Saturday, November 27, 2010

Same old, Same old for Leafs in Buffalo.

     With a record of 27-55-8 all-time against the Sabres in Buffalo, one would think the Leafs might alter their game plan heading back into the Queen City.  It's possible the Leafs were planning a different approach to this game but it only took the Sabres 2 minutes to suck them into playing their game in their barn.  
     The record tells the story.  The Sabres have the Leafs number at home.  They begin by pushing them around and targeting key players.  Last night Kessel and Kulemin were on the radar.  When both were victims of big hits Toronto players began to take the bait.  First it was Luke Schenn.  Credit him for standing up for his teammate, and winning the fight, but unfortunately it was the beginning of the end as far as any game plan may have gone.  With Schenn in the penalty box already, Colton Orr wanted his time in the spotlight.  He got it by trying to seek vengeance on Paul Gaustad for an earlier dirty hit.  Credit might be given to Orr for this as well, if it weren't for the fact that this was exactly what the Sabres were trying to accomplish.  Orr was accessed 4 minutes for roughing and 2 for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Three minutes later and two goals down, Toronto was right where Buffalo wanted them.  The only thing left was to watch Ryan Miller intimidate the Leafs by getting in the way of almost everything they threw at him.  
     Perhaps the most alarming part of this loss was the fact that Buffalo played exactly how the Leafs should have.  It was like they were playing on the road.  They came out hitting hard.  They for-checked relentlessly, and they put lots of bodies in-front of Jonas Gustavsson.  Given the fact Toronto went into the game without Mike Brown, a very good "in your face" type player, and an excellent penalty killer, it was distressing to see how easily they were lured into Buffalo's trap.
     It wasn't all bad however.  The Monster stopped pretty much everything he saw.  Luke Schenn had another strong game.  Phil Kessel looked engaged with seven shots and a short-handed goal, and the Leafs didn't quit.  Fortunately they won't have long to dwell on this loss with a game tonight.  Lets hope they have a  better plan for the Senators and can stick to it!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leafs finally rewarded with Big Effort.

     It started out looking like another disaster at the ACC, but ended looking with a barnburner.  Tuesday night the Toronto Maple Leafs ended an eight game losing streak that spanned 3 weeks and was beginning to look like it would never end.  It did end though with a gutsy win again the Nashville Predators.  
     Who would have thought Leaf fans were to be treated to such a thrilling game after coughing up 3 goals in less than 20 minutes.  Even a late third period goal by Luke Schenn couldn't offer any solace to fans as they watched their team squander another power-play and even give up a short-handed goal to start the second period.  Who knew Brett Lebda's terrible giveaway would spark their most inspired effort of the season.    
     Six minutes into the second period the Leafs were down 4-1 with a 2 man advantage. That's when Kris Versteeg decided enough was enough.  He scored his first of the night and followed it with another one minute later.   By the end of the third they'd scored 4 power-play goals and taken the lead by a 5-4 margin.  They even had a goal called back when Colton Orr got in the way of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne on a Keith Aullie wrist shot.  
     The win wasn't textbook to be sure.  It's not every night a team is handed six power-plays in a row, and two, two man advantages in one period.   We can't expect them to come back from three goals every night either.  Nashville was a slumping team as well.  The Leafs have a long way to go.  All we can hope for is more of the spirit we witnessed last night and some good bounces.  A win is a win though, and that one was  a beauty.  Honorable mention should also go to Clarke MacArthur, the set-up man on 3 power play goals.   As well the Monster stepped in late in the third to make some game saving saves with Giguere leaving with minutes to go.  Let's hope the Leafs can provide some more efforts like this and get back in the hunt for a play-off spot.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kadri to the Rescue?

     Leaf fans are going to get another look at their future soon, maybe even tonight.  Nazim Kadri  just got the call he's been waiting for his entire career.  Let's hope he's ready!
     With only one win in their last eleven games the Leafs have erased any of the optimism they created with their great start.  I suspect no realistic fan really thought they were as good as they showed in their first four games, but we didn't think they were as bad as they were last year either.  With a loss tonight they will be worse! 
     In three of the Leafs last eleven games they've been shut-out 3 times,  and been held to 1 goal three times.  Phil Kessel, by far the best offensive player on the team, has not recorded a point in his last seven games.  Given the fact he's slumped like this before, I can only wonder if he's the type of player we should be counting on to make this team a consistent winner.  Tyler Bozak, Kessel's preferred center is pointless in his last three games as well.  In Bozak's defense, I think it's very unfair to expect much more than what we've seen from this undrafted, U.S. Collegiate free agent, with less than a full year in the NHL. 
     Suffice it to say, this team is very weak upfront.  We were told early on by management not to worry as we would see more scoring from the back end.  That hasn't happened yet either.  With Phaneuf injured and not scoring when he was healthy, and little coming from anyone else on defense, I wonder if that was more talk to ease restless fans, rather than a realistic expectation.  So, where does this leave Nazim Kadri?  
     I can't help but wonder why Kadri has been called to the big club.  On the surface it's obvious.  The club stinks offensively and is in desperate need of a shake-up.  My problem with this is only a few days ago Brian Burke was telling Leaf Nation he wasn't planning on calling on Kadri yet.  At the end of training camp Burke and Wilson both stated Kadri was not ready physically or mentally.  He's had 14 games in the AHL to improve his game.  I hope he has.  Burke says he has, but only days ago wasn't considering calling him up.   My fear is this is just another of Burke's impatient quick fixes.  I hope I'm wrong. 
     So, what should Leaf fans expect from Kadri?   He's been a point a game player for the Marlies this year.  We're told he's a better two way player and strong on the power play.  Again, on the surface this sounds exactly like the player we need right now.  Below the surface I think fans need to remember he's still a very raw prospect, being called upon the help a very weak offensive team.  This team has been embarrassing offensively and for good reason.  They're players aren't very good.  With the exception of Kessel, no one else is a legitimate scoring threat.  Kulemin and Versteeg will get their share of points and MacArthur will do fine.  After that the cupboard is bare.  Even if Kadri can make an impact, it still may not be enough.  So, here's to hoping Kadri will make an impact and give the rest of the team the wake-up call it desperately needs.  He's got the confidence, temperament and skill to be a very good player down the road.  Of this I have no doubt.  He's no savior however and nor should he be expected to be. 


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kaberle's still a Leaf. Go Figure!

     Well, the last window of opportunity to deal The Toronto Maple Leaf's most tradeable asset has closed and Tomas Kaberle wasn't moved, again!  Don't get me wrong.  I'm a big fan of Tomas, but after 3 years of hearing boasts of Kaberle netting us high draft picks and scoring top six forwards, I'm a little disappointed to say the least.
      When the Kaberle trade talks began, he had three years left on a quite affordable contract.  Combine this with his unique skating ability and a great first pass. and you had a very marketable asset.  When Brian Burke took over two years ago he immediately targeted the defenseman as a player to be traded for some key pieces to the Toronto Maple Leaf puzzle.  His asking price was a big, young, forward who could score, and a high draft pick.  At the time it sounded very reasonable. 
      So why is Tomas Kaberle still a Leaf.  Part of the answer is Kaberle's no trade clause.  The Leafs have a small window every off season in which they can trade him without restriction.  The window opens after the entry draft and closes in the middle of August.  The other proviso is the no-trade clause lifts only if the team fails to make the play-offs.  Being that the team hasn't played post season since the lockout and never during Burke's tenure, they've had ample opportunity to trade him. 
     Since the day Burke took over, he's been touting the teams wealth of defenseman.  He claims they'll be instrumental in bringing talented forwards in trades.  So far Leafs fans have seen no sign of this.  A Kaberle trade was his chance for redemption.  So why no trade?  Is it as simple as Burke's giant ego getting in the way?  Maybe, maybe not.  I can't help but wonder how things may have changed if Burke hadn't set Kaberle price openly in the media.  I wonder still at how Burke arrived at the price he did for Kaberle.  The market proved he wasn't worth the price last summer when he wasn't traded back then.  This summer ten teams were in negotiation for him.  Still not one of them came close to Burke's asking price.  I think leaf fans and Brian Burke need to ask themselves.  Was every NHL GM wrong in their evaluation of Tomas Kaberle, or was Burke's bullheadedness getting in the way.    I think the answer is obvious.
     The bottom line is Brian squandered another golden opportunity to improve The Toronto Maple Leafs.  The team does have a wealth of quality defensman.  What they desperately need is talent upfront and draft picks.  Tomas Kaberle has been a loyal, honest and hard working player his entire career with The Leafs.  His name has been dragged though the media for three complete season now.  We are now in a position where we may lose him for nothing as a free agent.  At best he may still be traded, but his value diminishes the longer it goes.  It's not fair to him, his teammates, or the fans. The bottom line is, Brian Burke should have admitted he was wrong in setting Kaberle's worth.  He should have taken the best deal on the table and made the trade, period.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Leafs Brian Burke is Dealing with the Biggest Loss Of His Life!

     On a night when the Toronto Maple Leafs had one of their best wins of the season, they were actually dealing with their biggest loss.  As we all know by now, Brendan Burke, the 21 year old son of Brian Burke was killed in a traffic accident on Friday.  Reports say the accident was caused by snowy road conditions in Indiana.  A passenger, 18 year Mark Reedy, also lost his life in the tragedy.
     As a husband and father of two wonderful children I can't describe the torment the Burke family is trying to endure.  I can say, as a parent, losing a child is my greatest fear.  Nothing could hurt more than the news the Burke family received on Friday.  As such, I would like to add my thoughts and prayers, to the growing list of people, not just fans, offering their condolences.
     As trivial a hockey game is, at a time like this, I should say I was proud of my Toronto Maple Leafs last night.  The games still must be played and somehow Leafs players and management must find a way to go about their lives and jobs with some perspective.  Last night the players did just that.   In a 5-0 win against the other Ontario team, Leaf players paid tribute to their boss by playing with their hearts.  Phil Kessel, Luke Schenn, and J.S. Giguere are all players Brian Burke has shown rock solid support for in more ways than one.  Even Giguere, a Leaf for only three games, has reason to be grateful for Burke's loyalty and support.  Fittingly it was these three players who lead the charge in showing their support for the Burke.  Kessel and Schenn both had two goals and Giguere responded with his second shut-out in as many games.  Giguere probably put it best after the game when he said,
"I think our goal here is to make sure that Burkie and his family don't have to worry about us."
     Hopefully for all concerned, the Leafs can continue like this.  With the state of the media hounded franchise, and the upcoming Olympics, Burke and his family have a huge burden to deal with over the coming weeks.  Time is the only cure for what ails the Burke family presently.  Let's hope they're be left to deal with their grief without the interruption of non-important matters.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kessel Needs to be Better!

     With just one goal in his last twelve games Phil Kessel is causing Leafs fans to wonder if he's the player Brian Burke thought he was getting when he traded for him in September.  Obviously Kessel is a highly gifted player and already the most talented player on this team.  The question is, does he have ALL the tools needed to help guide the Leafs to the promised land. 
     Phil Kessel's recent mediocre play is not the reason for the Leafs latest lack of success, but it is a contributor.  December was a very important month for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  It was an opportunity to reach a number of key milestones and position the team for a genuine run for the post season.  With teams like the Flyers, Canadiens, Islanders and Thrashers plummeting in the standings, last month was a golden opportunity to move up and gain some ground on the rest of the Eastern Conference bottom dwellers.  Unfortunately the Leafs and Kessel failed to take advantage.
     The Leafs came out of the blocks like gangbusters in December.  They began the month going 6 - 3  with 5 of those wins coming against Eastern Conference rivals.  Phil Kessel was on a 3 game goal streak with 5 goals and 5 assists in those 9 games.  With Kessel scoring at more than a point a game they were making a charge and moving back towards respectability.  They even looked like they may finish the month at 500%.

     Since that charge, the Leafs and Kessel have been far from respectable.  They went 2 - 5 in the last seven games of 2009 and began the new year with only 1 win in their first 5.  During this period Kessel has managed just 1 goal and 1 assist.  His point production is worst among all noteworthy Leaf forwards and is even taking a backseat to 3 defenseman.  Even Luke Schenn has been more prolific during this span.
     Nobody is expecting Phil Kessel to carry this team single-handedly.  He also gets a pass for having to play with such a talent starved group of forwards.  Combine this last point with fact that opponents have figured out that if you shut-down Kessel, you shut-down the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Having said this, stars in the NHL are supposed to be able to overcome such things and find ways to succeed.  Not only has he failed at this he's become all but invisible.  If Toronto is going to salvage this season at all, this just cannot happen.
     It's still much too early to judge whether Brain Burke gave up too much for Kessel.  Carolina is trying their best (or worst) to land the number one pick in next years draft so leafs fans may not have to endure the agony of watching Boston use our selection to take Taylor Hall.  With every loss however, it does seem certain Burke did trade a lottery pick.  Too make matters worse, none of the players Burke aquired last season with the exception of junior prospect Nazeem Kadri are making much impact at any level.
     All this boils down to one important fact.  The team we have this year is probably going to look very much like the team we have next year.  Granted Burke will have some money to play with in the off-season and many of our current players may not be back, but with teams holding on to their young core players more than ever, good, young, free agents may be hard to land.
     Kessel is not big, he's not truculent, and he's not a fighter.  He's a fast, flashy forward, who can beat defenseman and goalies from almost anywhere.  He's been this for most of the season, hopefully he will wake up and bee that player again.  If not, this already disastrous season will only bet worse.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Can New Year Bring New Hope for Leafs?

     The first half of the 2009-2010 season is over, and for the Toronto Maple Leafs it may be a relief.  The first half hasn’t been kind to this franchise, at least as far as wins and losses are concerned.  With only 37 points, this season has provided fans with more up and downs than Tiger Woods'  zipper.  Hopefully 2010 will be kinder.
      The New Year is all about fresh starts.  Tonight can give the Toronto Maple Leafs just that.  They can put aside the terrible start and finally show fans exactly what kind of team we have.  Realizing their identity will be the key.  This past off-season, Brian Burke told us we will have a truculent, tough, hard nosed team with a strong commitment to defense.  He said teams would fear coming to play in our house.  Burke told fans this new gritty team would enhance the skill of our existing forwards, enabling them to play their game without having to constantly look over their shoulders.  If only this had come to pass.
      After 41 games the Leafs still sit second last in the conference and third last in the entire league.  They have a losing record at home, have allowed the second most goals,  are 12th in scoring, even with Phil Kessel, and 14th in penalty minutes.  The Leafs have the worst penalty kill and their once potent power play has dropped to 14th in the league.  These stats don't exactly reflect the type of team Burkie promised us, far from it actually.  With only 7 homes wins, only Florida and St. Louis have won fewer in their own house.  Teams will fear playing in Toronto, they may actually look forward to it. As far as skilled players not having to look over their shoulders, ask Kessel, Stajan, and Stalberg how they feel about that.
      There are some bright spots however.  Phil Kessel hasn't been wearing out the goal light recently, but he has brought fans out of their seats like no one since Matts Sundin. Niklas Hagman has had his share of highlights and Nikolai Kulemin is even showing some star potential.  Unfortunately team defense and goaltending continue to struggle.  Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this team so far is the coaching staff.  Ron Wilson and company have proven they can get this team to play well, and even win on occasion.  Their biggest challenging is convincing the players of this.
      The Toronto Maple Leafs true identity lies in their ability to realize their true skill level.   This team has two gifted scorers (Kessel and Hagman), one true offensive defenseman (Kaberle) with another emerging (Ian White), a good not great goalie (Gustavsson obviously), and a very tough enforcer who can actually put time in on the third and fourth lines.  After that we're looking at a bunch of very hard working, very fast, mix of veterans and young players.  It's here where they should be looking for their identity.
     Speed and work ethic should define this team, leave the fancy play and nifty stretch passes to the elite teams for now.  When this team wins they do so by out skating their opponents and wearing them down with relentless forchecking.  They put lots of pucks on net and lots of players in front.  They move the puck with quick short passes and the defense uses it's size to keep the middle of the ice clear in their own end.  In short they play a basic, simple style that matches perfectly to their skill level. 
     If 2010 is going to bring any success to the Toronto Maple Leafs, they'll have to put aside the rally caps and rely more on their listening ears.  They must force opponents to play their game.  They do have an identity.  It's a tough, fast hard working group, with lots of heart and a enough skill to keep fans cheering.  Once players truly believe this they will become the TEAM Brian Burke blustered about last summer.