Hockey Blog: The Maple Leafs Finally Have A Future

In response to ULMERS BLOG on http://www.mapleleafs.com, by dr.joeyonly
It was a great season, so long as you don’t require winning to be entertained.  A record of 30-38-14 wasn’t what anyone wanted to put up with for a whole season, only Harold Ballard could have turned worse statistics.  For a 5th straight year the Leafs are golfing and it’s hard to wait out the rebuilding process as a Leafs fan. With 214 goals the Leafs scoring was abysmal in comparison to even the 2008-09 season and it was the main reason the Leafs were not a playoff team this year.  Fortunately the only left to fix for Toronto is their offensive power and special teams.  Suddenly the Leafs are a team with goal-tending, defense and in a few months they may even have a good corps of forwards.  The rebuilding process may not even last as long as we dreaded.
You can’t compare the 2009 Maple Leafs of October-January with the team that finished the the 2010 season as Brian Burke has completely destroyed the team that Mats Sundin captained a few years ago, dumping dead weight, dumping salary and putting the fear into his players that they only have so long to prove themselves next year before they get shipped out of town too.   Past GM John Ferguson Jr is a distant memory, all the losers he signed like Jason Blake have been dumped.  With a few more moves Burke could dump enough salary to find more than $13 million to spend this summer while having most of the key components on the team still locked down with Gustavsson sure to resign in Toronto.
Burke solved our goal-tending, or so it seemed, put together a good defensive corps and started to work on the forwards by at dumping the dead weight and bringing up some youth making the Leafs the youngest team in the league.  A position similar to where the Coyotes were at a year or two ago who after many terrible seasons finished this year with 107 points, ex-Leaf Lee Stempniak joined that Phoenix team and lit up the scoresheet.  It’s clear now that Calgary took the wrong under-rated Leaf.

Author Joey Only wounded, with a Leafs hat on!

Calgary suddenly looks a lot like the Leafs of 3 years ago…replace Sundin with Iginla and put Matt Stajan on the top line.  Calgary made some insane moves (check my blog on the Flames).  You don’t win a Stanley Cup by panicking and dumping your stud defencemen for a package of mediocre players who don’t remember what winning anything tastes like.  Daryl Sutter took a page out of John Ferguson Jrs book of futility.
Now that Calgary is forced to consider rebuilding they should complete the madness and trade Iginla to Toronto for Grabovski, Kaberle, John Mitchell and someone else.   Iginla would make a great Leaf, he’s a reincarnation of Rocket Richard and the best leader on any team in Canada with Ottawa’s captain being a close second.  It’s the role of the captain which still eludes the Leafs with many thinking Dion Phanuef ought to take the job on.  I would agree that Phanuef is a good choice but would rather see Toronto take another teams captain somehow.  Phanuef was an amazing pick up for Toronto, he’s under-rated currently but he is still the same player who scored 20 goals in his rookie season.  Once word spread about Dion’s ability other teams spent more time trying to take him out of the scoring equation, in time Phanuef will find away around that sort of covereage.  He is still very young!
There are a few Unrestricted Free Agents the Leafs could consider.  Illya Kovulchuck wants around $10 million dollars. I don’t think the Leafs should spend quite that much, it would weaken the teams chances in the long run whereas Iginla and his $7 million tag would still give Toronto a few dollars to spend on the depth chart.  Kovulchuck would look nice on a line with Kessel and Nazem Kadri, they would be the KKK line which is made funnier by the fact that Kadri is not a white man.  Perhaps fellow Russian Nicolai Kulemin would play well with Kovulchuck, Kulemins 36 points doesn’t describe how strong of a season he actually had, his +/- was O and on a weak team like Toronto it’s proof that he wasn’t part of the problem.
Kolby Armstrong might become a Leaf, he fits into the Brian Burke philosophy and would look good on a 2nd line with Bozak and Nicolai Kulemin.  There’s not a lot out there this year in the UFA world except for a few gambles like Raffi Torres who hasn’t proved he can stay healthy.  Chicago has a few players that they might not be able to re-sign who would make good Maple Leafs as well.  I wish the Leafs could have landed Cammaleri when he was available last year.  If we are going to win with small speedy players they have to be proven scorers.
Something tells me the Leafs would go further trading Kaberle than they will in the free agent market, unless Burke decides to be a hypocrite and starts throwing offer sheets at restricted free agents.  Speaking of Burke and offer sheets, maybe Dustin Penner would fit the look and philosophy of the new Leafs.  For all that trouble Craig MacTavish caused when he brought Penner to Edmonton it did not create a long term future for the Oilers, it just loaded up their budget so that Cap space would prevent Edmonton from growing as a team for a few more years yet.
I like Kessel even though giving Boston three draft picks is very unpopular, 5 of his 30 goals were game winners.  Nothing is certain in hockey. You can get a top draft choice and pick Alexandre Daigle, all the scouts were lined up to call him a star but he never amounted. Likewise we could draft Hall or Seguin and they could break their backs this fall and never turn in to what was expected of them. Realistically Hall and Seguin will probably become stars in a few years, but Kessel is a star now and his play was one of those things that kept Leafs games entertaining amidst a dreadful losing season.
The Monster will pull it together and wipe the sour memory of Rask away, and even with our draft picks Boston will still suck for years to come.  A #2 draft pick won’t elevate Boston into the upper echelons next season, neighter did Stamkos 51 goals in Tampa Bay put them into the playoffs.  If only the Leafs could steal Lucic from Boston.  If there is a team that Burke should screw over by offering its young stars offer sheets, it would be the Bruins.   I worked for the Vancouver Giants WHL when Lucic was captain here and witnessed his work in bringing the Memorial Cup home.  If he can stay healthy he fits into the Burkian philosophy in a big way, unlike some of Bostons other players who might consider retiring before they sink any lower (like Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi).  While we’re on the subject, can someone please force Rod Brindamour and his -29 finish into retirement, he’s not what Carolina needs.
John Mitchell (6 goals) has to go, Grabovski (10 goals) has to go. I don’t care for them. Neither has produced this year and Mitchell isn’t even inspiring.  Maybe the Leafs could throw them into a package the way they did Hagman and Stajan and land someone who will contribute.
Bozak and Gunnarson are exciting rookies, they should only improve.  Bozaks 27 points in 37 games is a step in the right direction for Leafs rookies.  Gunnarson looks like Kaberle did in 1999 on the Toronto blue line.  Speed and passing.  He should add one thing to his game that Kaberle never excelled at, shooting from the point more.  Gunnarson led the team in plus/minus at 8 with 15 points in 43 games, while Kaberle landed somewhere around a dismal -16 despite scoring 49 points.
For the first time Kabby is expendable, but they should only trade him for a top 6 forward who is ready to play now.   I like the idea of picking up Brayden Schenn from the Los Angelas Kings who scored 99 points for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL.  I think he and Luke would make excellent team-mates, both are quality Canadian hockey boys who have a long way to go before we see what kind of players they actually will be.  Luke Schenn really pulled himself together and for the first time in his short career we see where the hype around him is going.  Schenn’s 17 points were an improvement but his +2 finish is more indicative of which direction his future is going.
Hanson is a 4th line player, would look good with Colton Orr (239 penalty minutes) enforcing…and Orr proved himself a good hockey player though Don Cherry is right about his attitude, a showboat with moments of arrogance that just doesn’t need to be part of his game. Everyone expected more scoring out of Hanson, I don’t think it’s his game to get 100 points in a season.  I think he’s a great checker, he only took 45 shots in 31 games where he played mostly as a top six forward, he will need to better 7 points next year.

Jamming at my mountain lodge with Joel Klingler, wearing a vintage Sittleresque Leafs jersey.

Speedy Stalberg was -13 so he could probably use another season on the farm.  He’s a project now but in time will adapt to the NHL and in general North American hockey.  Likewise it took Jonas Gustavson time to get used to smaller rinks with faster players while overcoming family tragedies, two heart operations and a groin strain.  I’d say the Monsters 16-15-10 record and 2.87 GAA was an improvement to anything that’s happened in Leaf land since Ed Belfour went the way of the buffalo.  With a full healthy season next year we will see what Jonas is really capable of, I’m sure he’s the real thing.  JS Giguere’s mentoring seemed to have affected Gustavsson for the better, his record without Vesa Toskala around was a winning one.
Finger and Caputi are disappointments, though Caputi deserves time to turn it around.  I think Ponikerovsky should have stayed in Toronto, they return wasn’t even.  But Finger deserves to have his contract eaten in the minors, he’s another John Ferguson disaster worth a $3.5 million cap hit.  Finger had 10 points in 43 games and finished -11, I can’t understand why he was signed for so much money.  There was nothing in his career to suggest he would ever be worth that sort of money.
Wallin was a positive surprise on the penalty kill and is worth keeping on the 4th line with Orr.
Kadri gives the puck away but has become a stick of dynamite in the OHL. He’s the most exciting piece of the future puzzle so far.  He’s lighting up the OHL playoffs and is quietly putting together the sort of numbers that should have seen him go #1 in the draft.  Brian Burke was smart, Kadri was rated 8th, but Burke used his 7th pick to snap him out of Ottawa’s hands.  The Senators wanted Kadri and as enemies of the Leafs were wisely denied that at the 09 draft.  Kadri has scored 27 points in 12 game OHL playoff games this year for the London Knights and had 35 goals and 58 assists in 56 regular season games.
Barring unforeseen management mistakes…this team has something going for it…it’s the first time in a few years I saw a TEAM on the ice…and not just a collection of mediocrity skating in the same direction but not really putting together any sort of excitement. I thought some of the games this year were more fun to watch than most of the last few seasons. I like a lot of these kids. All we need is a couple pieces, and by that I mean a superstar or two. Bring Iginla to Toronto…he should be the next Doug Gilmour!! -joey
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About joeyonly

Dr.Joey Only will knock you out...and do it with country music!!! HIYAAAAAA!! View all posts by joeyonly

3 responses to “Hockey Blog: The Maple Leafs Finally Have A Future

  • joeyonly

    Time To Look Ahead For Leafs
    Monday, 12.04.2010 / 5:56 PM / Mike Ulmer’s Blog
    By Mike Ulmer – Mapleleafs.commentator

    RELATED: Naz Tracker
    RELATED VIDEO: Wilson On Young Roster | Phaneuf | Kessel | Gustavsson
    DISCUSS IT ON: Leafspace | Twitter | Facebook

    You have a choice.

    You can see what is there or you can look where things seem to be going.

    Never has the chasm between the two options seemed larger.

    The 2009-2010 season has been one of the worst ever for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Remember Harold Ballard? Just about that bad.

    The Leafs won 30 games which in itself isn’t so bad when you consider that twice during the Ballard era they won 20. But that comparison is skewed. They won nine games (after losing the first six) in overtime or the shootout.

    Let’s just get this all over at once.

    There is no real way of checking, but the fact that the Leafs were dead last in the penalty kill and the power play suggests we are breaking new ground.

    The Maple Leaf total of 2.56 goals for a game is 25th in the league. The goals against figure, 3.21, is 29th.

    The Leafs finished 14 points behind eighth-place Montreal. The top three draft choice they would ordinarily garner was swapped in the Phil Kessel deal. The Bruins will also receive this year’s second rounder and next year’s first rounder. Kessel rebounded from a shoulder injury and scored 30 goals in 790 games but that put him 21st in the league.

    The good news?

    Well, unlike Ballard Larry Tanenbaum didn’t try to convince his coach to wear a bag over his head.

    The Leafs landed in Dion Phaneuf the kind of stud defenceman they have long coveted. Phaneuf is uncorrupted by the five years of playoff-free hockey the franchise has endured and seems destined to succeed Mats Sundin as the Leafs captain.

    “He plays the game in a big sort of way and he plays the game with kind of a strut. That’s something we sorely lacked,” said coach Ron Wilson.

    From the January day they acquired Phaneuf and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Leafs played .500 hockey. It was addition by subtraction, Giguere spun shutouts in his first two starts and incumbent Vesa Toskala took his bloated 7-12 record, .891 save percentage and 3.26 goals against average with him to Anaheim.

    After off-season surgery to repair groin and hip injuries, Toskala was torched by the Washington Capitals in his first road start. Wilson said Monday that he had doubts early about Toskala’s ability to win.

    “It seemed like more of the same,” Wilson said. “I did lose a little bit of confidence in the beginning.”

    As bad as Toskala was, his supporting cast was hardly better. Free agents Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin struggled to find their way and Luke Schenn’s game went south as his ice time was siphoned away to the newcomers.

    Newcomer Jonas Gustavsson needed two heart ablation surgeries and was sidelined with a groin injury. Poor play meant Nikolai Kulemin would start the season with the Marlies.

    The Leafs lost their first eight games, beat Anaheim on the road and then lost four straight games in overtime or the shootout. The season was essentially over by early November.

    The club was in a freefall. Veterans such as Jason Blake and Lee Stempniak looked like they were skating through mud. Komisarek hurt his shoulder about the time he hit his stride and his year ended with shoulder surgery.

    The Leafs righted themselves in December but capsized in January, losing 12 of 15 games.

    Right about here, everything changed.

    Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg arrived from the Marlies to dramatically boost the team speed.

    Bozak quickly established himself as a worthy set-up man for Kessel.

    Carl Gunnarsson showed himself as an NHL defenceman. Beauchemin got his breath and took a turn against the opposition’s top line.

    The trades changed everything. Wilson hiked ice time on Phaneuf who played a careful, deliberate game.

    The Leafs got a coach and a goalie in Giguere, a perfect foil for Gustavsson and an advocate of the kind of Spartan regime demanded by goalie coach Francois Allaire.

    “Of course I liked Vesa, but this was a great to get the chance to work with a goalie who has been winning the kinds of things I want to win,” Gustavsson said. “Especially with the style I want to play.”

    The 32-year-old Giguere improved as he went and said that late in the Leafs season, he felt like the goalie he had been before his freefall to the backup’s job in Anaheim.

    “Last week, the way I felt on the ice was the way I felt when I was 25,” Giguere said. “It was the way I felt when I went to the final in 2003, the way I felt when we won the Cup in 2007. I had lots of energy, I was very upbeat. It was fun again.”

    Kessel admitted that missing camp and the first month of the season because of shoulder surgery meant he never got his conditioning.

    “In terms of fitness, I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” he said.

    The coaching staff noticed.

    “He’s got to start working out and get in the best shape of his life so that he doesn’t suffer some of these injuries.” Wilson said.

    A peerless skater with a staggering shot and release, Kessel still indulges in a bad habit of shooting from far away stations instead of finding a teammate and jumping into a spot. Wilson agreed Kessel needs to have full confidence in Bozak, a player who should serve as a runningmate for years, to return the puck.

    “Goalscorers don’t usually have the puck a lot,” Wilson said. “Other people have the puck and they find the scoring positions. I think that’s an area that Phil will get better at.”

    Wilson expects three or four new faces in camp but that will hinge on off-season trades or free agency. With the first two draft choices gone and with a hair-thin free agent pool, GM Brian Burke will be swapping oranges for oranges.

    As restricted free agents, Kulemin and Gustavsson will be signed.

    There is, for Bozak, Stalberg and Gunnarsson, the shadow of the sophomore slump but Schenn hit his at 20, not 23 (Gunnarsson) or 24 (Stalberg, Bozak).

    Wilson expects to have the speedy Nazem Kadri at centre after a blistering year with the London Knights. The goaltending looks settled. The Leafs have a top five in Phaneuf, Beauchemin, Komisarek, Gunnarsson and Luke Schenn. That would seem to mean Kaberle, the number one Leaf in seniority, could be dealt for a big forward on draft day when his no trade clause comes off. Schenn would be a spectacularly attractive asset for rival GMs because of his age, $850,000 2010-2011 salary and restricted free agent status the following season.

    Wilson insists the overhaul is mostly done, no matter what the standings say.

    “I have a completely different feeling I think this year than last because of changes that we have made. The direction that we are going is a lot more positive.”

  • joeyonly

    UPDATES ON THIS ARTICLE…

    -Apparently it was announced today that coach Ron Wilson had a meeting with Dion Phanuef and laid out the future for the 25 year old fearsome defencemen. Wilson made it clear that barring any mega-deals that would bring another superstar to Toronto Dion will wear the big C on his jersey come next fall.

    -Not only do I wish they could have signed Mike Cammaleri this summer I wish they had not traded to Los Angelas for defencemen Aki Berg who mediocre career is in the history books. The draft pick the Leafs gave Los Angelas back in 2001 ended up being Mike Cammaleri, anothe huge management mistake….of which there were many like it.

    -I failed to mention the general improvement of speed and toughness on this team. I couldn’t understand in the first half of the season why so many tough players lacked a mean streak in their game. It was obvious when Dion came to the Leafs that he inspired those same players to pick up their game and get meaner…the hitting trend accelerated upwards. Being the youngest team in the league now they have wheels for the first time that I can remember, the Leafs now dress the fastest team I have ever seen. Even in their winning years centres like Petr Zezel and Sundin and wingers like Andreychuck and Wendel Clark were not fast skaters.

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