Friday, July 31, 2009

The Beatles will reunite before Jim Balsillie is an NHL owner

I’m beginning to believe that Jim Balsillie is at the end of the road in his quest for an NHL team whether he is willing to accept it or not. He met with the NHL Executive Committee this week to respond to his bid for the Coyotes and the Committee members were lining up to take shots at him. They voted unanimously to reject his offer which says it all. He hasn’t a single ally among NHL owners.

This is not surprising considering his history with the league. Although he has the resources to purchase a team, they feel his personality and character are not appropriate for the NHL. That’s quite a condemnation considering some owners and former owners are in jail. The owners feel that his actions show a total disregard for league rules and have in fact damaged the league. It has been reported that his response in the interview was he would challenge the league’s assertions.

  • Balsillie first annoyed the NHL by walking away from his bid to purchase the Penguins. Instead of working with the league to close the deal he balked at their conditions and walked. He didn’t disguise the fact that his motive was to move the team and not try to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
  • He has since repeatedly suggested that he was accepted as an owner back then although he chose not to buy the Penguins. This has only created more animosity.
  • The league was furious when Balsillie began marketing Predators tickets in Hamilton before he bought the team. Former owner Nashville Craig Leipold went after Balsillie this week for using his Predator trademark without permission and destabilizing the Nashville market.
  • Montreal owner George Gillett is mad at him because he leaked the fact that the Canadiens were for sale. Following the news the team began to struggle. Gillett believes that the team was distracted by the news. Gillett is not a Gary Bettman surrogate. His hostility is genuine.
  • Of course the owners of the Leafs and Sabres are upset because he wants to move a team into their territory without any offer of compensation.
  • Every owner is angry that he has dragged the league into bankruptcy court over the Coyotes. He has embarrassed the league.

Balsillie’s problem is that his approach that has been so successful in the business world does not work in sports. Hostile takeovers, lawsuits and intimidation can get you far in the corporate world but leave you out in the cold when it comes to professional sports which operate on a separate set of rules and protocols. He either has refused to accept the reality or just doesn’t get it. He has taken his crusade to the Canadian public to get their support but we aren’t the decision makers here. We have no influence over the NHL Governors. Instead of battling the league over the past 5 years he should have been nurturing allies. But Jim isn’t the nurturing type.

There may be a second team in the GTA one day but it won’t be owned by the blackberry guy.

Must have been Family Day at the Angels game

Rare footage of me as a child

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who will wear the "Larry Murphy goat horns" this season?

Most seasons Leaf fans find a player on the roster to unload their frustrations. They booed Larry Murphy, Jonas Hogland, Trevor Kidd, Aki Berg, Bryan McCabe and others. Last season the “goat horns” were worn by Vesa Toskala who lost to confidence of coaching staff and fans. Coach Wilson keeps his players on a short leash so bad or indifferent play leads to diminished ice time. Still fans like to have their scapegoat so who will the target for abuse this season? There are some potential candidates.

Jeff Finger – Players with bloated contracts are always at risk and when Finger signed his 4-year, $14 million contract last summer it was assumed that he would not live up to high expectations. He turned out to be a steady, stay-at-home defenseman when he wasn’t hurt. With the depth on defense, Finger is unlikely to get the type of ice time that might make him prone to error and fan abuse.

Jason Blake – Two seasons ago he was certainly close to being on the top of the fans’ hate list if not for the error-prone Bryan McCabe. His health was a factor and bounced back to lead the Leafs in scoring last season. But with his large contract he is always at risk if his production should fall off.

Alexei Ponikarovsky – Ponikarovsky has never lived up to expectations. He has speed, and size but has never used either to his advantage. He had his best year last season and was second in the team in goals scored and points scored. If his production tails off the fans will become restless.

Matt Stajan – Stajan joins a group of Leafs that had their best season last year. Mostly because the team lacked depth at the forward position so veterans like Stajan, Moore and Ponikarovsky benefited by getting more ice time. Each season Stajan tends to disappear for a stretch of games. Fans may eventually get fed up with his disappearing act and react with malice.

Lee Stempniak – Stempniak has been the invisible man since the trade with St. Louis. Fortunately the Leafs did not give up anyone that fans cared for that much so has been spared for now. But how long can you get away with doing nothing much on the ice before boo birds start to gather like vultures.

Vesa Toskala – If Toskala does not bounce back from last season, fans will quickly yelling for Coach Wilson to show him the hook and throw Gustavsson in net.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sporting News does not think the Leafs are good enough to make the playoffs

The Sporting News has ranked the non-playoff teams from last season in order of which teams might make it this year. Our Maple Leafs - rated as doubtful. Here is the list:

1. Minnesota Wild: Last season: 40-33-9 (89 points). Key addition: Martin Havlat. Playoff prospects: Solid. The Wild nearly made it last season without Marian Gaborik, thanks to a great year from goalie Niklas Backstrom. An infusion of energy and offense from new coach Todd Richards should boost this franchise. Look for Brent Burns to have a big season playing for Richards.

2. Dallas Stars: Last season: 36-35-11 (83 points). Key additions: None. Playoff prospects: Good. Goalie Marty Turco will have a better season, which immediately lifts the Stars. But instability in ownership is never good and it appears the Stars are on more of a budget than they have been in the past. Getting and keeping Brenden Morrow healthy is absolutely crucial to this team.

3. Buffalo Sabres: Last season: 41-32-9 (91 points). Key additions: None. Playoff prospects: Promising. While we didn't like Buffalo's quiet offseason, there's still enough homegrown talent with the Sabres to make a playoff push. A healthy goalie Ryan Miller is a difference-maker for the Sabres.

4. Florida Panthers: Last season: 41-30-11 (93 points). Key additions: Jordan Leopold, Scott Clemmensen. Playoff prospects: Decent. The key will be replacing departed defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, which won't be easy. The goaltending duo of Clemmensen and Tomas Vokoun is the best in the Southeast Division, and coach Peter DeBoer has proven to be a great hire.

5. Nashville Predators: Last season: 40-34-8 (88 points). Key additions: None. Playoff prospects: Declining. Nobody is going to expect Nashville to contend, but there is so much homegrown talent. David Poile and Barry Trotz know how to run an organization, and Pekka Rinne was a find in goal last season. So it's never smart to bet against the Predators. A tight budget along with an impossible schedule work against Nashville.

6. Ottawa Senators: Last season: 36-35-11 (83 points). Key addition: Alex Kovalev. Playoff prospects: Murky. Until the Dany Heatley situation is settled, it's hard to predict how Ottawa will fare. But a healthy Pascal Leclaire is an upgrade in goal and this team played well for Cory Clouston down the stretch last season.

7. Edmonton Oilers: Last season: 38-35-9 (85 points). Key additions: Nikolai Khabibulin. Playoff prospects: Average. Even with the addition of Khabibulin, there hasn't been enough improvement for the Oilers to make a significant jump in the competitive Western Conference. The wild card is new coach Pat Quinn. If he can light a fire under this roster, we could see internal growth from some of the young players.

8. Atlanta Thrashers: Last season: 35-41-6 (76 points). Key additions: Pavel Kubina, Nik Antropov, Evander Kane. Playoff prospects: Better than you think. John Anderson had the Thrashers playing well down the stretch last season, and the defense is shaping up to be offensively gifted, led by Kubina, Toby Enstrom, Ron Hainsey and Zach Bogosian. If Ilya Kovalchuk signs a contract extension, it's an indication he believes the team is headed in the right direction. If he doesn't, it could become a distraction.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs: Last season: 34-35-13 (81 points). Key additions: Mike Komisarek, Wayne Primeau, Francois Beauchemin. Playoff prospects: Doubtful. Brian Burke deserves credit for adding a lot of grit to a roster that had little, but there's still not enough scoring. Toronto is on the right track but probably a year away.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning: Last season: 24-40-18 (66 points). Key additions: Mattias Ohlund, Antero Niittymaki, Victor Hedman. Playoff prospects: Not yet. There's actually a lot to like in Tampa. Hedman and Ohlund immediately address the glaring weakness on defense. GM Brian Lawton has done a commendable job fixing mistakes made by an overeager ownership last year. But to expect the Lightning to jump from 66 points to the playoffs is asking too much.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Brian Burke trades Stralman

Brian Burke got back into the job this week by trading minor league players Colin Stuart and Anton Stralman, and 2012 7th round pick to Calgary for Wayne Primeau and 2011 2nd round pick.

So whats this deal all about? Well it's not really Stralman for Primeau. It's more like Stralman for a 2nd round pick. Stralman was having difficulty earning a spot on the Leafs and that was before they upgraded their defence. It was obvious the Stralman was no better than 9th or 10th on their depth chart. However, the Leafs can only carry about 7 defensemen and Stralman can no longer be sent down to the Marlies without clearing waivers. It was becoming clear that the Leafs would be losing Stralman this fall so why not pick up a 2nd round pick?

So who is next? Well it doesn't look like Tomas Kaberle. Serious suitors have not come forward and the window for trading him without Kaberle waiving his no trade contract closes in less that 3 weeks. The Bruins were considering moving Kessell because of cap problems but those problems have been resolved. Van Ryn will not be going because you can't move a $2.9 million players that spends most seasons injured. Finger is also too expensive to trade. Komisarik and Beauchimin just got here. Same with Exelby although there were rumours this past month about moving him ofr Patrick Sharpe. Luke Schenn is an untouchable for the moment. That leaves Jonas Frogren and Ian White. Frogren can still be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. That leaves Ian White. Although he is a versatile and inexpensive player, for those reasons he is also very tradeable. He is also small player, not really a Burke-type.

Ian White is only one of ten players still remaining from the Ferguson era which ended just 17 months ago. Matt Stajan, Vesa Toskala, Tomas Kaberle, Jason Blake, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nikolai Kulemin, John Mitchell, Jiri Tlusty, and Justin Pogge are the others. I don't see Stajan, Ponikarovsky and Pogge sticking around much longer. As for Tomas Kaberle, he is the sole survivor from the infamous "Muskoka Five".

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dwayne Wise's catch to save Mark Buehrle's perfect game

This is why you send in defensive specialists late in a game.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Should the Maple Leafs change their logo?

Jeff Veillette feels that while the other 'Original Six' teams have maintained tradition and made minor changes to their look over the years, the Leafs altered things by changing to their current look and the only way to return to the glory days is with a new logo. He operates an website dedicated to this issue:

Changes to a team's uniform take a year's notice, so Veilette's aim is the 2010-11 season; one that he hopes, if Toronto General Manager Brian Burke's overhaul stays the course, would coincide with a year of actual competitive hockey for the team. He feels that the Ballard era has to come to an end, and this is the final major step.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moore brothers can't get a break

Last week the Toronto Sun had an excellent article on Dominic Moore and his brothers Steve and Mark. Several years ago they were three brothers from Thornhill living the dream by becoming professional hockey players. Except things haven't worked out so well for them.

As most hockey fans know, Steve's career was ended by one of the most infamous hits in hockey history delivered by Todd Bertuzzi. His future is up in the air as his law suit works its way through the system. Then, there is Mark. While his brother's career ended in front of thousands of eyes in an NHL rink, and millions more on television, he lost his dream in a cold, empty arena in Wheeling, Virginia, when a teammate's helmet clipped him in the chin during practice. He suffered a concussion and six years later is waiting for the symptoms to go away. Finally there is Dominic who is the only one still able to play hockey. Last year he experienced his best season as a professional hockey player but sits at home, a free agent, waiting for a call. As a potential fourth liner he will hopefully be competing for a job somewhere but he will likely be measured up against a young player at half his salary.

The brothers all went to Harvard and were quite the legend there. They actually all played together on the same team one year. No doubt those were the happier years in th Moore household.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Montreal Canadiens undergo an extreme makeover

With all the talk locally about how Brian Burke has been rebuilding the Maple Leaf lineup, what has only received passing notice has been the makeover in Montreal. The Canadiens had about 15 unrestricted free agents and didn’t sign a single one including some top six forwards and top four defensemen. It appears that anyone Bob Gainey was able to get rid of, he did.

But did the Canadiens need to be overhauled? The changes reflect the problems in the Canadiens dressing room that were spilling over onto the ice. Twelve months ago the Canadiens were the Eastern Conference regular season champions with one of the scariest offenses in the league. But that all unravelled this past season. The team was described as playing with indifference, lack of work ethic, and sense of entitlement – sounds a lot like the old Maple Leafs. Now I expected Montreal to slide back in the standings after making big gains in 2007-08. But was last season just a bump in road to being a Cup contender or a flame out like the Ottawa Senators? Gainey’s actions clearly indicate he was betting on the latter.

Certainly much of the leadership of this team is gone with the captain and alternates moving on to other teams. But my sense is the problems weren’t necessarily coming from the veterans but the younger players. There have been numerous rumours about the off-ice antics of Carey Price and the Kostitsyn brothers, yet they are still with the team. Team culture will definitely change but is this team better? There has been a recent history of players leaving for free agency and flourishing elsewhere (Mark Streit, Mark Ryder). Will history repeat itself? Do the assets coming in equal those going out the door? And how long will it take for all these new players to gel into a cohesive unit? ESPN is already picking Montreal to finish out of the playoff but then 12 months ago they predicted Barry Melrose would be coach of the year and he only lasted 16 games.

Certainly Montreal will be a team that everyone will be watching.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bowmans take control of the Blackhawks

I’m not sure how to describe the sacking of Dale Tallon – hostile takeover, coup d’etat? It caught some people by surprise but others have been expecting it for some time. Tallon recently messed up qualifying offers for about 6 young players that cost the team extra cap space (that the team could ill afford) in order to make a union grievance go away. That was given as the reason for his dismissal but there is some history here that can’t be ignored.

The Chicago Blackhawks were a dysfunctional hockey team for many years under the ownership of Bill Wirtz. He was a stubborn, interfering, cheap owner much like Toronto’s Harold Ballard. Not surprising, the Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup drought is even longer than the Leafs’. For years Wirtz had Bob Pulford around to carry out his dirty work. Pulford was a loyal soldier who tried to do the right thing but never was allowed to. Fan favourites were traded away (Belfour, Chelios, Roenick) because of salary demands. One thing that Pulford got right was promoting Dale Tallon as GM in 2005 after serving as his assistant. Tallon did a masterful job at rebuilding the franchise. He made some excellent trades (Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp) and drafted some excellent young talent (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane). He made some bad moves (what GM doesn’t) such as overpaying for Cristobal Huet and Brian Campbell last summer but it was Tallon that built Chicago into a Cup contender.

In 2007, Bill Wirtz passed away and his son, Rocky, took over. Rocky was well aware of his father’s shortcomings and was determined not repeat his mistakes. Pulford was too closely connected with his father’s tenure and removed from the Blackhawk side of the business. John McDonough was hired away from the Chicago Cubs to run the Hawks but he had no hockey experience. Scotty Bowman, whose son, Stan, was already working in the Blackhawk organization, was approached last summer and agreed to serve as a senior advisor. However, what was most appealing for Scotty was the opportunity to help his son’s career. The takeover began almost immediately. Holdover coach, Denis Savard was fired six games into the season although you can’t criticize the job Joel Quenneville has done since he got the Blackhawks into the Western Conference finals.

It was only a matter of time for Tallon to go as well because he was not a McDonaugh “guy” and too closely tied to the previous regime. As recently as April 30, 2009 in an interview with ESPN, McDonough was raving about then-GM Dale Tallon.

"Dale has such an easy, relaxed style that he sometimes flies under the radar, but he's the architect of this team ... As much as we talk about the resurgence and renaissance of the Chicago Blackhawks and how the fan base has come back and the games are on television, it has to be the product on the ice.”

Interestingly, it appears that Stan Bowman’s role up to now has been to manage the team’s payroll under the salary cap. However, that has been one of the Blackhawks’ problem to date and should get worse next season. Although Scotty Bowman has no peers in the coaching fraternity, his record as a manager has been spotty. But this is Scotty Bowman’s show now. I’m sure he will figure it all out.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rumours of a trade between the Leafs and Blackhawks

Rumours of a trade persist in the Chicago media involving the Maple Leafs. It seems the Blackhawks are one of the teams bumping up against the salary cap despite the fact that their star players are still young. In fact, they need to unload at the very least a $3 to $4 million player to give themselves a little wiggle room. Rumour has it that the player on the trading block is Patrick Sharp. Sharp's cap hit for this season will be about $3.8 million.

The team has recently signed UFAs Marion Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, and John Madden, while Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg saw a salary increase as a result of the RFA qualifying offer screw up. David Bolland and the other RFAs were all resigned, and the team is still paying out huge contracts to Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet. They are currently $4.5 million over the $56.8 million salary cap, and they have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd, and Duncan Keith coming up for RFA status after this season. So not only do they need to unload salary this season but next season as well.

It is suggested that the Leafs would be an excellent trading partner because they have a fair amount of cap space remaining. As well, Sharp scored 26 goals last season which is more than any other Leaf. More important, he is an excellent penalty killer. The Leafs were near bottom of the league in penalty killing last season and that was before they bulked up.

So what would the Leafs have to give up to get Sharp? Well it won't be Kaberle because he makes more money than Sharp. But the Blackhawks are interested in defense. The name being bounced around is Garnet Exelby. He is big and tough and only makes $1.4 million. That swap would nip almost $2.5 million off the Blackhawk payroll. Some might say wll Sharp for Exelby isn't exactly fair but Chicago has few options since few teams have cap flexibility. There may be more involved in this potential deal or maybe not. When it comes to dumping salary, strange things can happen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Highest NHL Salaries

The following are the 10 top paid NHL players for the 2009-10 season. The cap hit is indicated in brackets as well as those who were in the top last season. Those dropping out of the top 10 are: Timmo Timonem, Tomas Vanek, Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist. Whats most interesting about the list is the number of bad contracts. Glen Sather and Brian Murray handed out half of these contracts and crippled their teams.

1. Vincent Lecavalier $10.0 ($7.727)
2. Daniel Alfredsson $9.1 ($5.4)
3. Sidney Crosby $9.0 ($8.7) - ranked 2nd in 08/09
_ Evgeni Malkin $9.0 ($8.7)
_ Alex Ovechkin $9.0 ($9.538) - ranked 2nd in 08/09
6. Chris Drury $8.05 ($7.05)
7. Daniel Briere $8.0 ($6.5) - ranked 2nd in 08/09
_ Scott Gomez $8.0 ($7.357) - ranked 4th in 08/09
_ Dany Heatley $8.0 ($7.5) - ranked 1st in 08/09
_ Wade Redden $8.0 ($6.5)
_ Jason Spezza $8.0 ($7.0) - ranked 4th in 08/09

Sunday, July 12, 2009

There is a goalie glut in the NHL

An interesting development is occurring this summer in the NHL. There are a number of veteran players who are still anxiously waiting for an offer but this has become most pronounced for a glut of veteran goalies. The only team that were looking for a starting goalie was Philadelphia and Colorado. The Flyers took a chance by signing Ray Emery. Colorado is going with ex-Panther backup Craig Anderson. A number of backup goalies bounced around. Clemmensen moved from the Devils to the Lightning; Conklin bounced from the Wings to the Blues; Auld from the Senators to the Stars; and Raycroft landed in Vancouver after a year in Colorado. Seven teams plan to go with rookie backup goalies.

That leaves a number of veteran goalies sitting and waiting including Martin Biron, Manny Fernandez, Manny Legace, Martin Gerber, Brent Johnson, Joey MacDonald, Curtis Sanford, Wade Dubielewicz and Kevin Weekes. Only Calgary has yet to decide who will backup Kiprusoff so if one of these guys is willing to work for close to the minimum they may still have a job in the NHL. The only other scenario is for them to stay in shape and hope that one of the rookies falters and their team decides on plan B. Here is the list of goalies anticipated to start the season:











Rask (R)
















S. Mason







Howard (R)







Los Angeles


Bernier (R)










New Jersey


Frazee (R)

NY Islanders



NY Rangers














Curry (R)

San Jose


Greiss (R)

St. Louis

C. Mason


Tampa Bay





Gustavsson (R)







Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where's Mats?

It was just one year ago when the hockey media (dominated by the Toronto horde) hung on to every word coming out of either Mats Sudin or his agent, J.P. Barry's mouth about the star center's future. It began when Montreal received rights to negotiate with Mats prior to becoming a free agent and carried past several deadlines when Sundin was supposed to make his final decision. They all turned to be "soft deadlines" and no decision was made of course. Then in late September there was the Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos interview with Mats at his cottage in Sweden. That was about as interesting as curdled milk. It wasn't until mid-December when Sundin finally decided to sign with Vancouver. His impact was nil.

Today, Sundin sits in the same position he did a year ago: a man without a team still deciding on his future. Mats has said he will make his decision at the end of July but no one believes him or cares. Though he is getting married this summer. The big difference from a year ago? The lack of media coverage. Maybe writers and talk radio hosts learned their lesson last summer when trying to speculate and press Sundin to make a decision? Maybe, unlike a year ago, they're strongly leaning towards the fact that Mats will retire into the sunset?

And maybe they just don't care anymore?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

ESPN's Fan Satisfaction Ratings

ESPN has once again published their fan satisfaction ratings and the Maple Leafs have moved up only marginally. They were rated 120th out of 122 pro sports teams. In 2008 they were rated 121st and in 2007 they were rated 99th. Only the awful New York Knicks and LA Clippers rated lower. The bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes were rated 88th.

It's hard to argue with the rating based on the criteria. This is how the Leafs broke down:

Bang for the Buck (wins over the past three years per revenues directly from fans) 120th
Fan Relations (ease of access to players, coaches & management) 112th
Ownership (loyalty to players and city) 99th
Affordability (price of tickets, parking and concessions) 122nd
Stadium Experience (friendliness of environment; quality of game-day promotions) 101th
Players (effort on the field; likability off it) 108th
Coach/Manager (strong on-field leadership) 58th
Title Track (titles already won or expected -- soon) 113th

As for other Toronto teams:

Raptors 105th (44th last year)
Blue Jays 34th (67th last year)

To be fair the Maple Leaf owners have finally taking steps to fix the team's problems which is reflected in the improved Coach/Manager rating. However, Brian Burke was just starting on the job of cleaning up this mess when the rating was being compiled. However, I don't see the organization doing anything about affordability or fan relations. This team has a long way to go.

The Monster has landed in Toronto

The Maple Leaf makeover continued today with the signing of Swedish free agent goalie Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson. The signing makes sense for both sides. At 24, Gustavsson would like to jump into the NHL as quickly as possible and considering the Leaf’s depth in net, the opportunity is there. This is a low risk signing for the Leafs at one year and $900,000. If he bombs the Leafs can walk away at the end of the season. He will start the season as a backup to Toskala but depending on how the two goalies play, their roles could reverse as the season progresses.

Clearly, Burke’s focus has to shore up the Leafs play in their own end and the flurry of signings and trades this past week will put a substantial dent into their goals against next season. With $25 million locked up in 10 defensemen with NHL experience, you can count on more changes coming. Right now the blueline stacks up as follows:

Mike Komisarik (27) - $4.5 milliion

Tomas Karberle (31) - $4.25 million

Francois Bouchemin (29) $3.8 million

Luke Schenn (19) - $2.975 million

Ian White (25) - $0.85 million

Garnet Exelby (27) - $1.4 million

Mike van Ryn (30) - $2.9 million

Jeff Finger (29) - $3.5 million

Anton Stralman (22) - $0.6 million

Jonas Frogren (28) - $1.1 million

The Kaberle trade rumours are largely dead now. The offers haven’t been there and he is too important to the Leafs’ offensive at this moment in time. So Komrisarik and Karberle will likely make up the Leafs’ top defensive pair. The second unit will be Bouchemin and Schenn. However, I can’t see van Ryn and Finger playing on the third unit. You don’t pay $6.4 million to two defensemen who will only get 10-12 minutes of ice time. They are getting traded. White and Exelby are much cheaper. Van Ryn will be easier to trade because he is on the final year of his contract. And if Scott Gomez’ contract can be moved then you can trade Finger. That leaves Frogren as the seventh defenseman and Stralman can still be returned to the Marlies.

With size of this defensive core, it should be fun watching the small Hab forwards bouncing off the Leaf defenders.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Maple Leaf draft picks

I'm a little slow on a review of the Maple Leaf draft picks on June 26-27. Several scouts have commented that the "Burkenized" Leafs did a great job. I did a little research and here is what I have come up with.

Nazem Kadri -7th pick

This would be the only non-physical, skill player selected by the Leafs. Kadri plays for the London Knights. He finished with 1 point less than Matt Duchene in the regular season for the OHL London Knights, scoring 25 goals and registering 53 assists for 78 points. He would have been the team’s leading scorer if not for a midseason trade that brought in John Tavares. At 6′ and 177 lbs he will need to fill out and is likely 2 or 3 years away from the NHL. He should turn out to be a decent offensive forward, as his competitive drive is very high which is likely what attracted him to Brian Burke. He has the potential to be a second line centre.

Kenny Ryan - 5oth pick

Ryan is considered a strong skater who is hard to knock off the puck. He is considered defensively responsible, strong in the corners, and his offensive outlook pegs him more as a shooter than a playmaker. The Leafs must have liked the rugged aspect to his game because there is nothing fancy about his game. Ryan is 6′0″, 204 lb and was drafted by the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. He has elected to go the NCAA route which likely means he’s probably about 3 years away from signing with the Leafs. He was one of ONLY 7 players at the NHL scouting combine to recieve high grades for both his upper and lower body development. He has the potential to be a second or third line physical winger.

Jesse Blacker - 58th pick

Jesse Blacker is a 6′1″ and 190 lbs defenseman with the Memorial Cup winners, the Windsor Spitfire. He is a physical defenseman but will need to put on a little more weight if he is to continue with that style in the NHL. Not much of an offensive threat at this point in his career. He will need some seasoning before hitting the NHL.

Jamie Devane - 68th pick

Jamie Devane stands at 6′5″ and 210 lbs and plays left wing for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. I don't think this guy was ranked so the Leafs must have turned some heads with this pick in the third round. The NHL employees at the draft didn’t even have a name plate ready for the draft board, so they had to go and quickly make one up. Devane is a huge kid with a nasty attitude and a very good fighter. He had 14 fights last season with 4 more in the playoffs. His fights can be viewed on YouTube. Some might say this is a pretty high selection for a fourth line fighter.

Ed Knodel - 128th pick

Ed Knodel is another giant kid picked by the Leafs. He’s a 6′6″ 216 lb defense man who has been playing with the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers in the US Tier 1 Junior A Hockey League. Scouts didn't start looking at this guy until later in the season. I'm sure his size is a factor although he isn't considered a tough guy. Thinking long term, the Leafs are probably looking at Knodel turning pro in about 3 or 4 years, so he isn’t about to turn up in at the ACC this upcoming season unless he has bought a ticket. Late rounds are always a gamble.

Jerry D'Amigo - 158th pick

In the 7th round, the Leafs drafted another American Jerry D'Amigo. Highly skilled from an offensive perspective, D’Amigo has been criticized by some for lacking in mental focus, and irresponsibility with the puck (meaning he coughs it up too much). He was actually expected to go higher in the draft (Central Scouting had him listed at 67th) so the Leafs appear to have done well with this pick. He made quite an impression with an outstanding World U-18 tournament, where he was Team USA’s best player and leading scorer.

Baron Smith - 188th pick

The Leaf's last pick is another huge bodied (6'4/5". 191 lbs) project defenseman with modest stats. Smith has spent the last 3 years playing on 3 different teams, and amassing a grand total of 7 points over that span. He is the son of former NHLer Steve Smith and is described as a stay-at-home defender with limited mobility and “very limited upside”. Everyone gambles at this stage of the draft and Burke went with size. Even if he never makes the NHL, he might be a useful player in their system.

Back from my vacation

Friday, July 03, 2009

DAY 2: $8 million more to spend

With the signing of Grabowski, Brian Burke has $5 to $8 million remaining to spend on salaries depending on how close he wants to get to the cap. Burke has a history of spending to the cap each season so he is not likely done. A group of ex-Habs are available which might make the Toronto-Montreal rivalry that much more emotional. They are Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev. Some speculate Koivu is off to Minnesota to join his brother. Kovalev will likely land with a team needing some offensive. Los Angeles tried to make a splash in the free agent market but failed to do so. Kovalev may be the best of the rest so perhaps the Kings are interested. Lang and Tanguay are interesting propositions and I wonder if Burke would be interested. My guess is the term of a contract would be the issue here as he is avid to get into the bidding for Rick Nash next summer.

Couldn't help but notice that Nik Antropov snared a $4 million per season contract yesterday. Umm, no comment.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

DAY 1: Leafs got tougher, Canadiens got smaller

Wow, yesterday was no different than the past few July 1st with around $400 million spent. So much about concern that the salary cap falling next season. So far we can see that Brian Burke is living up to his promise to make the Leafs tougher. And he overspent for defensive defenseman Mike Komisarek at $4.5 million per season but there are no bargains in the free agent bin. Throw in Garnet Exelby along with Komisarek and Schenn and you have some big hitters on the blue line. However the defense right now is pretty crowded so there may be more trades coming. The fringe players Stralman and Frogren cannot be moved up and down between the Leafs and Marlies without exposing them on waivers. And let's not forget Burke expects the losers in the Bouwmeester hunt to coming asking about Kaberle.

Michael Komisarek
Tomas Kaberle
Ian White
Garnet Exelby
Luke Schenn
Jeff Finger
Mike Van Ryn
Jonas Frogren
Anton Stralman

However, with the addition of only fighter Colton Orr, Burke has so far failed to land any skill players that the Leafs dearly need up front. They are incredibly thin at centre after trading Moore and Antropov and have only soft and inexperienced players at this position. Their top centre is Grabovski but he is an unsigned restricted free agent. Then there is Stajan who rarely throws a check and Mitchell is best suited on the fourth line but saw first line duty at the end of the season. Here is the complete list of centres.

Mikhail Grabovski
Matt Stajan
Jiri Tlusty
John Mitchell
Tyler Bozak
Christian Hanson

The Leafs strongest position is left wing where they have several 20-goal scorers and the rest with the potential to score 20. Right wing is pretty pathetic which makes you think if some help isn't coming then some left wingers will play their off wing (Blake did last season) or some centres will shift to the right. Still Burke as money to spend and has indicated that he will spend to the cap every season.

Left Wing
Jason Blake
Niklas Hagman
Nikolai Kulemin
Alexi Ponikarovski

Right Wing
Lee Stempniak
Jamal Mayers
Colton Orr

Around the league Montreal has done a total makeover of their lineup. Last season their top line was Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay. This season is appears to be Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez. Who knows how well this combination will work out. They are all small and relied on other star players to improve their performance. But maybe this combination will work.

The Rangers did well by replacing Gomez with Higgins, McDonagh and Gaborik. They were 28th in the league in scoring this past season but the key for them is the health of Gaborik.

Elsewhere Minnesota replaced Gaborik with Havlat and Chicago replaced Havlat with Hossa. This looks like a saw off for these teams but Hossa may be the best of thses players so Chicago did well. Throw in the free agents Madden and Kopecky, both players from winning organizations (Devils and Wings) and the Hawks may be a strong condender next year if they have goaltending. Detroit was unable to hang onto all of their free agents but they have lots of both skill players and grinders in their system waiting to fill those spots.

The best signing so far was Mike Knuble to Washington. They still need to fill a centre spot with the defection of Federov to the KHL but Knuble is a big, tough player that can score. He will fit in well in Washington. He would fit in well on any team.

Tampa Bay signed Ohlund to a massive contract that will help the team on the blueline but what does it do for them financially? They cannot afford their current massive contracts and just added to them. Obviously the only reason Ohlund signed with this dysfunctional contract was the money.