Saturday, December 31, 2011

Video review of 2011 in hockey

It was perhaps one of the most contraversial years that hockey has ever had. Tragic deaths including the loss of an entire hockey team. Triumphs not just on the ice but for the entire community of Winnipeg. But the most talked about story in hockey in 2011 were the concussions. Every night players are being literally knocked out of games for indefinite periods of time. The epidemic strikes stars, journeymen and even goalies.

Flyers fans still love Bernie Parent

The Philadelphia fans have been known over the years to be classless at times. They even booed Santa Claus (during an Eagles game in 1968). The Philly fans love a winner but will turn on you in a heart beat. As far as Bernie Parent goes he carried the Flyers to Stanley Cup wins and the Flyers fans will never forget and stop showering him with love.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Just like Leafs of seasons past

The Maple Leafs are finding different ways to lose games which is reminiscent of past seasons. One night it is weak special teams, another night the goaltending fails and on another occassion it is turnovers.  All this adds up to an inability to maintain a consitent winning streak needed to pull away from the large pack fiighting for the final few playoff spots.  I suppose this is going to continue for the remainder of the season. Lst night's 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina was more or less a combination of several of these weaknesses.  As a result the Huricanes were able to score 3 straight goals to snatch away a needed win from the Leafs.

Good - Nazem Kadri scored his 3rd goal in just his 4th game since being called up from the Marlies. If he continues to play well it will make things difficult for Ron Wilson to send him back when Matthew Lombardi returns to the lineup.  Considering Matt Fratin has only more more goal than Kadri but has played in almost every game this season, he may be the loser.

Bad - Special teams certainly contributed to the loss.  The powerplay couldn't score on 7 opportunities.  The Leafs stayed out of the box for much of the night but in overtime, the Tim Conolly took a penalty which created Carolina's 3rd powerplay of the game.  That was all it took for Eric Staal to score the winner.

Good/Bad - James Reimer bounced back from a terrible start on Tuesday against Florida but he should have stopped Carolina's 3rd goal which created the overtime situation.

Bad - The Kessel-Bozak-Lupul line had a sub par night which will rarely lead to a win.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

So far Wilson's contract extension isn't working so well

The Leafs and the Florida Panthers remain the only NHL teams not to make the playoffs during the post-lockout era. Though it's looking like Florida will drop out of the exclusive club this season. As for the Leafs, they're looking to extend the streak another season. The most pathetic aspect of this game was that Florida had 8 regulars out with the flu.
Good - The Leafs got some secondary scoring with two goals from Mikhail Grabovski who clearly had his best game of the season.  The Leafs dominated in stretches including much of the first period.  In the final period the powerplay hit two posts.

Bad - The worst penalty killing team in the NHL stayed true to form by allowing two goals on 3 opportunities.  They have now allowed powerplay goals in four straight games and nine out of ten games.  Drawing a penalty for too many men on the ice when you are already down a man is only going to turn out bad when you have weak peanlty killing

Good - There were so many Leafs fans at the game it felt like a home game.  Through much of the game, the Leafs fans drowned out the Panther supporters.

Bad - Let's get to the goaltending.  It was awful.  James Riemer allowed 3 goals on jusst 8 shots.  Jonas Gustafsson was only marginally better.  Giving up a couple of soft goals and a pair of powerplay goals will not win you many games. 

Good - The Leafs coughed up the puck only two times which is a significant improvment over the past few games.  But then they found other ways to lose.

Bad - Ron Wilson's contract extension.  This mess will not end soon.

Don Cherry's piano concerto no. 21 in c major

NHL Power Rankings: Christmas Break

Ron Wilson comes out of the break with a contract extension so it seems Santa has been good to him. As for the rest of the Leafs, December has been a very lacklustre month despite winning their last two games before the holidays.  Those wins were largely due to goalie James Reimer returning to form after being sidelined for 6 weeks.  Let's hope he continues into the new year.

Here is the weekly Internet power rankings.  The list is short this week because of Christmas.

ESPN - 15th (+4)

Two big wins over the Sabres and Islanders helped make the holiday break celebratory for the Leafs. Head coach Ron Wilson got a special present with a much-anticipated contract extension. Will a long-awaited playoff berth be close behind?

Fox Sports - 16th (-)

With his new contract extension, Ron Wilson gets to build on his 1,372 games coached and 637 wins, both of which lead all active coaches.

CBS Sports - 18th (-)

Ron Wilson's team has missed the playoffs three years in a row, but he has still shown Brian Burke enough to earn a contract extension for at least another year. That's still no guarantee he's behind the bench next season if the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs again.

Two more years of winter for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Two days after hinting at his desire for a new contract on Twitter, Leafs coach Ron Wilson tweeted on Christmas Day that the team had given him an extension.

Over the holidays it slowly came out the Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson was given a two-year extension.  To me that's the equivalent of the groundhog seeing his shadow, because it means after several months of enduring winter we get another six weeks. 

Leafs Nation have been putting up with bad hockey for a long time now.  Frustration levels are at an alltime high.  Cities around North America have been celebrating sports championships for the past decade.  Toronto hasn't even had the opportunity to watch a playoff series.  The Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Argos and Raptors all stink!

For many Leafs fans, the season has brought about some hope.  The team is young and fast and can score. The Leafs currently stand 6th overall in the East and competing for a playoff spot all season.  It's an illusion.  The fast start in the first 10 games in the season, when the team earned 15 points, is the reason the Leafs are in 6th place.  Since that time the team has had a losing record and having been slowly playing their way out of a playoff spot.  In those first 10 games the schedule was very kind to them because had a steady stream of weak teams to play.

I hope I am wrong but I can't see the Leafs making the playoffs.  They have the worst penalty killing in the NHL and are one of the weakest defensive teams in the league.  Teams with bad defensive records do not finish in the playoffs.  Look around at playoff contenders, it's not how many you goals you can score that matters but how many you can prevent.  The Boston Bruins had problems scoring goals through many stretches of last season but it didn't matter because they were tough to score on.

Bad defensive play has been a problem in Toronto since Ron Wilson arrived and he has yet to find a solution.  A tight defensive system is the easiest part of the game to learn.  You don't need any special talent as in the case of scoring goals.  In the past even expansion teams have adopted that style of play to compete against more talented teams.  Wilson now has a much more talented group under him but can't seem to get them to defend in their own end.  The coach is totally accountable.  I don't see how the situation will change through the course of the remaining 50 games or even over the next 2 seasons.  He has almost none of the players he inherited 4 seasons ago but the defensive problems continue.

I'm depressed.

Cam Ward has more goals than Philippe Dupuis, Kyle Turris, Tomas Kaberle and Scott Gomez combined

You got to love that Kovlachuk. This is what $100 million gets you.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Vintage Toronto Maple Leafs Christmas cards

Why Ron Wilson doesn"t deserve a contract extension

This Xmas could be better if Santa stuffs a certain piece of paper in my stocking. #whatcouldthatbe
Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson clearly tweeted his desire to have his contract extended after Thursday's win over the Islanders.  GM Brian Burke has indicated to the media his intention to resign Wilson when the time was right.  I'm hoping the time is never right but somehow I don't think that will happen.  I hope that at least Burke waits to see if the Leafs make the playoffs, something I feel is very much in doubt with Wilson in charge.  Here are my reasons for not extending Wilson:

1. Leafs haven't won under Wilson

Sure he has been saddled with bad teams but I truly believe the team has continually underperformed with Wilson as coach.  The team has played well for short spurts but overall hasn't scared anyone. There are bad teams that make it tough for opponents but that's not been the case with the Leafs.

2. Penalty killing

Seriously how can you not pin the worst penalty killing in the NHL on the coach?  The Leafs have been at the bottom of the league while a man short for almost 4 years now.  Funny that's how long Ron Wilson has been coaching here.  Can that be a coincidence?  Over that time span he has worked with dozens of players on killing penalties and nothing seems to help. 

3. Bad defensive teams

This might be related to bad penalty killing but you can't help but notice how poorly the team plays in its own end.  Even as the calibre of players improves, their defensive play continues to stink - giveaways, poor defensive zone coverage, mental errors, gambling with the puck - it's painful to watch. Over the summer, Burke replaced two of the assistant coaches but that hasn't helped either.  Isn't it time to point the finger at the head coach?

4. Nazem Kadri

Back in San Jose Wilson made Patrick Marleau his whipping boy.  Dumped all over the team captain who happened to also be their best player.  Wilson seems to have replaced Marleau with Nazem Kadri.  There is no reason why Kadri should have started the season in the minors after having a strong rookie season with the Marlies.  Does anyone really believe Philippe Dupuis is a better hockey player?  Then a long succession of players got called up before Kadri finally rejoins the Leafs and then goes about scoring two goals in his first two games.  I'm betting that Kadri gets benched or sent down once he makes a couple of errors.  The Leafs can't afford to ruin a high first round pick with a good scoring touch.

5.  Wilson loves to throw his players under the bus

Wilson loves to dump on his players in front of the media.  He hates talking to the media but when it comes to pinning a loss on someone he seems to find his voice.  Earlier in his tenure it was someone brought in by Burke's predecessor, John Ferguson.  However, the current roster is entirely built Burke.  I worked for a boss who tried to throw everyone around him under the bus.  It is a very demotivating experience.  Aside from Islander goalie Evgeni Nabakov's recent comment to the media how he enjoyed playing for Wilson, can you recall another player making the same comment?

6. There are better coaches available

There is a huge selection of very good coaches available if Wilson were to be replaced.  There is even a better one in the Leafs organization - Dallas Eakin.

Can he kill penalties?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Kadri makes a statement

Nazem Kadri wasn't one of the stars of the game but he made a case for why he belongs in the NHL in the 3-2 win over Buffalo last night.  He scored the winning goal on a laser shot from the high slot and provided the Leafs with some needed secondary scoring.  The Leafs offense has sputtered at times in the last 15 games as duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have slowed down to a more reatistic pace.  Kadri might have also been the goat when he took a tripping penalty with 4 minutes left in the game had Buffalo scored on the powerplay.


Good - Kessel had a superior game last night with 10 shots on net, one-third of the team total, and his 20th goal of the season.  When he is on his game he is defensive minded in his own end while still creating scoring opportunties on the offenisve side.


Bad - Giveaways continue to be a problem with 16 on Thursday night. At times it is mental errors and other times it is just bad execution though perhaps they are one in the same.  In one case it did lead to a Sabres goal when Mikhail Grabovski turned over the puck leading to a Derek Roy goal to tie the game 2-2.


Good - For the second straight game James Reimer stopped 40 out of 42 shots.  It appears Reimer is slowly coming back to form which is just what the Leafs need if they are to hang on to a playoff spot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That feeling of optimism has totally disappeared

The season started with guarded optimism that bloomed into genuine optimism after the Leafs took over top spot in the NHL after about 10 games. This was a unique thing for Leafs Nation which has had very little to cheer about over the past few years. When to Leafs fell back into the pack in November everybody thought it was okay because of all the injuries including starting goalie James Reimer and stars Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were still scoring.

But the slide has stretched into the middle of December and the Leafs are playing even worse. Their penalty killing and defensive game have disappeared. Their goaltending has been inconsistent. The reality of an 82 game schedule has sunk in and the mood in Leafs' Nation has slowly returned to despair.

Against the Kings last night in a game that the Leafs badly needed to show they could get it back on track it just didn't happen. Heroics by Reimer salvaged a point that was clearly not deserved.

Good - Matt Fratin had one of his best games as a Leafs. He kated hard all night, used the body when he had to and was responsible in his own end. His scored his fourth goal by going to the net.

Bad - The Leafs just didn't show up to compete last night until they got to overtime. In the second period the Kings had a shot advantage of 16-4. Not exactly what you want to see if you want the team to get back on track. This was against Los Angeles who were complete write offs the night before against Detroit.

Good - It was good to see James Reimer back in a groove. He stopped 40 out of 42 shots and literally stole a point from Los Angeles. It might have been 2 points but for a crazy bounce of the glass behind the Leafs net that dropped onto the stick of Justin Williams for the first goal of the game.

Bad - Earlier this season Ron Wilson labelled Dion Phaneuf as the best defenseman in the NHL by a country mile. Not anymore. He is back to being the defenseman that arrived in Toronto almost 2 years ago. Mistake prone, out of position and having no luck around the net.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Habs have a new coach, Leafs still stuck with Wilson

The December doldrums continue despite the fact that many of the key injured Leafs are back in the lineup. The back to back losses to Buffalo and Vancouver are a little bit unnerving because the Leafs were able to find quite different routes to losses. On Saturday night, a series of blunders including turnovers and poor defensive zone coverage sealed the 5-3 loss and dropped the Leafs further in the standings.

Six coaches have already been fired representing 20% of all NHL head coaches. Meanwhile Ron Wilson may be looking at an extension in the near future despite his team's deplorable defensive record and terrible penalty killing.

Bad - The Leafs had 24 turnovers including 16 in the first period. An example of the Saturday night carnage includes Higgins alone in front of the Leaf net.

Here is Daniel Sedin getting behind the Leafs defense.

Phil Kessel falls down and turns over the puck which also leads to a goal.

Good - Kessel, Bozak and Lupul each had a goal but once again there is no secondary scoring. Much like last season only one line seems to be able to score. If you could get everyone firing at once it would be a different world.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Leafs falling out of a playoff position

More bad penalties, bad penalty killing and sloppy play are dragging the Maple Leafs out of the playoff picture. In the meantime Brian Burke talks up his coach every chance he gets. This week when asked for top three stars of the season, he named Ron Wilson - not Phil Kessel, not Joffrey Lupul, not Dion Phanuef but Ron Wilson. What's scary is that Burke may have already offered him a contract extension.

Good - Nik Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski both scored tonight. I bet it was the first time both players scored in the same night this season. That was Kulemin's first goal in 23 games. It was a singular effort by Kulemin to get in the open on the breakaway and the penalty shot was well deserved after he was hauled down. His hard wrister beat Miller.

Bad - This is getting monotonous but the Sabres won the game with their powerplay which was 3 for 6 on he night. A playoff spot is out of the reach with penalty killing rated as 29th in the league.

Good - They didn't lose anyone one to injuries?

Bad- James Reimer had a weak game as did the Leafs defense. Many of the Sabres goals were scored with a Sabre player alone in front of the Leafs net which didn't help.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I hate shootouts but you still have to admire this goal

The cost of concussions is $70 million

Last season over 70 players or 10% of players in the NHL missed some time as a result of a concussion. Some would call it an epidemic, that might be a hyperbole. This season the number of diagnosed concussions has reached 25 and each day another name has been added to the list. The problem touches star players and journeymen alike. The cost to teams is significant. At the moment NHL teams are on the hook for $70 million for players whose futures are cloudy to say the least. Some may be back playing shortly while others like Marc Savard and Chris Pronger may never return.

Following a crack down on headshots many in hockey are asking why has the number of concussions being incurred not dropped? Well I have my theories. Many are suggesting that a greater awareness of by players, trainers and team doctors has increased the number of diagnoses. Players who are now concerned about their future are coming forward and not hiding their symptoms. Quite a number of former players are stepping forward and admitting they played with concussions, partly because the belief that you should suck it up but as well because they didn't realize their symptoms related to a concussion.

I believed the crack down on headshots is not going to have an immediate impact. I would suggest that most players have suffered several concussions in their career going back to when they were in their teens. Those previous concussions have an accumulative effect making them more susceptible to a future concussion. In some cases a body check without a hit to the head can trigger concussion-like symptoms. Just having your neck snap back running into someone can do it. You will need to make all levels of hockey safer and only after several years will you begin to notice a drop off.

Let's not forget that the game is being played at a much higher speed and the players on average weigh more. So each jarring hit, even if clean, can impact on the brain, these are acceleration-deceleration injuries or whiplash. The game has evolved and you can't bring back the 1960s style of game or players. I really don't have a solution but you can't deny there is a problem.

Player .................Salary ($ million)
Sidney Crosby9.00
Mike Richards6.60
Claude Giroux2.75
Chris Pronger7.60
Jeff Skinner0.90
Kris Letang3.50
Milan Michallek4.50
Marc Staal3.68
Marc Savard7.00
Chuck Kobasew1.25
Josh Harding0.75
Mark Sauer1.25
Nathan Gerbe1.25
Nino Niederreiter0.90
Peter Mueller2.50
Ryan Wilson1.28
Kurt Sauer1.75
Andy McDonald4.20
Bryden Schenn0.90
Ian Laperierre1.00
Jay Beagle 0.53
Joni Pitkanen4.50

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My first game at the ACC this seaon is a win

Last season I went 7-1 when attending Leafs games at the ACC. So it's a little late but off to a good start. This was a game the Leafs had to win considering Carolina is in last place in the East. The Leafs only squeaked by needing a goal in overtime to get the win. It wasn't pretty folks.

Good - This was Tim Connolly's best game this season. He showed a good nose for the net as he scored two goals. This first was a deflection of a Clarke MacArthur shot. The second in overtime was the result of a rebound in the crease as a result of Joffrey Lupul crashing the net with the puck.

Bad - That was a pretty boring game. Although Cam Ward looked great, the rest of the team did not. Not much happened for 56 minutes until the Leafs scored. Then over a span of 5 minutes 3 goals were scored.

Good - Dion Phaneuf played a very solid game with 5 hits and 5 shots. He is using his stick much better to block passing lanes and rarely puts himself out of position with high risk hits. He's the real deal now.

Bad - Penalty killing was almost the goat again. The Leafs killed the first two penalties but on the third PK with less than 2 minutes remaining, Ponikarovsky was left alone in the front of the net to put the tying goal behind Reimer. You've got to better than that against the 25th worst powerplay in the league.

Good - Reimer had a shutout going for 58 minutes. Although he only faced 19 shots, he made some excellent save for his first win since coming back from his concussion or whatever kept him out of the lineup for 6 weeks.

Bad - Secondary scoring continues to be an issue as long as Nik Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski are firing blanks. There are 6 forwards with 2 or fewer goals. That translates to well below 10 goals for the seasson.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bad penalties and bad penalty killing - a proven formula for defeat

The only thing worse than taking a bad penalty is taking a bad penalty when your penalty killing is subpar. The Leafs took a bunch of bad penalties last night against the Capitals and coughed up 4 powerplay goals. That was all Washington needed as they beat the Leafs 4-2.

Good - The Leafs outscored the Caps 2-0 while even strength. So in a game in which the Leafs lost none of their players was a minus in +/- while no Caps were a plus.

Bad - A decent team with good goaltending and defense makes no sense. Once again I have to point to coaching. The talent is there but the system or at least the execution stinks.

Good - Phil Kessel scores his league leading 18th goals which keeps him on pace for 50 for the season.

Bad- It's embarrassing when a defenseman scores a hat trick on you. Dennis Wideman has only 62 career goals and never scored more than 13 in a season. This isn't Mike Green.

Bad - The Leafs are not on pace to make the playoffs at this moment. I worked it out that they would need 11.5 points for every 10 games played to prettyt much guarantee a spot in the post season. In the first 10 games they earned 15 points. In the next 10 games they only got 9 points. Over the past 9 games they have only earned 9 points which means they will be under the 11.5 points/10 games pace for 20 games now. If not for their early winning streak they wouldn't even be in the top 8 right now.

NFL scoring celebrations are a 'no no' in the NHL

At 13:23 of the second period on Thursday night, New York Rangers forward Artem Anisimov scored an easy goal into a gaping Tampa net after receiving a pass form Michael Del Zotto. Yet despite the ease with which he scored, Anisimov decided to engage in a silly celebration.

The Rangers forward grabbed his stick like a rifle, dropped to one knee and fired at the Lightning goal.

The Lightning didn't appreciate the Anisimov's theatrics, as captain Vinny Lecavalier charged over to Anisimov, where he was met by a few Rangers. And that's when things really got interesting. Steve Downie, sitting on the boards at the Lightning bench, leaps onto the ice to join the melee.

I have to agree with the Lightning on this one. Moves like that are classless. Bet Don Cherry will wade in on this one and for once we will agree.

The MLSE purchase by Rogers and BCE makes sense

Initially the sale of 75% of MLSE to Rogers and BCE was a bit of a shock but as I thought about it, it all made sense. Everyone was aware that both telecom giants would be interested in buying one of the most valuable sports assets in North America. The telecom industry has slowly been buying franchises as a form of vertical integration. Programming for TV and cable networks is the product they sell and sports is now the most valued type of program. Sports is watched live so commercials are more likely to be viewed while other programming is more likely to be PVR'd which means advertisers won't pay as much.

So why would these two rival become partners? In a bidding war to get the bigger piece of that large pie, one company would end up overpaying by a considerable amount while the other company would get nothing. The stakes were high and perhaps neither company would be totally happy in the end. The big winner would have been the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. Instead they both own a share of MLSE and pay a reasonable price. With over 160 Leafs and Raptors games plus playoffs (I'm being optimistic) there is more than enough programming for both TSN and Sportsnet. Perhaps the biggest winner is Larry Tennenbaum who increases his share to 25% and retains chairmanship of the company. But the telecom companies get what they really want which is control of the broadcast rights.

So what does it mean for Leafs and Raptors fans? Nothing. MLSE continues to be owned by a huge conglomerate. Fans will blame failures on owners that are bottom lined oriented. The Leafs, Raptors, and Blue Jays are run in the same manner. The teams are run by a management structure that is accountable to the corporation but there is no interference in the day to day operations which is the way it should be. If these businesses care only about the bottom line then they will want their teams to make the playoffs. That means more ticket sales, more ads sold during playoff games, more merchandise sold.

So now I will be able to watch these mediocre teams on my blackberry - oh boy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Flat Leafs grab a point

There is no excuse for the mediocre game played by the Leafs last night at home against the New Jersey Devils. They were literally standing still at the start of the game and fell behind 2-0. To their credit they battled back to tie the game before losing in overtime 3-2. It's very frustrating that they were unable to carry the momentum from the game against the Rangers over to the next might.

Good - Phil Kessel was at his best again. He had 8 shots on net and bagged his league leading 17th goal. Kessel has 99 shots on the season just 5 short of the NHL leader.

Bad - The penalty killers took a step backwards last night. They gave up 2 goals and still sit 27th overall. This is still an achilles heel for this team.

Good - Luke Schenn once again was a pillar out there. He and his partner Jake Gardiner led the Leafs in ice time. Schenn recorded 10 hits last nightincluding this one on Eric Bolton. Scheen is 5th in the league in hits.

Bad - The effort is there but once again Nik Kulemin went scoreless last night. It is 21 games since he last scored. What a difference a year can make and this is the final year in his contract. I wonder if Brian Burke is considering moving him?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time for the NHL to place a moratorium on fighting

As you may have heard, the New York Times is doing a multi-part and multimedia package on the life and death of Derek Boogaard, the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild brawler who overdosed accidentally on a mix of alcohol and oxycodone in May.

It's a comprehensive and brutal look at life as an NHL fighter, and not without some news. The Times reports that researches found evidence of the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE in posthumous evaluation of Boogaard. This is the 4th former NHL player discovered to have signs of CTE.

Yet there isn't any concern coming out of NHL headquarters, from the owners, team managers or the NHLPA. There isn't enough evidence to show that there is a direct correlation between blows to the head and CTE. Sure if you ignore the NFL experience.

But we are all to blame. Fans love fights and the long term impacts of those head shots never seem to concern the paying customers. Owners figure if fights get people out of their seats then it must make them money. League and team officials have been raised in a culture of violence so why would they be concerned. As for the guys who fight, well as long as they earn a paycheck they won't complain even if they hate fighting.

Look at the fight below. Those blows to the head can't be good for you. We all know that fighting serves no real purpose. They don't win you games. They totally disappear in the playoffs when the games matter the most. It kind of reminds me of cock fighting. At least if the league put a moratorium on fights while they researched the health issues of fights. But our lust for blood is too strong for the NHL to do the right thing. It might have to take a death for people to change their views. I hope it doesn't need to wait that long.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 10

After being mauled by the Bruins, don't expect an improvement in the Maple Leafs' ranking. Most ranking drop the Leafs by about 3 spots. However, with James Reimer back in net, more consistent goaltending is expected.

CBS Sports - 11th (-3)

If it weren't for games against the Boston Bruins, the Maple Leafs season would look even better. In four games against the defending champs, Toronto is 0-4 and been outscored 23-6, including a pair of losses this past week.

FoxSports - 12th (-2)

We’re excited that James Reimer has returned, but he’s still going to have to consistently provide quality minutes and handle a heavy work load, which can be a lot to ask of a 23-year-old.

TSN - 12th (-3)

If not for the pesky matter of getting drilled by the Boston Bruins, by a combined 23-6 in four games this season, the Maple Leafs would have more of a Top 10 feeling. However, getting G James Reimer does offer some hope that the otherwise positive record can continue

The Hockey News - 13th (-3)

Leafs have second-best power play (22.4 percent), fourth-worst penalty kill (77.6 percent).

Sports Illustrated - 13th (-8)

Their penalty killing is awful (27th) and they've allowed as many goals as they've scored (87). But the power play ranks second (22.6 percent), James Reimer is back in goal after a concussion absence, and they bagged a nice win over the Rangers in New York. The local media got their knickers in a twist (imagine that) over coach Ron Wilson not alerting them that Reimer would play Saturday (he'd said that Jonas Gustavsson would start). That led GM Brian Burke to take to Twitter and crack, "I love the quote about the liars in sports. Many gainfully employed in the media."

ESPN - 16th (-3)

The Leafs cry uncle over playing the Bruins this season. Try 0-4-0 and being outscored 23-6 after a home-and-home setback this past week. Ouch.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New alignment could have been much worse for the Leafs

NHL approves 4-conference realignment, new playoff format
NHL realignment has always been difficult because the distribution of team across North America is anything but symmetrical. Everyone wants less travel not more. Then there are the traditional rivalries to maintain.

Going from 6 division to 4 conferences is a radical change. But the Leafs' current division remains largely intact with the addition of the two Florida teams. The Leafs will play 6 games per team within the conference and 2 games per team outside the conference. This will result in more travel but more visits to the sunshine state in winter - how bad can that be.

An earlier realignment had Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington in place of Florida and Tampa Bay. Had that been accepted it would have been quite the challenge to make the playoffs with the toughest 4 teams in the East all together in one conference.

No Bruins, no problems

The second hottest team in the NHL appear to be no problem for the Maple Leafs as they defeated the Rangers 4-2 in MSG. This was just the second loss at home in regulation time for the Rangers. The only other loss was also to the Leafs. The win also snapped a five-game winning streak for the Rangers. It seems the Bruins have their number but fortunately the Leafs only face them two more times during the regular season.

Good - Jonas Gustavsson was fantastic tonight. This was one of those rare games this season where you could say the goalie stole the game. He made some of his best saves in the third when the Rangers were pressing for the tying goal.

Bad - After getting out-muscled by the Bruins the Leafs were pushed around by the Rangers as well. The only exceptions were Dion Phanuef, Luke Schenn and Dave Steckel who threw some big hits during the game.

Good - This had to have been the best game played by Joffrey Lupul who was dominant while out on the ice. He has a powerplay goal but easily could have scored another pair if not for Henrik Linqvist. Lupul finished the night with 7 shots on net and his 13th goal of the season.

Bad - The Leafs controlled the game for the first 30 minutes and then let up which allowed the Rangers to get back into the game. After that they needed a strong game from The Monster to salvage the win.

Good - Penalty killing was pretty good. The only goal allowed was on a 5 on 3. The Leafs powerplay scored once and would have had more if not for Linqvist.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is Nazem Kadri a bust

When Nazem Kadri was sent down to the Marlies earlier this season I began thinking this kid is a bust. You would have expected him to tear up after almost making the Leafs. Instead he went into a scoring funk going a couple of weeks without scoring a goal.

He has recently come alive scoring 6 goals and 17 points over 12 games in November earning player of the month recognition. He now is in a three way tie for the Marlies scoring lead along with Marcel Mueller and Mike Zigomanis. This may make Leafs fans some what optomistic again about Kadri`s future. But you need to remember the NHL and, in particular the Maple Leafs, also has a long history of players with great numbers in the minor who cannot make it as a regular in the NHL.

Each year there are 5 or 6 18-year old players who stick it out with their NHL club. We tend to forget that for the remainder of drafted players it takes several years to be a regular in the NHL. Kadri is only 21 years old which is too early to write him off. In fact before the Burke era there were plenty of Junior age players who made it to with the Leafs well before they were ready for the NHL. In most cases the outcome was not pretty.

Patience is what Kadri needs from Leafs Nation right now. Lets hope he rewards us.

Didn`t know they play hockey in Turkey

Not sure if they play hockey in Turley but they sure know how to brawl. This one is as nasty of a brawl as I`ve ever seen. You can see a coule of players had to be carried off the ice. Though I did chuckle to see half the players were fighting with the hockey gloves on.

I`m really getting tired of Boston

There is no question that if the Leafs had to play 20 games against the Bruins instead of just 6 they would be looking at a lottery pick instead of a playoff berth. Fortunately they don`t run in to Boston again until March 6. Once again the Leafs were dominated by Boston who really never lost control of the game for more than perhaps a shift. The only goal scored by Toronto was a desperation slapper by Grabovski that caught Tukka Rask by surprise. In 4 games the Leafs have given up 21 goals and just managed 6. The Leafs totally lost control of these games in the 3rd period when the Bruins struck for 10 goals.

Good - People will tell you that this game and last Wednesday were moral victories because the Leafs kept the score close for 40 minutes. Somehow I beleive the team was looking for some points and not some post game cliches.

Bad - Phil Kessel just can`t get going against his old team. Is it psychological or does the Bruins` physical game suck the life out of Phil the Thrill. Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were a combined -11 in the past two games. Ron Wilson tried several moves to get Kessel away from Zdeno Chara. First he played him on the left side and then sent him on the ice at the end of Chara`s shift. The Bruins did such a good job at shutting down their offense that Chara played an uncharacteristically low 20 minutes. It didn`t seem to matter.

Good - Once again Jake Gardiner seemed to shine out there. While his teammates seemed to be intimidated the Stanley Cup champions, Gardiner just did his thing. He tired to make plays and set up his teammates. At point on a rush he did a spinorama around a Boston defenseman to get a shot on net. He led all players with 26 minutes of ice. In games where the Leafs aren`t competing he seems to get more ice time. The questions is why not in all games.

Bad - The Bruins just didn`t allow the Toronto forwards to skate and the Leafs just were unable to adjust. They turned over the puck throughout the game which allowed the Bruins to control the puck all night long. In particular Matt Fratin was guilty of handing the puck over on numerous occassions. They also lost 68% of faceoffs which gave Boston more opportunities to control the game. This was a drop from the 40% winning percentage on Wednesday evening.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Leafs look better but still fail the test

I think there is little dispute that the Boston Bruins are the best hockey team in the NHL. They won the Stanly Cup this past spring and went through the month of November without losing a game in regulation time. So why would anyone expect the Leafs to fair any better than the rest of the league? The 6-3 loss on was not exactly a disaster and nothing close to the previous 2 blowouts. The game is a good measure of how far the Leafs have come and how much farther they need to go to become a Cup contender.

Good - This game was much closer than the score indicated. For 40 minutes the Leafs skated with the Bruins but the game got away from them in the final period or at least Boston put it into high gear and the Leafs couldn't respond.

Bad - Although Jonas Gustavsson played well, he is not in the same league as the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas. It would have been a better match up with James Reimer in net who has missed all 3 games against the Bruins. Unfortunately Reimer will not be available to play in Boston on Saturday.

Good - The Leafs were able to set the tempo of the game and play high speed transition style. You can see that teams are beginning to respond to their style and try to shut down the Leafs offense. As the team gains in confidence it is becoming more difficult for opponents to manage. They were also able to free wheel in the Bruins end much more than they have in the past.

Bad - There were still too many turnovers by the defense. As well the team won only 40.3% of faceoffs. Rookie Joe Colborne only won 3 out 13. But even David Steckel only won 3 out 11.

Good - Phil Kessel had some excellent scoring chances against the Bruins and only some great saves by Thomas presented him from adding to his goal total. Thomas made a particular good save on a breakaway. Joffrey Lupul did get a goal. But both Kessel and Lupul were both -3 for the night. Makes you wonder why the line couldn't get a more favouable match up at home?

Another Marlie is AHL Player of the Month

Another sign that the Leafs are developing some organizational depth.

For the second time this season, a Toronto Marlie has been named the American Hockey League player of the month. Nazem Kadri earned the honour after scoring six goals and 11 assists for 17 points in 12 games. The fact that Kadri is being forced to play his way into the Leafs lineup is a good thing. There was a time when he would have automatically been with the big team just because he was a first round pick.

A Toronto player has now won back-to-back monthly awards. Centre Joe Colborne was named AHL player of the month for October when he scored eight goals and eight assists.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leaf Nation celebrates Brian Burke`s 3rd anniversary

In his first two seasons Leafs fans were already grumbling and calling for Brian Burke`s scalp. But that has changed this season. Even the biggest Leafs haters have to acknowledge this team is good. After Florida they are biggest surprise of the season to date.

So let`s give credit to where it belongs - to Brian Burke. He came here with huge expectations but never let the pressure get to him. When his attempt to rebuild quickly failed he smoothly transitioned to another plan ignoring the critics. He also surprised many people when he constructed a young, fast, skilled team while preaching toughness. I had believed in Burke from day 1 and have not been disappointed. In past management positions his trades have had some hits and misses but so far in Toronto they have mostly been hits. We can debate who won the Kessel trade for the next decade but no one expected Kessel to be playing at this level which more than vindicates Kessel`s biggest supporter - Burke.

He has a long way to go before we can start talking Stanley Cup but there is a very good base in Toronto to work from. I know that Burke will not be satisfied with just being competitive. He wants a Cup.

Go Leafs Go!

NHL Power Ranking - Week 9

After a very successful road trip in which the Leafs won games in 3 different time zones, the hockey media is back on board. The Leafs moved up an average of 7 spots in the ranking with SI placing the Buds in 5th overall. You have to admit this November looks nothing like last November despite some significant injuries. Finally nice to see some organizational depth. The big test is this week with a home-away series with the big bad Bruins. The Bruins are hotter than the Leafs and are on top of almost every ranking. In their first 2 meetings the Leafs couldn`t compete with the Bruins so a split would be a significant accomplishment.

Sports Illustrated - 5th (+12)

Hats off to coach Ron Wilson for not just keeping his team afloat without starting goalie James Reimer, but moving it up the conference standings. The Leafs went on the road and got great wins in cities in three time zones: Tampa Bay, Dallas and Anaheim. Forward Clarke MacArthur had a goal in all three and is quietly turning into one of the league's more consistent points producers. He had 62 (on 21 goals) last season for Wilson, and has scored nine goals so far.

CBS Sports - 8th (+4)

We're still waiting for Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul to slow down, but they just keep on rolling.

TSN - 9th (+9)

G Jonas Gustavsson has suddenly become a stable presence in between the pipes, winning his last four starts, stopping 119 of 126 shots (.944 SV%). Now, the Leafs have to figure out what to do with their glut of centres, as Mikhail Grabovski has been activated from the injured list and Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly and Joe Colborne have combined for 25 points in 27 games this month.

The Hockey News - 10th (+5)

Joffrey Lupul/Jake Gardiner trade right up there with Flames heist as Brian Burke’s best in Toronto

CBC - 11th (+8)

The Leafs aren't going away folks. They can thank their much-improved power play (22.8 percent), good for third in the NHL. After being thrust into an offensive role in the past, Tyler Bozak is finally earning his keep. He's put up six goals and 16 points in 22 games. Dion Phaneuf is possibly having his best season as a pro, leading the blue line in minutes (just under 26 minutes of ice-time per game) along with 18 points in 24 games. A home and home with Boston is next. The Bruins have mauled the Leafs in two games this season, outscoring them 13-2

FOX Sports - 12th (+6)

Phil Kessel obviously deserves his credit, but the Leafs wouldn’t be where they are without Joffrey Lupul (11-18-29). Did you see his assist on Tyler Bozak’s first goal in Anaheim Sunday?

ESPN - 13th (+5)

Just when it looked as though the Leafs were about to free fall out of the playoff picture, they've won four of five. Phil Kessel continues to lead the league in goals and points.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Balanced scoring is driving the current Maple Leafs winning streak

There are lot of positives when a team is on a hot streak. The Maple Leafs` earlier streak was a little bit deceiving because they were playing mostly non-playoff teams. There is still a little bit of that going on but to have a realistic shot at the playoffs you have to beat the teams you should be beating. One of those teams is the Anaheim Ducks.

Good - Scoring is coming from all through the lineup right now which means the Leafs are no longer dependent on Kessel and Lupul to win games. In fact the hottest player on that line is Tyler Bozak with another 2 goals tonight has scored 5 goals in the past 5 games. He has pushed both Tim Connolly and Mikhail Grabovski aside to win top line status and minutes.

Good - Another great game from Luke Schenn who clearly has turned his game around after a bad start that saw him earn press box status just a couple weeks ago. Tonight he was a leader in minutes (after former Ducks prospect Jake Gardiner), hits and plus/minus. He also scored his first goal since sometime last season.

Good - Team speed has been the hallmark of this young Leafs lineup. That speed was best demonstrated in Bozak`s second goal to make the score 4-1.

Bad - Nothing.

Nicest goal so far this season

The spinorama pass by Patrick Kane is something really special.

KHL violence is making the league look bush

Vityaz Chekhov of the KHL is making the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s look pretty tame. Most recently their goalie started a rip snorting goalie brawl. Of course both goalies are good old Canadian boys. There were 469 penalty minutes handed out during the game.

Earlier in the season they were involved in a line brawl with the team from Riga.

There was coach and ex-NHL goon Andrei Nazarov who attacked a fan with a hockey stick.

In fact some of the Vityaz players got into a brawl over the summer at a wedding.

Montreal Canadiens are too soft

Late in the third period Saturday night, Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens lined up Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang as he took a shot on Carey Price. The result: Contact with the head, Letang bloodied, and no penalty on the play. Pacioretty may be one of the few physical players on the Canadiens.

Letang was hurt but after being check out by doctors he was determined not to have suffered a concussion on the play although he broke his nose. But he comes back to score the winning goal on a great play that also had the Canadiens players on the ice standing around watch Letang poke the puck free from Carey Price. That play wouldn`t make Jacques Martin very happy.

The Monster is playing for survival

Not long ago Brian Burke had acknowledged that he was searching for goaltending help and the media was speculating that Marty Turko would soon be signed. The urgency wasn't just because of James Reimer's injury but more because of the mostly terrible play by his backup Jonas Gustavsson. But a couple of strong games against Tampa Bay and Dallas has quieted the latest goaltending controversy. With decent goaltending suddenly the Leafs look like a playoff contender again as they knock off Dallas 4-3 in a shootout.

Good - I can`t believe the turnaround by the Leafs special teams have gone from awful to great. Especially the powerplay which has been lethal lately. That shouldn`t come as surprise since their powerplay unit has the league`s number 1 and 3 scorers and two of the top point men. I think the turnaround has a lot to do with the players buying into the new systems being introduced by the new coaches hired over the summer.

Bad - Two more players left the game early with injuries. At this point every injury is important as the team`s depth is getting whittled away.The loss of Carl Gunnarsson was most significant because he has been averaging 21:45 minutes per game. Later in the game Ron Wilson benched Cody Franson which left him with only 4 defensemen.

Good - Luke Schenn clearly had his best games of the season but it was also one of the best in his NHL career. He logged 28 minutes of ice time and came up with some key plays including a big hit on Tomas Vincour and goal-saving play off the stick of Michael Ryder.

Bad - Late in the 3rd period Joffrey Lupul was highsticked in the face right in front of an official but there was no call. Although he was cut both above and below his eye, his eye was spared any damage and he was able to return to the game. A 5 minute powerplay might have settled the game. Lupul was able to extract some justice by scoring the only goal in shootout to win the game.