and get his career back on track, but it wont be easy, especially when you consider a healthy season may see him leave Toronto at the deadline.  Van Ryn is in the final year of his $2.9 million dollar deal.

Ian White $90

One of the hottest debates in Leafs Nation right now revolves around Ian White.  Is his trade stock at its highest, making it prime time to move him out? or is he truly a key part of this team?  And where does he fit on a team that is full of defenseman who have more experience than he has?  It seems almost unfair to have White still be battling for a spot on this team, especially considering the career year he had last year with the Leafs.  Such is life though for White, who wouldn’t have it any other way.  White is at his best when challenged to up his game, and will no doubt make this a hard decision for the Leafs coaching staff.

Join us tomorrow as we look at the goaltending situation for the Toronto Maple Leafs!

A Quick Note On Jason Smith

I won’t say too much here, since Smith is long removed from his time in Toronto.  Still, it’s worth taking the time to acknowledge Smith, one of the true gritty, heart and soul players in the NHL.  A veteran of 1008 games, Smith only scored 41 goals, but was known as a warrior, a captain who led by example on the ice and off.

Though he finishes his career with the rival Senators, Smith deserves a nod of appreciation from every hockey fan for his contributions to the game.  His hard work ethic will surely be missed in the NHL.

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Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke Hints at Trading for a Forward

August 21, 2009

Ian White could be used as bait to lure a forward to Toronto via trade

by Derek Harmsworth… With the NHL season now under a month away, it would appear that most sit content with their rosters as they head into training camp.

Apparently Brian Burke isn’t one of them.

Yesterday, while taking a break from team USA’s Olympic orientation camp, Burke took the time to talk on a Toronto area morning show where he admitted the Leafs are still looking for a forward.

And while that’s hardly news, here is the twist. Burke acknowledged that the current crop of free agent forwards has too steep of an asking price. When asked what they meant for the Leafs quest to find that top line forward, Burke admitted it nay come by moving some of the depth the team has on the back end.

“what that means is, we may look into trading some of our deensive depth for help in the form of a top end forward.”

So what can we make from this? Well, let’s start with what we know. The defenseman who will be traded is not likely Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle’s no trade clause is back in effect, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t be moved.

At this point though. It does seem far more likely the Leafs will move on of their other defenseman in order to obtain that high end forward. The catch twenty-two however, is that Kaberle would bring in a far better return than any of the other blueliners, save for Luke Schenn, who isn’t going anywhere.

The focus then turns to a few other defenseman on the team that may garner some interest from other teams.

Start with Ian White, likely the most desireable defenseman the Leafs will peddle in an attempt to gain some offense.

White had a career year last season with the club, career totals that have Leafs Nation firmly divided. Is Ian White our next big offensive d-man? or was last year an abberation, with it in the best interest of the club to trade him while the stock is at it’s highest?

While some are dead set againt the notion of trading White, it’s hard to argue that teams wouldn’t be interested in an inexpensive smooth skater.

Jeff Finger is another player who could garner some attention from teams looking to add some grit to their backend.

Though his contract is a lite high, Finger did a good job of justifying the deal last season where his steady play, combined with over 100 hits and 100 blocked shots made him a coaches dream. He is also a quiet leader, and is a real low maintenance guy in the locker room.

And even newly acquired Garnet Exelby has heard his name recently come up in trade speculation with the Chicago Blackhawks (but more on that later.)

So, if the Maple Leafs are going to move a defenseman for a top line forward. They do have a few options, though their bargaining chips are a little limited.

In speaking to a few hockey insiders I get the impression that any forward coming over to the Leafs is pretty likely to have a big contract the other team is looking to rod themselves of.

Enter the rumoured deal with Chicago. Earlier this summer Hawks GM Dale Tallon dropped the ball on his RFA signings. The result was having to pay RFA’s as if they were unrestricted. Instead of working the system to give themselves cap relief, they were forced to pay maximum value for their young guns earlier than expected, which has put then in a bot of a cap crunch.

This is where the runours of a deal between the two teams started. The focal point for Chicago would be go get so e better depth on the blueliners, which they could accomplish immediately by trading Patrick Sharp to Toronto in exchange for ine of the deemed expendable defenseman.

Aside from Sharp, there have been others linked to the Leafs, if by nothing other than pure speculation.

Everyone points to the fact that the Leafs did have interest in Phil Kessel (and may still). However, should the Bruins look to keep the speedy American, there may well be a market for Patrice Bergeron.

A naturally gifted centre, Bergeron saw his development slow due to concussion problems. However, having now deemed himself healthy, Bergeron could be a long term solution for the Maple Leafs at the number one centre spot.

And then there is Danny Briere. Backed by one of the worst contracts in the league, Briere has been a disapointment in his first few years in Philly. though injuries haven’t helped his cause.

While taking on such a contract would be controversial for the Leafs, Briere is still a bight skilled centre, who could bring a lot of offense to this team, if he could stay healthy of course.

Brad Richards is another name that has been thrown about in speculation. Richards, shortly after signing a big contract with the Lightning, was traded to Dallas.

With te emergence of some of the younger Stars forwards, Richards may be expendable.

While he has battled wrist injuries recently, Richards is still capable of being an offensive threat in the top six in Toronto

Of course, through all this speculation we do have to remember one thing. This is just the beginning of the rebuild. Shod Brian Burke decode to stand pat and see which one of his young forwards can emerge as a top sox threat too, well, I think that would be quite alright as well.

There is no question, however, that the Leafs have some options if they are serious about upgading the offense right now.

Mr. Burke, the next move belongs to you.

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Wayne Primeau and Anton Stralman: Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames Deal

July 28, 2009

Anton Stralman, a highly touted prospect, has been traded by Toronto

by Derek Harmsworth… Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke announced last night that the club has made a trade with the Calgary Flames.  It’s a move that sees recently acquired Colin Stuart, a 7th round pick in 2012, and highly touted defenseman Anton Stralman to Calgary in exchange for grinder Wayne Primeau, and a 2nd round pick in 2011.

Though it’s only been official for a short while, the move is definitely creating quite a reaction in Leafs Nation, not all of it positive.

Stralman, a very popular prospect among Maple Leafs fans, was seen by many as a future top four defenseman.  In his short time with the Maple Leafs, he has shown flashes of offensive brilliance from the back end.

From a personal standpoint I don’t like this move much as of this writing.  Let’s take a look at this a little closer shall we?

The Maple Leafs loaded up on defenseman last year.  After a terrible defensive team last season, Brian Burke and company were determined to shore up that area, and it certainly looks like they did that over the summer.

As the free agent frenzy has dragged on into near August now, a lot of us were beginning to make our preliminary guesses at what type of lineup the Leafs could be icing come October.

If this team will have Tomas Kaberle on the team, as Brian Burke indicated recently was more than likely, you’re looking at a top four of Kaberle, Schenn, Komisarek and Beauchemin.

This likely leaves the third pairing to Jeff Finger and either Mike Van Ryn or Ian White.  Keep in mind physical d-men like Jonas Frogren and Phil Oreskovic will also be vying for playing time.

Certainly one can’t argue the Leafs had the depth on the back end to make this move, but moving a young defenseman with potential for a third/fourth line grinder seems like a move Leafs regimes of the past would be prone to make.  Smooth skating defenseman who have the ability to make the first pass and bring the puck out of the zone don’t exactly grow on trees.

This of course, is not to discredit Wayne Primeau, and what he will bring to the team.

Primeau is a veteran player who has had stops in Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Boston, and Calgary.  Primeau is a veteran of 715 games.

There are some questions about his health.  Primeau missed the last 56 games of the regular season, and all of the playoffs this past year with a broken foot.  However, some emails sent out to a few sources say he does have a clean bill of health, and will likely undergo a physical in Toronto to prove as much.

Of course, this all turns around quickly if this deal is actually a pre-cursor to a much bigger deal.  Though that may seem unlikely, the Leafs now have their share of third and fourth line forwards, this could be the time the Leafs are looking to deal a player like Matt Stajan perhaps.

And until that happens, this move will have to be filed under the category of “head scratcher.”

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Toronto Maple Leafs 2009-2010 Schedule: Ten Games to Look Forward To

July 23, 2009

by Derek Harmsworth… While the summer flying by way too fast is an alarming, and slightly sad reality, truth is there is but one reason to be excited for summer moving as swiftly as it is.

Hockey season.

Yes, though it may seem like the Stanley Cup was just awarded, truth be told, we are not that far from the start of training camps, preseason, and before you know it, puck drop on opening night of the 2009-2010 NHL season.

And in a season that will house many great moments including another Winter Classic, as well as an Olympic break, there are highlights a plenty for every teams fans to get excited about, even in the dead of summer.

And while every game is worthy of being excited for, here are ten Toronto Maple Leafs games that I am really looking forward already this upcoming season.

Thursday October 1, 2009—Home Opener Versus Montreal

Opening night is always exciting.  Throw in a historic rivalry, a Belarussian blood feud, and a former top defender who has jumped shipped, and this game just became that much more special.

After going months without hockey, two of the sports biggest fan bases will get their fill and then some when the Habs visit the Leafs on opening night of the 2009-2010 NHL season.

While both these teams need no reason to get up for a game against two of the oldest rivals in all of sports, Grabovski vs Kostitsyn, as well as the defection of Mike Komisarek serve as tasty sidebars for this contest.

Saturday October 3, 2009—Toronto at Washington

Simply put, Alex Ovechkin is one of, if not the, best hockey players on the planet.  Add to that a smooth skating defenseman like Mike Green, and emerging goalie in Simeon Varlamov, and it’s always exciting to see the Washington Capitals in action.

Things got a tad nasty last year when then rookie Luke Schenn was assigned to cover Ovechkin.  The Hart Trophy winner was up to the task, and even delivered a hit that put Schenn on the shelf with a knee injury.

A year older, and a year wiser, it’ll be interesting to see if, and how, Luke rises to the challenge this year.

Tuesday October 6, 2009—Ottawa At Toronto

The Battle of Ontario resumes very early into the season, and though it may not have all of the key parts that made it one of the fiercest in the NHL, it’s still a great game when the two do battle.

Since the lockout, the Battle has been a bit of a study in contrast.  After losing most every game to the Senators in the first two seasons, the tide has turned, and Toronto has began to take over the season series.

With plenty of new faces on both sides, it will be interesting to see a new chapter in the rivalry written.

Saturday October 10, 2009—Pittsburgh at Toronto

Leafs fans pining for a chance to get a look at Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions won’t have to wait long.

The second Saturday of the schedule sees Crosby’s Penguins roll into the Air Canada Centre for what will obviously be an good, early measuring stick.

Despite their large difference in the points standings, the Leafs and Penguins had a good season series last year, with Toronto winning the majority of them.  Things also got a little nasty when Luke Schenn leveled Evgeni Malkin into the boards, and then proceeded to pummel Tyler Kennedy, who had jumped off the bench to the aid of his teammate.

Monday October 29, 2009—Toronto At Anaheim

Brian Burke is a cocky, arrogant man.  There is no denying that.  To his credit, when you have the resume he holds, you are allowed to be just a little full of yourself.

Though he moved on peacefully, and though the Ducks had Bob Murray step in seamlessly for what was a good post season run, there is no doubt that Brian Burke and his ego will be pining to see his new team lay the smackdown on his former club.

Burke will also be looking to change the ways of his teams when traveling to the Pacific Coast.  California has not been kind to Toronto in recent years.

Saturday November 7, 2009—Detroit at Toronto

Not only is this a classic Original Six era matchup, and not only is it a rivalry of teams in which geographical distance is pretty small, but it’s also the NHL’s annual Hockey Hall Of Fame Game, meaning the class of 2009, one of the best ever that features the likes of Yzerman, Robitaille, Hull, and Leetch, will be on hand and honoured before the game.

On the ice, the likes of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Lidstrom will try and teach the young Leafs a lesson in what it takes to be a top team in this league.

For the Leafs, they will look to duplicate last year’s contest when, in one of the highlights of the year, the Leafs upset Detroit 3-2.

Monday November 23, 2009—New York Islanders at Toronto

After all the hoopla surrounding Brian Burke’s public bromance with John Tavares, and given the fact this is like a “homecoming game” for the kid, it’ll be interesting to see his first possible game in the NHL in Toronto this November.

Tavares, the first overall pick in this past June’s NHL draft, had a decorated career in the OHL with Oshawa and London.  Touted as the next one at the tender age of 14, Tavares will finally have the world stage to prove what he can do, and their may be no brighter and more scrutinized stage in the NHL than in Toronto.

Monday December 7, 2009—Atlanta at Toronto

While it’s hardly screams classic rivalry, the Leafs and Thrashers have had some chippy affairs in the past few seasons.

Add to that the fact they made a trade earlier this summer, and the intrigue only goes up from there.

Pavel Kubina, at times unfairly maligned by Leafs Nation, returns to Toronto for the first time since being dealt to Atlanta in exchange for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart. Exelby, meanwhile, will likely be looking to make a statement against his former team.

Tuesday January 26, 2010—Los Angeles at Toronto

Brother vs brother?  It’s certainly a possibility.  As the Kings come to Toronto in early 2010, there is chance we may very well see Luke Schenn hounding down his younger brother Brayden, who was drafted to the NHL by the L.A. Kings this past June.

Aside from that interesting story, there is Leafs fans getting the chance to see all the Kings young talent on display, particularly local boy Drew Doughty.

Friday February 12, 2010–Toronto at St. Louis

At first this may not seen like a big game, but a look a little deeper says otherwise.

The chance for Leafs fans to see Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo again is a welcome thing.  The two former first rounders have found a niche in St. Louis, a young up and coming team coming off a first round appearance in last year’s playoffs.

And, if that isn’t enough, this is also the last game before the Olympic break.

Komisarek, Exelby, and Orr Signings Help Maple Leafs Get Tougher

July 2, 2009

By Derek Harmsworth… There is still over three
months to go before the 2009-2010 NHL season gets underway, and there
are many variables yet to be determined.  There is, however, one thing
we are quite sure of.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be far nastier and meaner when it’s time to drop the puck.

Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was busy on the opening day of free
agency, adding to the team’s image by signing Colton Orr and Mike
Komisarek, and trading for Garnet Exelby.

Orr, one of the NHL’s biggest pugilists, racked up 193 penalty
minutes with the New York Rangers last year.  While he is certainly a
one-dimensional player, there is little doubt the Leafs won’t be a
little more respected this upcoming season with a fighter like Orr who
will surely take some of the heat of youngsters like Luke Schenn when
it comes to dropping the gloves.

Bringing in Orr for $1 million is a slight over-payment and the
four-year term is also a little puzzling. Still, for a team who was
thrown around the last couple of years, the addition of Orr is a
welcomed sight for Leafs Nation.

Later in the afternoon, Burke got a little busier, first making a
deal with an old friend, Don Waddell, the GM of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Burke sent blueliner Pavel Kubina and the rights to center Tim
Stapleton to Atlanta in exchange for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart.

While losing Kubina’s offense from the back end will hurt Toronto in
their pursuit of goals, a defenseman like Exelby gives them a very mean
and nasty player, who loves to throw big hits.

Komisarek meanwhile is coming off an injury-riddled season, but is
also a mean defenseman who enjoys playing a physical game.  While
offense isn’t his thing, he is good for 20 to 30 points a season.

Adding Komisarek also brings a new, interesting element into the storied Toronto/Montreal rivalry.

The term of the Komisarek deal is also great news for most of us in
Leafs Nation. Bringing in the rugged defenseman for five years at an
annual cap hit of $4.5 million is a price the Leafs can live with in
this salary cap era.

After today’s developments, it will be interesting to see what the
Leafs decide to do with sought-after defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

While the Leafs have improved their defense, they are also now
lacking in the puck-moving D-man department, which may have them
thinking Kaberle should stay around.

On the other hand, it’s a team that right now looks like it will
have trouble scoring. Trading an asset like Kaberle will certainly help
to cure that ail.

According to NHL on TSN insider Darren Dreger, the Leafs are certainly still exploring the option of trading Kaberle.

If you were grading teams based on their first day into the free
agent foray, you would certainly have to give the Leafs a passing grade.

While they didn’t make any moves to completely solve their problems,
or improve their team by leaps and bounds, they did hand out good
contracts to good players.

With the addition of Exelby, Komisarek, and to a lesser extent Orr,
you have to look at this team and say the Leafs are better today than
they were yesterday at this time. It was a team last year that weren’t
tough enough, nor intimidating.  They were terrible in their own end
and especially on the penalty kill.

Now, whether or not that has improved dramatically is up for debate, but there is no question it is improvement.

Just one step.  One of many in this rebuild phase.

Now, to find someone who can score…

The Maple Leafs: Analyzing Options As July 1st Free Agent Frenzy Begins

July 1, 2009

By Derek Harmsworth… As the Calendar shifts from June to July, and Canadians celebrate Canada Day in their various fashions, the NHL gets ready for a little something they call, “free agent frenzy.”

While many fans in Leafs Nation would prefer the club didn’t sign too many high profile free agents, it looks like Brian Burke will be active.  The Leafs’ GM has stated he will spend to the cap, and has a good chunk of change to work with.

Still, there is no doubt that the Maple Leafs must stay the course.

Something is happening in Toronto.  Like it or not, this team is rebuilding, and they have taken steps in the right direction.  Are they giant steps?  Not really, but it’s progress, and that’s a positive sign.

Still, in the salary cap era, and with the structure of the current CBA, there is still a time and place for a rebuilding team to sign unrestricted free agents.  The key is spending wisely.

And with that, I present my list of this years players I think would be a good fit on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Note that I am not saying these players will all sign with the Maple Leafs.  In fact, I am not saying any of them will, but these are the players I think could find themselves in Blue and White next season, in no particular order.

Mattias Ohlund

He will be 33-years-old, by the time next season starts.  Ohlund is a player who Brian Burke is very familiar with, a factor that is prominent on this list.

Ohlund is a solid two-way defenseman who is steady on the back end, while contributing twenty to thirty points a season.  Ohlund was also an impressive plus fourteen last season with the Canucks.

Ohlund made $3.5 million last season with Vancouver, and with the likely departure of Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina, that is a number the Leafs will be able to live with.

Mike Cammalleri

A Toronto-area native, Cammalleri will be twenty eight by the time next season starts, and is coming off a career year with the Calgary.

Cammalleri scored thirty nine goals and finished the year with 82 points in 81 games with the Flames.  A solid offensive talent, many people believe Cammalleri has arrived as a top six forward, and his speed and scoring touch is something the Leafs could certainly use.

And don’t let the 5′9″ frame fool you, Cammalleri has no problem mixing it up, or going into the corners for loose pucks.

Signing players off a career year can be risky though, and some say that Cammalleri isn’t worth the $5 million plus he will be seeking.  And while his price tag is up for debate, there is little doubt his addition would make him the most skilled offensive player on the Maple Leafs.

Mike Komisarek

With a cap hit of $1.7 million last season, it’s safe to say that is the last time anyone will get the services of Komisarek at that bargain price.

The menacing twenty-seven year old defenseman is a stay at home blueliner, notching around twenty points a year, Komisarek is more known for his heavy hitting, and ability to stand up for his teammates.

His 6′4″, 240 pound frame is an intimidating figure, no matter where he is on the ice.

While some people are worried that last year Komisarek fell to earth, there is also a group of people who feel Komisarek may be the cure for the Leafs’ defensive ails.

Francois Beauchemin

Another player Burke is familiar with, Beauchemin was brought to Anaheim as an afterthought in the Sergei Fedorov trade.  As it turns out, he would pretty much be the focal point.

Beauchemin is in line for a raise from his $1.65 million he made last year, but there is little doubt a defenseman as solid as Beauchemin’s ilk wouldn’t be at least worth Jeff Finger type money, if not more.

A guy who is again usually good for twenty to thirty points a year, Beauchemin brings it with physical play, and has the legs to keep up with most the league’s top players.  Beauchemin also has a booming shot from the point.

Samuel Pahlsson

Another player with Burke familiarity who won’t put up a lot of points, Pahlsson is a great defensive centre, and has proved in the past he can shut down the league’s top forwards throughout the league.

Pahlsson made $1.4 million this past season with Anaheim and Chicago, and it’s very likely that amount could go up, though no one is quite sure by how much.

He certainly didn’t help his case this past playoffs with the Blackhawks.

Still, Pahlsson would certainly help the Maple Leafs in the faceoff and penalty kill department, though it may be cheaper for the Leafs to consider other options, or give the ball to John Mitchell and see how much further he progresses this year.

Manny Malhotra

At first glance I will get a couple “say what?” responses here.  However, if you look a little further, and you’ll find Malhotra is a dependable fourth line centre who can kill penalties, and also provide veteran leadership.

A local boy who will come cheap, Malhotra is the type of player who does little things well, and even chipped in a respectable 11 goals and 35 points for Columbus last year.

Chad LaRose

Another third line grinder type player, LaRose is another one of those guys who does everything you want of a player.  He can score timely goals, hit, and fight.

LaRose is no doubt an energy guy, and his style of play would look great on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So that’s it, that’s my list.  Sorry it’s a little late, and sorry it’s a little shorter than last year.

This is a list full of third line energy guys and defense, it’s obvious after last season the Leafs must improve their defense and special teams, something I think very possible with healthy, reliable goaltending, and players like these in the lineup for next season.

Be sure to check out the blog all day tomorrow, as we will have live coverage and analysis of the Maple Leafs moves on free agency day.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Leafs Take Kadri

June 29, 2009

By Derek Harmsworth… Nazem Kadri is a bust.  Brian Burke is an idiot.

At least that’s what some in Leafs Nation are screaming this morning after the Leafs failed to trade up in the first round of Friday night’s NHL entry draft.

And to be honest, it’s really quite a shame.

It’s hard to blame Leafs fans for being a little edgy, after all, they have suffered through mediocrity for some 40-plus years.  However, to immediately cast Kadri off and say it was, as one fan put it on a message board, “a waste of a pick” is downright embarrassing.

You see, last night, there really was no right answer for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sure there were scenarios that most fans dreamed up in their heads that were far fetched to begin with, but it really didn’t matter what the Leafs did last night.

Because Brian Burke didn’t trade for John Tavares, Brayden Schenn, and trade Tomas Kaberle for five first round picks, the night was an absolute, and utter failure right?

Wrong.  In fact, dead wrong.

Sure, Brian Burke didn’t help himself by publicly declaring his virtual bromance with John Tavares, but the fact of the matter is, Burke worked feverishly and diligently to move up in this year’s draft, and in fact had a deal on the table (more on that later).

But the simple fact remains, he felt the price too high, so he picked where the Leafs were slated to, seventh overall, and selected a pretty damn good player in Nazem Kadri.

So now that we’ve had a few hours to settle a bit, I ask those in Leafs Nation to take one giant step back from the ledge and let me explain how this draft wasn’t a loss for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Start from the very beginning of this story.

Moving up to grab John Tavares

Again, like I said, Burke didn’t help himself by making his feelings for JT known.  Still, the simply fact remains that even if he wanted to make a deal, it was impossible.

Brian Burke is a smart hockey mind.  In fact, he is a lot of things.  Unfortunately, magician isn’t one of them.

See, the New York Islanders never once entertained the idea of trading the No. 1 pick.  Though there was some shroud of mystery over who they were selecting, there is no doubt they were using that pick from the word go.

Therefore, everything Brian Burke perhaps wanted to do, was contingent on the New York Islanders and what they had planned for the first overall pick.

Once they chose Tavares, there was little reason for Burke to deal Luke Schenn and other assets away to Tampa Bay.

Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene are top class prospects and no doubt will be great NHL players, but Burke wanted Tavares.

And once he was off the board at No. 1, it didn’t make sense for Burke to risk as much assets as Tampa GM Brian Lawton wanted to move up to the two spot.

Selecting Nazem Kadri seventh overall

After much speculation, the Leafs held onto the seventh overall pick, and with it selected Nazem Kadri, a shifty, playmaking centre from the OHL’s London Knights.

While some fans were disappointed that Brayden Schenn was no longer around, and that the Leafs left players like Pajaarvi-Svensson and Jared Cowan on the board, there is no doubt in my mind that they still will get a hell of a player out of Nazem Kadri.

In his first year with his hometown London Knights, Kadri notched 78 points in 56 games this year in the regular season, followed up by a 21 point playoff (which tied him with Tavares, by the way.)

As a person who calls the London area his home, I had the personal opportunity to see Kadri play at least 10 times this year, and I can assure you, this kid brings it.

He has a great shot, and is a smooth skater who can read plays very well.  He also isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty when the play gets chippy.

I even had the chance to meet him at an autograph signing, and I can tell you he is over the moon about the fact he gets to play hockey for a living.  He was very nice to every fan that came through, constant smile on his face, and he knows how fortunate he is to be where he is.

Add to that the fact he is coming from the Hunter brothers hockey factory in London.  Kadri comes from the same London Knights team and management group that has churned out Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner, Steve Mason, and John Carlson.

After the dust settles, and some of the bitterness of false hope subsides, Leafs fans will be very happy with Nazem Kadri.

One interesting aside though, usually one of my favourite personalities, I didn’t care much for James Duthie asking Brian Burke how disappointed he was in picking Kadri, with Kadri sitting between the two of them.

Just seemed a little unprofessional to me.

Trading Tomas Kaberle

The Leafs said all along, they would have preferred to wait until July to trade Tomas Kaberle.

Offers came in yesterday, about four or five from what I heard.  And the Leafs certainly considered them, but at the end of the day they feel it’s much better to wait until after July 1 to make any deal.

The reason is simple.

Teams who lose out on jay Bouwmeester, or who aren’t willing to pay his demands, will be calling the Toronto Maple Leafs, and looking for a puck moving defenseman.

By holding onto Kaberle until Bouwmeester is signed and sealed in another NHL city, the demand for the Leafs prized asset will rise, maximizing the return.

Don’t think for a second Burke didn’t consider offers yesterday, but their original plan was to hold off until July 1.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Talks Heating up as NHL Draft Nears

June 26, 2009

By Derek Harmsworth… With the NHL Entry Draft now just over 24 hours away, the rumours are really starting to heat up, especially when it comes to Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Burke has been attempting to move up for the better part of the last two months. But talks are now finally getting serious, as all of the general managers have arrived in Montreal in anticipation of Friday’s draft.

Start with the previously mentioned John Tavares sweepstakes, if you will.

The New York Islanders have done a fantastic job of not tipping their hand leading into Friday night. You can find people who are adamant that the Isles will take Tavares, and then turn around and find just as many people who feel they will take towering defenseman Victor Hedman.

There is also word that Islanders owner Charles Wang quite fancies Matt Duchene, so your guess is as good as mine.

The only thing we do know for sure is that if the Islanders pick anyone but John Tavares, the feeding frenzy will begin.

There was also the rumour last night where Darren Dreger spoke about the Leafs offering up the seventh overall pick for a “roster player” in the Western Conference.

After contacting him this morning, though, Dreger wouldn’t elaborate with me, no matter how much agony I displayed.

There is also a strong report coming our way this afternoon, as Dreger reported at 3:20 p.m. that the Maple Leafs have received a “significant offer” for Tomas Kaberle, though he said details were sketchy at this point.

Andy Strickland reported yesterday that the Maple Leafs and Coyotes were talking of a deal that involved Tomas Kaberle, but couldn’t come to an agreement.

Oh, the NHL offseason. Never a dull moment. Particularly here in Toronto

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