Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scouting Report: Mike Brown

The Maple Leaf's Mike Brown is just one of five Jewish players in the NHL this season. The other four are Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Schneider (the all time Jewish scoring career scoring leader with 743 points), Mike Cammalleri, and Eric Nystrom.

Mike Brown, also 25, was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, from the Anaheim Ducks on June 26. During his first four seasons in the NHL, the native of Northbrook, Illinois has developed a reputation as a “tough guy” in the league. Last season alone, Brown registered a total of 14 fights, and 106 penalty minutes in addition to his seven points. The previous season, Brown fought 19 times and racked up 145 penalty minutes, in just 48 games played.

Are the Maple Leafs good enough to make the playoffs?

There have been so many new bodies added to the Leafs over the past 12 months that it is next to impossible to predict what this team will do. On paper it doesn’t appear to be strong enough to make the playoffs but then everyone was convinced the Blue Jays wouldn’t win 70 games this season. Here is my list of positives and negatives going into the season.

Positive – no Vesa Toskala

No longer having Toskala on their roster has to be the biggest positive this season. Last season he was an anchor that dragged the Leafs to the bottom of the NHL standings. J.S. Giguere may no longer be the same goalie that won the Conn Smythe Trophy a few years ago but he is considerably better than Toskala.

Negative – Tomas Kaberle non-trade

The biggest non-event of the NHL offseason was the trade that never happened. No one really knows what happened here but obviously Brian Burke had overpriced his one tradable commodity. I have no problem with Kaberle. You know what you get here. The negative component here is that the trade was supposed to fill a gaping hole at centre for the Leafs. So the Leafs start the season with likely the weakest core of players at this position in the entire NHL.

Positive – no more blue and white disease

Brian Burke has stated that when he arrived in Toronto, there existed a level of complacency (remember the Muskoka Five) that he was unable to shake off even when players were publicly called out. We all know what he was talking about. Players received too much attention for accomplishing so little. So he got rid of most of those players. There only six players remaining that were here before Burke arrived and only one (Kaberle) played a game for the Leafs before Cliff Fletcher stepped in as interm GM. That’s what I call cleaning the deck. The current roster is comprised of hungry, young players who are eager to impress.

Negative – Nazem Kadri

I think he will be fine in the long-term. However, there was this unrealistic expectation that he would jump right from Junior hockey to centring the first or second line for the Leafs. It’s that type of sense of entitlement created by fans, management and the media that creates blue and white disease. If Burke wants to avoid infecting his young centre, he will have to send him to the Marlies to start the season.

Positive – Phil Kessel

In Phil Kessel the Leafs have a legitimate scoring threat. Despite no training camp, being out of shape and missing the first 12 games of last season, he still managed to score 30 goals. This year he is much more ready to go and has the potential to score 40 goals.

Negative – top 6 forwards

Brian Burke has stressed the need to have skilled players on the top two lines. He doesn’t appear to be there yet. Kessel, Kulemin, and Versteeg appear to be top 6 forwards. Perhaps Bozak is one as well. Beyond that you can’t convince me that any of the remaining forwards would be able to make the top 6 of a good NHL team. Just not enough secondary scoring.

Positive – truculence

This team has added enough physical players to prevent any team from targeting their skill players. In particular I like the 4th line with Brown, Hanson and Orr. And if any of these forwards falter, there are players like Jay Rosehill, Brayden Irwin and Marcel Mueller quite eager to step in. And each defense pair has a banger – Phaneuf, Komisarek and Schenn.

Negative – penalty killing

Last year’s team had the worst penalty killing in the league at an abysmal rate of 74.7%. They had one of lowest number of penalties to kill off but gave up the most goals. Now goaltending plays a significant role in penalty killing success but you can’t pin this dog on just the goalies. Having Sjostrom in the lineup will help. Versteeg is also a pretty good penalty killer. But until we see significant improvement this continues to be a major weakness.

Positive – defense

Solid veterans to fill the top two defensive pairings make defense a strength on this team. However, this group is slightly overrated. All four have a history of too many turnovers. They are also not the quickest foursome so expect them to get burned on occasion.

Negative – powerplay

Not only was the penalty killing worst in the league last season but so was the powerplay. You can’t pin this one on the goalies. The powerplay unit will essentially be the same and so is the coaching staff. I just don’t see a vast improvement here. At the point you have a defenseman that never shoots and one that will only shoots. This unit is incredibly predictable and easy to defend against. Kessel will get his share of powerplay goals but there may not be enough secondary scoring.

Positive – team speed

This team has a lot of youth and speed which will pressure opposition defenses and create plenty of scoring opportunities. However if the forward are unable to finish their plays then the offense will have its problems.

Negative – salary cap

For a young team the Leafs surprisingly have some cap problems. That’s because they have their share of overpaid players including Giguere, Phanuef Finger and Komisarek. Brian Burke likes to characterize himself as possessing integrity which means he will not attempt to circumvent the cap. Unfortunately, this essentially puts him at a disadvantage relative to fellow GMs who for the most part try like heck to beat the cap. So it seems Burke will not bury Finger’s contract in the minors though we shall see if he holds his word. This increases the likelihood that Kadri and his $1.7 million cap hit will start the season in the minors.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can Carey Price survive in Montreal?

Carey Price, the latest number one goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, has been struggling in the NHL preseason. The Habs have played five of seven pre-season games thus far and Price lost in his first two starts. The Canadiens’ passionate fans were less than impressed, which caused Price to tell them to “chill out.”

True, it's only the preseason but a save percentage of .803 has people nervous. The games are meaningless and so are most of the performances. But with Price, you want to see some confidence. You want to see some saves. You want to see something, anything, to prove that Pierre Gauthier didn't make a huge blunder when he traded Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis. The Habs can't afford to repeat the dumb Patrick Roy trade.

Let's face it everyone gets booed in Montreal. The Habs fans will claim they are just passionate. I can think of better descriptions. The fans need to be patient and let the guy build some confidence instead of waiting for him to crash. Because that can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I hope I'm wrong but I just can't see this working out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Are the Leafs on the way to destroying another 1st round draft pick?

Maybe the Maple Leafs are better off trading away their first picks afterall.

In the NHL there is more enough pressure that comes with being a high first round draft pick. But the most pressure is reserved for those fortunate enough to be selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's great on draft day to be photographed in a Maple Leaf jersey shaking hands with MLSE executives or retired Leaf stars. But all that changes when you get on the ice. The pressure is immense as a result high expectations from frustrated fans, desperate coaches and impatient managers. It's a formula for failure.

The number of Leaf draft picks that have been destroyed far out number the success stories. For every Darryl Sittler there have been so many like Eric Fichaud, Jeff Ware, and Brandon Convery. The lucky ones get away like Tuukka Rask or Brad Boyes.

Years of futility and the desire for a quick fix mean the same errors are repeated over and over again. Two years ago after a good preseason, Leaf management determined that first round pick Luke Schenn was too good to return to his Junior team. Unfortunately since that time he hasn't played as well as he did in those early days as a Leaf. Perhaps he will eventually come around but Leaf history would suggest he may not.

The following season with Brian Burke in charge first round pick Nazem Kadri was returned to his Junior team despite a terrific preseason. Burke has a history of giving prospects time to develop. In Anaheim, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan all spent time in the minors.

So here we are, year 2 for Kadri and he is obviously not ready for the NHL. However, the Leafs were counting on Kadri to play centre on one of the top 3 lines. Coach Wilson is pretty thin up the middle so there is a strong temptation to keep him around and see how he makes out. Add to that is Burke's burning desire to make the playoffs this spring.

So will the Leafs do the right thing and wait out Nazem Kadri or throw him to the wolves? Lets hope they don't ruin another teenager.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The latest way to beat the salary cap

The New York Rangers have put Wade Redden on waivers. It would be nice if some other team picked up his contract but no one will be doing Glen Sather that big of a favour. He will likely clear waivers and end up playing out his contract in the AHL.

Redden, 33, signed a six-year, $39 million contract with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent from the Ottawa Senators in 2008. He was coming off a dreadful 2007-08 season in Ottawa.

By 2009, he was being called "atrocious" by everyone associated with the Rangers. Though at the right price, he could help someone in NHL. With the Rangers currently over the cap, his demise this preseason was predicted. Now it's just a matter of how Wade Redden will be a former New York Ranger.

The problem is that once again the large market teams are able to circumvent the salary cap. The intent of the collective agreement as it currently stands is any contract a team signed would be their problem for the life of that contract unless you could find someone to take it off your hands. Just like front-loaded contracts, burying contracts in the minors allows teams with deep pockets to buy their way out of problem contracts. A small market team could not afford this type of move. There is about $26 million left on that contract.

This is no different than Chicago unloading Critobal Huet's salary by transferring it to a team in Switzerland. Yet the NHL looks the other way.

Michel Dion had one of my favourite goalie masks

I came across an article about Michel Dion's mask which had recently sold at an auction for $6500. That's a lot of money to pay for piece of equipment for a goalie that wasn't too well known. His professional career spanned 10 years from 1975 to 1985. That included 2 WHA teams and 4 NHL teams. He would best remembered for his four years with the Penguins. Below is his famous mask that had a duck bill at the end of it. It was quite distinctive which likely is why it went for as much money as it did.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Scouting Report: Luca Caputi

Luca Caputi caught the eye of NHL scouts in 2006-07 with Mississauga IceDogs where he recorded 27 goals and 38 points while playing in 68 games.

Caputi was drafted in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft as the 111th overall pick. While several scouts projected him as high as the 40th pick claiming that he was a great package of both size and skill possessing a long reach, he managed to drop into the 4th round. Teams passed on him due his inconsistent play of edge and skill with a lack of effective hitting.

The following season Caputi almost doubled his previous season’s total with 51 goals and 60 assists good for first on the team, fourth in the OHL, and more points than highly touted prospects like Steve Stamkos and Cody Hodgson. The young forward also added an element of nasty to his play with 107 penalty minutes, fourth overall on his team. Caputi led the team into the playoffs where they defeated the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors 4-0 before losing to the Oshawa Generals 4 games to 2 in the conference semifinals.

Following his breakout season, on April 23, 2008, Caputi signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He then helped the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League reach the Calder Cup Finals with 8 points in 19 games.

After starting the 2008–09 season with Wilkes-Barre, Caputi made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens on February 3, 2009, scoring his first NHL goal on his first shift after being on the ice for just 2:03 of ice time. Caputi was traded along with defenceman Martin Skoula to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Caputi has all of the physical tools to develop into a power forward at the NHL level. He is now 6-3, 217 pounds after bulking up over the summer so expect Caputi's game to be based upon paying a price physically. He scores a lot of his goals from in front of the net, and is more than willing to muck it up in the corners. One area where Caputi must improve is his skating, where his initial stride is not as quick as it needs to be. He needs to be more consistent and improve his defensive game.

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 2000-01 Season

At the Amateur Draft the Leafs pick Brad Boyes 24th overall but ship him to San Jose for Owen Nolan. Pat Quinn determined to address the growing number of teams employing the mind-numbing neutral zone trap, decided he needed to bulk up his lineup. His most significant move was signing free agent Gary Roberts but in addition the Leafs signed free agents Dave Manson and Shane Corson, picked up Aki Berg and Bryan McCabe in trades and claimed Wade Belak on waivers. Truculence was not invented by Brian Burke.

The Maple Leafs make the playoffs again finishing in third place in a very competitive Northeast Division with a 37-29-11-5 record. This was a drop off from the 45 wins in the previous season but the Leafs were considered more playoff ready in 2001. Mats Sundin once again led the team in scoring with 76 points and Roberts had 29 goals playing on the wing with Sundin. There were 5 Leafs with over 100 minutes in penalties (Domi, Tucker, Roberts, Corson, and McCabe).

In the playoffs the Leafs would hit an extra gear, as goalie Curtis Joseph would shut down the first Place Ottawa Senators in a four game sweep. The Leafs continued to stay hot as they battled the New Jersey Devils in the second Round. However, the Leafs despite badly outplaying the Devils only held a 3-2 series lead. Then Leafs star enforcer Tie Domi and chief cementhead struck. In game 6 he head Devils star defenseman Scott Niedermayer in his sights for a clean hit but for some reason raised his elbow like a battering ram knocking Niedermayer from the game and series. He was suspended for the rest of the playoffs and 8 games in the next season. Scott Stevens and the rest of the Devils became enraged and woke up from their slumber. That play was clearly the turning point of the series and led to another early exit from the playoffs. As for the Devils they just missed another Cup win losing in 7 games to Colorado.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You gotta love this hit by Mike Komisarek

Five rules to follow if you're going to be a Leaf fan

1. Don’t overreact to each win and loss.

2. Don’t over value the Leaf’s better players and vilify their worst players.

3. Leaf ownership is committed to winning but actually getting there isn’t an easy matter.

4. The fans’ devotion to the team undermines management’s attempt to build a winner.

5. Exhibition games mean nothing.

After the first exhibition game and first loss we need to remind ourselves of these rules. The fans play as much of a role in the failure of the Maple Leaf team as management. We overreact to each win and loss. We build ordinary players into icons while at the same time chase decent players out of town. Our devotion to the team is a demotivating factor because players are constantly in the spotlight and do not need to work hard for that attention. It also makes the owner a lot of money.

Which brings me back to the pathetic game played by the Leafs last night. Forget about it!

A team with little depth that sits out key players is going to look like crap. Yes, even against another team’s back up players. Most guys out there are just getting a brief taste of NHL hockey before getting shipped out to somewhere else. There are about 20 players who have made this team already and if they were in the lineup last night it was to get themselves ready for the season. There are 6 players who are battling out for about 3 spots. These are the guys who everyone should be watching. If they were in the lineup last night it might have been difficult to show much against such a mediocre backdrop. But after the cuts this weekend, it will be their time to show what they got.

For me the real disappointment last night was the Leaf powerplay. Now you would expect poor production with the Leaf’s #1 sitting out the game. But the powerplay set up is the same one that Ron Wilson has used for the past two seasons with very little success. Three players playing high up by the blue line and 2 down deep has produced very few scoring chances. Everyone in the arena including the opposing team knows that the powerplay is designed to create shots from the point and those shots won’t be coming from Tomas Kaberle. So how hard is that to defend against? This is not a player personnel issue or a player execution issue. It’s a coaching issue.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1999-2000 Season

At the Amateur Draft the Leafs pick Cereda 24th overall who never even plays a game in the NHL. The Leafs had their second consecutive 45-win season, and broke the 1992-93 franchise record for most points in a season. Mats Sundin averaged a point per game, scoring 32 goals and picking up 41 assists for 73 points in 73 games. Jonas Hoglund had a career year, finishing third on the team in points with 56 (29 goals, 27 assists). Curtis Joseph set a Leafs record for wins in a season by a goaltender with 36.

The Leafs put Steve Sullivan on waivers and on October 23, 1999 he was picked up by the Chicago Blackhawks. He would go on to score 208 goals and 544 points with Chicago and and Nashville over the next 10 season. In early 2000, Wendel Clark returned to the Leafs for the third time and had a two goal game on February 1 in a 5-3 Leafs win at Tampa Bay. In March, the Leafs made their biggest trade of the season when they sent Mike Johnson to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Darcy Tucker. That trade was more or less neutralized by an earlier trade with Tampa Bay when the Leafs flipped Fredrik Modin for Cory Cross. Also that season the Leafs picked up Dmitri Khristich from Boston after a contract squabble with Bruins GM Harry Sinden. He was a given a substantial contract but was a total bust scoring only 30 points in 53 games wit the Leafs.

The Leafs got off to a red-hot start to the season, winning 10 of their first 14 games with 4 shutouts. The team suffered a setback on March 11 at Ottawa when Marian Hossa was attempting to clear the puck out of the centre-ice zone. Hossa swung his stick in a golf-swing motion and caught Toronto defenseman Bryan Berard in his right eye. Berard had to leave the game due to the injury and Hossa was assessed with a double minor for high-sticking. It was the last NHL game Berard would play for nearly a year and a half. To make matters more complex, Sergei Berezin, a 37-goal scorer in 1998-99 missed 21 games. He finished with a solid 26 goals.

The Leafs finished 3rd in the Conference and 1st in the Northeast Division. The Leafs finished in first place for the first time since the 1962–63 NHL season. Sundin led all skaters in overtime goals scored, with 4.

The 50th National Hockey League All-Star Game was part of the 1999–2000 NHL season, and took place in Toronto's Air Canada Centre on February 6, 2000. The week also was a good sendoff for Wayne Gretzky, who had retired the previous season. His #99 was raised to the rafters, despite him never playing for the hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, as a show of his number's league-wide retirement.

In the playoffs the Maple Leafs overwhelmed a young Senators team and won their first round series 4-2. However, the New Jersey Devils were a tougher match and took the Leafs 4-2. The neutral zone trap carried the Devils to the Stanley Cup and the message wasn't lost on Pat Quinn who determined the Leafs needed to get bigger and tougher.

The clock is ticking on the Phoenix Coyotes

Sometime during the 2008-09 season, the NHL more or less took over the control of its sickest franchise the Phoenix Coyotes during excessive haemorrhaging of money. The NHL will soon be running the team for a third season which most likely will be the last one.

The problem around finding a suitable owner (that is not associated with the company that brought us the Blackberry) is twofold. For one, nobody in his right mind will purchase a team in Phoenix knowing that the team cannot make money in that town but could make money elsewhere. Second, the City of Glendale continues to play hardball around changes to the arena lease with any potential owner actually willing to give it a go in Phoenix. There has been a lot of whispering going on about how Ice Edge Holdings doesn’t have the money to buy the team. Recently reported that Matt Hulsizer could also be a potential new owner. Maybe a deal could be done if the arena lease could be settled but nothing has happened on this front.

In the meantime there is a short list of cities interested in accommodating the Coyotes including Winnipeg, Quebec City, Hamilton and Kansas City. Each has some drawbacks including a lack of a playing venue or corporate sponsorship but all would likely be better than the status quo.

I think there is no question that this will be the last season for the Coyotes in Phoenix unless there is a breakthrough in the coming months. How much more time will the NHL commit to the current process? Probably until sometime between New Years and the All-Star break. That would provide sufficient time to identify a new owner, work out an arena deal and shift around some teams to accommodate Phoenix moving out of the Pacific Division. In fact, I understand the Gary Bettman has been telling the media that Glendale has until December 31 to work on a new lease agreement. Let’s see if a hard deadline will change the dynamics of this endless negotiation

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Devils have to shoot for the Cup this season

Well the Devil is in the details as they say. In the case of the New Jersey Devils the cost of signing Ilya Kovalchuk continues to rise. Not only have they committed to $100 million in salary and a cap hit of $6.667 million but now they must hand over $3 million and first and third round draft picks to the league. Let's not forget the Devils also gave up a 1st round pick, Niclas Bergfors (a former 1st round pick), and junior prospect Patrice Cormier to Atlanta for Kovalchuk. That's a lot of first rounders moved for guy not named Phil Kessel. But that's still not the end of it. The Devils are currently $3.5 million over the cap so they must unload some salaries.

The ideal move would be Brian Rolston in a trade or demotion to the minors. His offense has dropped off significantly yet he is paid over $5 million per season with 2 years remaining on his contract. The only problem is that he has a no-movement clause so he's not going anywhere. The other names mentioned are Dainius Zubrus ($3.4 million) and Bryce Salvador ($2.9 million).

But the cost of signing Kovalchuk will continue to increase. Zach Parise is easily the best Devil even with Kovalchuk in the lineup. His cap hit is $3.125 million and he is on the last year of his deal. So what kind of money will Parise be looking for? It has to be something similar to Kovalchuk. To keep Parise the Devils will have to strip the team of even more supporting talent in order to hang on to their core.

So this has got to be the year the Devils take a run at the Stanley Cup. Martin Brodeur is not getting younger and their is little goaltending depth in the organization. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to actually integrate Kovalchuk into their offense. The Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups on Brodeur's goaltending and their dedication to playing a conservative game. That style is not going to suit their new $100 million asset. So that means the Devils will likely change their game to take advantage of Kovalchuk's creativeness. Of course, who knows how that will impact on a team that has more or less invented the neutral zone trap.

No doubt all hockey eyes will be following the Devils this season.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Scouting Report: Brayden Irwin

Brayden Irwin is a Toronto boy who the Maple Leafs signed in March after he completed 4 years at the University of Vermont. He led his Vermont team in scoring in his senior year with 15 goals and 34 points in 39 games.

Irwin is not a strong player but he has a big body at 6’5” and 215 lbs and not afraid to use his size. He appears to have a great shot and was the only Leaf scorer in last night’s rookie tournament game which saw Pittsburgh win 2-1. However, Irwin was easily the best player for the Leafs and saw power play and penalty killing time.

He reminds me a little of Dave Andreychuk though the Maple Leafs should be so lucky to have him develop into a top line player. The opinion regarding Irwin is that he is a good power forward with average skating. He'll need some time in the AHL, but he could make a push to play in the NHL at some point. In other words he will follow the same path to the NHL as Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozek and Christian Hanson.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fans not too confident about Maple Leafs' chances

Well the polling is closed and only 36% of respondents believe the Leafs will make the playoffs this season. Now the results appear a little skewed by Leaf haters and Leaf fanatics. The most popular response was 15th place in the East which might reflect Leaf haters - except that's exactly how they finished last season. However, this season Vesa Toskala will not be within 1,000 miles of a Leaf net. Last place is therefore less likely to happen. The second popular response was 1st place in the East which has as much possibility of happening as Jack Layton becoming Prime Minister of Canada.

Some reasons why the Leafs won't make the playoffs:
  • Top 6 forwards are not good enough
  • Powerplay and penalty killing may continue to be weak
  • Ron Wilson may be losing the dressing room
  • No #1 centre
  • Team has too many U.S. college players
Some reasons why the Leafs will make the playoffs:
  • Giguere and Gustavsson will finally provide enough goaltending to make the playoffs
  • Phaneuf will solidify the defense
  • Kadri will grow into the #1 centre position
  • Good goaltending will make penalty killers more effective
  • Team has speed, youth, enthusiasm and truculence
Poll questions: Where will the Maple Leafs finish in the East this season?

7 (14%)
1 (2%)
1 (2%)
1 (2%)
2 (4%)
3 (6%)
2 (4%)
1 (2%)
7 (14%)
2 (4%)
4 (8%)
6 (12%)
2 (4%)
0 (0%)
11 (22%)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1998-99 Season

Two moves occurred this season. The club moved from the Western to the Eastern Conference of the NHL as result of expansion into Nashville. The club moved from Maple Leaf Gardens to the new Air Canada Centre arena.

The 1998–99 season was one of the few incredible seasons that I can remember over the past 43 years. As Pat Quinn consolidated control of the team it began to come together. The Leafs were not picked to make the playoffs that season but instead the team saw tremendous improvements over the 1997–98 season and the team got plenty of help from its new members, who included Bryan Berard, Sylvain Cote, Alexander Karpovtsev (who led the league in +/- with +39 but wasn't eligible for the NHL Plus-Minus Award since he played in only 58 games), Yanic Perreault and Steve Thomas (who finished second on the team in points with 73). But the biggest reason for the turnaround was the signing of free agent goalie Curtis Joseph who was runner up for the Vezina Trophy that year.

Pat Quinn introduced a 'run and shoot' offense to the Leafs despite the fact that much of the league was moving towards the 'trap' defense. The move reaped immediate rewards as 6 Maple Leafs scored 20 or more goals. Toronto set a club record for most regular-season wins (45) and earned 97 points to finish second in the Northeast Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. They lead the league in most goals for (268), and were the only team to score 200 or more even-strength goals.

In the playoffs the Maple Leafs beat the Flyers led by Eric Lindros in the first round in 6 games. The next round the Leafs took on the Penguins led by Jaromir Jagr and again won in 6 games. However, in the Eastern Finals the Leafs ran up against Dominic Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres and lost in 5. It was the first time since 1993 that the Maple Leafs made it to the final four.

On February 13, 1999, the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a 67-year tradition when they played their last game at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Maple Leafs lost 6–2 to the Chicago Blackhawks. Former Leaf Doug Gilmour scored a fluke goal in that game and notorious tough guy Bob Probert scored the final NHL goal in MLG history during the third period. During the emotional post-game ceremony, legendary Canadian singer Anne Murray performed The Maple Leaf Forever, clad in a Leafs jersey.

The first Maple Leafs home game took place on February 20, 1999, versus the Montreal Canadiens, won by the Leafs 3–2 on an overtime goal by Steve Thomas.

Remembering 9-11

September 11, 2001 was day that affected not just Americans, but the entire world. It changed our way of life and for many, their view on the world. Among those lost on that fateful Tuesday morning eight years ago were two members of the hockey world, Mark Bavis and Garnet "Ace" Bailey. Both were part of the Los Angeles Kings scouting team and were aboard Flight 175 from Boston, which crashed into the South Tower that day.

(Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau wrote in his book that he was supposed to be on that flight as well, but he was asked to be a pre-training camp meeting for the Kings a day earlier.)

Bavis played his college puck at Boston University under legendary head coach Jack Parker before being drafted by the New York Rangers in 1989 and playing several years of minor league hockey. After giving up playing, Bavis turned to coaching where he was an assistant at Harvard University and later the Chicago Freeze of the NAHL.

Bailey had a notable playing career that began when he won the Memorial Cup in 1966 with the Edmonton Oil Kings and later hoisted the Stanley Cup twice as a member of the 1970 and 1972 Boston Bruins. He traveled around playing with Detroit, St. Louis, Washington and spent one year in the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers during Wayne Gretzky's rookie season in 1978-79. After retiring from the game in 1981, Bailey moved on to the Oilers front office and ended up winning five Stanley Cup rings as a scout.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What impact does the NHL/union agreement on long-term contracts have?

A lot has been made of the agreement reached between the NHL and NHLPA over the Kovalchuk contract. The NHL allowed the contract and the union agreed to a number of changes to the collective agreement. Those changes are:

1. While players and clubs can continue to negotiate long-term contracts (five years or longer) that include contract years in a player's 40s, for purposes of salary-cap calculation the contract will effectively be cut off in the year of the contract in which the player turns 41.

2. In any long-term contract that averages more than $5.75 million for the three highest-compensation seasons, the cap charge will be a minimum of $1 million for every season in which the player is 36-39 years of age. That $1 million value will then be used to determine the salary cap hit for the entire contract. If the contract takes the player into his 40s, the previous rule goes into effect.

In addition, the NHL agrees to not investigate or challenge any existing contract. Below are all the long-term contracts and their cap hit. If you were to apply the rule changes to these contracts, it would only impact on Marc Savard, Chris Pronger, Marion Hossa and Roberto Luongo. Not a big concession.

But what it does is stop the trend towards longer and longer contracts. But contracts to age 40 and tailing off to $1 million per season still gives teams lots of room to play with cap. For example, Zetterberg's contract would be perfectly legal under the new rules and his cap hit is just $6 million even though he earns over $7 million in 9 of 12 years.

So don't feel sorry for the NHLPA. They weren't quite taken to the cleaners.

Cap Hit Adjusted
Savard 4.00 4.14
Hossa 5.23 6.13
Duncan 5.55 5.55
Zetterberg 6.08 6.08
Franzen 3.95 3.95
Kovalchuk 6.67 6.67
DiPietro 4.50 4.50
Richards 5.75 5.75
Pronger 4.92 6.68
Luongo 5.33 6.70
Ovechkin 9.53 9.53
Backstrom 6.70 6.70

Monday, September 6, 2010

How much can the Maple Leafs improve this season?

The Maple Leafs finished with 74 points in 2009-10 which was last place in the East. The Canadiens took the last playoff position with 88 points which is a relatively low point total for a playoff team. So you can see the Leafs have their work cut out for them if they indeed plan on making the playoffs.

However, let's remember that the Maple Leafs had a terrible start to the season. In the first 13 games they went 1-7-5 for a total of just 7 points. But what everyone forgets is that they began the season without Phil Kessel and in net was Veas Toskala who was putting the final nails in the coffin that was once his NHL career. Without that bad start the Leafs would have finished with 79 points. Not a huge improvement but means that they would only need a 9 point improvement in 2010-11 to theoretically secure a playoff spot. With better goaltending, a 9 point improvement is not that unrealistic. So although many people believe they are destined to finish around 12th place, that in fact is not really an improvement as I see it.

The Leafs after the Olympic break had a 11-7-3 record. Almost all those wins were in overtime or shootout but that still represents a turnaround of sorts. At the start of the season, a game tied at the end of regulation time was guaranteed to be a loss. That stretch represents a 97 point season. Again, the striking difference between the first part of the season and the backend was goaltending. Shortly before the Olympics the Leafs picked up J-S Giguere and suddenly they became much more competitive.

So the Leafs are likely somewhere between the last place team of last season and the strong team that finished out the season. That could be somewhere in the middle of the pack and competing for the first playoff berth in 6 seasons.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Former 50-goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo only has a tryout contract

Five years ago Jonathan Cheechoo led the NHL with 56 goals as a member of the San Jose Sharks. Injuries have helped to derail his career in the years since, as he's seen his production fall off in a stunningly consistent decline, going from 56 goals to 37, to 23, to 12 and all the way down to the five he tallied in 61 games with the Ottawa Senators last season.

Seemingly unable to find a guaranteed roster spot elsewhere in the NHL, Cheechoo accepted a tryout contract with the Dallas Stars on Saturday, in what appears to be one more shot for the 29-year-old forward.

Although his NHL career hasn't necessarily ended, with only 170 career goals he stands as one of the lowest career goal totals for a 50-goal scorer. It appears he will not like fall out of the top 10 unless he can score over 100 more goals before he retires. Here the lowest career goal totals for former 50-goal scorers who have played at least 500 games (players like Steve Stamkos are not included since he only played 161 games).

Games Goals
Jacques Richard 556 160
Jonathan Cheechoo 501 170
Wayne Babych 519 192
Gary Leeman 667 199
Guy Chouinard 528 205
Mickey Redmond 538 233
Craig Simpson 634 247
Blaine Stoughton 526 258
Danny Grant 736 263
Al Secord 766 273

Mickey Redmond is the only one on the list with two 50-goal seasons.

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1997-98 Season

The 1997-98 season brought in the era of the five-headed management monster in MLG.

Ken Dryden was hired as president and was looking to totally revamp the entire organization. Well the first problem was his inability to lure someone to serve as his general manager. He tried wooing former Canadiens teammate Bob Gainey from Minnesota among others. So finally hired himself as GM. Then he named Mike Smith as associate GM, scout Anders Hedberg had the title of assistant GM, and Bill Watters was assistant to the President (did that make him an assistant to the GM too?). Let's not forget Pat Quinn as coach. Smith really wanted to be the GM and barely spoke to Dryden. Hedberg was totally frustrated by Dryden's slow and methodical decision-making. Not sure if Watters had anything to do. Meanwhile Quinn who had been both President and GM with Vancouver was just trying to coach.

Not surprising for the second season in a row the Maple Leafs would struggle all season finishing with a 30-43-9 record. The Leafs finished 20th out of 16 teams finishing last in the Central Division.
The 1997-98 NHL season was the Toronto Maple Leafs last full season at Maple Leaf Gardens and last season in the Western Conference. It was also the final season for the controversial "FoxTrax"puck system (see below). Just a few days before the season's start, Mats Sundin became their 16th Captain and their first European Captain in their 80 year history.

Following the season Pat Quinn stepped in between the feuding Dryden and Smith and convinced ownership to appoint him as both coach and GM. Dryden remained team President.

In 1997, allegations began to emerge that some employees of the Gardens had sexually abused young boys in the 1970s and 1980s. Martin Kruze was the first victim to come forward—contacting the new owners of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1993, and going public in February 1997. His story of abuses beginning in 1975 prompted dozens of other victims to come forward. In October 1997, Gordon Stuckless pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 24 boys dating back to 1969 and was sentenced to a jail term of two years less a day. Three days later, Kruze committed suicide. An appeals court later increased Stuckless's sentence to five years. He was paroled in 2001. In 1999, former usher John Paul Roby was convicted of sexually molesting 26 boys and one girl. He was subsequently declared a dangerous offender and could have been kept in prison for the rest of his life. Roby died in Kingston Penitentiary from an apparent heart attack in 2001. In 2002, former Gardens security guard Dennis Morin was found guilty of sexual assault, indecent assault and gross indecency for incidents involving teenage boys. Allegations—unproven in court—were also made against other Gardens employees, including Ballard. Several civil suits were settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. In January 2006, the Ontario government filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., seeking repayment of the medical costs to the province of treating the sex abuse victims.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ron Wilson is on the hot seat this season

No question the honeymoon is over for Ron Wilson this season. He has got to produce or he will be gone. A lot of things are working against Wilson. When you look at what happened with Lee Stempniak, you begin to wonder. A former 27-goal scorer with St. Louis, he scored just 25 goals in 123 games with the Leafs. Then when traded to Phoenix, he scores 14 goals in just 18 games. If he continues to score at a similar pace this season, you begin to wonder why Ron Wilson couldn't take advantage of his scoring ability.

1. His track record

Wilson has coached 1255 regular season games in the NHL with a 582-499-101-73 record. That's pretty good but what have you done for us lately? With the Leafs he has been just 64-73-27 with 24th and 29th finishes. Not so good for a coach being paid #1.4 million per season. With the Mighty Ducks it took him four season to get into the playoffs. The Capitals were a playoff team in his first season. He got into the playoffs in his second season with the Sharks. But the Leafs who haven't been in the playoffs for six season there can be no more waiting. But his playoff record is not too impressive just 47-48 with no Stanley Cup and only one appearance in the Finals 13 years ago.

2. Leaf talent and depth

Let's face it the Maple Leafs finished below every team but the Oilers last season and they didn't undergo a major rebuild in the offseason. They added only Kris Versteeg as a top 6 forward so they will be relying on inexperienced players like Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri to turn the team around. Good luck with that one. Certainly the late season trade that brought Dion Phaneuf will help and hopefully Jonas Gustavsson's health issues are behind him. There just isn't a lot of top end talent here. There isn't really going to be much depth on the farm team waiting for a call. Last season the Leafs drained the Marlies of their top talent and by the end of the season, tough guy Andre Deveaux was top goal scorer.

3. His personality

Ron Wilson is prickly and abrasive. So basically he is fine sending out barbs but doesn't like to receive them. His rant with Fan reporter Howard Berger last season was embarrassing. He has no problems calling out players publicly and denies that he has problems getting along with his players. He repeated that denial this summer when Tomas Kaberle's father was quoted in the Czech news stating the coach couldn't see how anyone could get along with Wilson. There is no question that Wilson is not a player's coach. So with the limited talent he has to work with, will be able to get his players to give him a maximum effort in order to make the playoffs. The players understand that a poor start would likely cost the coach his job. There won't be any tears shed if that happens.

Front-loaded contracts are bad for just about everyone

Hey I really don't care what these rich athletes make. It most cases it's way too much. But I just don't see how they are good for hockey. What was the NHLPA thinking when they grieved the rejection of the Kovalchuk contract. They should have left Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman to fight that battle. Here is how I see it.


They are crying the blues because they aren't making enough money so they go out and commit to 10 or more years for huge amounts of money. Then they front-load the contracts to reduce the impact of the contracts at least on paper which allows them to spend even more money.

General Managers

The creative geniuses who came up with this contracts that essentially get around the CBA are shooting themselves in the foot. When one of these players do down with an injury it creates a huge hole in their lineup that frankly they will not be able to fill. What if that 12 year player has a career ending injury with 8 years left to go? Kudos to GMs like Brian Burke who refuse to play the game. It's not just the front-loaded contracts. Sending players to the minor or loaning them to teams in Europe are also cheating as far as I'm concerned.


There are about 700 players in the NHL and less than 20 have these huge mega-contracts. Well in the salary cap world that leave very little dollars for the rest of the players that the NHLPA represents. These guys should be up in arms. So Clarke MacArthur wins a arbitration award for $2.4 million and Atlanta walks away leaving him a free agent. So instead he signs with the Leafs for less money than he was earning last season. Good veteran players are sitting at home waiting for a call that might never come because teams don't have the money to pay them. These contracts are very bad for the 90% of players who get signed for one or two years.


Someone has to pay for the Kovalchuk contract. It will be the Devil fans. Ticket buyers for the next 15 years will be paying for this signing. Well beyond the point he will actually have a positive impact on the team. With Kovalchuk in their lineup the Devils are still not a Stanley Cup contender and may even end up weaker. Afterall they will have to unload enough salary to carry the extra $6.67 million per year. Is Kovalchuk going to fill in that gap? Don't count on it. What if the team can't afford Zach Parise in the future because of the Kovalchuk contract? Fans aren't going to like that scenario.

Yeah the $100 million contract works out real well for Ilya Kovalchuk and Jay Grossman but I can't think who else will benefit.