Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Leafs couldn't close out the win

It's games like tonight's that have the potential to come back and haunt you later in the season. The Maple Leafs literally had the Penguins on the ropes with a 4-1 lead and just over 13 minutes remaining but couldn't shut the door. In fact they fell just 6 seconds shy of winning it when Evgeny Malkin scored the tying goal with the goalie pulled. The Leafs eventually lost 4-3 after Malkin scored the only goal in shoot out.

At least the Leafs temporarily moved into sole possession into the last playoff spot as Florida was idle.

Good - I personally am very encouraged by the much improved discipline and the defensive play of the Leafs. In the past 11 games the Leafs have only played short handed 17 which is about 1.5 penalties (or .5 per period). They have also killed off all 17 of those penalties. Tonight they played a classic road game with very few mistakes. For example they only gave away the puck 4 times tonight. This bodes well for a team desperate to make the playoff.

Bad - Failure to hold a big lead with less than a period to go is not good enough. Even though this was a road game it shouldn't have happened. With about 5 minutes remailing they just stopped skating. You need to be skating even if you are playing defense. Yet the game mght have taken a different direction if the goal below had been allowed. Zbynek Michalek bumps teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, prompting the officials to wave off the goal.

Good - The birthday boy, Mikhail Grabovski, was super hot again tonight. He had 2 goals and a assist. That gives him 5 goals and 3 assist in the past 3 games. He should have had more but he insisted on passing the puck to Nik Kulemin.

Bad - It's a good think that Grabovski is scoring in bunches because the tandem of Kessel and Lupul have cooled right off. With Grabovski becoming a free agents during the summer, the current hot streak is going to push up his value.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Brian Burke vs. Don Cherry

The two biggest blowhards in professional hockey appear to be posed to do battle. Yes, the loud and obnoxious CBC hockey analyst, Don Cherry, and the low and obnoxious General Manager of the vastly wealth but inept Toronto Maple Leafs don't seem to like each other these days.

It seems Don Cherry has been picking on Leafs coach and Burke's BFF, Ron Wilson, a lot. Cherry doesn't care for Wilson and calls Wilson a bully. Cherry thinks coaches should be going out for beer with their team. Things got a little ridiculous during a recent Coach's Corner when Cherry ran a video of Wilson with his arms crossed during a break in play at the Air Canada Centre while a member of the Canadian Arms Forces was being introduced. The crowd including Wilson's assistants is applauding the veteran. Cherry who considers himself to be a great patriot uses this to launch into a tirade against Wilson.

Burke's has been going out of his way to defend his beleaguered coach who he refuses to fire despite Wilson's mediocre record over the past 3 1/2 seasons. Over the weekend Burke indicated that he complained to the CBC. Like the CBC now has to defend an anti-Toronto bias while the rest country accuses the network of having a pro Toronto bias. So Cherry doesn't like the way Wilson treats his players. Burke doesn't like the way Cherry treats his coach. You can't win.

Of course there is no point in going after Cherry since the CBC gives him a soapbox to stand on every HNIC telecast. So on Sunday he responds to Burke on air. Can't we just all get along?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kessel and Lupul join in on the All-Star scoring orgy

Everyone loves to see offense but 21 goals is just plain boring. Offense without some defense is like taking candy from a baby. There were 99 shots in the game and Scott Hartnell recorded the only hit.

Well Joffrey Lupul made the best out of his first All-Star appearance by scoring a pair of goals. His side kick Phil Kessel chipped in one as well in addition to two assists. Dion Phaneuf had a chance to score but was stopped by Jonathan Quick.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The real reason why Tim Thomas is done with the Bruins

Much has been made of the Tim Thomas snub of the Bruins's meet and greet with President Obama.
I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.
This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT
So now everyone knows that Thomas is Tea Party supporter (= Free Citizen). Sure he has pissed off his teammates and disappointed Bruins management. Many Americans are flabbergasted.

The Boston Globe did a piece on Thomas suggesting his teammates never liked him. He's depicted as standoffish, mostly friendless, and possessed of certain beliefs that he feels particularly strong about. It's suggested that he has worn out his welcome in Boston.

The truth is that the Bruins likely planned to move him at the end of this season all along. The Bruins signed him to a 4-year contract in 2009 with a cap hit of $5 million. The first 3 years have a no-trade provision which ends this summer. Also the final year salary drops to $3 million so he becomes very attractive to teams at the minimum salary floor. He is also 37 years old.

Meanwhile Tuukka Rask who is 24 and also an excellent goalie waiting to take over the starting job. He is currently making $1.5 million and becomes a UFA this summer. Signing him will be easier if he knows he will be the starter next season.

All the noise about noise about government out of control and the Constitution is not likely new to his teammates. So the Bruins will tolerate Thomas for several more months and perhaps ride him to another Stanley Cup.

What's Alex Ovechkin doing during the All-Star break?

Yeah it looks like he is really going to miss playing in the game.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Liles signing begins to chip away at next year's cap space

I like the Liles signing a lot. He appears to be an upgrade from Tomas Kaberle yet he is cheaper. I was pretty sure he would cost about $4.5 million in cap space so it appears Burke got him at a bit of a discount. But earlier in the season I thought the Leafs could only afford either Liles or Grabovski next season. I may be wrong but I certainly would not be shocked to see Grabovski traded over trhe next few weeks.

The Leafs currently have 17 players signed with a cap hit of about $53 million. That leaves about $11 million for 6 players. If the Leafs choose to resign Grabovski that could knock off $4 million off the available cap space. $7 million to cover the signing of Cody Franson, Nikolai Kulemin, Jonas Gustavsson, Daryl Boyce and Joey Crabb.

But is this a lineup you can deep in the playoffs? I don't see it. I like Grabovski but he contributes to a serious problem, a lack of size up front. It may make more sense to flip Grabovski and bring up Joe Colborne. Certainly the money that the Leafs save could be plowed back into a free agent.

Knowing how Brian Burke operates the fact that he has 17 signed for next season is not necessarily a constraint. The GM has been known to make trades that no one thought would be possible. I hope that is the case because going with the same lineup next season does not excite. And with 8 defensemen on the roster you would expect that if Liles does stay then someone is going to move.

So hear's to trading deadline frenzy!

NHL Power Ranking - All-Star Week

The Maple Leafs go into the All-Star break with two wins over the Islanders to stay in the playoff mix. Most of the rankings were posted after the disappointing loss to the Canadiens and before the back to back games with New York. The rankings over the past two months have all consistently ranked the Bruins #1 overall. This week there is some disagreement as the Rangers and the Red Wings are sharing the honors.

TSN - 14th (-1)

Leafs have lost four of five and can't turn to that early-season scapegoat -- the penalty-killing -- as they've killed all 16 shorthanded situations that they have faced in January.

Sports Illustrated - 16th (+2)

Jonas Gustavsson got a nice shutout, his third of the season, Monday night against the Islanders. His 15 wins are just one short of his career best. Maybe the Swedish import isn't the big bust some had proclaimed after he was heavily courted by several NHL teams in 2009. And for a guy who was voted the most overrated player in the league in SI's NHL player poll, defenseman Dion Phaneuf's numbers aren't bad: 28 points in 48 games, and plus-1

CBS Sports - 17th (+1)

When you're fighting for a playoff spot you need to pick up wins against struggling teams like Montreal. The Maple Leafs fell short in that goal on Saturday night.

The Hockey News - 17th (+1)

Leafs epitome of mediocrity: even goals-for/against ratio; 13 wins and 12 losses at home; and 10 wins and 12 losses on the road

Fox Sports - 17th (-1)

Phil Kessel has two points and a minus-six rating in his last six games as the streaky Leafs have lost four out of five.

Sportsnet - 18th (-1)

The Leafs’ new leading point-getter, Joffrey Lupul (31), proved that he could rack up points even if he’s not playing alongside Phil Kessel. Bad news: Toronto has dropped four of its last five, most frustratingly Tuesday’s defeat at home by the Sens, who overcame a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2.

ESPN - 18th (-3)

The Leafs have lost four of five to fall out of the playoff bracket in the Eastern Conference. Offense has gone dry and they face a streaking Islanders squad Monday. Yikes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'll take a sloppy win over a tidy loss

That was one ugly win on Long Island. They managed only 4 shots in the first and fell behind 2-0 in the second. In the third they mounted a comeback - but only managed 5 shots. But somehow they squeaked out a 4-3 overtime win. This game was marred with all types of strange plays, very chippy hockey and some strange bounces. So the win leaves the Leafs in a 3-way tie for 7th place with Florida and New Jersey going into the All-Star break. I doubt that has been the case in about 8 years.

Good - Jake Gardner played a fabulous game scoring his first NHL to tie the score 2-2. His strong play earned him 26 minutes of ice time which was best on the Leafs after Dion Phaneuf.

Bad - There were all kinds of bad bounces and strange goals. Grabovski's goal came on a shot that hit Milan Jurcina's stick and fluttered over the shoulder of Islanders goalie Al Montoya. Then with less that 20 seconds remaining in regulation time Grabovski was involved in another strange play. His clearing shot along the boards from behind his net hit a partition in the glass and popped in front of the net to a surprised Islanders forward P.A. Parenteau who buried it behind Gustavsson.

Good - On a night when the Leafs' dynamic duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul produced no points, another duo made up of Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur chipped in enough to win the game. Grabovski had a goal and three assists while MacArthur had two goals and an assist.

Bad - I was not too impressed by the officiating. The uncalled violations included all manner of hooking, holding, interference, and high sticking. Grabovski hit Andrew MacDonald in the throat with his stick. Joffrey Lupul clipped John Tavares in the face. Phil Kessel was being hacked and mugged all night long but he also got away with an obvious elbow. It looked like 2004 not 2012.

Good - Well you can imagine how frustrated the Islanders must be having played the Leafs in back to back games without getting one powerplay opportunity. That is the third time the Leafs have played a complete game this month without killing a penalty. They have now gone 11 games without giving up a powerplay.

Bad - The Leafs decided to make it interesting by giving up a short-handed goal instead of a powerplay goal.

Good - The game had an exciting finish in overtime when MacArthur scored on a great set up from Grabovski. It appeared that Montoya had made a huge save on the shot but on replay you could see that the goalie's glove was inside the net when he caught the puck which had already crossed the goal line.

Comparing 2 rebuilding franchises - Toronto and Edmonton

There are those in Leafs Nation that still believe Leafs management should have tanked and rebuilt through the draft. Instead Brian Burke has focused on a combination of trades (11 players), free agents (7) and drafts (4) to rebuild the roster. For Burke the draft approach just takes too long and after all the Leafs are still one of the youngest teams in the NHL despite the low number of Leafs draft picks on the roster.

It's interesting to compare the Leafs with the rebuilding Edmonton Oilers who have mostly relied on the draft. Both teams began the process in 2008. So how have the two franchises fared?

Toronto Edmonton
2008-09 81 85
2009-10 74 62
2010-11 85 62
2011-12 53 40

Both teams finished with about the same number of points at the start of their rebuilds in 2009. The following season Edmonton finished 30th and drafted Taylor Hall. The Leafs traded for Phil Kessel and finished 29th but 12 points higher than the Oilers. Last season the Leafs began to rise in the standing while Oilers finished last overall with 62 points again but now 23 points behind the Leafs. This season the Leafs have been competing all season for a playoff spot while the Oilers are still struggling to win games. The Leafs project to finish with 90 points. While the Oilers project to only 68 points which would be 22 points behind the Leafs.

These rebuilds are incomplete but the numbers seem to support Burke's position, rebuilding through the draft takes a long time. Edmonton has some dynamic, young players but have yet to experience much success with them. The Leafs are just as young but have begun to climb back to respectability in 3 seasons.

Jumping on and off the Leafs bandwagon can be tiring

I guess a sign that the Leafs are an improving team is that several seasons ago they would have 3 bad games before they would play a good game. You would wonder why is that one night in the week they would look great and the other games that week they would look pathetic. Well this season it's more like one good game for every bad game. Yet you still wonder why they can't be more consistent. One of the reasons the Leafs haven't made the playoffs since 2004 is there have been very few stretches of good hockey in the past few years. Last season there was a strong run in January and February but that could not make up for a stretch of futility that lasted for much of the first half of the season.

Well last night was one of those good games where the Leafs beat the Islanders 3-0. It was against one of the weaker teams in the league but in today's NHL anything less than a full effort will not earn you a win, even against weaker opponents. Most Leafs fans fall into the bandwagon jumpers because years of futility have created years of frustration. So a bad game brings on doubt and pessimism. Fans of strong teams brush off weak performances as just one of those things that happen over a 82-game schedule. Not in Toronto.

Good - I'm not a huge Jonas Gustavsson fan but when you earn a shutout you did something right. He still lets in weak goals but it's happening less often. He's not spectacular but over the past two months he gives the team a chance to win in most games. Last night he stopped all 25 shots though New York had few good scoring chances. The team played well in front of him but he made no mistakes.

Bad - Not to much to criticise last night. The Leafs played hard in the first but I thought they took the pedal off the gas a bit in the second and needed a strong third to clinch the win. You would like to see a solid 60 minutes once in a while. It might have been one of those games where if New York had been able to tie the game up, the momentum might have shifted and ended quite differently.

Good - Matthew Lombardi had his best game last night scoring twice which gives him 4 goals in the past 4 games. His skating has always been there but for much of this season his timing, shot and puckhandling have been inconsistent. You might have thought that after missing last season his game would have returned quicker. But everyone is different. In fact it took Joffrey Lupul even longer to return to form.

Bad - Although Phil Kessel scored a lovely goal on a pass from Lupul, this line has lost some of its lustre lately. They are a defensive liability when matched up against an opponent's top line. That's why Grabovski's line starts every game and was matched up against John Tavares' line last night. If it wasn't Grabovski's line it was Steckel's line. The coach isn't showing much confidence in that line right now. Earlier in the season you would see Kessel out on the ice in the last minute of a close game but not at the moment. Perhaps a bona fide 1st line centre will make a difference.

Good - The Leafs played with a lot of discipline last night which cut down on scoring chances and in powerplay opportunities. In fact for the second game this month the Leafs did not play a man short at all. Over the past 10 games the Leafs have only had to kill 16 penalties and have been successful in each instance. Games are won and lost on the powerplay and if this trend continues then the Leafs' chances in making the playoffs improves considerably.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Leafs lack of attention to defense is their downfall

If you look at the Leafs defensive record you can only describe it as deplorable. They are 30th in penalty killing percentage and 25th in giving up goals. Their offense stats are quite good. The Leafs are 5th in powerplay percentage and in powerplay goals scored and 8th in total goals scored.

At the end of the day the offense and defense are a wash 141 goals scored and 142 goals given up. Except you need to score more goals then you let in to win games so their record isn't good enough. In fact even their offense is suspect because two players, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have scored one-third of the teams goals. Without these guys in the lineup every game they would be struggling to score.

But the most disturbing observation is the team's lack of commitment to defense. It's about holding leads and playing boring road games to squeak out wins. When Brian Burke and Ron Wilson arrived in Toronto 3 years ago they were very critical of the team. They felt they were soft and very casual about the defensive part of the game. Well nothing has changed really. The team is younger and faster and still play back defensive hockey. Except there isn't a player that Burke and Wilson can say they inherited. This is their team. So either they built a weak defensive team or the coaching is inadequate.

Burke and Wilson talk about accountability but don't really like to be held accountable. They have some explaining to do nonetheless.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Leafs have a losing record since Wilson's contract extension

So is it a coincidence that since Christmas Day when Ron Wilson tweeted that his contact was extended, the Leafs have gone 5-6-1 and dropped out of the top 8? Certainly that extension was premature but it does give Brian Burke's pal a $1.5 million cushion should his ass get kicked to the curb this spring. Tonight's 3-1 loss to Montreal is not the first time this season where the well rested Leafs lost to a tired team that had played just 24 hours earlier. It makes it that much more difficult to watch knowing these are games where the schedule gives the Leafs an advantage they often pass up on.

Bad - Turnovers and bad defensive coverage killed the Leafs tonight. But so did Jonas Gustavsson who seems to give up the bad goal far too frequently. Sure he made that terrific save on the Lars Eller breakaway but he also gave up a goal that he should have had. That can transform a one goal lead into one goal loss.

Good - Well the Leafs have gone 9 games now with out giving up a powerplay goal. But they were so bad in the first 38 that they are still in last place in penalty killing.

Bad - What dug the Leafs into a bigger home was a series of calls that went against. There a delay of game penalty that shoud have been called for tripping,. That penalty would given the Leafs a 5 on 3. On the winning goal, some one had sat on Gustavsson which caused him to lose his focus.

Bad - Wilson got credit for waking up the Leafs' offense by juggling the lines. Well his brilliance only lasted one game. Tonight Kessel and Lupul looked lost out their without each other. Kessel reverted back to taking long or bad angle shots that either missed the net or were easily stopped by Carey Price. Meanwhile Lupul was on the ice for all 3 of Montreal's goals. The Leafs are not such a deep team that they can afford to break up their best pair.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gustavsson lays claim to the starting goalie job

It's becoming apparent that the Leafs will need to rely on Jonas Gustavsson the rest of the season if they are to qualify for the playoffs. Although Gustavsson's numbers are not stellar they are still better than those of James Reimer. Following tonight's 4-1 win over Minnesota, this is how the two goalies compare.

Record GAA SV%
Jonas Gustavsson 14-9-0 2.83 .908
James Reimer 7-5-4 3.01 .899

Both Gustavsson and Reimer faced a similar number of shots in their recent starts. Reimer allowed 3 goals on 20 shots while Gustavsson let in only 1 shot out of 21. Now the Senators are a better scoring team but it's not like Reimer faced such difficult shots. I would expect to see Gustavsson in net against the Canadiens this Saturday. Still the Monster can't help giving up a soft goal here and there. This one near the end of the game didn't matter but cost him a shutout. Still not sure how it got behind him.

Good - Once again Joffrey Lupul was real good. His three assist gave him the team scoring lead with 51 points and just 2 points short of his career high. Moving him from Kessel's line has no discernable impact on Lupul. The only goal he didn 't set up was a beauty of a goal by Joey Crabb.

Bad - I wouldn't say Kessel was bad. Afterall he scored his 25th goal of the season and had 5 shots on net. But I didn't find that he had good chemistry with Matthew Lombardi and on several occassions it appeared as if they almost ran into each other.

Good - Splitting up Kessel and Lupul gained huge coverage by the Toronto media but it seemed to have worked. At least it did against the anemic Wild. Montreal will provide a bit better of a test. So for now Ron Wilson looks like a coach pulling the right strings. It's inevitable they will be paired up again in the near future.

Bad - Although the Leafs directed 32 shots at the Wild net, they should have had so many more considering how much they controlled the puck. Yet as they have all season, the failed to get picks to the net.

Good - The penalty killers still haven't given up a goal in 2012. Yet the Leafs still stand 30th in the league in killing penalties. PArt of the reason is that they have taken very few penalties in the past 3 weeks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Craig Anderson frustrates the Maple Leafs again

The lack of offense, is it hot goaltending by their opponents or ineffective scorers? I really can't tell. Did the Leafs make Anderson look good in their 3-2 loss to Ottawa? He certainly had frustrated Joffrey Lupul who has several good scoring chances buried by Anderson. Statistically you see the 39-21 margin in shots and you can see that Toronto had a territorial advantage but it didn't produce a win. In fact it is rare that the Leafs out shoot an opponent. They have up given up the 3rd most shots in the NHL this season.

Good - It was Matthew Lombardi's best game as a Leafs. Not only did he score the first goal of the game but he led the team in shots with 7 and was 8-0 on faceoffs. He was flying all night.

Bad - James Reimer just wasn't good enough tonight. The third goal was one that he should have had. Kyle Turris beat him on the glove side on a shot that did not look terribly difficult to stop.

Good - Jake Gardner played and Mike Komisarek did not. In fact, Gardner played over 23 minutes and was a +2 in a losing effort. That's pretty good.

Bad - To some extent the Leafs made Anderson look good. Out of the 39 shots he faced few were difficult. He was rarely crowded or screened in his crease. Many shots were from over 40 feet and with no screen they aren't going to beat a goalie like Anderson.

Good - Have to mention the penalty killing. Again they weren't scored against which makes it 7 straight games. Quite the turn around from the worst penalty killing team in the league. Yet they are still 30th in the NHL which tells you how bad they were prior to 2012.

Bad - Nick Foligno took Dion Phaneuf out at the knees and was called for clipping. It wasn't as bad as the Brad Marchand hit last week but it could have led to a serious injury. The Senators disagreed with the call so it will be interesting to see what Brenden Shanahan does about it. Later in the game Phaneuf took a little justice of his own but pummeling Foligno in a fight. Phaneuf took an extra 2 minute penalty but I thought it was worth it.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 15

The month started so well but after two straight losses the team looks shaky again. There aren't a lot of things a coach can do different. James Reimer will return to the nets altough goaltending hasn't been the problem. Tyler Bozak and Jake Gardner return to the lineup to inject more speed and offense. You hope the weekend was a short set back. Lets hope the revised Battle of Ontario provides a pick me up.

TSN - 13th (0)

As C Tyler Bozak is set to return to the lineup, he's also going to slide right back into the No. 1 line between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. Why wouldn't he? Tim Connolly hasn't recorded a point and has a total of three shots on goal in the last four games.

ESPN - 15th (-2)

Back-to-back weekend losses slow down the Buds. But they're licking their lips for a Tuesday night home date with the Sens in the revitalized Battle of Ontario.

Fox Sports - 16th (+2)

James Reimer, who at one point was your All-Star starter, hasn’t played in 2012.

Sportsnet - 17th (-3)

With a home-and-home against the Sabres, the Leafs had an opportunity to essentially bury Buffalo last week. Didn’t happen; they split those games. The Leafs had a chance to assert themselves a true Eastern contender at home against the Rangers on Saturday. Didn’t happen; they got shut out 3-zip.

CBS Sports - 18th (-1)

Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have hit what could be their first slumps of the season, combining for three goals over the past five games. These guys have been carrying Toronto all season, and it should be interesting to see how the team plays when they're not lighting up the scoreboard.

The Hockey News - 18th (-2)

Dion Phaneuf on pace for 39-assist, 52-point season; both numbers would represent his best since 2007-08

Sports Illustrated - 18th (-4)

Well, it looks like it's back to James Reimer for coach Ron Wilson. Jonas Gustavsson was the man for a while, but he lost back-to-back starts to the Rangers and Sabres and so Reimer will get the next chance to grab the No. 1 job Tuesday against Ottawa. Center Tyler Bozak also will return for that tilt.

Still searching for a #1 centre

Tyler Bozak returns to the lineup tonight to play along side the Leafs stud scorers, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. For most games this season it really didn't matter who was at centre. Besides Bozak, we've seen Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, David Steckel, even Joe Coborne for a few shifts. Now that Kessel and Lupul seemed to have cooled off it does matter.

The problem is shuffling around all your centremen won't make much of a difference in the long term. The Leafs just don't have a #1 centre and they've been looking for 3 years. From the time Kessel arrived in Toronto, Brian Burke has been searching for players on his calibre to play with him. Last season Lupul joined Kessel but the job at centre is still open. Last season's low point had to have been when Kessel was playing with Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb. Not exactly what Kessel was hoping for. In fact, the reserved winger was pissed off enough to complain publicly - for about 20 seconds.

At one point Jeff Carter's name was being bounced around. More recently there was James van Riemsdyk although he is really a left winger. You also hear Ryan Geflatz but Anaheim would prefer that he start scoring over trading him.

So the years go by and Phil Kessel is building a career around centres that no one remembers 30 minutes after the game ends. It really is sad.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Leafs lay a goose egg

Last night's 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers is one of those games where the young Leafs get a lesson about from one of the league's powerhouses. The Rangers controlled the game from start to finish and the Leafs rarely threatened. It was a classic road win and a pretty boring game. This is a league where size still matters and the smallish Leafs forwards were outmanned. I am sure it will be one of those things that Brian Burke is working on remedying.

Bad - The Leafs offense was AWOL last night. The team squeaked out only 20 shots on net and Marty Biron earned an easy shutout. Where there was a shot on net the Ranger defense was able to manage rebounds effectively.

Good - Another game where the Leafs' penalty killers did not give up a goal. They have been perfect in 11 opportunities over the past 6 games.

Bad - Watching Mike Komisarek is painful to say the least. He was a -2 last night and now is -5 since his return to the lineup 5 games ago. Brian Burke is loyal to a fault. Making this even more painful is finding out that after the game Jake Gardner was sent down to the Marlies. Just recently Matt Fratin was also demoted as the rookies are the casualties as the playoff race heats up.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Luke Schenn for James van Riemsdyk isn't happening

I don't know if a Luke Schenn for James van Riemsdyk trade was ever discussed. I am not a confidant of Brian Burke. Burke has always had an eye on van Riemsdyk and supposedly made offers in the past. After all the kid is an American which will automatically get Burkie juiced.

I can't tell you any possible deal is on hold or dead. The Flyers just announced that van Riemsdyk is out indefinitely with a concussion. We know that Burke only takes concussed players as salary dumps.

Streak ends at 4 for the Leafs and Gustavsson

The only sure thing about winning streaks is that they always come to an end, usually much sooner than you like. However, it's like falling off your bike, you get back up and start rolling again. Yesterday's loss was reminiscent of previous losses, not enough effort, goaltending, offense and luck (after all it was Friday the 13th).

Good - Grabovski's line has come alive and scored all 4 goals in the back to back games against the Sabres. The entire line of Grabovski, Kulemin and Crabb are free agents at the end of the season so I imagine that want to finish the season strong and put themselves in a better bargaining position whether it be the Leafs or another organization.

Bad - It's a good thing the Grabovski line is woken up because the first line has cooled off somewhat. In fact Kessel, Lupul and Connolly were a combined -6 for the night. Not so good.

Good - The penalty killers weren't real busy last night but they were perfect in the penalty killing situations. Part of the reason for their 4-game streak was better penalty killing.

Bad - I may be accused of picking on him but Mike Komisarek has been a -3 in the 3 games since he returned to the lineup. While the team overall has been an even in that period. I'm sorry but he is a liability out there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Looking ahead at th Maple Leafs' free agents

Looking ahead to next summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs have 9 players who will be free agents which includes 4 that will restricted (RFAs) and 5 that will be unrestricted (UFAs). So you need to begin thinking strategically about what your plans are for each one of those players - sign, let them walk or trade.

Here is the list of free agents and their 2011-12 salary:

Nikolai Kulemin ($2,350,000)
Cody Franson ($800,000)
Keith Aulie ($733,000)
Jay Rosehill ($600,000)

John-Michael Liles ($4,200,000)
Mikhail Grabovski ($2,900,000)
Jonas Gustavsson ($1,350,000)
Joey Crabb ($750,000)
Darryl Boyce ($700,000)

There are some tough decisions to make. Starting with the UFAs, Liles and Grabovski will be looking for contracts that pay in the neighbourhood of $5 million per season. Some fans will say well just pay them. Except the Leafs are just about at the salary cap so they won't be able to accommodate that many raises. Brian Burke has suggested that the Leafs need to get bigger in their forward ranks which suggests Grabovski might be on the move this winter. Liles has done an excellent job quarterbacking the powerplay so he is a candidate to stay but the Leafs have cheaper alternatives in Cody Franson and Jake Gardner as well as depth at the blueline. If Liles stays then someone else will be moved. Gustavsson looked like he had played his way off the team but now I'm not so sure. A decision can't be made on the goalie until the end of the season. As for Crabb and Boyce they may be back depending on their salary demands. Last season Tim Brent was offered a 2-year contract by Carolina so he walked.

The RFAs can't just walk and there has been some reluctance by competing GMs to sign someone else's RFAs. So the toughest part is determining what they're worth. The most difficult will be Kulemin who had a break out year last season with 30 goals then struggled to score this season. Does he get paid like a 30-goal scorer or a 15-goal scorer? Franson, Aulie and Rosehill will be easier to deal with especially the last two since they haven't been NHL regulars.

All this can change if Burke packages some talent for a player to skate alongside Kessel and Lupul. Expect that trade to occur by early February. Burke does not like to deal at the trading deadline when prices go off the chart.

Mike Smith makes an incredible stick save on a Marian Gaborik OT penalty shot

Smith keeps the Coyotes alive in OT only to lose it in the shootout.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gustavsson back stops 4th straight win

Watching the Maple Leafs is fun again. The team has its flaws but the boys can fly and play an entertaining style of hockey. It's like Pat Quinn is back behind the bench with his 'run and shoot' offense. Tonight's 2-0 shutout win against a divisional rival, Buffalo, was important if a playoff berth is to be secured. Too often in the past these must win games were abysmal failures. Another win against the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday evening will dig the Sabres into a hole that will be very difficult to get out of. There is a lot of pessimism in Leafs Nation but what we are watching has not existed here in a long time.

Good - Jonas Gustavsson earned his second shutout in the past two weeks and just the third of his NHL career. I like many had written him off after another bad start of the season. But his past 5 starts have been all good and have relegated James Reimer to bench warmer. Unless he gets injured in the bus ride home, he will be starting a 6th straight game. His save percentage in January has been .942. He had to make some tough saves later in the game to hang on to the win and shutout.

Bad - The high flying first line had an off night with Kessel and Lupul not recording a shot on net until the final period. Normally Kessel leads the team in shots in most games and stands 9th in the NHL for the overall shot lead.

Good - On a night when the first line was quiet, there was enough secondary scoring. Slowly Nik Kulemin appears to be coming out of his length slump. Tonight he had 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 shots, and 4 blocked shots. If the Leafs are to have any success in the second half they will need to spread the scoring around and not rely exclusively on Kessel and Lupul.

Bad - Nazem Kadri continues to have an occasional mental lapse which leads to a turnover. Tonight it did not cost the Leafs and later in the game it was able to clean up his act.

Good - The penalty killers were perfect tonight but then they never stepped on the ice. The Leafs found the perfect solution to weak penalty killing - no penalties. Well actually they did take a penalty with two minutes remaining in the game but Buffalo also took a penalty to make it offsetting penalties.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 10

Well the second half of the NHL season begins and for the first time in years the Maple Leafs are sitting in a playoff spot being chased by 5 or 6 pretenders. They are 2 points ahead of the 9th place team instead of being 6 points out of 8th. In addition they are riding a 3-game winning streak on the back of a hockey goalie. The different sports portals are also optimistic with an average increase in ranking of 6 over last week. The only pessimist is CBS Sport which is predicting a second half collapse as Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul come down to Earth and the defense comes unglued. I'm willing to bet the writer hasn't even seen a Leafs game this season.

ESPN - 13th (+9)

The Leafs have won three in a row, including a nice win at home Saturday against Detroit. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are second and fourth, respectively, in league scoring.

TSN - 13th (+5)

After stumbling through December, the Maple Leafs opened January by outscoring opponents 15-6 in three straight wins, all with Jonas Gustavsson (2.01 GAA, .932 SV% in those three games) between the pipes.

Sportsnet - 14th (+7)

Heck of a week to be a Leafs fan. The Buds followed up their dominance of Tampa Bay (7-3) and Winnipeg (4-0) by holding on for a 4-3 prime-time victory over the visiting Red Wings on Saturday. Who cares that Phil Kessel wasn’t voted into the All-Star Game? Toronto has returned to the top eight.

Sports Illustrated - 14th (+8)

Though his nickmame "The Monster" remains unwarranted at the NHL level, Jonas Gustavsson has won his last three starts and is finally starting to play consistently, and that is terrific news indeed for coach Ron Wilson. James Reimer, last year's rookie phenom, just hasn't cut it this season, so quality play from Gustavsson is a must. Phil Kessel is heating up again too: a goal in each of his last four games.

The Hockey News - 16th (+4)

Win over Wings Saturday another indication Leafs will be in playoff hunt right down to the wire

CBS Sports - 17th (+3)

Three straight wins and points in seven of their past 10 has Toronto back into the playoff picture. But for how long?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Wayne Simmonds' banana-thrower has his day in court

Wayne Simmonds

On Sept. 22, 2011, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers was in the middle of a shootout attempt during an exhibition game at the John Labatt Centre in London when a fan threw a banana on the ice.

A week later, London police charged Christopher Moorhouse, 26, with "engaging in a prohibited activity on a premises under the trespass to property act", which carried a maximum penalty of $2,000.

Moorhouse had his day in court on Monday, Jan. 9, and was fined $200 plus court fees for the incident — which was deemed not racially motivated by the judge, nor was it "mischievous behavior" because the banana didn't interfere with play.

I still believe this reflects poorly on the community and Canadians in general. You just hope this incident is not repeated.

Must have been one big stack of pancakes made by Mrs. Penner

L.A. Kings winger Dustin Penner missed Saturday's game, and is questionable for tonight. He's still trying to get over a recent onset of back spasms, triggered by an insidiously hearty breakfast. As Penner describes it ....

“Apparently it’s one of those mysterious things, where you can throw it out (from) sneezing. I just leaned over to dip into some delicious pancakes that my wife made. It’s just like it [the pain] wraps around you and squeezes. … So it was disappointing. Hopefully it’s just an isolated incident, and not something that’s going to become chronc.”

Over the years sports have seen some very unusual or unpredictably injuries as a result of non-playing activities. Pancakes are about unusual as it gets.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Is this one of the "rats" Brian Burke was referring to?

Brad Marchand's very very low hit on Sami Salo earned him a 5 minute major for clipping and a game misconduct. Just earlier in the week Brian Burke let loose with an angry rant that received considerable media attention that only the players on the ice (ie, enforcers) could keep the rats in the league in check.

His comments were a reaction to his demotion of Colton Orr to the minors. Burke is not one to admit to a mistake and signing Orr was clearly one. His history of concussions has made him damaged goods. So instead Burke likes to blame other for his mistakes.

League disciplinary action can keep the rats in check. Look at Matt Cooke this season as example on how it can work. Let's see what the league does with Marchand. In the past Burke was responsible for handing out disciplinary penalties and he gave most rats a free pass. His preference was to allow those on the ice to hand out the discipline. Sounds a little like vigilantism to me.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Maple Leafs feel right at home

The Maple Leafs have now won 3 straight games potentially turning the current home stand into a statement regarding their playoff prospects. The 4-3 win over Detroit starting off as a possible laughter but turned into a nail biter. You can never take the Wings lightly even with a 3-0 lead. The win lifts the Leafs into 7th place in the East and just a point out of 5th place.

Good - It's getting monotonous but the Kessel-Lupul combination were once again the best two players on the ice and as it turned out the 1st and 2nd stars of the game. Kessel scored his 24th goal on a penalty shot after being hooked from behind by Ian White on a breakaway. Lupul scored his 19th off a turnover by Henrik Zetterberg which turned out to be the winning goal.

Bad - Mike Komisarek returned from injury and as far as I'm concerned he wasn't missed. He somehow managed to finish the game a -2. No one on the losing team was a -2. I know Brian Burke will never admit to making a mistake but do they have to give this stiff 21 minutes in ice time?

Good - Once again Jonas Gustavsson was the difference. He stopped 37 of 40 shots and at times had a lot of company in his crease. This is the third game in the past week or so where he has faced 40 or more shots. The guy is doing it without much help. The question is when does James Reimer get back his net?

Bad - The Leafs really didn't deserve to win this game. After the first 10 minutes of the game, they were completely outplayed by the Wings. The Leafs only registered 2 shots in the 2nd period and only 8 shots in the last 40 minutes. But it's a win.

Mickael Granlund's shootout miss was pretty embarrassing

I'm not a big fan of shootout although there is an element of excitement where the shooters aren't trying trick plays to score. The semi-final game between rivalsFinland and Sweden was a terrific game that needed shootout to determine a winner. With Seden up 2-1 in the shootout, the final shooter for Finland was star forward Mikael Granlund who loses the puck and never gets a shot away. Not the best way to get finish the tournament. How stupid did he feel?

Mark Vesentin's amazing save

While Canada has been getting some inconsistent goaltending in international tournaments, that wasn't the case of Mark Vesentin during the 4-0 Bronze Medal game against Finland. This particular save really wowed the crowd.

Ballot stuffing makes All-Star voting irrelevant

When All-Star voting opened for this year's game in Ottawa the fix was in. Stuff the ballot box with Senators to show the world that Senators were good at something. So no surprise when the first six players named to the team were announced, four of them are current Sens. Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Eric Karlsson and Milan Michalek all made the starting lineup, with Michalek landing 300,000 votes in the final five days of voting to surpass Phil Kessel.

This happened because Sens fans came out in force, or because the league rigged the voting, or maybe just because the Leafs cannot protect a lead.

Though how does poor Senators goalie Craig Anderson feel. Even his own fans ignored him. It's obvious that Leaf fans got into the act. James Reimer was second in voting for goalies ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury, Pekka Rinne and Henrik Lundqvist. Dion Phaneuf received more votes than Zdeno Chara, Niklas Lidstrom and Shea Weber. Dion is having a great season but better than these guys? The leading NHL scorer, Claude Giroux, was 7th in voting and the leading NHL goal scorer, Steven Stamkos, was just 16th.

What the process shows is that fans if provided with the opportunity to select all-star teams do no always act responsibly.  The result is that some team are over represented and because each team has at least one player selected, some very deserving players will not participate in the game. 

Back in 2007 there was a vote for Rory campaign to get journeyman Rory Fitzgerald selected to the game.  It almost worked but in the last few days he slipped in the voting and some suspect as a result of manipulation by the NHL office.  In 2009 Canadiens fans were accused of ballot manipulation through robot Internet voting.  Not sure if that was employed this year.  The Ottawa fans reaction is in response to Project Mayhem which is a scheme devised by a Maple Leafs blogger to embarrass the Senators by encouraging votes to support ex-Senators like Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa, Zdena Chara.

It's all lot of silliness and contributes to the fan indifference towards the game itself,

Will the Maple Leafs make the playoffs?

The most burning question being asked by members of Leafs Nation is whether the Maple Leafs will make the playoffs.  I had indicated at the start of the season that teams would likely need at least 94 points for a playoff spot.  That works out to 1.15 points per game. I also suggested that it was important that for each 10-game block that the team shoot for 11.5 points.

So how are the Leafs making out at the midpoint of the season?  Well they are at 45 points in 40 games which works out to exactly 1.15 points per game.  Yet there is still room for pessimism.  When you break down the Leafs' season into 10-game blocks there is less certainty.

Games 1-10 = 15 points
Games 11-20 = 9 points
Games 21-30= 11 points
Games 31-40 = 10 points

Only in the first 10-game block did the Leafs actually exceed 11.5 points.  In fact in the subsequent 30 games the team has only been on a 1.0 points per game pace.  If this trend continues the Leafs will finish with only 87 points which likely translate into another 10th place finish. That's not to say that the team can't pick up some steam in the second half and finally earn that playoff berth.  There have been some positives and negatives in the first half of the season and hopefully over the course of the season the positives outweigh the negatives.  Still uncertainty prevails in Leafs Nation.

  • The duo of Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel have been one of the best in the NHL this season.  They have scored in 32 out of 40 games this season and the team can pretty much count on a goal per game from the pair.  This takes a lot of pressure off the remaining 10 forwards.
  • The Leafs are one of the youngest and fastest teams in the NHL.  There are games like the one this week against Winnipeg that you are mesmerized by the flow of the team.  Opposing teams now worry about games against the Leafs need to develop a game plan to defend against their speed.
  • The team has some organizational depth for the first time in at least a decade.  Call ups from the Marlies have done more than just fill a roster spot and have battle to stay in the lineup.  Give credit to Marlies coach Dallas Eakin who prepares both prospects (Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri) and minor league veterans (Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb) to compete for NHL jobs.
  • You can't knock the second best powerplay in the NHL.  The credit goes to improved contribution from the defense on the point.  In the past Tomas Kaberle "quarterbacked" to powerplay but scored few goals.  In fact he scored his first goal of the season during the past week.  Meanwhile the combination of Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson has made the powerplay potent.
  • Most pundits noted that the Leafs were pretty thin going into the season.  Yet Brian Burke insisted that his goaltending was fine despite the fact that their goalie contingent had played barely 100 NHL games going into this season.  Their inconsistent goaltending is one of the major reasons why the team has been just clinging onto the final playoff spot.  Injuries to James Reimer have had a large impact and he has had problems with finding some consistency since he has returned.  Better goaltending depth would have helped.
  • The other obvious weakness is their terrible penalty killing.  Interestingly both the Leafs and Marlies employ the same system but the Marlies are at the top of the AHL in penalty killing.  I put full blame on coaching.  If the system works then it is up to the coaching staff to get it executed properly.  Eakin is accomplishing that but Wilson has failed.
  • Injuries have impacted on consistency.  Few lines have remained intact for extend periods of time because players have been in and out of the lineup.  At one point 7 players were on Injury Reserve.  This has been partially mitigated by better organizational depth but players like Colby Armstrong, Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly have had little impact on the team because of their extended layoffs.
  • The search continues for a 1st line centre for Kessel and Lupul.  Trade rumours involving Ryan Geflatz are encouraging.
So the key to securing a playoff spot is better goaltending and penalty killing.  Both are fixable this season.  You also want to avoid finishing 7th or 8th which will mean a first round playoff match up with the Bruins or the Rangers.  Those would be short series.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tonight's 4-0 win over Winnipeg would have to be the Maple Leafs' best game of the season.  The weary Jets may have been a factor in this game but the speed of the Leafs skaters created havoc for the Jets for the entire game.

Not too much didn't go in favour of the Leafs.  They didn't take any dumb penalties, in fact, they didn't take a penalty until the 3rd period.  That penalty was successfully killed off the extend their streak of no goals against while killing penalties to 2 games.

Jonas Gustavsson wasn't spectacular, he didn't need to be, but he certainly was good. In the 3ed period he lost his stick and trapper but continued to make saves until he could retrieve his equipment.  With his heart problems now a memory, the Monster is developing into the type of goalie Brian Burke had hoped for when he signed the Swede 3 years ago.  He will earning more starts with games like this.

The combination of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were lethal tonight and they teamed up for the Leafs first goal.  The newly formed line of Khadri-MacArthur-Lombardi were far too quick for the Jets defense to contend with.

Best of all the Leafs leapfrog from 10th place to the 7th.  Parity will keep most teams in contentioun for a playoff sport until well into the second half.

I'm happy with Bronze

Canadians tend to be a reserved bunch except when it comes to hockey.  Bring out the skates and sticks and we become just plain obnoxious.  Hockey is just too much a part of our national character, one of the few things that can bring the country together.

So at every international hockey tournament, the expectation is that Canada will win the gold medal.  I take that back, we believe that Canada is destined to win gold.  That kind of attitude is just rediculous.  We haven't dominated hockey in decades.  There are two or three countries that are clearly our equals and every medal has to be earned.

So although many Canadians may be disappointed or indifferent to a bronze medal, I'm delighted.  Those kids playing for Team Canada should be proud.  There is always a lot of pressure put on these youngsters and playing at home makes it that more difficult.

There is no reason to apologize or feel bad.  Canada has won a medal in 14 straight junior championships.  They just haven't all been gold.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The truculence era is officially over

It's enough to make Don Cherry cry.  When the Toronto Maple Leafs put Colton Orr on waivers it signalled the end of the NHL tough guy whose roll was exclusively to fight.  Despite a steady stream of injuries Orr only got into 5 games this season.  The other Leafs enforcer, Jay Rosehill, has only played in 15 games.

The significance of this move is quite striking.  Brian Burke is an old school GM who arrived in Toronto just three years ago promising proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how Burke teams play.  He went our the following summer and signed Orr as a free agent for four years.  It's not from lack of interest that put Orr on the waiver wire, he is more than willing to fight if given the chance.  When injuries shortened Orr's season last year he wasn't the least bit missed.  This season he was the forgotten man.  His set of skills are virtually obsolete.

Fights have not disappeared from NHL games.  This season there are .42 fights per game which is done from .6 fights per game in the 2008-09 season.  However, as the game has opened up and skating speed becomes a priority, fighters need to be able to skate too. That's just not Orr's strength so his days in the NHL are likely over. 

Rick DiPietro even gets injured while on Injury Reserve

Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders

Rick DiPietro wasn't going to play Tuesday night for the Islanderd -- DiPietro isn't even off injured reserve, having been out a month with a groin injury -- but he was sent back to Long Island for medical evaluations before the game with the Hurricanes. Official word was a lower-body for DiPietro. DiPietro's could be any number of things -- his groin, his surgically repaired knee, which has had many problems, or even something new. You gotta love those 15-year contracts.

Maple Leafs let out their frustration on Tampa Bay

I'm sure Ron Wilson would love to see Tampa Bay much more frequently following last night's 7-3 victory where everything seemed to go right.  The only previous game with Tampa Bay was a 7-1 win.  In the earlier game there was a goal scored by 7 different Leafs players, Joffrey Lupul had a goal and 3 assists and Jonas Gustavsson had the win.  Sound familiar?  The Lightning are a team with worse defense and more goaltending problems than the Maple Leafs and it showed again last night.

Good - Special teams were at their best yesterday, both the powerplay and the penalty killers.  It's been a while but finally the team didn't give up a powerplay goal.  Darryl Boyce seemed to help in this area as he provided a lot of energy and plays like he wants to stay here.  I think the team misses Mike Brown in this area.  Meanwhile the powerplay was dangerous all night although they didn't really connect until the third.

Bad - Nik Kulemin continues to look lost out there.  He is losing battles for the puck, missing empty nets and missing passes.  How long do you wait this out?  Will Burke make a move?

Good - Joffrey Lupul seems to eat up the Lightning defense with another 4 point performance. 

Bad - Perhaps I'm being harsh but I didn't think Jonas Gustavsson looked particularly strong in net.  He let in 3 goals on just 24 shots for a .875 save percentage.  Yet he continues to play well enough to win and now has a team high 10 wins.  However, this level of goaltending isn't good enough in the long term.

Good - The 42 shot out burst by the Leafs was good to see.  They have been outshot in far too many games this season.  Dion Phaneuf led the team in this category with 9 shots.  He also played real nasty and had run ins with Steve Downie all night long.