Monday, February 28, 2011

The Butch Goring trade began the tradition of trade deadline frenzy

Almost all deadline deals are flops. The majority involve minor players changing hands who have little impact on their new teams. But the tradition to find a player to put you over the top and help get you a Stanley Cup began in 1980.

In the 1980 season, Butch Goring was traded by the Los Angeles Kings in March to the New York Islanders in exchange for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis, and was widely regarded as being one of the key elements that pushed the Islanders over the top to become champions. That season, he scored 19 points in 21 playoff games to help the Islanders to the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups. He was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP.

Since that time almost no one has had a similar impact yet each year there is a flurry of trades on deadline day. Every GM would love to land the next Butch Goring. So why did it work out so well for Bill Torrey's Islanders? Goring was one the King's top scorers but he was a complete player who could play in his own end, win faceoffs and kill penalties. The Islanders already had some top offensive stars in Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies. On the Islanders Goring was a role player and his work ethic allowed him to fit in instantly with New York.

Since that time many GMs have landed impact players at the deadline to push their teams over the top in the playoffs only to be disappointed. Without the benefit of much practice time, many players fail to integrate well with their new teams. With new linemates, coaches and roles, most stumble early on and never have enough time to adjust before the playoffs arrive. Often traded players put a lot of pressure on themselves and set themselves up for failure.

Just consider over the last few seasons late trades involving Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Keith Tkachuk. These trades never really worked out as well as expected. Yet the trade keep coming.

Phil Kessel named NHL's first star of the week

Hey someone noticed! Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel was named the NHL's first star after leading the league with eight points in four games. Seems no one from Leaf Nation mentioned the dreaded two first round draft picks this past week. Also not sure if Tyler Seguin or the soon to be draft Bruin will ever score goals like the 5 notched by Kessel this week.

Against the Islanders on February 22nd

First goal against the Canadiens on February 24

Second goal against the Canadiens on February 24

Incredible goal against the Thrashers on February 27

There is a concussion epidemic in hockey

I’m not trying to sound like an alarmist but head injuries have become an epidemic in the NHL and in all levels of hockey – even when there is no body checking. Why this is happening is complicated but well documented. There is certainly more awareness of head injuries. Equipment changes have contributed to the problem. Better protective equipment can also be used when hitting another player which has lead to more recklessness. The game is faster now and players larger. I coached girls’ hockey for 10 years and some teenage girls today are the size of NHL players from the 1960s and 1970s. While players are faster and larger, their skulls are unchanged and therefore more vulnerable.

By December 1, there were as many head injuries (33) the NHL as there were all of last season. So obviously rule changes made last year have not helped. The NHL has more or less stopped reporting numbers but you can figure out the stats based on teams’ injury lists which are publicly available. Currently there are 23 players out with head injuries which is about 3% of players on NHL rosters. The total number of NHL players that have had a head injury this year is likely between 60 and 70. That means perhaps 10% of NHLers have been out of the lineup this season with a head injury. There is still the playoffs to come where hitting increases. Players who have already been out this season with a head injury will be at greater risk during this season’s playoffs.

If 10% of players had contracted measles this season, the NHL would be taking extraordinary measures to protect players from infection. But the response from the league has been muted to date despite the growing debate. The likes of Don Cherry and Mike Milbury are out of touch on this issue and not contributing anything useful to the debate. Furthermore, their insulting rants against advocates for more action to protect players are counter-productive.

Currently some very talented players are sitting in dark, quiet rooms waiting for their fog to lift from their brain, their careers and their social and family life. Who knows how much their careers will be shortened by their conditions. You only have to look at ex-players like Pat Lafontaine, Eric Lindros, Brett Lindros and Adam Deadmarsh. Players who recover and continue to play are often not the same player afterward. Just look at Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya. No study has been conducted to determine what the impact of repeated head injuries have on quality of life after a players career is over.

You only have to have experienced this yourself or by a family member to know this is a crisis not being addressed.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Jonas Gustavsson's game returns while playing for the Marlies

The good news is what ever had been bothering Jonas Gustavsson, whether lack of confidence or his technical game, it seems to have been resolved. In the 5 games played with the Marlies (interrupted by another heart procedure) he is 3-1-1. Very encouraging is his GAA of 1.14 and a SAVE% of .955.

The return of his game couldn't have come at a more important time. With Reimer getting bonked in the head and Giguere's wonky groin, we may be seeing Gustavsson back in a Leaf uniform pretty soon.

But with a group of crippled goalies, a run at a playoff spot might be a stretch now. Unless help is on its way.

Kessel critics will need to quiet down after this goal

This is the nicest goal I've seen Phil Kessel score since he got to Toronto. This goal was as much a solo effort as you will ever see. The way he froze the defense when he stopped skating along the boards was incredible. What a pair of soft hands.

Can Reimer keep up this pace?

The Behind the Net Blog has an interesting analysis of James Reimer's early NHL performance. He has put up stellar numbers in his first 15 games in the NHL. But can we draw any conclusions from his .932 save percentage to start his career?

Since 1995, there have been 13 goalies who were called up and posted a .925 save percentage or better in their first 15 games. But over their next 60 games, they posted a decent but not exactly eye-popping .906 save percentage. Quite a disappointment considering how these goalies started their NHL careers. So 15 games is not a large enough sample size to be confident in a goaltender's abilities - one out of every six .900 (replacement) goalies will out-perform a .920 (All-Star) goalie over a 15-game stretch.

Games 1-15 16-30 31-45 46-60 61-75 76-90
Reimer .932

13 Other Rookies .931 .909 .906 .903 .906 .914

The conclusion is that it's too early to be handing the Leaf starting goaltending job to Reimer just yet. Let's see at the very least what happens in games 16 to 30.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Maple Leafs finally in a playoff race

About 20 games ago I suggested that the Maple Leafs were essentially eliminated from the playoffs since they needed to win about 65% of their remaining games to to finish the season with 90 points and the last playoff spot. At the time the Leafs' winning percentage was just a little over 45% so that dramatic of a turnaround just didn't make sense.

Yet a turnaround has occurred. The Leafs earned 24 points over the last 20 games which works out to a 60% winning percentage - below the pace I had quoted earlier. However, since that time the play of Atlanta, Carolina and Buffalo has deteriorated to the point that less than 90 points might get you into the playoffs. If the Leafs finish with 88 points that just might do it. That requires a winning percentage of 64% the rest of the way which considering their last 20 games just might happen.

The other positive is that at the mid point of the season they need to leapfrog five teams to make it to the playoffs. Now it's just two teams, Buffalo and Carolina. Most people are focused on the fact that there is only 6 points separating the Leafs and Hurricanes but that is a lot of points when teams earn a point on a regular basis for losses (in overtime or a shootout).

Now here is the bad news. The Leafs need to win 14 out of their remaining 21 games to make it to post-season. However, 9 of their remaining games are against the top 10 teams in the league. Only 8 games are against the bottom 10 teams. So winning 14 games will be quite a challenge. And although James Reimer has been terrific, let's not forget that Cam Ward and Ryan Miller can win a few games for Carolina and Buffalo.

Despite how it turns out, it will be an exciting finish which is something Leaf fans haven't experienced in a number of years.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Too early to write off Kessel

Watching Phil Kessel go through one of his many scoring slumps is painful. But on the other hand when he gets into a scoring streak it is a pleasure to watch. The way that I look at it, Kessel is a young player, 4th youngest on the team after Luke Schenn, James Reimer and Keith Aulie. He is going to get better and have better linemates in the future. He is a skill player with a scoring touch that is as rare as good rushing defenseman. His 6 goals in the past 5 games reinforces what he is about.

He will likely never be considered good enough to justify giving up two 1st round and one 2nd round picks. It doesn't matter because that is in the past. Instead fans should enjoy what he brings to the team and not worry what went the other way.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs after 60 games

So here are my player report cards after 60 games. Some players like Francois Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg have dropped off the chart for obvious reason.


Luke Schenn A B B
Tomas Kaberle A B -
Jonas Gustavsson A C D
Clarke MacArthur B B B
Mikhail Grabovski B A A
Phil Kessel B B B
Nik Kulemin B B B
Mike Brown B - B
Fredrik Sjostrom B B C
Kris Versteeg C A -
Francois Beauchemin C B -
Dion Phaneuf C B B
Colton Orr C B -
Carl Gunarsson C D C
J-S Giguere C C C
Tyler Bozak D C C
Mike Komisarek D D D
Tim Brent D D C
John Mitchell D D -
Brett Lebda D D D
Keith Aulie - B B
Nazem Kadri - C -
Colby Armstrong - C C
James Reimer - - A
Joffrey Lupul - - B
Darryl Boyce - - C
Joey Crabb - - C

Wow, spin-o-rama move during breakaway!

In the third period of the Minnesota Wild's 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers, Pierre-Marc Bouchard found himself with a breakaway on goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and decides to use a spin-o-rama move. The crowd went cray. When have you seen that before?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'm a perfect 6-0 this season at Leaf games

After Tuesday night's Leaf game I'm a perfect 6-0 when attending games at the ACC this season. I think Brian Burke should be providing me with season tickets next year. Here are the games I've been at:

Nov 18 - Toronto 3 New Jersey 1
Nov 22 - Toronto 4 Dallas 1
Jan 6 - Toronto 6 St. Louis 5 (SO)
Feb 1 - Toronto 4 Florida 3 (SO)
Feb 7 - Toronto 5 Atlanta 4
Feb 22 - Toronto 2 Islanders 1

Now to be honest the Islander game wasn't too pretty. Seeing Tim Brent playing the point on the powerplay in place of Tomas Kaberle says it all. The Leafs only managed 5 shots in the third period and had Phil Kessel not danced through the Islander team to score the winner, I'm not the Leafs would have earned the 2 points.

Again James Reimer was spectacular and continues to nail down the starting job next season. I had great seats for the game and caught Reimer making one of many great saves (above) with my phone.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Colorado Eagles assistant Greg Pankewicz strips half naked, throws clothes on ice

In the third period, one of the Colorado Eagles was roughed up by a linesman during an escalating brawl on the ice. Assistant Coach Greg Pankewicz was enraged by the official's behavior, and began vehemently arguing from the Colorado bench: yelling, screaming, tossing things on the ice.

Then, as a last resort, Pankewicz did something I have never seen before and hope I never will again. He hurled his tie, his shirt and his undershirt in frustration, before being sent to the dressing room shirtless.

A disgusting display of poor sportsmanship and lack of control. Way to go shithead.

Turns out Tomas Kaberle was always a Bruin fan

Kaberle is wearing no. 12 because his No. 15 isn’t available. The long-time Leaf and four-time All-Star defenseman spoke about his feelings prior to joining the Bruins for their game against Ottawa. As it turns out the Bruins were his team as a kid and Ray Bourque was his hero growing up in the Czech Republic.

Now as I recall, Bourque played 21 years with Boston without winning a Cup. He finally agreed to a trade and was able to hoist the Cup in a Colorado jersey. Is history going to repeat?


Evander Kane makes to Oilers look like pylons on this goal

Did Peter Laviolette punch Ville Leino in the head?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nikolai Kulemin is now the longest serving Leaf

Tomas Kaberle played a total of 878 games in a Maple Leaf jersey and another 77 playoff games. Now that he is gone, the current leaders in games played for the Leafs is:

Nikolai Kulemin - 211
Luke Schenn - 209M
Mikhail Grabovski - 195

Fight of the week: Rosehill vs. Lessard

What a way to make a living. How many punches did these two guys get in just 20 seconds? I was exhausted just watching them.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scouting Report: Joe Colborne

As a prospect Joe Colborne has about the same potential as Nazem Kadri, the ability to be a first line centre with some risk that he might not reach that potential. However, they are different types of players. At 6'5" and 215 lbs, he has the size that every team dreams of but is still learning how to use it to his full advantage. The growth spurt is still relatively recent and so Colborne is still making the adjustment. He is not known as a banger. He is a decent skater but best asset is his playmaking skills. He loves to control the puck on along the boards on the power play and find his teammates for gift goals. He will remind you of Joe Thornton although I'm not suggesting he will ever be as good as Thornton.

2008-09 was his first season with the University of Denver (WCHA). His rookie campaign resulted in 10 goals and 31 points (fifth among WCHA rookies). He won All-WCHA Rookie Team honors and Denver’s Top Freshman Award, the Barry Sharp Memorial Award. In his sophomore season he played 39 games and scored 22 goals and added 19 assists for 41 points. He was named to the All-WCHA Third Team. Colborne was twice named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. This season he was playing for the Providence Bruins (AHL) and in 55 games he scored 12 goals and 12 assists.

Is Brian Burke finally rebuilding through the draft? Umm not necessarily

In his first 2 years as Maple Leaf GM, Brian Burke has undertaken an experiment to see if you can accelerate a rebuild by acquiring young players instead of draft picks. The thinking is that by picking up young players who either could play in the NHL right away or within one year, Burke could avoid 4 or 5 years in the basement and outside the playoffs. I call it an experiment because no one has attempted to rebuild in this manner in the post-lockout era. Only someone like Brian Burke would have enough nerve and trust from ownership to try something like this.

The response from many fans has been very negative. But they are just fans who for the most part are impatient and expected instantaneous results when Burke began his accelerated rebuild. Even two years is too early to judge this rebuild. Here are his moves prior to this year's trading deadline moves.

Young Free Agents
No one has been more active in signing European and U.S. college free agents than the Leafs. These move fit into his plans because the players are in the age range of 22-25 and therefore would require less seasoning before jumping into the NHL. They also wouldn't require giving up any existing talent which was in very short supply. To date this group is made up of: Clarke MacArthur (25), Jonas Gutavsson (26), Tyler Bozak (24), Christian Hanson (24), Brayden Irwin (23), Jussi Rynnas (23), Ben Scrivens (24), Korbinian Holzer (23) and Marcel Mueller (22).
Trades for Young Talent Burke has openly stated his preference for young players and prospects over draft picks. He has not been hesitant to trade picks for players. This is the most contentious aspect of his plan and naturally attracts the most criticism. The signature move to date has been Phil Kessel (23) for two 1st round draft picks and a 2nd round pick. He has also picked up Luca Caputi (22) for Alexei Ponikarovsky, Dion Phaneuf (25) and Keith Aulie (21) for assortment of spare parts. Mike Brown was picked up for a 5th round draft pick. Finally Mikhail Grabovski (27) also came via a trade but by Cliff Fletcher in exchange for a 2nd round pick and a prospect. All but Caputi are regulars with the Leafs now and except for Brown are either a top 4 defenseman or top 6 forward. At the end of the day the price is irrelevant.

The Draft
The Leafs have not completely ignored the draft. The current roster has a number of former Leaf draft picks including Luke Schenn (21), Carl Gunnarsson (24), Nikolai Kulemin (24) and James Reimer (22). Nazem Kadri (20) has already seen some time with the big club and seems close to being NHL ready.

Solidify Defense and Goaltending
Veterans were brought in to stabilize the backend of the team including Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Brett Lebda and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. As it turns out these move which appeared to have been less risky, have been the most disappointing. None of these players have been able to make a significant impact and of course Beauchemin has not moved on.

The latest moves which has seen Burke acquire Joe Colborne (former 1st round pick), Jake Gardiner (former 1st round pick), two 1st round picks, a conditional 2nd round pick and a 3rd round pick appear to a change in direction. At first glance it appears that Burke with 14 picks in this June's draft is finally conceding that rebuilding through the draft is the only way to go. But that's not how he is thinking at all. He considers the two former 1st round picks to be close to being NHL ready. Burke believes that this year's draft is pretty deep which means that although the two 1st round picks he own may not be able to jump up to the NHL next season, they may not be far off. But I wouldn't be surprised to see him package them in a trade to move up in the draft which might be the fate of some of the other draft picks. Keep in mind, the trade deadline is only 9 days away. Mr. Burke may not be done.

So the experiment continues. Can't wait to see the results.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What happens to the Maple Leaf transition game with Kaberle gone?

If you listen to radio call in shows, the number of Tomas Kaberle fans in Toronto had been dwindling. This has not been a surprise to be since Leaf fans have always preferred tough guys over skill players. Afterall he has had 3 seasons with fewer than 20 penalty minutes. But few NHL players come with a complete set of tools – scoring, skating, playmaking, body checking, shooting, defence, and fighting. Yet Kaberle possesses a very valuable set of skills – the ability to carry the puck up the ice and accurately pass the puck across long stretches of ice. Both are important to a team’s transition game, ie, transitioning from defence to offence.

So with Kaberle gone what will happen to the Leafs’ transition game? Who is going to move the puck up the ice on the power play or head man the puck to the speedy Leaf forwards? There is no defenseman on the team with these skills other than Kaberle. Perhaps the next best skating defenseman on the team is Brett Lebda who has spent most of the season in the pressbox. I don’t see him eating up Kaberle’s minutes. To replace him, Brian Burke will need to go shopping and likely pay a hefty price. So if Burke wants to win now, then why didn't he just sign Kaberle to an extension? Well I really know the answer. It's been a while since the Maple Leafs have made the playoffs but back in the days when they did, Kaberle more of less disappeared. The Bruins may discover that in about 6 weeks. Though perhaps playing with Zdeno Chara will provide him with some cover.

Still Tomas Kaberle was one of the team leaders in assist every season and has averaged about 45 assists per year over the last 5 seasons. This year he is on pace to register 50 assists. He is tied for 15th in the NHL in assists and 4th overall in assists for defensemen. He may not be a physical player but he is durable. He has played 6 seasons where he has appeared in all 82 games and has not missed a game this season. All this adds up to a player well worth the $4.25 million he will receive this season. I hear the fans yelling “shoot shoot” but that’s not his strength and he understands that. He is 99th overall in shots on net for defensemen which is at the low end for a top 4 defenseman. His most success has always been when paired with a defenseman that has a big shot like Bryan McCabe of Pavel Kubina.

I am really concerned what happens to the Leaf offense with Kaberle gone. When I see Mark Rechhi, a 42 year old forward, playing the point on Boston’s power play it tells me how rare these types of players are and why Boston actively pursued Kaberle.

Joni Mitchell said it best: you don't know what you got till it's gone.

Incidentally, for those who believe Brian Burke is a total idiot (largely because of the Kessel trade) well he just traded a soon to be free agent with a no trade contract for the equivalent of two first round draft picks and a conditional second round pick. Oh did I mention he is also 32 year old.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thank You Kessel!

The animals weren't chanting Kessel's name tonight at the TD Garden. He finally knocked the monkey off his back and scored his first two career goals against the Bruins. The first one he just batted the puck in the air into the net. But the second goal was a beauty. Kessel picks up a loose puck, undresses Andrew Ference and then tucks in the 5 hole behind Tim Thomas.

But the star of the game was Mikhail Grabovski. He takes two crushing hits from Zdeno "Lurch" Chara, doesn't miss a shift and scores two goal. The second was the game winner where he splits the defense and roofs one past Thomas.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What to make of the Kris Versteeg trade

  • My guess is Chicago is kicking themselves for settling for so little in the Versteeg trade with Toronto. Viktor Stalberg hasn't produced much for the Blackhawks and has been dropped to the bottom six forwards. Philippe Paradis is still an uproven prospect although with plenty of upside. Chris DiDomenico has been plagued with injuries and has been demoted to the ECHL.
  • The trade is an admission that Versteeg was not a good fit in Toronto. The Leafs have too many small speedy forwards that are unable to penetrate high traffic zones in the slot and corners. As well, with the acquisition of Joffrey Lupul, the Leafs were paying over $3 million for a 3rd line winger. This wasn't what Burke had in mind.
  • I never would have believed Versteeg would land a 1st round draft pick even it is in the bottom fifth of the round. Same could be said for Mike Fisher. Seems teams are beginning to more freely move 1st round picks.
  • Is this an admission by Brian Burke that trading away 1st round picks makes a rebuild more difficult? Certainly it goes against his plan to accelerate a rebuild by stockpiling prospects rather than draft picks. Or is he changing plans again and rebuilding long term now?
  • Before you read in too much into this deal, it may be possible that one or both of these draft picks are dealt before the draft. Burke was after James van Riemsdyk who the Flyers refused to give up. He took the best deal he could get.
  • Interesting that two key summer acquisitions, Versteeg and Beauchemin, have already been traded. Though this is normal for Burke who never stops tinkering with his line up.
  • The black mouthguard hanging from Versteeg's mouth was really starting to bug me.
No question there is more to come. Perhaps even Tomas Kaberle?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Scouting Report: Jake Gardiner

Jake Gardiner is a versatile offensive defenseman with size, quick feet and great hands. He was quickly able to adjust and adapt to playing on the blueline after having played much of his career as a forward. Gardiner has demonstrated remarkably sound and smart positional play. He utilizes his speed and hockey instincts to play the defensive position effectively. It is further enhanced by his tremendous on-ice awareness, and his ability to read and react to developing plays accordingly. Gardiner’s skating is one of his best attributes. He is very agile and has tremendously quick feet that can be seen particularly in his transitioning.

Not only does he have great poise and patience with the puck, but he has shown that he can be quite creative with it too. His outstanding puck distribution skills also make him a very good quarterback on the power play. Another standout feature about Gardiner is his shot. He possesses a very hard shot with a quick release, and has no trouble getting pucks to the net. He’ll also shoot as often as the opportunity presents itself.

At 6’2/178 lbs, Gardiner has good size and strength that he also uses to his advantage, both offensively and defensively. He can finish his checks very well. Where Gardiner is particularly dangerous are in the areas in front of the net and along the boards. As his body matures, Gardiner will become an even more dominant and effective force on the blueline.

In his freshman season with the University of Wisconsin, Gardiner posted 3 goals and 21 assists in 39 games. He also posted a plus-4 rating and potted two goals on the man-advantage.

In his sophomore season, Gardiner posted 6 goals, 7 assists and a plus-23 rating in 41 games. He also played for the US in the WJC where he posted 3 assists and a plus-9 rating in 7 games.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This seems to be the season for goalie fights

This time it's Carey Price and Tim Thomas. We could have a dozen goalies on the DL if this trend continues.

Jonas Gustavsson update

The Monster go his second start in a row for the Marlies but did not finish the game. He was pulled after the first period with a 5-0 lead because of an elevated heart rate. The Marlies coasted the rest of the way beating Connecticut 9-2.

So maybe the Leafs shouldn't be trying to move J-S Giguere before the trade deadline.

Do you believe the Leafs can win 70% of their remaining games?

Hope springs up following every Maple Leaf winning streak no matter how short it lasts. The most recent streak in which the Leafs have won 4 out of 5 games is no different. Once again fans are looking at the standings noting how close the Leafs are to the 8th place Hurricanes.

At the time of writing this post the Leafs were just 8 points behind 8th place. If it were just a matter of making up the 8 points then I would say at least they have a shot. But that rationale doesn't hold out in a 15 team division. Catching Carolina is meaningless if the Leafs don't catch enough of the other teams ahead of them in the standings.

Based on previous seasons, the 8th place team requires from 88 to 93 points to make the playoffs. If you take the mid point, 90 points, that would mean the Leafs would need another 39 points in their remaining 28 games. That is a winning percent of 70%.

So if you believe the Leafs can finish the season with 90 points then you would also believe the Leafs are in a playoff race. But then you probably also believe in Santa Clause.

Leafs can't lose on the Beauchemin trade

This trade was classic Burke. He got the prospect he wanted but had to take back more salary then he sent over to Anaheim. So the deal for Beauchemin has Joffrey Lupul, Jake Gardiner and a conditional 2013 pick.

Jake Gardiner is an excellent prospect and a puck handling defenseman, something that is currently lacking in the Leaf organization. Landing a prospect like Gardiner, a former 1st round draft pick, is quite difficult in today's NHL.

On the surface it would appear that the main asset coming to the Leafs was in fact Lupul. However, Lupul has had serious health issues and there is no guarantee he will completely recover from a blood disorder following back surgery. Still he is just 27 but he has $8.5 million and 2 years remaining on his contract beyond this season. You need a lot of offense to justify that kind of money. Considering how disappointing Beauchemin has been, the Leafs can't really lose on this trade. If Lupul bounces back then the Leafs did well. If Gardiner becomes a decent #2 defenseman the Leafs will have done very well. If both players are a bust then the trade is a wash.

With Lupul in the line up there is the semblance of a second scoring unit. Mike Komisarek is a winner because he will gain some extra minutes. If Keith Aulie is called up from the Marlies then he is a winner too. Given the changes, the Leafs line up will look very much like this:

Kulemin – Grabovski – Kessel
MacArthur – Bozak – Lupul
Versteeg – Brent – Armstrong
Crabb – Boyce – Sjostrom/Rosehill/Orr

Kaberle – Schenn
Komisarek – Phaneuf
Aulie – Gunnarsson


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Matt Cooke strikes again

This he runs someone in the glass head first. Yet he only gets a 5 minute major because their was no injury. In the wacky world of NHL justice the outcome determines the punishment more than the action.

Will Leaf fans ever love Phil Kessel?

Maple Leaf fans have always loved their pluggers but never shared the same level of affection for the Leafs’ skilled players. Eddie Shack was more popular than Frank Mahovlich. Tiger Williams was more popular than Lanny MacDonald. Brad Smith was more popular than Rick Vaive. Tie Domi was more popular than Mats Sundin. Even now Mike Brown is more popular than Phil Kessel. The reason why Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour continue to be revered by fans is that they were top scorers who were able to play like 4th liners.

Phil Kessel will likely always be an enigma to Leaf fans. A player with breakaway speed and a lightning release that is 4th in the team in scoring. How can that be?

Well Kessel is in the impossible position of having to justify trading away to lottery draft picks. He will never be able to live up to those high expectations. He is shy almost to the point of being socially awkward. He is not comfortable speaking publicly and often no longer in the dressing room by the time reporters are let in. He is a cancer survivor in his early 20s.

People forget he is the 3rd youngest player on the team after Luke Schenn and James Reimer. He has to do with no support. Since coming to Toronto he has played with a variety of players less experienced than himself with the exception of Matt Stajan. Brian Burke would love to find two linemates to match Kessel’s ability. Most of this season he has been playing with players who on most teams would be in the AHL. Fans complain how frustrated they are watching him go one on one against defensemen – either taking a long shot on net or losing the puck trying to stickhandle the puck through the defenseman. Can you imagine how frustrated Kessel must be skating down the ice with no one to play with?

On the Bruins, Kessel played with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic. The closest thing to Savard and Lucic in Toronto is Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin yet they have been playing with Clark McArthur all season. Almost seems that Coach Ron Wilson is more concerned how McArthur does than Kessel. Obviously Kessel’s frustrations came to a head on the weekend when he actually complained to the media – something totally out of character for Kessel. He was now playing on a line with Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce, two players with a total of 7 NHL career goals. Wilson insisted that this would help his struggle star and actually kept the line together for 3 shifts before moving Kessel to a line with Grabovski and Kulemin. Kessel didn’t score a point but was a +2. Meanwhile Kulemin, Grabovski and McArthur all scored a goal each despite being broken up.

I don’t think Kessel was attempting to take a shot at Wilson he was only expressing some frustration. Yet he likely put the final nails in the coffin that has been Wilson’s tenure as coach of the Leafs. Mishandle a star player is the best way to get pink slipped in the NHL.

At the end of the day, there still will be no love in Toronto for Phil Kessel. He doesn’t block shots, crush opponents or drop his gloves. He just scores beautiful goals.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Matt Cooke is up to no good again

Matt Cooke is one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. If it's not hits to the head then knee on knee contact such as the hit on Alex Ovechkin last night.

Toronto Maple Leaf trade rumors

It's the silly season where trade rumors are rampant. It's hard to know where they start. Everyone claims to have spoken to an unnamed sources but I don't believe any of it. Many of these bloggers that churn out these rumors are only trying to generate hits on their websites. The most notorious is Eklund on

The most prevalent rumors out there continue to involve Tomas Kaberle. Perhaps it will finally happen but I'm not convinced. Despite suggestion to the contrary Kaberle has not provided the Leafs with a list of teams he would go to. So far Brian Burke has insisted he will not ask Kaberle to waive his no-trade contract. Will Burke finally approach Kaberle if he gets a deal to his liking? Who knows. Kaberle has to get his head around wearing another team's jersey. If he does before the end of the month then a trade is possible but still slim. It appears Kaberle wants to remain in the East. The possibilities are Montreal, Boston and Washington. The Bruins have had a long term interesting in acquiring Kaberle but so far Peter Chiarelli and Burke have never been able to agree on a deal.

The other veteran defensemen that could be made available are Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin. Both have no-trade contracts. Even if Komisarek were to waive his no-trade, his contract is definitely not trade-friendly with 3 years remaining at a cap hit of $4.5 million. Beauchemin is a different story. His contract has one year remaining at $3.8 million. Someone may be willing to take that on. One team mentioned is San Jose and the player must often mentioned coming to Toronto is Devin Setoguchi and at 24 is in the age profile that Burke covets. The reason he might be available is that his production has fallen off. Two years ago he scored 31 goals, last season just 20 and so far this season only 11.

One player who has been the subject of trade talks has been Kris Versteeg. Shortly after New Years Burke admitted he had received a very good offer for Versteeg but in the end he turned down. I can see Versteeg being moved but the chances aren't too good. The Leafs thought they had a player who could play on their first line with Phil Kessel but that hasn't been the case. But Versteeg is a talented player who can fill a lot of roles. They are thin in the forward position so moving him doesn't make sense. The rumor mill has suggested a trade with New Jersey for the underachieving Travis Zajac. Makes no sense to me.

Obviously, one player that will be on the market will be J-S Giguere. He has indicated a willingness to move on since it is obvious the Leafs will not be bringing him back next season and there is a risk that he may sit on the bench for much of what remains of this season. Right now he has over $2 million on his contract and even on trade deadline day (February 28) he will still be owed $1.6 million. Contenders don't have cap space like that available. Yet Vesa Toskala was moved a year ago so if the Leafs take back some salary then a deal is possible.

The most intriguing rumor has John Mitchell and Tyler Bozak going to St. Louis for former Leaf prospect Brad Boyes. All 3 players are underachieving so this makes some sense since a change of scenery may help all involved. Several years ago Boyes had 423 and 33 goal seasons before dropping off to just 14 last season. So far this season he has scored just 11 goals. So why would St. Louis move him? Well he has two years left on a contract with a cap hit of $4 million. That's cap friendly at 30 goals per season but not at 15. He is a centre so obviously the Leafs would be interested.

Gustavsson is off to a good start with the Marlies

Jonas Gustavsson's first game with the Toronto Marlies last night turned out to be much better than James Reimer's game with the Leafs. Reimer was pulled in the second period after letting in 5 goals. Meanwhile, Gustavsson was the first star in a 24 save, 3-1 win against the Rochester Americans. In fact he was working on a shutout until almost midway through the third period. The only goal he let in was a result of a goalmouth collision in which he was knocked off his skates. Rochester was awarded the goal after a video review.

Gustavsson made big saves look easy while displaying poise in goal. Considering he was sent to the AHL to regain his confidence, the game was certainly a step in the right direction.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Zdeno Chara no longer holds the record for the hardest shot

Last week Zdeno Chara blasted a puck 105.9 mph to break his own record for the hardest shot at an All-Star Game Skills Competition.

This weekend, Russia's KHL held its All-Star Game skills competition. According to their radar gun, the second attempt by Denis Kulyash of Omsk Avangard demolished Chara's NHL record with a 110.343 mph (177.58 km/h) blast.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brent Johnson sets some sort of record

Brent Johnson made history last night by becoming the goalie to have played the most minutes in a shutout only to lose credit for the SO because he had to leave the game. The record was previously held by Ron Low, who left a 4-0 game with 24 seconds left on December 29, 1972. Jacques Plante replaced Low and secured the Leafs 4-0 win over Pittsburgh.

When two goalies play in the same game where their team gets a shutout, neither goalie gets credited with the shutout. Instead the team gets credited with the SO. But that was a heck of a fight between Johnson and Rick DiPietro.

Fastest 3 fight from the start of a game

A fight broke out at 0:01 of the first period in a game between Boston and Dallas. Then another fight broke out at 0:02. And a third one broke out at 0:03. Three fights in three seconds of game time. Oh yes, Andrew Raycroft was pulled after 1:20. But that is nothing new to Leaf fans.

It's Reim Time!

James Reimer gets the call again and takes advantage of the opportunity with his first NHL shotout, a 3-0 win against the Hurricane. Reimer now has a record of 5-3 with a GAA of 1.96 and a SAV% of .940.

It's too early to be handing over the #1 job to a rookie after just 9 games but Reimer clearly is making a case. James Reimer is the 12th goalie to play for the Leafs since Ed Belfour moved on. Others also showed some promise at some point to earn a shot at the position. Yet 5 years later no one has been able to grab hold of the #1 job and keep it. Let's hope the hunt is over.

By the way the other goalies to play for the Leafs since Belfour are:

Mikael Tellqvist
Jean-Sebastien Aubin
Andrew Raycroft
Vesa Toskala
Scott Clemmensen
Curtis Joseph
Martin Gerber
Justin Pogge
Jonas Gustavsson
Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Joey MacDonald

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day: 26 more days of Tomas Kaberle trade rumours

The media is reporting that Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke expects to hear from defenceman Tomas Kaberle’s agent, Rick Curran, this week about a decision on the player’s no-move clause in his contract. If Kaberle finally decides he is ready to accept a trade, Burke will get a list of acceptable teams, which is expected to have just two or three Eastern Conference teams on it thanks to Kaberle’s aversion to leaving Toronto.

When have we heard this before?

Of course, a short list of Eastern teams will really make it so much easier to move move Kaberle.

For example, it means Burke likely will not be able to ship him to the San Jose Sharks, who are looking for a top-four defenceman and are said to be disenchanted with 24-year-old forward Devin Setoguchi, whose production slipped this season.

With pending free agency this summer, Kaberle's trade value has shrunk to next to nothing.

What ever happened to sell high and buy low?

I do enjoy a goalie fight

This fight is a one punch KO of Rick DiPietro by Brent Johnson. Wiarton Willie says 6 more weeks on the DL for DiPietro.

UPDATE: The most fragile goalie in the world, Rick DiPietro, broke bones in his face in this fight with Brent Johnson.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

All-Star weekend was a success

The numbers are in and the new format seemed to have piqued fan interest based on TV ratings. On Friday even the first ever All-Star Game Draft drew over 600,000 American viewers on Versus and 1.5 million Canadians on TSN. The Skills Competition drew about 1.2 million on Versus and 2.4 million on the CBC and the actual game had an audience of 1.5 million on Versus and 2.4 million on CBC.

These numbers may not seem like much but both CBC and Versus were thrilled because they were far larger than previous years. The fact that the U.S. cable network did not draw as many viewers as the Canadian networks was expected. We all know that there isn't a big TV audience for hockey in the U.S. The largest numbers for Versus came from Detroit and Raleigh was fourth which would suggest that even the team captains had an influence on who turned on the game.

Don't expect much change in the format next season based on these numbers. Though I expect the draft might look a little different to avoid further embarrassment to Phil Kessel should be return next year.

Keep your grubby fingers off Kris Versteeg's car

Some advice Kris. If you want to keep people away from your car then don't have a picture of you with your wheels published in the Toronto Star.