Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another good road effort sets the table for Kessel's debut.

Another road game, another point.  A win would have been better but for the Leafs a point is a huge success right now.  Wednesday nights 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars was the third game of a five game road trip.  The leafs started the trip without a win in their first eight games.  They didn't have a clear number one goalie, they couldn't score, their defense looked lost, and it appeared that it wasn't going to get better.

Three games into the road trip all that changed.  While they did start the trip with a  3-1 loss in Vancouver many agree they could easily have come away with a win had it not been for Roberto Luongo.  Monday's game in Anaheim gave them their first win, a 6-3 gem in which they scored 5 power play goals and killed 10 penalties.  It also showcased Jonas Gustavsson as a possible, legitimate NUMBER ONE goalie.  Last night in Dallas they lost in overtime, 4-3.  Although they did lose, they did come away with a point, a sure number one goalie, and a wealth of confidence.

No doubt this recent success has helped a lot of Leafs sleep at night.  Brian Burke and Ron Wilson should be feeling much better these days.  How long could Burke deflect attention from his veteran coach.  Sooner or later if the team played with the lethargy and indifference they had shown, a change would have to had been made.  New Leafs Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin seem to have found their game once again, and last night even Jason Blake's offensive touch resurfaced.  Leaf Nation is smiling again.

Perhaps one of the most relieved Leafs is a player who hasn't even appeared in a single game this year. This past September Brian Burke made a huge splash when he traded for Boston hold-out Phil Kessel.  The details and merits of the deal have been discussed and debated ever since.  Suffice it to say, many Leaf fans have wondered if Burke gave up too much.  Good trade or not, the pressure will be on for Kessel to live up to some pretty high expectations.  At least now, he'll be playing his first game as a Leaf,  for a team with a win, a goalie and some help up front.

At twenty-one years old, Phil Kessel could easily be stepping into the line-up as the teams best player.  His skating has been compared to fellow U.S. born star Mike Modano, and his scoring ability has been compared to another U.S. product, Brett Hull.  As a junior in 2005 he lead the U.S. under 18 team to   gold.  He was the tournaments scoring leader and most valuable player.   He was then being compared to Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

Kessel's no junior anymore.  He's 21 and already has two full NHL seasons under his belt.  Last year he scored 36 regular season goals ... 4 more than Mats Sundin did in last season as a Leaf.  He added 11 goals in the playoffs .. sorry we can't compare this stat to any Leafs for obvious reasons.  In  06-07 he won the Bill Masterton Trophy after battling cancer.  Phil Kessel represents a new era for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  For the first time since the lockout we have a legitimate goal scoring winger.  A truly skilled player with speed and touch around the net.  Did I mention he's only twenty-one.  We have this guy at the beginning of his career.  Usually when we land a player of this ilk, it's at the end of his career.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs return home November 3rd. against Tampa Bay, Kessel should be in the line-up.  It's my guess these past 3 games have caused him to breathe a sigh of relief.  The team is playing well for the most part.  Kaberle is back, veterans Hagman, Blake, and Stempniak are chipping in with points,  and the Monster is making the big saves.  Kessel may be stepping in as the best player, but at least he won't be the only player.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leafs Win! Leafs Win! Leafs Win!

It's finally sunk in, for me anyway.  The  Toronto Maple Leafs have won a game!  That's right.  No more 0 for October.  No more triangle jokes.  No more talk about the worst start in NHL history.  The best part was they looked pretty good doing it.  They were tough without being stupid.  They competed for pucks.  They took the play to the opposition.  Most importantly their goaltended played like a number one, something that hasn't happened for a very long time. 

Jonas Gustavsson wasn't perfect but he was just what the Leafs needed Monday night against the Anaheim Ducks.  In one night he helped end a horriffic losing street, squashed the Leafs goaltending contraversy, and injected a massive dose of confidence into a team in desperate need of some.  All this from a rookie playing in his second start and third appearance of his NHL career.   Maybe this guy has finally arrived to give Leafs Nation reason for hope.  Judging by his poise, speed, agility, and refusal to give up on any puck thrown his way, it appears he has.

Okay, okay, I know it's a little early to be planning a parade route or even looking forward to a playoff appearance but in a season with so much disappointment we have to grab onto any scrap we get.  With the 6-3 victory on the road, the Leafs are no longer the lowest scoring team in the league and now have been joined by The Los Angeles Kings with  the worst goals allowed record.  With Niklas Hagman's 3 goals and Tomas Kaberle's 5 points, we now have 2 players among the league leaders in goals and assists respectively.  Combine this with Lee Stempniak's goals and 3 assists and Matt Stajan's 3 assists, the Leafs offense may have just woken up.

We will have to temper some of this joy with the fact that 5 of the Leaf goals were scored on the power play.  Add to this the fact that the Ducks were penalized 17 different times during the game and must have been worn down.  The Leafs were no angels either.  They took 11 penalties of their own.  The good news in this is, the Leafs scored 5 power play goals,  they killed 10 penalties, and of 11 penalties, Mike Komisarek only took one of them.  Francois Beauchemin played over twenty minutes and while Luke Schenn's ice time was cut to 10 minutes, he was an even plus minus on the night.

So, the Leafs get that tough first win.  Their key veterans played like they need them too and their goaltending was excellent.  Joy has returned to Leaf Nation.  Let's hope it stays for a while.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's The Plan Mr. Burke?

We've heard and read a lot of discussion about all of Brian Burke's deals since taking control of the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the forefront was the trade with the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel.  At first glance who could argue this was not a good deal for both clubs.  Kessel, a natural scoring winger with speed to burn is exactly the type of player the leafs need.  The Bruins get the Leafs first and second picks in 2010 and their first pick in 2011.  We'll have wait before we can fairly judge this one, but for now why not look at WHY the deal was made, and whether Burke over paid.

For Boston it was simple,  Kessel wanted more than the Bruins could offer because of budget and cap restrictions.  If Burke didn't get him, someone else would have.  We'll never really know how many other teams were in the bidding, but when a hot, young, talent like this comes on the market there's always a long line of GM's who are interested.  Simply put, the Leafs needed a player like Kessel and Boston had one.  The question of whether Burke overpaid is a little trickier.

Kessel was a restricted free agent.   This means Burke could have just tried to take him from The Bruins.  Had The Leafs signed Kessel to an offer sheet Boston could have matched Toronto's offer and tried to trade him later, or refused to match, let him go, and receive the leauge imposed compensation from Toronto.  Compensation for a player of Kessel's caliber would probably have been Toronto's next three first round draft picks.
In 2008 a team signing a restricted free agent to a salary averaging $2,615,625 to $3,923,437 per season will lose a first-round draft pick and a third-round draft pick to the player’s old team.
- Signing a restricted free agent to a contract worth over $6,539,062 per year costs a team four first-round draft picks.

So far it looks like the right decision, but what about the other deal Brian Burke chose to pass on?  What about the deal Boston thought they had just before the June draft?  The deal would have seen Tomas Kaberle, and Toronto's first pick (7th overall) in the June 2009 enrty draft,  go to Boston for Kessel and Boston's first pick (25th overall).  The deal fell apart when Burke refused to swap picks. 

Had this deal been made we would still have drafted in the first round last June and in 2010 and 2011.  We would still have our second pick in 2010.  Granted Kaberle would be gone but his days as a Leaf are numbered anyway.  Maybe Mr. Burke thought he could get more for Kaberle later on.  He's said many times it's much easier to trade a quality defenseman than any other position.  Maybe he can, but he clearly lost on the deal when he traded Pavel Kubina.  He didn't do too well when he traded Anton Stralman either.  So much for trading our wealth of good VALUABLE defensemen  for talented young forwards and high draft choices.

Recently Brian Burke defended the Kessel deal by saying he didn't think he could have used any of those picks to draft a player as good as Kessel and have them play this year or next.  That may be so, but their first pick this year isn't helping the team right now either.  I'm confused.  Are we building for the future?  Are growing our pool of young talent?  Are we building from the back end out?  Are we are playoff team?  Are we a tougher team to play?  Are we truculent and fearsome in the eyes of the rest of the league? All these things were to be part of Brian Burkes plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I don't see it.  Gone are Antropov, Moore, Kubina, Stralman, and 3 first round picks.  In return we get Exelby (healthy scratch most nights), Phil Kessel (still injured), and a handful of second, third and fourth picks.  We still don't have a proven number one goalie, our defense in atrocious, we can't score, we're still getting pushed around, and since we blew our only lead of the season in the third period of our opener, against our most hated rival, who incidentally was one of the teams being counted on to finish behind us in the standings, we haven't been close to winning a game.  Pardon me for being a little negative Mr. Burke but plan A,B,C, and D aren't working.  We've heard you criticize the players for not performing to expectations, how about you starting to live up to yours.   

Saturday, October 17, 2009

So Much for Optimism

Well so much for dodge ball and so much for optimism.  1 more game and 1  more loss for the falling leafs.  I'm going to go out on a limb now, ( I promise that's my last pun ).  I predict the leafs will not make the playoffs.  I know it's early and it's been a tough schedule and they've had injuries, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Unfortunately, none of these excuses amount to anything.  The fact is they just aren't very good.

So what do we do now?  Answer .... NOTHING!  There may be nothing we can do.  We can't score and we can't keep the puck out of the net.  Yes, we have some young guns on the farm and yes, some of them should be up with the team, but even if management were to swallow their idiotic pride and admit they've underestimated the players left behind at training camp, and overestimated the group they have now, what can they do about it now.

If  Burke and Wilson woke up tomorrow morning and said let's promote Tyler Bozak, Jiri Tlusty, and Christian Hanson, they could never expect them to make a big enough impact to dig them out the hole they're in now.  Even if Francois Beachemin and Mike Komisarek, were to return to the players they thought they were when they were aquired they would still have to win seven games in a row just to get to.500.

Maybe Phil Kessel can emerge from injury and score like the star he is.  Who knows maybe Burke can make that blockbuster deal for Tomas Kaberle, he's talked about it enough.  Maybe The Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, will be as good in his rookie NHL season as he was in Sweden.  That's a lot of maybes for a team that has shown nothing so far.  Well, maybe this is as good as it gets.  Not good news for a team without a decent draft choice until 2012.  I guess we do what we always do ... keep watching and wait for next year, or the year after, or ....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is it Time to Panic Yet?

I know what you're thinking ...We're only halfway through October.  Well I would say to that ... WE'RE HALFWAY THROUGH OCTOBER!  6 games in and 1 point to show for it!  13 goals scored ... 28 goals allowed ... in  6 games!  Phew, that feels better, now let's have a look at what led up to this.

The Leafs went into their 6th game of the season against last years 3rd worst team having scored only 13 goals so far.  Thankfully Coach Wilson decided it was time to shake things up.  His solution,  scratch Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman.  Not exactly a devastating loss to most teams but when you consider Stajan has 3 goals and Hagman 2 we have to wonder whether removing 39 percent of the teams offense was the answer.  Wilson said they haven't been competing for pucks and taking hits.  I thought the idea of signing all these tough, "truculent" players was so the skilled players could play without worrying about the rougher side of  the game.  For the record they only manged 1 goal against Colorado and were out-hit 15-5 in the first period.  So much for a shake-up.

It was great to see Tyler Bozak in the line-up, even if it was at the expense of almost half of the teams offense.  Brian Burke and Ron Wilson told us Bozak, along with Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson, Nazem Kadri, are the future of this team.  Burke said having these guys gave them the ability to trade a first and a second round pick in this years draft  and a first round pick next year.  He said he thought we had a playoff team and none of those picks would be in the top ten anyway.  Burke said Phil Kessel, the player he traded for, would be better than anyone he could draft with those picks.  Kessel will be a great player but the way we are playing, those picks are getting better after each passing loss.

Maybe the future is now for these young players.  After all, everyone one of them came though the U.S. college system meaning they're not kids anymore.  It didn't go unnoticed either that Kadri, the only junior player of note was the best forward in camp.  Ron Wilson says this team is lacking energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to compete.  Maybe that's because we left it all behind when we broke camp.

Brian Burke still feels he has a few chips to play.  He says with a wealth of NHL defensemen other teams will be knocking at our door as the trade deadline and even the offseason approaches.  Judging by his first go around last deadline and offseason we have to wonder if this is true.  Last deadline we traded Hall Gill for a for a second and a fifth round draft choice.  In the the off-season we traded Anton Stralman for Wayne Primeau, we also traded Pavel Kubina, our best defenseman last year for Garnet Exelby.  Neither have made any impact whatsoever.  Burke even told us he was going to go after John Tavares.  When that didn't happen he said he would trade down for a better pick like Brayden Schenn, brother of leaf defenseman Luke Schenn.  It sounded great but all he managed to do was draft Kadri, seventh overall, exactly where he was slated to be drafted. 

Is it time to panic yet?  Maybe not, but when you consider all of the boasts, promises and predictions Brian Burke has made so far have been worthless, we have to wonder what our future really holds. I guess all  of  us Leaf fans will go on thinking happy thoughts and pray that Kessel, The Monster and Burke pan out.  In the meantime I'll just pray for a win!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Toskala serves up a turkey for Thanksgiving.

I think if you asked the Toronto Maple Leafs players what they have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, they would say their glad an NHL game is only sixty minutes.  If you asked their coach he might say he's thankful to have a 4 year contract after coaching the team to it's worst start in history.  If you asked Sean Avery he would say he's thankful Brian Burke is stubborn enough to think Vesa Toskala is an NHL goalie, let alone a NUMBER ONE!

Nice job guys.  You even made Avery look good, and that's no easy feat.  The Leafs lost their 5th straight game against the New York Rangers Monday night.  7 - 2 was the final score.  Another stellar performance by the Finnnish Sieve, Vesa Toskala.  They have never started a season this bad.  How could this be?  We have have Brian Burke calling the shots now.  We're going to make the play-offs this year.  Hmm, don't you actually need to accumulate points in the regular season to make the play-offs.  That's how it used to work.  Maybe Burkie had the rules changed.  Maybe we just have show up.  Well based on their play this year that won't even get them in.

When Burke took over last year he told us he would make big changes.  He said we would be tougher to play against.  He said we would be better defensively and be one of those teams others would hate to play against.  Well, 5 games in we have the worst home record, the worst road record, a terrible goals against average, a terrible power play, embarrassing penalty kill,  and oh ya, our starting goaltender couldn't stop a beach ball if they tossed it to him.  Tough to play against?  I doubt it.  I can just imagine the opposition scouting report.  If you lose the puck, don't worry, they'll give it back.  When you get over the blue line just shoot at the net, the defense will screen the goalie and if he does happen to see it he'll move out of the way anyway.

Burke did make some big changes.  He traded our best defenseman of last year, Pavel Kubina, for Garnet Exelby.  I think he wishes he could have that one back considering Exelby can't even crack this pathetic line up.  He also invested big bucks in two other big name defensemen, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin.   Both have been great at helping Toskala pull the puck out of the back of the net.  Well maybe Komisarek hasn't been on the ice for that many goals, actually he's been in the penalty box for most of them.

If the Leafs are going to have any success this year they need a solid organized defensive system.  This means Beauchemin has to wake up and start playing that great positional play he's been known for his entire career.  Mike Komisarek needs to be less selfish and stop taking needless penalties.  Garnet Exelby needs to actually make the team and when he does, he has to stop handing the puck to the guys in the other colored jerseys.  Most importantly, their goalie needs to stop the puck.   That's it, nothing fancy or philosophical ... JUST STOP THE PUCK.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Good News, Bad News, for Jays fans.

The Goods news is J.P. Ricciardi has finally been dismissed as G.M. of The Toronto Blue Jays.  The bads news is, he's been replaced with his second in charge, Alex Anthopoulis.  We still don't know if he's to be the permanent or interim Gm, but if you heard him on the Fan 590 radio station this morning, he seems to think he'll be with us for a while.  If the Jays follow true to from we should receive word on his true position by Christmas of 2011.

Why so pessimistic?  I thought I was being quite optimistic actually.  We are talking about our Toronto Blue Jays.  Consider the record of the man it took eight years to decide on.  J.P. was hired eight years ago to trim the payroll while keeping the Jays competitive until they were ready to contend again.  When he took over he inherited an inflated payroll and a losing record.  He was to reshape the team using the Oakland Athletics model of money ball, invented by his mentor, Billy Beane.  He was to use his keen eye for talent and knack for finding those diamonds in the rough Oakland had become famous for.  Our team was going to win with speed, great defense,  hard-nosed old fashioned baseball.  We were going to hit-and-run, steal bases, bunt when you least expected it.  We were going to out-hustle and out-smart anyone they threw against us.

Build through the draft he said.  Keep the payroll low and build a farm system other teams would envy.  I guess he meant to say this would all start in his ninth year as Gm, because he sure didn't do it in the previous eight.  Granted, he did draft Aaron Hill, but lets look at some of the other canny moves he's made.

When J.P. came on the scene Roy  Halladay was already here.  Today he's by far our best player and one of the best in the league.  Oh ya, he's not feeling too good about the nonsense he's endured and will probably leave after next year if not sooner.  We had a pretty good prospect by the name of Orlando Hudson.  J.P.'s keen eye for talent told him otherwise so he hoodwinked Arizona into thinking he was better than Troy Glaus and made the trade. Who needs a three time gold glove contact hitter with speed anyway.  We play MONEY BALL... (you know, hit and run, steal, good defense, bunting).  Whoops.  Glaus lasted 2 years and was one of 5 starting 3rd basemen in eight years by the way.

Well, maybe he thought it more important to build up the middle.  Aaron hill worked nicely.  Not bad, one good middle infielder in eight years. At least we had strength at shortstop.  Who can argue with great names like Gomez, Adams, MacDonald and Scutaro.  Only Adams was drafted by Toronto.   He was a first rounder and was outplayed by everyone else named here.  MacDonald was a 12th round pick by Cleveland and Scutaro wasn't even drafted.  We had a guy named Michael Young but this perennial All-Star and one time Gold Glover wasn't good enough to compete with those guys.  J.P. traded  his ragedy ass butt for, wait for it, Esteban Loaiza.  Shrew, very shrewd.  Build through the draft eh ... whose draft?  Maybe they drafted well at first base.  Nope. Catcher?  Nope.  Outfield?  Maybe.  We'll give him Lind and Snyder, but so far that's only 3 position players in eight years and Hill is the only one able to field at the position he was drafted at.  Actually Hill was drafted as a shortstop.  Money Ball eh.

You can't have enough pitching.  Maybe J.P. can redeem himself here.  He did great drafting here.  And what a job his coaches and trainers did with this wealth of young arms.  Janssen, Marcum and McGowan may never live up to their potential because of various injuries.  But it's not our fault they'll say.  We can't do anything about injuries. Maybe not but when almost every significant pitcher you have in your entire organization is injured at the same time, maybe you should look at how your handling them.  Just a thought, but who am I.  J.P.'s the baseball genius.

Almost forgot.  We could have had Adam Dunn but J.P. said he lacked passion.  He even berated fans when they suggested it.  You wouldn't like Dunn he said.  He told us he knew better. You were right J.P.  That bum only had four, hundred RBI seasons in his last six and only hit 239 homer runs over that time.  That's 40 a year give or take.  Phew!  Glad we dodged that bullet.  Thanks J.P.   We had Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and Frank Thomas.  Nice move.

Suffice it to say the guy who mentored Anthopolis was a bit of a disappointed. Should the 32 year old Gm in training even be considered anything but an interim.  Why not?  Interim in Toronto means permanent anyway.  Gaston was interim his second time around.  Even the President is interim.  He's been interim for more than a full season.  It's pretty tough to say anything bad about Paul Beeston but come on.  If you don't want the job hire a replacement already.  It's been over a year.  Consider this for a moment.  Recent reports suggested a player revolt in the Jays clubhouse.  If this had happened even two weeks ago, Cito Gaston may have been fired.  This would have meant an interim manager as well.  Wow, enough said.