Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wilson countdown continues

Well there were no chants of "Fire Wilson" but then Ron Wilson didn't have to face a home crowd tonight.

To their credit the Leafs played desperate hockey for the first time in several weeks. They started off strong and scored the first goal in under a minute as opposed to being scored on. They even had a 3-1 lead until late in the first period. But they just couldn't finish off the Blackhawks.

After Corey Crawford was pulled after 20 minutes of hockey, Ray Emery shut the door on the Leafs until 4 seconds remained in the game. The final was 5-4 for Chicago and the Leafs record over the pasts 11 games is just 1-9-1.

Fortunately a bulk of the games in the next few weeks are on the road. No doubt the chants will continue at home. Years of frustration are beginning to boil over. Even when the team was winning there was little optimism in Leafs Nation. Fans had been burned too many times in the past. But don't expect Brian Burke to fire Wilson. He has made it clear in the past that he doesn't like making coaching changes in mid-season. But after their season ends on April 8, all bets are off.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 21

No trades. No minor league call ups. No coaching changes. No wins. But MLSE continues to make money so where is the problem? There never is any urgency to make moves when the bank accounts are full.

Pierre LeBrun at ESPN was very generous. In the middle of a losing streak he bumps up the Leafs in his power rankings.

TSN - 17th (-3)

Their only win in the last nine games was in OT at Edmonton, but the Maple Leafs couldn't pull the trigger on any deadline deals, aside from a prospect swap with Tampa Bay. It may be best not to sacrifice the future, but hard to imagine this group being good enough to reach the playoffs, barring a dramatic upgrade in goaltending performance.

ESPN - 20th (+1)

No Rick Nash, no Evgeni Nabokov ... well, no anything. The Leafs have to get into the playoffs with their current group.

CBS Sports - 21st (-6)

No major moves for the Maple Leafs ahead of the trade deadline, and they're going to continue to roll with James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson in net.

Fox Sports
- 23rd (-3)

Neither James Reimer nor Jonas Gustavsson has been able to stop the Leafs’ skid. Losers of eight of nine and three points out of a playoff spot with 20 games remaining, Toronto faces an important next two weeks.

The Hockey News
- 23rd (-7)

February swoon has local media, fans clamoring for all kinds of change, but Leafs eschew quick fixes and stay the course

Return of 'Tank Nation'

Lat night's 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers was really the last "must win" game of the season for the Maple Leafs. Their season is over despite not being mathematically out of a playoff berth. The Leafs only sit just 4 points out of 8th spot in the East but are also just 4 points out of a lottery pick in the draft. Considering the Leafs have only one win over the past 10 games, it's obvious which direction they are moving in.

I have been saying all along that teams in the East will need at least 93 or 94 points to make the playoffs. That has not changed. Until 10 games ago, the Leafs have been pretty close to a 93 point pace. With only 19 games remaining, it is unrealistic to expect that they can make up the lost points over the past 10 game stretch. They would have to accumulate 1.47 points per game over the remaining 19 games to finish with 93 points. Meanwhile, the Rangers with the best record in the NHL earn only 1.41 points per game. To expect the Leafs to outperform the Rangers for almost a 1/4 of the season is just not possible.

So all that's left is the usual finger pointing and political spin by management. Brian Burke knows what's wrong but isn't going to publicly state it. Some of it is obvious. They have no legitimate #1 centre. Their goalies are inconsistent and now suffer from lack of confidence. Their defensive game is a mess. This bullshit about pressure is a smokescreen. There is pressure everywhere. More pressure than Toronto. Coaches and managers need to win because elsewhere it affects the bottom line. Not here. Elsewhere players get booed without mercy when they don't perform. Not here. Look at the long list of under performers this season - Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Nik Kulemin, Luke Schenn, James Reimer, Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong, Cody Franson and Dion Phaneuf (gasp yes even him). None of these players are even close to earning their generous contracts. Either is Ron Wilson who is one of the highest paid coaches in the league.

At this point why bother to make a good show at just missing the playoffs like the past 3 seasons. Let's shoot for a good draft pick.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rick Nash in a Maple Leafs uniform remains a possibility

It is not surprising that Rick Nash was not traded yesterday. The asking price was high and the number of teams being considered was small. It was too much of a buyer's market on a day where normally sellers call the shots. Teams were not prepared to hand over so many assets in the middle of the season without a mechanism for replacing the lost talent. This is the kind of deal that is made in the summer which allows a GM to replace players moved in the trades through other moves and free agency and address any cap issues since Nash is one of the highest paid players in the league.

This opens the door for Brian Burke to make a better offer and grab this guy. We know this is Burke's kind of player - big, physical and great hands. Nash is a former 40-goal scorer and only 27. The only concern is the big salary and the asking price. There is no doubt the cost would include Jake Gardner which sets off cries of pain through Leafs Nation. I'm inclined to do it.

There are few impact players that become available and when they do you go for them. This isn't so much about Gardner but about Nash. Sure Gardner has some special skills but no one will know if he will ever become a complete player like Nash.

Back in 2006 the Edmonton Oilers offered Toronto Chris Pronger for Tomas Kaberle and Alex Steen. I liked that deal but John Ferguson and most of Leafs Nation did not. I was not a Steen fan and although I loved Kaberle he was not an impact player. Pronger was just 6 years post a Hart Trophy and the only defenseman to have won the Hart since Bobby Orr won it in 1972. Instead he went to Anaheim where he won a Stanley Cup the following season.

The situation is totally analogous. Pronger wanted to play in a big market and for a contender. The Leafs were on his list of teams that he would agree to play for. That's where Nash is right now. He will make a difference.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The NHL trading dud line has passed

That was pretty boring.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise. NHL parity has made the trading deadline a non-event with the exception of the Canadian sports media who spend an entire day speculating about trades that will never happen. Few teams are sellers because most teams still have a shot at the playoffs. So with a ratio of 1 in 5 between sellers and buyers, the few players on the market on grossly over-priced. Of course this is fine with those players because most do not want to change teams this time of the year.

Teams fighting to make the playoffs are not going give up young players, prospects or draft picks just for the privelege of getting their ass kicked in the first round of the playoffs. Only a serious contender will actually over pay this time of year but only to add some depth in their lineup. If you have a hole in your lineup, convention wisdom suggests that this is not the time of the year to address it. Brian Burke has been saying this for some time.

The Leafs did make two deals involving minor leaguers. They shipped Keith Aulie to Tampa Bay for Carter Ashton. Aston is a 6'3", 205 lb winger playing for Norfolk, Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate. He has 19 goals and 16 assist in 56 games. He was Tampa's 1st round pick, 29th overall in 2009 and is the son of former NHL journeyman Brent Ashton. This seems to make sense for both teams. The Lightning need to rebuild their defense and goaltending. For the Leafs, the organization is deep at defense position with Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker both ready to compete for jobs with the Leafs. Ashton is a big physical winger, something the Leafs need. He has the potential to be a 2nd or 3rd liner.

The other deal also involved minor leaguer. The deal was with the Ducks, sending forward Dale Mitchell to Anahiem in exchange for blueliner Mark Fraser. Neither have done much in the pro career although Mitchell is 2 years younger. The Leafs have given up on Mitchell who has played almost as many games in the ECHL as in the AHL over the past two seasons. He was also a Ferguson draft pick so I expect the current regime does not feel it has to invest too much time waiting for him to develop. Fraser provides the Marlies with some depth at defense with the loss of Aulie as Burke expects the Marlies to do deep in the AHL playoffs.

10 worst trades in Toronto Maple Leafs history

Reprinting the post in honour of the NHL trading deadline. Let's hope Brian Burke doesn't add to the list.

10. Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft (2006)

The moment heard about this trade I hated. At the World Juniors earlier that year Rask had been named the top goalie at the tournament. Raycroft was coming off a season where his save percentage was a dismal .879 and just eight wins in 30 starts. What was there to like? And there have been quite a few goalies who after great rookie season have had their careers crash and burn. The classic example was Jim Carey. And of course my worst fears came true. This past season Rask has become one of the top goalies in the league and pushed the previous season's Vezina Trophy winner to the bench as a back up. As for Raycroft, he is will finish his career as a backup too.

9. Fredrick Modin to Tampa Bay for Corey Cross (2001)

Modin developed into a solid winger for Tampa Bay and is still playing in the NHL. The Leafs lacked that big winger to play with Sundin until they signed Gary Roberts as a free agent. Cross was one of the largest soft players ever to play in the NHL. He was a frequent healthy scratch with the Leafs and booed by the fans.

8. Larry Murphy to Detroit for future considerations (1997)

Larry Murphy had a stellar career stretching 21 seasons. He was on 4 Stanley Cup teams and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. In 1995 after being named to the second-team All-Stars Murphy was traded to his hometown Leafs from the Penguins for Dmitri Mironov and a second round pick. Leafs fans booed Murphy, the highest paid player on the Leafs, mercilessly as a scapegoat for the lack of success the team was having. So they literally gave him away and paid one-third of his salary too. Fortunately for Murphy he was able to win 2 more Cups with Detroit.

7. Kenny Jonsson, Sean Haggerty, Darby Hendrickson and a 1st Round Pick in 1997 (Roberto Luongo) to the New York Islanders for Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith (1996)

I should tell you that I ignored the fact that the draft pick sent to the Islanders turned out to be Luongo. There is no guarantee that the Leafs would have picked him. Had the Leafs actually traded to Luongo to New York, then this trade would be much higher on the list. After trading Wendel Clark when his market value was at its peak (how often have the Leafs done that) they bring back the broken down winger two years later. The trade was only to appease the fans who fell in love with the hard working Clark. Leaf fans have always favoured rugged players over skilled players which is why Clark was so much more popular than Sundin. Meanwhile, while Haggerty was a bust and Hendrickson was back in Toronto the next season, Kenny Jonsson was a fixture in New York for a decade. He played 597 games for New York, recording 232 points, many of them in a time where quality Leafs blueliners were few and far between. Mathieu Schneider is the only reason this trade wasn't higher on this list. But he couldn't make up for the mediocre play of Clark.

6. Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenville to the Colorado Rockies for Pat Hickey and Wilf Paiement (1979)

This was a trade that began the franchise’s descent into the hell that was the 80s, a decade in which the Leafs had a record of 301-481-98 between 79-80 and 89-90 (a win percentage of .398, during a time in which surrendered 660 more goals than they scored). It is also widely reported that the deal by Punch Imlach was intended to hurt Leafs captain Darryl Sittler and make him waive his no trade contract. Only in Toronto would a personal vendetta come before the success of the club. At first glance, the stars in this trade worked out well. Toronto got 187 games and 203 points out of Paiement, while Colorado got 142 games and 141 points from McDonald. Paiement even recorded a 40 goals and 97 points in his first full season in Toronto. But when he dropped to 18 goals and 58 points the following seasons, the Leafs traded him to Quebec for Miroslav Frycer and a 7th rounder. Yes, that’s right; Miroslav Frycer was all the Leafs had to show for dealing heart-and-soul Lanny McDonald. This trade might have moved up a notch or two on this list if the Rockies had gotten more out of McDonald. But he moved on to Calgary where he scored 66 goals one season and a Stanley Cup.

5. Darryl Sittler to the Philadelphia for Rich Costello, a 2nd Round Pick in 1982 (Peter Ihnacak) and Future Considerations (Ken Strong) (1981)

I'm still angry about this deal. The Leafs traded their captain, their best player since Dave Keon, and a man just 84 points away from becoming the first Toronto player ever to record 1,000 points in a Maple Leaf uniform. They got garbage in return.

4. Russ Courtnall to the Montreal for John Kordic and a 6th Round Pick in 1989 (Mike Doers) (1989)

Thank you Mr. Stellick! The Leafs needed a goon, and the Habs were interested in Russ Courtnall. Since Leaf Head Coach John Brophy didn't think much of the smooth skating Courtnall the deal was made. Kordid got 446 penalty minutes and 16 points in 104 games as a Leaf, while Courtnall gradually improved over parts of four seasons with the Habs. He ended up with 82 goals and 195 points in 250 games for Montreal. Meanwhile, the Habs turned Russ Courtnall into Brian Bellows, who won a Stanley Cup with the Habs. And Courtnall kept on being a decent offensive player in the NHL. Kordic wasn't really a hockey player. To add insult to injury he wore #27 with the Leafs - the number worn by Frank Mahovlich and Darryl Sittler. On August 8, 1992, after overdosing on drugs and being involved in a struggle with police at his hotel, Kordic died.

3. Bernie Parent and a 2nd Round Pick in 1973 (Larry Goodenough) to the Philadelphia for a 1st Round Pick in 1973 (Bob Neely) and Future Considerations (Doug Favell) (1973)

It's not every day you get to trade away a Hall of Fame goalie. Bernie Parent was a a young Toronto goalie that left the club to play in the World Hockey Association, which instantly made him an outcast in the eyes of Leafs management and ownership. Having played previously in Philadelphia with the NHL’s Flyers and the WHA’s Blazers, he requested a trade to Philadelphia. His request was granted… and in his first two seasons with the Flyers, Bernie Parent won two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe trophies as the MVP of the playoffs, and two Vezina trophies. So he was the best goaltender in the league, and the most valuable player on the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. Doug Favell meanwhile was a complete bust. The Leafs didn't get much value out of the draft pick. Bob Neely posted decent numbers as a defenseman, but after four seasons and change he was gone.

2. Randy Carlyle and George Ferguson to the Pittsburgh for Dave Burrows (1978)

Jim Gregory was a very good GM for the Leafs but this trade was a stinker. He was of a mind that Burrows was the missing piece needed to carry the Leafs to the Stanley Cup. Dave Burrows did absolutely nothing for Toronto. In just over 2 seasons, he recorded 32 points in 151 games, and then he was gone. But Randy Carlyle was the true gem of this deal. He played 397 games as a Penguin, recording 323 points. He won the Norris trophy recording 83 points in 1980-81. Oh so how did the Leafs do in the playoffs with Burrows in their lineup? Over two seasons they were 2-7. And no Stanley Cups.

1. 1st Round Pick in 1991 to the New Jersey Devils for Tom Kurvers (1989)

The mother of bad trades thanks to GM Floyd Smith. Once again the GM was convinced that journeyman defenseman Tom Kurvers was all the Leafs needed to compete for a Cup. Although earlier in the list I ignored a draft pick that turned out to be Roberto Luongo, this trade was a straight exchange for first round pick so it is hard to ignore. Similar to the Kessel trade, Smith did not anticipate when he made the trade that the team would collapse the following season. But they did. In fact the Leafs were pretty competitive during the 1989-90 season with a potent offense led by Gary Leeman's 51 goals. The Leafs were bad in 1990-91… so bad that they were on pace to finish last in the NHL behind the Quebec Nordiques. And Toronto was feeling the sting of Kurvers not working out as expected. So the Leafs traded prospect Scott Pearson and a pair of 2nd Round picks to Quebec for Aaron Broten, Lucien Deblois and Michel Petit. The trade was solely so they wouldn't finish last overall and giving the Devils the right to draft Eric Lindros. So New Jersey ends up picking third and has to settle for Scott Niedermayer. Niedermayer was only one of the best defenseman to play the game. He's the only player in hockey history to have won a Stanley Cup (4 to exact), Olympic gold medal (2), World Championship, World Cup, Memorial Cup and World Junior title. He won the Norris Trophy in 2004 and the Conn Smythe in 2007.

Who is to blame?

Last season the Maple Leafs were sunk after early in the season when the went on a losing stretch where they only won 4 out of 22 game. This season they appear to be in a similar stretch right now having lost 8 out 9 games with no end in sight. You cannot disappear for a quarter of the schedule and remaining in playoff contention.

So who is to blame? Ron Wilson who is always more than willing to throw his players under the bus as clearly dumped on his goalies. By doing so it is unlikely they will come around real soon. But Wilson is only finding cover for his own shortcomings:
  • His team seems poorly prepared at the start of games.
  • The Leafs' defensive coverage is weak.
  • The team is unable to adapt to defensive coverage thrown up by opposing coaches.
  • The players appear to have given up.
  • The goalies lack confidence and consitency.

This all points to the coaches and no one else. These are the same problems the Leafs have had since Wilson arrived 4 years ago. Sure every season their are stretches where the team plays well but you have to evaluate their performance over the course of 82 games not 20 or 30.

Some people believe this lineup is weak and that earlier in the season their were playing over the heads. I disagree. This is a strong enough lineup to at least make the playoffs but the coaches can't seem to get them there.

Now Brian Burke shares some of the blame for where the team is. Not just because he won't fire Wilson. It was solely his decision to go into the season with inexperienced goalies. Burke insisted he was happy with his goaltending. When James Reimer left the lineup with a concussion Burke chose not to pick up another goalie as insurance. He now finishes the season with his goaltending in struggling to put in just one strong period.

To his credit Burke made some excellent trades to pick up strong performers such as Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardner. He picked up Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi for nothing. He has avoided long-term contracts that can come back to bite you. He was quick to unload unfavourable contracts that he inherited including Jason Blake and Jeff Finger. But he has only replaced them with other bad contracts in Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly and Colby Armstrong, players who have provided very little since signing with Toronto.

Firing his coach this week could possibly turn this thing around pretty quickly or it could have no impact at all. But landing an impact player might just cost him to much and doing nothing isn't an option unless you are ready waive the white flag. This team need some playoff exposure, even if it's on 4 to 6 games.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What a difference a year can make

Last year this time the Maple Leafs were well out of the playoff picture but playing like contenders. There was no pressure. Despite the fact that the team was officially out of the playoffs until later in the spring most players were playing for next season.

This season is so much different. For most of the season the Leafs have been in the top 8 in the East. The team is expecting to make the playoffs and those expectations add additional pressure that wasn't there last season. The team has far more depth and the only rookie currently in the lineup is Jake Gardner. Still the Leafs are the second youngest in the league and cracks are beginning to show as that pressure is wearing some of the players down particularly the goalies.

There may be too many holes to salvage the season. But I expect Brian Burke will try to salvage it without mortgaging the future. Something that previous Leafs GMs did not hesitate to do. So perhaps some cheap veterans might be brought in to help. Hopefully a goalie. It won't be Rick Nash but some size up front would help.

This past 2 weeks has exposed the Leafs weaknesses. Shaky goaltending seems to be paramount. Coach Wilson has the team playing a freewheeling style which has been very entertaining but has left his goalies overexposed. Yet when the tighten up defensively as they did last night against San Jose, the scoring chances are reduced to a trickle. The Leafs small forwards depend need lots of skating room to be effective. They aren't going to muscle their way to the net.

So in the next few days their may be some help coming but that won't necessarily resolve the fundamental weaknesses. At this point everyone would just be happy with a playoff berth. Strange things can happen, last night Winnipeg jumped from ninth place in the East to third.

Nasty fight between Mike Brown and Jim Vandermeer would not be good for your face

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Will the Leafs make the playoffs?

After each 10 game block I look at the progress the Leafs have been making over the period. Most people agree that teams will need about 94 points to grab a playoff berth. That works out to 11.5 points for every 10 games. The Leafs have not earned over 11 points in a 10-game block since the start of the season. They continue to hang onto that last spot in the East because of their strong start to the season. Without goaltending help I can't see them going on a stretch of hockey that will push them above 11 points. The have been a .500 team over the past 50 games with exactly 50 points.

Games 1-10 = 15 points
Games 11-20 = 9 points
Games 21-30= 11 points
Games 31-40 = 10 points
Games 41-50 = 11 points
Games 51-60 = 9 points

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

All these fake trade rumours are getting annoying

You know Pierre McGuire doesn't have 15 twitter accounts. They are fake accounts by people trying to create some mischief. Even "reputable" media people are getting sucked in. Eklund who is the grand-daddy of fake NHL trade rumours is more reputable then so of the current sources.

So Rick Nash isn't coming to Toronto. He probably won't be traded this week at all. Luke Schenn isn't going anywhere either. Brian Burke doesn't make many moves this time of the year because he doesn't like over paying (Kessel was picked up during the off season).

All these supposed insiders don't exist. Teams aren't passing on information about confidential discussions to the media. None of these rumoured deals ever happen but everyone continues to treat each new one as the next big blockbuster. But the demand for hockey news is so great it spawns fake stories which everyone gladly accepts in the absence of anything real. Just look how the sports networks in Canada dedicate the entire programming on February 27 (the NHL trading deadline) to report and dissect deals.

By the way I hear the Leafs are trying to flip Nazem Kadri and a second round pick for Cory Schneider. I've got that from a reliable source. Honest.

The Leafs' goaltending is getting pretty frustrating

The 4-3 overtime loss can't be blamed entirely on Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson. The defense was making those all too familiar mistakes - leaving opponents uncovered, giving away the puck or falling down on plays. There were so many odd man rushes in this game you would have thought the Leafs were playing one more short all game long.

But the goaltending was exceptionally frustrating. Gustavsson would make a couple of fabulous saves to bail out his defense and then shortly after give up a soft goal.

The second Devils goal scored by David Clarkson wasn't much of a shot but it got through Gustavsson's legs anyway.

Then the Leafs goalie makes a series of saves like this one on Petr Sykora to allow the team to come back and tie the game

Then he lets a shot from Alexi Ponikarovski through his legs to give the Devils the lead again.

Then he is brilliant through the third period including this amazing save on a breakaway by Ilya Kovalchuk which allows Phil Kessel to tie the game again with the goalie pulled.

Perhaps the worst goal of the night had to have been the game winner by Mark Fayne who shot the puck from the point. The shot was going wide of the net but Gustavsson who tried to block the shot had it go off his pads through his legs again into the net.

I've said it over and over again, you can't make the playoffs without solid goaltending.

Coyotes will be in Hamilton Kansas City Quebec City Seattle staying in Glendale

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 18:  Adrian Aucoin #33 of the Phoenix Coyotes walks past fans onto the ice for warm ups to Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Arena on April 18, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The NHL says there has been no sale of the Phoenix Coyotes.

But Dave Zorn of Metro Networks Arizona had reported that former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison was approved by the NHL to purchase the Coyotes. Former Coyotes star, Jeremy Roenick, is reportedly part of Jamison's group. Jerry Reinsdorf may also be involved.

As in the past money may be the issue that kills the deal. The NHL was to recover the money they put into the franchise and no seems to want to pay that price for a team in the Arizona desert. There can be no concession of the type promised Matthew Hulsizer as they created all kinds of legal issues and potential law suits.

Recently Seattle had jumped ahead of Quebec City as a possible location for an NHL franchise. The city has been discussing the possibility of building a new arena to house both NBA and NHL teams. No owners have been identified though.

Members of the Phoenix Coyotes Coalition are saying they would celebrate when they heard it from the NHL, the current owners of the team.

Monday, February 20, 2012

NHL Power Ranking - Week 21

This isn't going to be easy. Leafs Nation will likely be on pins and needles right to the last weekend of the season unless goaltending help arrives by next Monday.

TSN - 14th (-1)

No regulation wins in the last six has suddenly put the Leafs' playoff position in peril, and the goaltending carousel has fallen back on Jonas Gustavsson, at least for now, after James Reimer has allowed 18 goals in his last five appearances.

CBS Sports - 15th (-3)

Rough week for the Maple Leafs as they've been outscored 16-3 in their past three losses.

The Hockey New
s - 16th (-1)

At 25:25, Dion Phaneuf averaging more than three minutes more a night than next-most-utilized Leaf (Carl Gunnarsson at 22:11).

Fox Sports - 20th (-4)

It’s back to work on Tuesday for the Leafs defense after deciding to take the last two weeks off. Toronto has allowed four goals per game over its last seven.

ESPN - 21st (-2)

The Leafs are still hanging on to the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. But after watching them get spanked by Vancouver on Saturday, it seems it's only a matter of time before they sink once again below the playoff surface.

Brian Burke, find us a goalie before February 27th

Well that was some shellacking the Maple Leafs took from Vancouver on Saturday night. The truth is the 6-2 loss can be pinned on mediocre goaltending. I couldn't watch the whole game, turned it off at 3-0.

Certainly the Canucks are a better team but you don't stand a chance when your goalie isn't as good as the guy playing at the other end of the rink. How many points this season have the Leafs outplayed the opposition but given up more goals? Too many!

When I posed the question last week 'what is the Leafs' greatest need', it should be obvious better goaltending. You can't win without it. Before Saturday night's game, the Leafs goalies stood 24th overall in goals against average and save percentage. Not the type of numbers that get you into the playoffs. All this talk about another top 6 forward is nonsense. The Leafs' offensive has generated the 7th most goals in the NHL. Burke needs to package together what ever it takes to land a solid goalie. Otherwise we've wasted another season being frustrated by inconsistent goaltending.

Let's stop pretending these guys can do it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

So what type of team is the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs?

We are at the two-thirds point of the 2011-12 season and just over a week away from the NHL trading deadline. So what type of team has Brian Burke put together? That may tell us a little about how this team will change perhaps not so much before February 27th as much as the offseason.

1. The Leafs are the second youngest team in the league with an average age of 26.155. Only Colorado is younger with an average of 25.945. This may change as veteran players change teams at the trading deadline. Nonetheless, the Leafs are young, fast and inexperienced. Their core is not even close to their prime.

2. The Leafs have a productive offense scoring 2.98 goals per game which is 6th best in the league. They have two players in the top ten scorers. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are 5th and 6th in the NHL scoring while Dion Phaneuf is 8th among all defensemen. Kessel is 3rd in goal scored. Despite some recent problems on the powerplay they still stand 7th overall in the league.

3. Goaltending has been a problem. Their goalies are tied for 24th overall with a goals against average of 2.91. The team save percentage is .904 which is also tied for 24th overall. Their goalies have had some great individual games and are tied for 4th overall with 6 shutouts. But their is no consistency there.

4. Their defensive game is lacking as well. The team is 19th overall in shots against per game 30.7.average. Their penalty killing after a strong January has nudged up to 29th overall. They seem to start games okay and have only been scored on 43 times in the 1st period of games. that jumps up to 68 goals and 57 goals in the 2nd and 3rd periods. The coaching staff have been emphasing shot blocking and as a result the Leafs are 5th overall with Carl Gunnarsson 13th in the league and Phaneuf 33rd. But they lead the league in giveaways, a problem that has cost them some wins this season. In fact the Leafs have 4 players in the top 20 in giveaways in Kessel (4th), Phaneuf (9th), Jake Gardner (16th) and Gunnarsson (17th). In faceoff wins they are 9th with an average of 50.7%.

5. These Leafs are not as pugnacious as former Burke managed teams. They are 25th overall in penalty minutes per game with just 9.6. The Leafs are tied for 22nd with just 19 fighting majors, less than the league leading Rangers. The Leafs have only had one game misconduct penalty. Yet they are 6th overall in hits likely because Luke Schenn is 8th in the league and Phaneuf is 30th.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is Grabovski on the trading block?

Darren Dreger reports from Insider Trading that the Leafs have received an offer for Mikhail Grabovski.

From @DarrenDreger:

For those unable to see Insider Trading. Offer for Grabovski is for a 2nd rnd pick and prospect. Could get more. Still hope to re-sign him

Is Grabovski really on the trading block? After all he is the team's best centre. Or is the leaked information a negotiating tactic by the Leafs to bring down Grabovski's price?

Grabovski becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. His current contract pays him $2.9 million per season and supposedly his agent is looking for an average salary over $5 million per season. That brings him up around Kessel's salary of $5.4 million per season. He does compare to Montreal's Tomas Plekanec who earns $5 million. Obviously Burke prefers to re-sign him and would like to get a home team discount.

If the parties aren't far apart then I see a contract being done eventually. The Leafs are still looking to strengthen up the middle so moving Grabovski only weakens them at the position. But if Grabovski is asking too much then Burke will not hesitate to make a move.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dominic Moore always good for a second round pick

In 2009, Dominic Moore went from Toronto to Buffalo for a second-round pick.

In 2010, Dominic Moore went from Florida to Montreal for a second-round pick.

Tonight, the Lightning traded Moore to the Sharks, in exchange for, say it with me now, a second-round pick.

Not sure what happened in 2011, maybe Moore was hurt during this part of the season. But certainly show
some consistency.

Oilers are just want the Leafs needed to end their losing streak

The Oilers play the kind of hockey that Maple Leafs enjoy and fans too. Fast-paced, wide open with lots of scoring opportunities. And not too much hitting though there even was a fight last night between Ben Eager and always willing Mike Brown. Although the style of hockey is much to the Leafs' liking they will not see it during the playoffs. The Oilers are so soft that the light-hitting Leafs out hit them. Th Leafsy need to be able to succeed in a tight checking game which is largely what they saw during the losing streak in games to Winnipeg and Montreal, two teams at the bottom of the standing but because of weak offense not defense. Still the 4-3 overtime win last night was thrilling and fun to watch.

Good - Dion Phaneuf redeemed himself after a terrible game the night before in Calgary. He made a terrific play just prior to the winning goal by Connolly coming back to break up a scoring chance after a dangerous Toronto turnover.

Bad - The number of turnovers by the Leafs was totally unacceptable - 25! Leafs TV picked Connolly as the first star of the game because he scored the overtime winner. But just 20 seconds or so earlier it turned over the puck and created an excellent scoring chance for Edmonton. He was turning over the puck all night. The fact that he scored his first goal in 18 games doesn't hide the fact that he has not played well since coming to Toronto.

Good - The wide open game works fine for Matthew Lombardi who scored the nicest goal of the night. The style of play was also to the liking of the first line that has 9 shot on net and was a plus 4 for the night.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What do the Leafs need to get better?

Brian Burke has done a fine job in rebuilding the Maple Leafs from my perspective but the current losing streak does expose some key areas that need to be improved. Probably none of these things will be corrected before the trading deadline so making the playoffs will be tough but not impossible. In addition, Burke's stubbornness is also an issue because he doesn't like to admit errors.


Burke was hoping the James Reimer would be a solid starting goalie this season with Jonas Gustavsson filling the role of a competent backup. If Reimer was posting last season's numbers then Burke would be correct and the Leafs would be much higher in the standings. Unfortunately things have worked out so well. Gustavsson is playing better than Reimer but neither would be described as a solid starting goalie. Reimer may still develop into the kind of goalie that can carry this team. Until he does, Burke may need an insurance policy. Picking up a top goalie isn't that easy. The Leafs haven't had one since Eddie Belfour. Spending big bucks on a free agent doesn't always work - as the Flyers. In the meantime, inconsistent goaltending is killing the Leafs.


The Leafs need a shut down defenseman - but then who doesn't. No one really fits that bill on the Leafs although Dion Phaneuf gets the type of minutes that stud defensemen tend to get. Last night was not one of Phaneuf's better games. He was on the ice for the first two Flames goals and then hooks Paul Byron on a breakaway who scores on the subsequent penalty shot. Some people expect Luke Schenn to become a shut down defenseman but he's not there yet. But these guys are young and still improving. We are going to have to wait this through because those kind of defensemen are neither on the trade market or free agents.


Other than the fourth line, the Leafs forwards are small and soft. Phil Kessel is easily intimidated and Mikhail Grabovski may not back down to anyone but is still easily pushed around. Only Nik Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul are top six forwards with size. As a result the Leafs do not create enough traffic in front of opposition goalies which impacts on their powerplay. In the final third of the season as each game takes on more and more importance, the games are going to get more physical. The Leafs forwards rarely out hit their opponents. Picking up Rick Nash or Ryan Getzlaf would certainly make the difference but they likely won't get traded and would Burke give up so many assets to land one of them.


There are too many signs that the Leafs are being hurt by inadequate coaching. Problems with special team, a weak defensive game and the inability to adapt to what their opponents are doing. Last week the Canadiens clogged the neutral zone which prevented the speedy Leafs from rushing the puck. The Leafs did not change their game plan in response to the tight checking. Instead they just gave up in the second period and gave the game to Montreal. It doesn't seem like this coaching is going any where before the end of the season. Even then there is no certainty that he will be let go if the Leafs fail to make the playoffs

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NHL Power Ranking - Week 20

What seperates the better teams from the rest of the NHL in this current era of parity is consistency. In an 82-game season with lots of travel, every team is going to come out flat. However, the better teams manage to have less frequent bad games or stretches of bad games.

A sign that the Maple Leafs are improving is that the number of bad games this season has dropped off and their longest losing streak has only been 3 games. Yet they have not had a long stretch of winning beyond the start of the season which is why they are fighting to hang on to a playoff spot instead of challenging for a top 4 berth. It seems when ever they begin to have some success, they take their foot off the pedal and stop doing the things that brought them wins.

Last season the Leafs did finish the season with a long run of winning hockey but their was no pressure on the team because they were so far back. A sign of how much this team has matured will be determined over the final 25 games. Can they find that consistency and win under pressure? There is a lot less optimism in Leafs Nation right now compared to a week ago.

CBS Sports - 12th (-1)

Mats Sundin night was supposed to be a celebration capped off with a big game in the playoff race against their oldest, most fierce rival, and instead the Maple Leafs made a mess.

TSN - 13th (-2)

Three straight losses, punctuated by Saturday night's 5-0 loss at home against Montreal, a game in which the Leafs outshot the Canadiens 32-18, once again raising goaltending concerns as Toronto embarks on a swing through Western Canada.

The Hockey News - 15th (-3)

Goaltending inconsistency really starting to hurt Leafs

Fox Sports - 16th (-4)

After they won five out of six, the up-and-down Leafs have been outscored 11-4 in three straight losses. Defenseman Jake Gardiner has had a fine rookie season but is scoreless and a minus-4 since his plus-three effort Feb. 6, which included a goal, in a vExpand Description

Sports Illustrated - 18th (-6)

Just when you were ready to buy in, the Maple Leafs went and dropped three games in a row, including a thoroughly horrendous 5-0 home loss to Montreal. Goalie James Reimer has allowed eight goals on the last 54 shots he's faced

ESPN - 19th (-6)

The Leafs inexplicably lose three straight, capped by an embarrassing loss at home to rival Montreal on Mats Sundin night. Up next, road games in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thank you Mats Sundin

Mats Sundin was the first European to be drafted first overall when Quebec drafted him in 1989.

As far as I can tell Mats Sundin only had two fights. One with Ray Bourque in 1998 and the other against Dave Hannan in 1992 while he was still a Nordique. That is the only fight video available.

Who can forget the late game heroics like these playoff goals against Philadelphia in the Conference Quaterfinals and against Carolina in the 2002 Conference Final. He didn't show emotion like a Gilmour or Clark but he wanted to win just as bad.

Late in his career Sundin had one of his best nights. On April 11, 2006 with Leafs desperately fighting for their playoff lives backed by goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Sudin had 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points.

Sundin holds the Leafs goals and points record which he set on this scoring play.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Someone should have mentioned to the Leafs they were playing in Winnipeg not Edmonton

It's amazing how teams can look so different from one game to the next. Perfect example is the Leafs on Monday night against the Oilers were offensive jaugernauts. The same on Saturday against the Senators. Then last night they could only muster 18 shots and 1 goal. Such is the rigour of an 82-game NHL schedule. You aren't going to have your A game every night.

No question, the Maple Leafs did not bring their A game last night in their 2-1 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg.

Good - Phil Kessel was once again flying up and down the ice and scored his 30th making it 4 straight seasons with at least 30 goals. He is on pace to score 45 goals.

Bad - You aren't going to win too many games on just 18 shots. Although the Oilers allowed the Leafs the free-wheel, the Jets trapped for much of the game and the Leafs couldn't get any sustained pressure.

Good - Hey the penalty killers do it again. It's now 24 penalties killed off without giving up a goal over 16 games. I have my theories. In December management I believe management read Wilson the riot act and forced him to hand over the reins for specialty teams to his assistants. Since then the difference has been like night and day.

Bad - Some people will try to tell you Jonas Gustaffson has a pretty good game. Except that the first goal he let in was a bad goal. And in a 2-1 game you cannot afford to give your opponents an easy goal.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

NHL Power Ranking - Week 19

Interesting how the Leafs took fell asleep in the third period against Pittsburgh otherwise they would have swept them in back to back games and they trail Pittsburgh by just 2 points but continue to trail them in every power ranking. The Leafs are in the midst of their second half surge and getting little recognition. This year is much different because they aren't starting from the bottom of the standings but from the middle of the pack. Should be interesting on how this ends. Maybe one week they will make it into single digits in one of the power rankings.

TSN - 11th (+3)

4-0-1 in their last five games, the Leafs are coming off back-to-back shutouts by James Reimer for his first wins since before Christmas.

CBS Sports - 11th (+2)

Toronto responded from what could have been a crushing loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night with back-to-back wins, both of which were shutouts with James Reimer in the crease. Could have been an ugly week with the way it started.

Sports Illustrated - 12th (+4)

Ron Wilson's team has looked terrific since the All-Star break. Goalie James Reimer has won three straight, including two shutouts. After six straight non-playoff seasons, Toronto is looking like a good bet to make it to the postseason dance.

Fox Sports - 12th (+4)

The Leafs were the first team in 38 years to go an entire month without allowing a power-play goal. They’ve killed off 22 straight penalties and were backed by James Reimer’s two shutouts this week.

The Hockey News - 12th (0)

Toronto's goaltending duo of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson arguably league's hottest tandem

ESPN - 13th (+3)

The Leafs are healthy and, after pounding Northeast Division rival Ottawa on Saturday, are looking more like a playoff team every day.

Toronto confirms rebuild is way ahead of Edmonton

So how is that Maple Leaf rebuild coming along? I would say just fine.

A couple of weeks ago I did a comparison of the rebuilds in Toronto and Edmonton. Most people advocate the Edmonton approach which is to tank and ice a crappy team for several seasons thereby accumulating a bunch of high draft picks. Brian Burke indicated that he wanted to get better quicker by accumulating young players and prospects instead of draft picks. Many people were sure he was going to fail. Guess what, he hasn't.

Last night's game showcased the two rebuilding teams and the Leafs have made much more progress. The Leafs are the 3rd youngest team in the league at an average player age of 26.2. Only Columbus (25.9) and Nashville (26.1) are younger. Yes, the Leafs are even younger than the Oilers (26.7). The Leafs have just two players at age 30 or over (Connolly and Liles are both just 30) while the Oilers have five players over 30.

Last night the Oilers tried to play a 'run and gun' style of hockey only to find that the Leafs can now skate with them and can play that style even better. The Leafs forwards shredded apart the Oiler defence as they handed the visitors a 6-3 shellacking.

Good - The Leafs forwards were smoking last night. They seemed to enjoy the open tempo set by the Oilers and had no problem gettng behind the Oilers defensemen. Grabovski, Kessel and Lombardi had very strong nights in a game that had little body contact.

Bad - Giving up the first goal 21 seconds into the game is not the best way to start off but the Leafs got their footing shortly after and were able to take back control of the game.

Good - Grabovski got the Leafs back into the game by setting up the first two Leafs goals with very nifty plays. The set up of Gardner was particularly nice as he picked up the puck behind his own net and carried it all the way down to behind the Oiler net before finding Garnder. He is carrying over his strong month of January into February.

Bad - There was some very sloppy play on both sides of the puck. There were 28 giveaways (18 by the Leafs) and 33 takeaways (19 by the Oilers).

Good - James Reimer didn't get another shutout but he was solid in net. He had to be with the number of errors made in front on him.

Bad - This was strictly a non-contact game. The Leafs cannot play like this down the stretch and certainly not in the playoffs if they make it that far.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Congratulations to the Montreal Canadiens for Scott Gomez's goalless year

The Montreal Canadiens have paid Scott Gomez $7,500,000 this past year not to score. Yes today is the one year anniversary since Gomez actually was able to get a puck past a NHL goalie. How can that be? Well under the NHL collective agreement every dollar in his contract is guaranteed irrespective of his performance.

So the Canadiens must have picked him up in a salary dump. They would have gotten a damn good prospect to pick up all that salary. Nope. This was a multiple trade. The Rangers traded Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto to Montreal for Christopher Higgins, Ryan McDonagh, Doug Janik and Pavel Valentenko.

Yup buyer beware.

This is a good example of why GMs shouldn't be in a rush to sign long term contracts. You can be stuck for years to come. In addition,you need to avoid paying a player for one good season. This was the risk that the Jays took when they signed Jose Bautista but fortunately for the Jays it paid off. Gomez scored 33 goals during the 2005-06 season which is about double his usual output. He hasn't been close since.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

KHL's Jeff Glass wins the Vesa Toskala blooper award

Jeff Glass of Barys Astana did his best Vesa Toskala imitation maybe so his mom can get to see him play, although it will only be on the the blooper reel.

In case you've forgotten this beauty from Toskala.

Reimer finally finds the zone

Once goalies find that zone, they are tough to beat so fortunately for the Leafs and Leafs Nation James Reimer has found his groove again. Okay, it may not be so good for Jonas Gustavsson but he will get his starts. But you just know Coach Ron Wilson will be going back to Reimer after he completed his 49-shot shutout in the 5-0 win over Ottawa.

Last night's game was the Maple Leafs at their best which can be pretty good. Not too much you can criticize the visitors for last night although it sounded like a home crowd for the Leafs. Here are the highlights:
  • Reimer was clearly the first star with the 49-shot shutout, his second in two games. Reimer faced 21 shots just in the second period. Not to take anything away from his performance but the Sens were taking a lot of bad angle shots because the team in front of Reimer reduced Ottawa's scoring changes although maybe not the number of shots on net.
  • The line of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak broke out of a 4-game slump with 8 points. In particular Phil Kessel was dangerous all night long. He scored his 27th which puts on pace for a 42-goal season. Lupul scored his 54th point which is now his career best.

  • The defense has contributed to the scoring all season which provides so much more scoring depth. Last night the defense scored 3 goals with contributions from Luke Schenn, Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson.

  • Despite giving up 49 shots, team defense was excellent. The Sens actually had few good scoring opportunities. Once again the penalty killing was perfect and now has killed off 22 straight penalties. I wonder how the penalty killing turned around so dramatically. My sense is that there may have been an internal coaching coupe but nothing will be said externally. But perhaps that explains why Brian Burke has been so aggressive in his defense of Wilson.
  • Not just the penalty killing was good but the powerplay was extremely dangerous last night. The puck moved around from player to player at a very rapid pace and kept the Ottawa penalty killers off balanced. Over the past years we have seen a Leafs powerplay that has been frustrating to watch as the players made slow and calculated passes as if waiting for the opposition to break down on their own. The return of John-Michael Liles has given the powerplay a huge boost.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

More unusual KHL violence

During a recent Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game, Salavat Yulaev player Alexander Radulov suddenly turned around and delivered a hefty blade-slap with his stick to the face of goalie coach, Ilari Näckel.

After, Radulov waves his left hand as if to acknowledge that he was responsible and then everything carries on as if nothing had happened. Hard to figure what to make of this. Was he blowing off steam? After all how much interaction would Radulov have the goalie.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sam Gagner scored more points last night than Scott Gomez has this entire season

Last night Sam Gagner was 4-4-8 and a plus 6. Over 21 games Scott Gomez is 0-7-7 and a minus 3. That about says it all for the season Gomez is having and part of the reason why the Canadiens have struggled.

When Montreal took Gomez off the Rangers payroll the first thing I did was check to see if John Ferguson had been hired by the Canadiens. How could they have been so off the mark? Prior to coming to Montreal Gomez had scored just 148 goals over 9 seasons. Take away 2005-06 when he scored 33 goals, double his normal output and he is averaging only 14 goals per season. That 2005-06 season earned him a ridiculous 7-year, $51 million contract as a free agent. In 2 1/2 seasons with the Canadiens he has only scored 19 goals and hasn't scored since February 5, 2011. There are 2 more years left on that contract. Somehow I doubt he will finish it out in the NHL.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Brian Burke is getting upset about private discussions becoming public

I do happen to have a solution to Brian Burke's annoying problem where all his private discussions and correspondence become public. The most recent situation involved a letter from Georges Laraque regarding Leafs gear with real fur.

Burke v. Cherry, the battle continues

You have to love this fight. Two cranky, loud, rich guys fighting over nothing. It's a fight no one will win which is what makes it so much fun. You just' know that eventually they will both lose interest in each other and move on to battle others. It's their nature.

The latest encounter has Don Cherry accusing Brian Burke of going behind his back to CBC management to censor him. Burke is in turn angry that the meeting had been leaked. Cherry takes a few more shots at Coach Ron Wilson. He notes how he had lost a few times to Montreal (while coaching the Bruins) in the Stanley Cup finals and semi-finals but Wilson hasn't lost a playoff game since coming to Toronto. Ouch!

Part of the silliness in the feud is that Cherry is clearly a big Leaf fan. Fans across the country would have to agree with that Cherry is clearly a homer. He just doesn't like how Wilson tends to throw his players under the bus. And who would disagree with Grapes. The other silly notion is that after 30 years somehow the CBC is going to start censoring Cherry. How ridiculous is that?

Burke is pretty strategic. He's not a stupid man. This is about backing up his coach and players who are in a tough battle to make the playoffs. You create a bunker mentality to motivate the troops. Its "us" against all of "them." In this case them is the "anti-Leafs" media. Pretty lame but it works.

But it also gets me thinking about the future. The Leafs are now owned by media giants who will be broadcasting Leafs games. I can see a day when the CBC will no longer be part of Leafs telecasts and the entire broadcast rights will be owned by the Leafs owners, Rogers and Bell. What happens then when the Leafs management is not happy with what is being said with their team? Will the broadcast team be required to wear Maple Leafs clothing on air?

Pretty scary.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Red hot Grabovski isn't going anywhere

I don't really expect Grabovski to be involved in a trade before the NHL trading deadline unless his salary expectations are too rich for Brian Burke or someone makes an offer you can't refuse. I really expect he will be signed to a contract extension within the next 4 weeks.

As Kessel and Lupul cool off, Grabovski's line has gotten red hot. Tonight Grabovski was dangerous throughout the night and set up the only goal. He also got more playing time than any other Leafs forward. So is Burke going to trade is best centre - nope!

In the end the Leafs held up well against one of the top teams in the NHL and earned 3 points. They actually out played Pittsburgh for much of the two games. More important it showed that the Leafs are not going to fade in the latter part of the season and can skate with the top teams.

Good - James Reimer finally got a chance to play again and did not squander the opportunity. The 1-0 shutout was well deserved despite getting some help from the goalposts. He made some difficult saves on Evgeny Malkin in the second period. So Ron Wilson is in the envious position of having to choose from between two goalies playing relatively well.

Good - Although the Leafs did not show the speed that was displayed in the game in Pittsburgh, they played a full 60 minutes. The game had a playoff feel to it and the Leafs showed that they may be capable of playing some playoff hockey.

Good - The NHL's worst penalty killers have now gone 19 games without giving up a goal. Yet they still have the worse record in the league. However, what they did in the first half is almost irrelevant. Since New Years no one can boast a 100% penalty killing success rate.

Good - Dave Seckel's faceoff success rate is 0ne of those things that are often not noticed unless you are a coach. He was extremely effective tonight with a win rate of 75%.

Bad - Nothing!

NHL Power Ranking - Week 18

Short week because of the All-Star break so there shouldn't be dramatic changes. The Leafs are on course to squeak into the playoffs but it will likely go down to the wire. The Leafs have 56 points at the 50-game mark which translates to 92 points for the season. My guess is they will need 94 points to nail a playoff spot. The hot start continues to keep Toronto in playoff contention.

Games 1-10 = 15 points
Games 11-20 = 9 points
Games 21-30= 11 points
Games 31-40 = 10 points
Game 41-50 = 11 points

Sportsnet - 12th (+6)

Taking advantage of a back-to-back versus a soft opponent in the Islanders, the Leafs grabbed four points before the break, and Mikhail Grabovski was named the NHL’s first star of the week. Now the Leafs face consecutive games against a legit team, the Penguins. For those scoring at home, that’s back-to-back back-to-backs.

CBS Sports - 13th (+4)

Of teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, Toronto might be the one playing the best right now. Big start to the second half with two games against Pittsburgh, a road trip to Ottawa, and then a couple of winnable games against Edmonton and Winnipeg.

The Hockey News - 15th (+2)

Leafs likely to be one of the most intriguing teams to watch as trade deadline approaches

ESPN - 16th (+2)

A mighty test right off the hop with a home-and-home series versus red-hot Pittsburgh this week.

Fox Sports - 16th (+1)

Phil Kessel: Kessel did a lot of damage in the first half, but can he become a consistent threat in February and beyond? If the Leafs are to end their playoff drought, it will be because Kessel had something to say about it.

CBC - 18th (-)

It will be interesting to see how the Maple Leafs rebound from their embarrassing finish in Pittsburgh to begin a home-and-home set.