Monday, November 23, 2009

Good soldier or bad teammate?

Tonight Vesa Toskala let in three goals in a span of 3:14. Shortly after a shorthanded shot handcuffed him deep in his net to give the Islanders their three goal lead, Toskala went to the trainer's room and did not return.

After the game, it was revealed that Toskala had tweaked his (chronically injured) groin after the second goal. Knowing this sours the outcome of the game a little bit. Toskala was just trying to be a good soldier, battle on through his injuries to give his team a chance to win. However he let in a decisive goal while doing so.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Earlier this season on Oct 12, down 3-2 to the Rangers in the second period, Jason Blake shoved Chris Drury into Toskala, aggravating his groin. After the intermission, Toskala remained in net and surrendered 2 goals in 3:13 to start the period, going on to lose 7-2. Toskala would not play another game until the 31st, 19 days later, even though he played for over 20 minutes after his injury.

Last season at the trade deadline the Leafs revealed that they had picked up Martin Gerber off of waivers and that Toskala would miss the rest of the season for groin surgery. The impetus for the move had been Burke calling Toskala out on his poor play down the stretch, the Leafs of course having a poor record. Toskala became incensed, citing the injury that he had been playing with for some time even though he and the team had been faring poorly with his efforts.

Goaltending is a crucial position in the NHL, a position which has been consistently weak for the post-lockout Leafs. Obviously there is more wrong with the team than just one player between the pipes. Obviously Toskala, in the face of inconsistent back-up performances, has been trying to help the Leafs by staying in while wounded.

So when does being a good soldier turn into being a bad teammate? When does the altruism of playing through adversity for one's team begin to reek of self-importance? Are Leaf fans supposed to sympathize with Toskala for losing games when he's not at his best? Or should they wonder about what might have been if Toskala was up-front about problems that the team could address.

Maybe it's time for Vesa to understand that the team needs him to be honest with his abilities. Maybe it's time for the Leafs to realize that a goalie that can't last 20 games without getting injured probably shouldn't be counted on as an NHL goaltender, and that they might have a player that cares more about ice time than wins.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is 20 the magic number?

Generally speaking, late November is around the time of the season that moves involving roster players tend to start. A quarter of the way into the season, GMs can feel like they've seen enough of their club to know what's going right or wrong, while still having enough time to turn things around.

Last year the first major player movement of the season for the Leafs came on November 24th, after their 20th game of the season, when Fletcher traded Steen and Colaiacovo for Lee Stempniak. Struggling to find offense in their first half of October, the Leafs had only 7 wins heading into late November, while the Blues were dealing with injuries to key players and badly needed depth.

(Funnily enough, last year's Blues team is an example for why Leafs fans can still have hope about their season, a team with some emerging youngsters, and one that needed time to gel before tearing up the NHL in the second half en route to a playoff spot.)

Game #20 once again approaches, and the Leafs are about to embark on a stretch of games against teams that they should be able to win against (no offense meant to any team that isn't Ottawa). Whether they know it or not, these next two weeks will likely decide roster spots for our forwards, and like last year both the players and fans may be surprised as to who gets the axe.

Whether it's through trades or waivers, it's obvious that our current roster is suffering from an abundance of contracts. We need the flexibility to make call-ups, if only for the energy that youthful players can bring during their cup of coffee to the show. Like last year, I'd be surprised if any players brought in or up amount to more than depth, but I think player movement is just as important right now.

So who needs to watch out for their jobs? Stajan and Hagman have both found themselves into the doghouse this year, and Exelby and Finger have been unable to cement their roster spot in the eyes of Wilson. Whatever happens, I can't imagine this roster looking the same a month from now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Memory Lane

Season getting you down?

This season the Leafs have scored 13 goals in 6 games, without a win.

Last season the Leafs opened the season with 11 goals in 6 games, winning only one game.

Goal scoring wasn't a problem for us last year, even though things have looked rough there's still no evidence to say it will be this year. The season is young, there's lots of adjustments still to be made.

Six games does not make a lottery team.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Positive Thinking

Now, at the end of last night's game Joe Bowen was saying that you'd really like to point to one positive thing you did after a night like this, but the Leafs couldn't. I disagree. Here's 10 positives that Leafs fans can take out of last night's loss:

1. The Leafs penalty killers went 5 for 6, allowing a 5 on 3 goal. Much better than a .54% kill rate, anyway.

2. The Leafs played about a period and a half that looked really great, except for an insanely soft goal. That's like, almost half a game. If you combined that with the minutes we played well against Pittsburgh and Washington, that's like a win and a third.

3. The Monster's fragile Swedish psyche has yet to be subjected to the worst this team can do in front of him.

4. Because Viktor Stalberg has been out cold these past couple of games we can't call him out for being a bust yet.

5. We've boosted the self-esteem of hockey fans across two nations, and made the fantasy owners of anyone who didn't draft Leafs very happy.

6. Beauchemin and Komisarek have many years ahead to make this up to us.

7. The organization is committed to the proper development of it's youngsters. By the keeping older, higher paid, worse players up on the team while they toil in the AHL.

8. Since neither Orr nor Wallin were signed to score goals, we're 2 for 2 on free agent forwards meeting expectations.

9. The Leafs are getting lots and lots of practice at losing. At least they'll be best in the league at something.

10. The Leafs are saving journalists across Canada from the mental breakdowns that would occur when attempting to write a positive Leafs article.

Don't we all feel better now?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Busy news day

Never would have thought it still this early into the season (and with the general laziness and apathy that the papers give their sports sections), but there's a lot of food for thought in the papers today:

Gustavsson starts tonight. Apparently for just a period, his time will increase over the next three games. He'll have to face the awesome power of former Leafs Kris Newbury and Brad May though. Hope he's up to the challenge.

Rickard Wallin earned a roster spot already
? Funny, I can't remember seeing him play.

Brian Burke broke Steve Moore's neck. Or something.

Some players still have some respect for history and tradition. Nice to see Cujo getting the respect he deserves from a new guy. I like Joey, but I really hope we don't have to rely on him as a starter for any stretch this season.

Kadri's not staying with the club
, which is really for the best. Looking forward to next year's camp already.

On that last note, has anybody noticed that Cox has been surprisingly tame of late? I mean, there was only one real shot at Leaf fans in that article. Some of his articles about the Leafs have even been downright... optimistic. Creepy. Maybe that new picture of him looking old has mellowed him out.

Final cuts are coming this weekend, and it's been a great preseason for the club so far. Oct 1st can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Funny thing about perceptions

Now, I'm not trying to pick on anybody here. I base a lot of my analysis on the team based on what they've done, that's how I compare guys across our team and I'm wary about predicting too much into the future.

There are some Leafs out there who are, for some reason, maligned. Take the late Anton Stralman, who was lambasted for his play despite being on pace to tie White's points totals, had the second best Corsi rating on the Leafs, and had a better GAON/60 than White, Kaberle, Kubina, Schenn, and Finger. He also had a better Giveaway/Takeaway ratio than most of our top 6, and as an RFA would have likely cost us less than $1M to retain. Still, junk in the eyes of Leaf Nation.

Let's take this MLHS article (which makes an overall good point). Grabovski had "success" with a 48 point season in 78 games, supposedly justifying his raise to almost $3M in salary. Lee Stempniak, however, had an "underwhelming" 44 points in 75 games. That's a 4 point differential, for a guy who's making $400K less than Grabs and is only a year older.

(it should be noted that if you adjust Stempniak's time with the Blues out and work his numbers with the Leafs up to 78 games, he ends up with around 40 points)

The funny thing is, the players are almost identical. They're absurdly close in shots taken, TOI/G, Shifts/G, PPTOI/G. Defensively speaking Stemps has more blocked shots and an absurdly better Giveaway/Takeaway ratio, as well as double the hits.

Stempniak also came on in the latter half of the season, much like Grabs. While not as immediately impressive, he managed 18 points in his last 30 games with the Leafs, better than his first 13 points in the previous 30. After the trade deadline he got even better, with a 4 game point streak in March and 5 points in 5 games to close out April.

The difference? Shooting percentage. Stempniak's 0.086% is half that of Grabs' 0.167%, and it truly makes the difference, as if you adjust each player's totals to the others' Stempniak ends up with 19 goals and Grabs ends up with 14. There's your 4-8 points right there. And it's not as if Stempniak isn't capable of scoring at that pace either, he was shooting at 0.163% in his 27-goal sophomore season.

So why the difference in perception? Is it because Grabs is the flashy player, while Stempniak does more yeoman's work? Is it because one appears to be the hot up and comer, while the other appears to be waning? Is it because Grabs fills our need for a centreman, even though we need RW's just as badly? Are we really dumping on a competent forward over an almost identical one because of 4-5 goals?

There have also been eyebrows raised at Burke naming Matt Stajan a top 6 player alongside Grabovski. But why not? Matt outscored Grabs in the same amount of 5on5 and PP TOI. He can also be counted on for some defensive play, with more PK time, more hits, blocked shots, and a much better (and positive) giveaway/takeaway ratio. I hate to say it, but if we're basing expectations based on last season Stajan deserves the top centre job more than Grabs.

Stajan's also only two months older than Grabovski. Are we hating on Stajan because he's a known quantity to us? Did we actually buy into the hype that the guy was just more trash from the JFJ era despite what was going on in the games in front of us?

Look, I'm not making predictions for next season, nor am I saying that Grabovski isn't a good and exciting hockey player. I just think it's funny how opposing the viewpoints are on three players that are actually very similar in their contributions to the team we had last year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Once again, with feeling

As we progress towards the start of the season, and you see more and more articles saying things like this -

"Burke, however, failed to add a top six forward to the mix prompting worries that the Leafs will not be able to score goals this coming season."

- just keep this in mind:

The Leafs placings in league standings among all 30 teams for G/F since the lockout: 10, 11, 8, 9.

The Leafs placings in league standings among all 30 teams for G/A since the lockout: 30, 27, 25, 21.

Every single year scoring (or rather, our ratio of "top six forwards") is brought up as a weakness for the team, every single year those suggestions have been blatantly inaccurate. The fact that the Leafs have tried to cut down on their goals against in lieu of adding scoring is not a negative. It shows our management can actually read, unlike most pundits, and is trying to address the problems that actually plague the team.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We are not the kids we used to be

(stop wishing for yesterday!)

Alright, so this offseason is winding down with Kaberle's trade window looking to expire once again without movement on our part on Saturday.

I recently read a post about an Edmonton fan wondering how many people actually remained on the team since the lockout. I think the answer came out to 4.

Assuming we don't move Tomas Kaberle, we'll also have 4 Leafs remaining on the team who played at least one game in 2005-2006:


That's it.

Now, is this unusual for clubs across the NHL? Both Toronto and Edmonton have been on playoff-barren streaks these past few years. So I decided to go check out the other teams in our division (these are players that played games at the NHL level in 05/06):

Montreal - 3:
A. Kostitsyn

Ottawa - 8:
Heatley (maybe)

Boston - 4:
Alberts (thanks Cornelius)

Buffalo - 9:

Not even double-digit holdovers on any team in the Northeast. It's pretty obvious that turnover is the norm in the NHL, not the exception, and that it can happen in a surprisingly short amount of time. This is 4 seasons, noting that the 4th has yet to even be played at this point. Kind of reinforces the idea that all these long, cap circumventing contracts are generally a bad idea.

What does this mean to a Leafs fan? For one, think twice before buying that next jersey.

Seriously though, it's that one can't look at their current roster and then project the next 3, 4 seasons on it. Will Schenn be with the team forever? Ask any Bruins fan that has an '05 Thornton jersey what they think about "franchise players". Do Komisarek and Beauchemin anchor our D for the length of their contracts? Remember that Kubina was a highly touted high-cost free agent signing of similar age.

Steen, Colaiacovo, and Wellwood sure looked like future bright lights for the team back on 05, didn't they? When Pascal Leclaire set the NHL on fire for the Blue Jackets in 07, could we really guess that in a year he'd be supplanted and then become a Senator? How about when Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara/Joe Corvo were part of a threatening Ottawa power play?

Only two goaltenders have actually stuck with their team in this sample, All Stars Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas. Toronto managed to run through 3-4 guys, Montreal at least 4, Boston parted ways with promising young goalie Hannu Toivonen, not to mention a goalie a year removed from a Calder in Raycroft.

The NHL's a crazy place, players come and go with incredible frequency, doesn't matter if they're young, expensive, or a "sure thing". Just a little perspective for all us future-crazed sports fans.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Did trading Stralman actually free up space?

So the Leafs have traded Anton Stralman, Colin Stuart, and a 7th round pick in exchange for Wayne Primeau and a 2nd.

First off, there's still some confusion over Stralman's status with regards to waiver eligibility, and in looking it over I see I was wrong the last time I looked it up too:

The Leafs signed Anton Stralman to a 3 year entry level contract on May 16, 2007. Stralman was born on August 1, 1986, meaning that he was still technically 20 years old at the time of the signing, but according to the NHL he was 21 for the purposes of waiver eligibility (as player age is decided by the calendar year he turns 21, not the player's age the day he signs).

Players signing their first NHL contract at the age of 21 are waiver exempt for 3 years or until they have played 60 NHL games, according to NHLscap. Stralman's 38 games played last year added to his 50 the year before mean that he will be waiver eligible this year.

So the short answer is yes, trading Stralman gets one NHL defenseman off the roster. 3 more to go...


With that in mind, is this a bad trade? It's tough to say.

Trading Stralie as he is for a 2nd is decent market value, and considering that he's likely too far down on the depth chart to make the club after camp calling him up next year would be impossible (or force us to do what we were doing last season, with the rotating carousel of defensemen). Unless he was going to have a massive showing at camp it's probably for the best that we got what assets we could.

Also, knowing Burke, this is another "give the kid a shot" move, letting someone go so that they can find success elsewhere. It's possible that Stralman asked for a trade, it's possible that he was considering bolting to Sweden.

On the flipside, this is exactly the kind of trade that has been historically biting the Leafs in the ass. Stralman's ceiling is high, and he was coming off career highs in points in both the AHL and NHL as well as improved defensive stats over his rookie season, despite what public perception of his play was. Stralman was not a regressing player, he was an improving one, and there's every chance to believe that if he can crack a lineup we'll be moaning about it later.

Also, this is a salary dump on Calgary's part, albeit a small one. They're a team right up against the salary cap, they're supposed to be paying for the priviledge of getting money off the books. So why did we trade two young guys and a pick? I'd be much happier with this trade if we'd actually added to our draft pool, but we didn't (and for the nay sayers that want to say 7th rounders never amount to resources, Stralman was a 7th round pick and he gave us 88 games and evidently some trade leverage).

There's also the issue of depth. I just made a post about the Leafs' success rate without Kaberle in the lineup in the event he goes, but Stralman was a big part of those games in terms of PP time and outlet passing. Beyond Schenn and Stralman, the Leafs blueline prospects were incredibly thin on talent, and are now even more so. There's also nobody on the Marlies or even close to the roster in the pipeline who possesses the same skill set as Stralman. 3 years down the line, when we've ditched just about all our blue line corps, will we be glad we dumped Stralie with nobody else to take a puck-moving role on our defense for one more year of Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren?

The expectation this offseason was that we would get younger, and that we would add scoring talent. This trade does neither, and in the last few days all we've seen from Burke is the intention of dumping 23 year olds from the thinnest parts of our depth chart.

All told, it's hard to be ecstatic about getting a 2nd and a 33 year-old for two younger guys and a pick, especially for a team that has historically paid dearly for not developing it's players. But there's every chance that both Stralman and Stuart never play an NHL game again. There's also every chance that Stralman finds a way to live up to his potential. I'd give it about 50/50. But Burke had to do something, and this deal was certainly that.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Better Know a Leaf: Jeff Finger

Finger Money
1. Being paid an amount that is not commensurate with one's value.
2. $14 million dollars over 4 years.

ex. I wanted the team to sign him, but then I found out he wanted Finger Money.

On today's segment of Better Know a Leaf, we'll be looking at last year's big free agent splash Jeff Finger.

Jeff was born December 18th 1979 in
Houghton Michigan. He was drafted 240th overall in the 1999 entry draft by the Colorado Avalanche. He played in the NHL for the first time in the 2006-2007 season, notching a goal and four assists in 22 games. He spent the following season on the Avs full-time, going 8-11-19 with a +12 rating in 72 games.

Following his first full season in the NHL, Finger was signed to a 4 year, 14 million dollar contract by the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1st, 2008, on which day the term "Finger Money" was added to the public lexicon of Leaf bashing.

Now, first a sample of the total BS floating around the web about Finger:

via sportsnet

Plays a steady game from the back end and usually limits his mistakes. Can log plenty of ice time and is a solid team-first player.

Has never put up great offensive numbers and probably never will. Isn't a physical player, despite his 6-1, 205-pound frame.

Now, I believe I'd covered some of this in a previous post just after the Finger signing, but I'll reiterate. Last year Finger put up 136 hits, good enough for 2nd on the Leafs and 30th among all NHL defensemen. His 158 blocked shots were good enough for first on the team and 18th overall for an NHL defenseman. Sounds to me like he's using that 6-1 205-pound frame pretty well.

Plus he can do this. And this.

Now, as for the "never put up great offensive numbers" bit, it's worth noting Jeff had 48 points in 55 games in the USHL as a 21 year-old. In even-strength scoring last season, Finger's 6 goals are tied for 15th in the NHL among defensemen, and his 15 assists tie him for 36th. Both of those numbers, by the way, lead the Leafs in even-strength scoring on the blueline. Finger's first goal as a Leaf was scored on November 25th, against the Thrashers.

Are those great offensive numbers? Not at first, it's hard to get excited over 23 points in 66 games. But that production is certainly valuable, and the fact that Finger was able to outscore two players in Kaberle and Kubina (who are paid more and are seasoned NHL vets) at even strength is pretty significant.

Now, Finger's had his mental lapses in the zone, and I'll never forget his performance on Wendel Night. But those nights happen for a player, and hopefully with more experience at the NHL level he can tighten up his game even more.


There are 30 teams in the NHL, meaning that theoretically there are 120 top-4 defensemen in this league. Finger's being paid like a top-4 guy, and statwise he actually comes out pretty well given his lack of PP time (6th on the team in minutes, behind Van Ryn who played half as many games). If anything, it's hard to argue that he's not worth the money on this team for what he provides. Derek Morris just signed a similar contract with the Bruins and stat-wise they're almost the same player... except that Finger is the clear winner in terms of hits and shots blocked.

Unfortunately for Jeff, he's become the kind of Leaf that will always be known for his reputation, an overpaid AHL calibre player, than for his on-ice deeds. Hopefully he can put on a good enough performance in the next few years of his contract that he won't be remembered as a raspberry by most of the fan base.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Life without Kabby?

There's been a lot of scuttlebutt about Kaberle and the moving of. We've gone from "definitely trading him to Boston" to Burke saying "hey now, this is Tomas friggin Kaberle. I'm not just gonna go trade him for some money-grubbing one season wonder over here." And good for him. But the fact remains that we have a logjam on D and Kabby remains our most tradable asset, so we might as well talk about it.

The main concern with Leafs fans and enemies alike is the state of Toronto's offense without their smooth skating cross-ice passer. After all, who wants to watch the Maple Leafs re-enact the Ottawa Senators 08-09 season?

But quite honestly, we're talking about a 31 point player who played 57 games last year. Is Kabby really the lynchpin of our offense?

So I figured, why not just take a look at how we did without the guy?

With Kaberle in the Leafs roster:

Record: 22-26-9 (0.464 win %)
Average GF/game: 2.96

Without Kaberle in the Leafs roster:

Record: 12-9-4 (0.520 win %)
Average GF/game: 3.24

So um, yeah. Huh. Without Kabby in the roster the Leafs managed to put up a better winning percentage and more goals per game. Not even I was expecting that one.

It's also worth noting that Kaberle missed most of the month of March, which was also when the team was missing Dominic Moore and Nik Antropov due to trades. As such, this month may give us a look into how the team might play out next year:

March w/o Kabby:
Record: 6-6-0
Average GF/game: 3.08
PP%: 21.9
PK%: 77.5

Defensemen (games played):
Finger: 12
Frogren: 3
Kubina: 12
Oreskovic: 9
Schenn: 12
Stralman: 9
Van Ryn: 2
White: 12

Note that our powerplay % in the March games Kabby missed was actually better than our average for the whole season, as was (sadly) our PK.


So, some things worth taking a huge grain of salt for:
The Leafs definitely got an added boost from Gerber and the defensive play of guys like Devereaux and Ondrus. Also, we're talking about a tiny sample size here, about a third of a season when the Leafs happened to get pretty hot. And there's no real way to factor Kubina out of the time Kabby had off.

But Scott, what does it all mean?

Nothing definitive, that's for sure.

Even so, the numbers are implying what I was thinking all this time, that while Kaberle's a good player the Leafs never really seemed to miss him as much as some would like to think. The Leafs got hot around last third of the season, but it seems suspicious that they managed to do so without two of the most highly thought of players on their roster, Kaberle and Antropov.

Is Kaberle a quality player? Most assuredly yes. Can we live without him, assuming we can nab an acceptable return back? I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say yes. It would certainly help if either Van Ryn or Beauchemin can re-discover the ability to put up 30 or so points, or if Stralman comes back with a good showing, though.

Now, if Kabby were to remain with us, well then. Wouldn't that be an interesting D corps...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is Patrick Sharp the right guy for the Leafs?

he certainly wouldn't make a bad-looking Leaf

Chicago's cap situation has got the vultures circling, and there's been a lot of press and talk about Patrick Sharp and his 3.9 million dollar contract being the magical salve that the franchise needs.

First off, it's been reported many times that including the bonus cushion it's entirely possible for Chicago to ice a competitive team and remain under the cap without trading anyone except Brent Sopel. If Chicago doesn't see a deal they like, they aren't actually under a whole lot of pressure to pull the trigger.

The excellent Leaf dudes at MLHS have been throwing around ideas for what exactly that might entail, knowing full well that whatever we give up must be low in salary in order to make the deal work. Picks, and prospects like Tlusty or Stefanovich, are being thrown around as ideas.


But let's just get some things straight here. Sharp is not really a "young gun" unless you're also willing to call Ponikarovsky a young gun, as they're only a year apart and Sharp will be 28 this December. Sharpy's entering the prime of his career, and what we've seen is likely all we're going to get from the guy.

Sharp has never been a PPG player in the AHL. He'd never scored 20 goals until his 4th season in the NHL, his second with Chicago who got him for a song (Matt Ellison, currently of the KHL's Dynamo Riga, and a 3rd rounder). He'd also never scored more than 35 points until he was 26, when it just so happened that some true young phenoms in the form of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane showed up on his team.

In true keeping with the easy, unscientific research that I've been doing over the past little while, I looked back into Sharp's past game logs and counted the times he'd factored in on a scoring play (either with a goal or assist) alongside either of Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews.

62 points
32 with Kane/Toews, 51.6% of total production

44 points
23 with Kane/Toews, 52.2% of total production

So what we have here is a slow-developing scoring winger who just happened to hit his prime at the same time that two young franchise players come into town, who have figured into half of his total production in the past two years.

(it's worth noting that Sharp missed a significant portion of the 2008/2009 season, extrapolated to 82 games he'd net around 55 points, lower than the previous year. It's also worth noting that Sharp's shooting percentage was .172 in his 36 goal campaign, higher than the league norm and his highest ever. As his percentage levelled off last year, so did his estimated production)

As I said in my last post, I don't think goal scoring will be as big a problem as some are implying next season, but the fact remains that we lack top 6 players. However, Sharp had never produced like one until his team suddenly had a dearth of offensive talent, and I'm not even counting Martin Havlat or Robert Lang yet.


Don't get me wrong, Sharp's a talented individual and were he to be a Leaf I'm sure he'd put up some points. But I don't think the fears among the fan base that he's more of a complimentary player than a game-breaker are unfounded, and I'm not sure that we need a 50-60 point player as bad as some think. In my mind 50-60 points is about right for what a player getting good minutes and PP time should have, it's not an exceptional total.

I wouldn't mind having Sharp on this team, but it's hard for me to come up with any good ways to think about it. Just Exelby for Sharp? Nah. Give up Stajan or Koolie? Both of them are either par for or out-producing Sharp at their age.

And why would we ever considering trading Tlusty (who is a PPG player in the AHL) with his age and potential, or Stefonovich and his near limitless offensive possibility? Doesn't trading anybody younger than Sharp with a smaller cap hit seem counter-productive for a rebuilding team? And with a pick? Especially as Sharp doesn't solve our needs at centre (he took fewer faceoffs than Stajan, Grabs, Moore, and Mitchell last year).

No, the only way this trade makes sense for Toronto is if we can do it for defensemen only, and if we don't have to give up any young guys with potential. And I have an extremely hard time seeing Chicago bite on Ian White.

And let's be honest, late bloomer, shortly removed from a close to 40 goal season, 4 million dollar contract, complimentary scoring forward. You all know what I'm thinking.

get ready for the fist pump!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Offseason Boredom Ramblings

A few days ago the Columbus Dispatch reported that Sharks GM Doug Wilson had turned down an offer to trade Christian Ehrhoff for Jason Chimera.

Chimera is a 30 year-old energy guy with blazing speed, a defensively sound player that the Sharks are in need of. Christian Ehrhoff is a 27 year-old Anton Stralman, a puck-moving defenseman possessing decent skating and offensive ability along with occasional catastrophic lapses in his own end.

Of course Wilson turned this trade down. As the departed John Ferguson Jr. showed us time and time again, speedy checking grinders who can play defense can be found for nothing. Bates Battaglia, Ben Ondrus, Boyd Devereaux, Dominic Moore, all of those guys played decent roles for the team and were had for no assets given up in return.

Which brings me to what this has to do with the Leafs.

No team should ever have to give up draft picks, young assets, or developing players in order to add bottom six role players. Unless the player in question is very good at what he does, it's just never worth the return. The free agency pool and waiver wire are full of these guys.

So what the fuck, Cliff Fletcher?


Pierre McGuire, during his orgasm-laden rant over the Leafs drafting Luke Schenn in 2008, took the time to state that "the rebuild is on in Toronto." Except it wasn't. In fact, it didn't start until Brian Burke took the helm of the club partway through the season.

Why might I say that?

Jamal Mayers:

This past season was described as "disappointing" by Mayers, in his first year with his home club he hit his lowest point total since 2004. Brought in as a defensive influence to help Toronto's abysmal power play, his contributions added up to a league-worst special teams unit.

Now, people have spoken glowingly of his dressing room performance, and on that I have no basis for critique. But we gave up a 3rd round pick for a 33 year old that added neither the offensive touch in the checking role we wanted nor the improved play on the penalty kill that we needed. In fact, Ron Wilson went on to quote the call-ups of Devereaux and Ondrus as the reason for our improved PK rate in the latter stages of the season, two players who were already in the Leafs system when Mayers was acquired.

Ryan Hollweg:

Seen here is Hollweg effectively ending the season of a promising 18 year-old. In full view of the Leafs' own top-flight rookie 18 year-old.

I was at that game. No matter what Wilson said after the fact, what Hollweg did was inexcusable, and it's ensuing penalty and demoralizing effect on the roster lost us a game we were in control of. Ryan, I hope you'll read this some day, because I've been to a few Leafs games in my time, some good efforts and some bad losses. That day was the only time I've ever felt embarrassed to be a Leafs fan in my own building. I hope you never play another game in the NHL.

We gave up a 5th round pick. He played 25 games. Enough said.


These moves seemed a little suspect at the time, and now that we know the results I can stand by the statement that no team should ever have to give up real assets in order to pick up players of this calibre.

Burke added character and grit in Brad May and didn't have to give up a single draft pick (although he could have). Thus far in his tenure Burke has never given in to the temptation to use draft picks and prospects in order to solve the teams' immediate problems.

Combined with the draft picks or prospects we lost adding Schenn, Grabovski, and getting rid of McCabe, Fletcher's interim era with the Leafs wasn't really the beginning of a rebuild. While some of the results of his moves are encouraging, the fact is that Fletcher was continuing in the tradition of burning up the future in order to solve the needs of the present.

We've gone a full season without giving up a draft choice for an ill-advised deal. Hopefully Burke's starting his own tradition.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Leafs might never score another goal again

At least, that's how you might feel if you've been buying into the "the Leafs are tougher on D and in goal, but who will score?" hype that's been floating around since Burkie made his major moves. The Leafs lack elite scoring forwards, it's true, in fact they lack true first line scoring players.

So I decided to take a look around the league last year at teams that also lacked real point producers. In this totally scientific survey utterly not conducted because of baseless speculation, I basically just checked team rosters for a lack of players who had around 75 points, and lacked more than one 30 goal scorer.

The results were pretty much what you'd expect from the bottom-feeding section of the NHL (after all, teams around us in the standings and all) and so the Islanders, Kings, and Avalanche all fall into this category.

The teams that placed above us who lacked singular point producers were: New York, Florida, Montreal, Minnesota, and Edmonton. Which is interesting as there's two playoff teams and two 9th place teams there, and if the Leafs are looking to show improvement with their roster then it would be these teams we can reasonably aspire to. Which is actually incredibly depressing, but I digress.

It's worth noting that none of the teams we might aspire to take the place of next year scored more goals than the Leafs (who were 10th in the league for GF). I then averaged their goals against over the season.

Average GA for "competitive" teams

Leafs GA from last season

Ffffffh. So the entirely unscientific argument can be made that if the Leafs can score around the same amount of goals next season and chop our goals against down by, say, 60 or so then we should reasonably be close to a playoff spot.


So let's just ignore the difficulties of cutting our GA for next season down by 20%, shall we, and move onto the question of whether or not it's reasonable to expect our roster to still be in the top 10 in the league for goals for with our recent subtractions from the roster.

The notable subtractions for the Leafs (thus far) are Nik Antropov, Dominic Moore, and Pavel Kubina, who combined for a grand total of 47 goals and 107 points last year.

Now the fun part is that we can track how the Leafs did in the last 30 games of the season without Antropov and Moore, so let's do that.

After the trade deadline the Leafs put up a 15-11-4 record for a .566 winning percentage. They scored 102 goals during that stretch, 41% of their total for the season, which works to about 3.4 goals for/game. That's better than the 2.8 GF/game that they'd been scoring previously.

During that 30 game stretch Pavel Kubina put up 16 points, with 4 powerplay goals and 10 total power play points, and two game-winning goals. That's production that will be missed, but I have to believe that whomever fills the void in Kubina's absence will be able to at least chip in some points on the power play.

One worry is Jason Blake, our leading goal and point scorer from last season, as his time spent with Moore was given a lot of credit towards his resurgence in the second half. We can also track how Blake did without Moore:

30 GP
25 pts
8 goals

So we can see that without his best buddy Moore he was still able to put up a third of his total goals and almost half of his assists in the last third of the season. I think it's safe to say that whatever happens with Blake next year, his production will not drop because of a lack of Moore exposure.


So is the Leafs' offense going to suffer next season? Probably, a little at least. Is it going to be a major problem? I don't think so, it's entirely possible for this group to show improvement in the standings with the group of forwards it has, so long as we can keep the puck out of our net.

But to be quite honest, people were predicting that our goals for would drop when Sundin, Tucker, and McCabe got shown the door, and it didn't happen, they were predicting that it would drop again when we got rid of Moore and Antropov and it certainly hasn't happened yet. The Leafs are lacking in truly skilled scoring forwards, but they've been able to score more than enough with simple hockey and hard work, and we have enough depth of players with some offensive skill that we can count on some goals going in eventually.

Yes we may have benefitted from a lack of pressure in the last third of the year, we also might have benefitted from getting to know Ron Wilson hockey and learning to play with our new additions. At this point I'm not willing to say anything for definite, but it doesn't look like scoring is going to be enough of a problem that we can't take a "wait and see" approach to how our offensive corps develops. One free agent signing or trade incumbent isn't going to push this offense over the top, and so we might as well leave some room open for one of our many new young forwards to hopefully surprise us come camp.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Everything old is... uh... slightly less old again

So another free agency period has come and with the Leafs' cap situation we look about set (aside from, you know, that one major signing in our weakest position that I won't talk about just yet).

Thing is, this all feels slightly familiar. In fact, it seems very familiar. Of course, as with all blogging speculation, I was totally wrong about the aftermath of our last defensive logjam (though I would like to brag that I totally called Carlo being the odd man out later in the season).

That doesn't mean I'm not going to baselessly speculate again though! After all, what would be the point of this blog if I didn't?


Well anyway, onto the nitty gritty of things.

Currently our defense looks a little something like this:

Van Ryn

Oof. That's... a lot of guys.

Luckily, I've learned that because Stralman signed his contract when he was 20, and has not played 160 games in the NHL, he will still be waiver exempt next season. However, since Frogren signed his contract when he was 27 and has played a season in the NHL he will no longer be waiver exempt. (thanks, nhlscap!)

Which means that once again, Stralman is our best candidate for "get buried in the minors until we can sort the rest of our roster out".

As new additions I severely doubt that Komisarek, Beauchemin, and Exelby are going to do anything other than play good minutes with the team. Schenn will likely stay with the club as well, Burke likes him and sending him down would be a PR disaster.

So assuming that our roster will consist of the 4 of...


who takes the other spots?

Van Ryn: The bastard child of a salary dump, Van Ryn is actually probably one of the better Dmen on the team. Unfortunately now that Colaiacovo is gone somebody had to catch jelly bones, and it happened to be him. As a player we never really planned to have on the club in the first place he's panned out well, but that doesn't mean he's become part of our future plans.

Why he could stay: Good presence in the offensive zone, solid overall play. Shatters glass with his face. Injuries place his trade value at near zero.

Why he could go: Downright dreadful injury history means we can't count on him as a roster player. Relatively large cap hit. Nearing 30, he may be getting too old to factor into the future of the young club. Will be a UFA after this season.

Finger: Our most contentious free agent signing of last season, he is the living embodiment of the fact that you always overpay in free agency. Negative media reaction was definitely overplayed, Finger was largely solid and played with a good physical edge (TSN also had him listed as a top free agent mere hours before Pierre Maguire spouted off about his contract on-air). All in all, as a free agent signing we didn't really give anything up for the guy, and he played in a style that was lacking from the roster previously.

Why he could say: Hits in every zone, blocks shots, holds some offensive skill. Salary makes him nearly impossible to trade.

Why he could go: He still hasn't proved himself one way or another yet. His inexperience with the speed of the NHL game still showed in several games last season. He'll be 30 in December, and will still likely have question marks all over his game by then.

White: A rare Leafs draft pick still playing with the club, he enjoyed increased responsibility last year as injuries took their toll and Wilson began punishing Kaberle by cutting his minutes. While I've made many a post on his mediocre offensive skills, the fact is that he acquitted himself as well as can be expected from a player of his size and skill level.

Why he could stay: His age and cap hit make him an attractive depth defenseman. Always stays healthy. Makes good transition passes out of the zone. As a homegrown Leafs pick he makes a statement for younger players earning their way to the team through the minor league system.

Why he could go: His value might never be this high again. The added depth this year almost pushes him completely off the team in terms of actual skill level and physical assets. Did poorly on the penalty kill, and while a self-styled offensive defenseman he doesn't produce as much as the shots and opportunities he takes should warrant.

Frogren: A free agent signing by Fletcher to add toughness to the line-up and ease Stralman's transition into the NHL, the manner of his signing ended up costing us a draft pick. While his hit count was impressive over the season, he tended to roam around the defensive zone and generally didn't take to the North American game as well as we might have hoped.

Why he could stay: A low cap hit makes him attractive. Plays a tougher, gritty, Burke style of play.

Why he could go: At 29 next season he'll be older than some other physical defensemen in the line-up, notably Schenn, Komisarek, and Exelby. For a defenseman who is not expected to contribute offensively his defensive play should be spotless, but he needs work.

Kaberle: The last one, and a big one. By far the best player in terms of talent and experience on the team, he also possesses a great contract. If we wanted to move him badly, I can't imagine there isn't a team out there that won't eventually break down and pony up assets to get him.

Why he could stay: Is another Leafs draft pick, and a veteran mainstay on the team. We would be hard pressed to replace his skills on the roster, especially if Stralman can't figure out his defensive game, and losing simply because we lack a good passer on the back end would just make us the Ottawa Senators.

Why he could go: Is extremely affordable for teams looking to compete, and is very skilled. The departure of Kubina likely makes him a little more uncomfortable in the dressing room, and he was non-commital on his future with the club last season. Had confrontations with Wilson last season, and as the oldest player on the defense he may not be around by the time we're ready to compete.

My baseless predictions? Kaberle and White will get traded, Frogren will likely be sent down.

Why? Players get dealt when either their values or high or they've had an unproductive season but are still felt to have upside. Teams don't want another teams garbage. Kaberle is easily our most tradeable asset, and White likely has more value than any other defenseman on that list, purely because of his age and cap hit. Van Ryn and Finger are both making too much money for too little of a showing last season, and there's no good reason for any club to take them off our hands.

Frogren is just getting left out due to our recent signings, there's at least 4 people on the squad that can fill his role but do it better. Maybe if his game undergoes some major revelations he'll make the decision harder, but as of now it's just hard to see where he fits in at his age and role.

I think I'm correct in saying that we've likely overpaid by about 500K-1M for Komisarek and Beauchemin, but I don't mind the signings. If we replace Kaberle with some prospect/draft pick, and factor in shipping out Kubina for Exelby, replacing May with Orr, and losing Cujo for... anybody then our roster gets significantly younger and tougher this year, both good things and both guaranteed by Burke before the offseason started in earnest. Good times.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I hate you, Dany Heatley

just look at him

I've never been a fan of good ol' Dany, in fact in this post I do believe I advocated death by Bell before last season started.

Except this time I can't hate on Heater for anything he's done on the ice, the Senators were down right inoffensive last season (and not just because they didn't score a whole lot), and as a Toronto resident with relatives in Ottawa I can empathize with the desire to leave the our nation's capital as soon as possible.

No, this time I've got my knives out because Heatley's whining, petulant unprofessionalism might actually be good for the Sens. A team that became top heavy, without the high draft picks to fill their roster with ready-made talent, I was looking forward to the team languishing under the weight of high-price NTC contracts and the lack of overall depth that came with them.

After all, none of Ottawa's stars would want to leave the city that loved them and gave them so much, right? The Leafs had to pay people to get off this team, and to kickstart the rebuild had to tell the face of the franchise for over a decade he wasn't needed anymore. Even when a couple of losing seasons had piled up, all anybody wanted to be was a Leaf.

Unfortunately that's not the case, and the Heatley trade has the makings of a move that could add more youth and depth to a Senators team that was floundering under their own efforts to provide it. As with the Yashin deal, the Senators can benefit from their childish stars having no attachment to their franchise, and reap the benefits of adding people to their team that want to give their fans the finger.

So I hate you, Dany Heatley. I hate you for not making the Sens pay for their mistakes, and I hate you for hating Ottawa. I hope today you realize that no team wants a quitter, at least not for a price Ottawa's willing to pay.


As I'm writing the rumour going around is Penner, Cogliano, and Smid for Heatley. Not world breaking, but certainly adding respectable roster bodies.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wait, there was a draft this weekend?

Back from cottage country, I had to listen to AM 640 on the radio, then rely on text messages when that cut out.

Some thoughts:

We actually managed to have a draft where we didn't give up any picks during or directly before the day. Regardless of who we picked, that's a huge step in the right direction for the franchise. I know there was a lot of talk of moving up, but we need quantity period.

If Burke didn't make a move, I fully believe it's because there was no good one to be made. The Flyers were definitely the most active team in terms of trade talks out there, and once they made the Pronger deal before the draft started there was no other real player movement.

There's still potential out there. A load of teams are still in cap hell, and (apparently) Burke's intention all along was to wait until the big names in free agency were gone to unload some of our guys. Considering that somehow the Flyers managed to trade and not lose any salary in the process while actually losing two players that made up their roster last year, desperation is going to set in some time.

I'm disappointed we didn't pick up a single goaltender, if history is anything to go by it's worth taking a flyer on someone; if the draft is a crapshoot then drafting goaltenders is like trying to fish from the CN Tower. Maybe the lack of a goalie is an indication of his expectations regarding Gustavsson, though I doubt it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Say hello to... Wade Redden? What?

I'd kind of like to know what Tim Wharnsby is smoking in this article right here.

"There is belief the Maple Leafs have been zeroing in on New York Rangers defenceman Wade Redden and forward Peter Schaefer of the Boston Bruins"

This is why I hate offseason coverage, by the way. "There is belief by my son Zack and his Buzz Lightyear doll that the Leafs are coveting PJ Axelsson, in an effort to become more Swedish."

But seriously, Redden? We're talking about possibly one of the worst defensive contracts in the league Redden? The Redden who has been steadily depreciating in value since the lockout Redden?

If we're going after him, it better be because we're getting New York's 1st and Evgeny Grachev with him.

And on another note, Peter Schaefer? A 31 year-old who peaked when the Sens did, he spent all of last season buried in the minors because Boston can make better use of Shawn Thornton. The Leafs need many things, but if we need 30 year old checkers to put up 30 points why don't we just hang on to Devereaux and Hamilton? At least with Boyd we're supporting Toronto's indie music scene.

Is the logic there that Boston would love to get rid of Schaefer's 2.1 million (good lord who would pay him that much? Right, Bryan Murray) salary ? Because they didn't seem to have a problem just burying him in the minors ala Mark Bell.

The article goes on to talk goaltending, mentioning Burke's interest in JS Giguere. I hope he means he's interested in asking how his son's therapy is going, because there's no way we're paying 10 million for goaltending next year if Brunnstrom doesn't work out. Apparently the Leafs are on the list of teams that Giggy would accept a trade to, despite being about geographically as far away as you can get from his family (and son's medical needs). I guess making the teams you'd accept a trade to public is now de rigueur for players with a no trade clause.


Filtering out all the BS, it's pretty obvious that these deals are being postulated because they help cap-tight teams shed salary. But the Redden deal would break Burke's previous statements about not wanting to carry salary past two years from now, as he's getting paid until 2014 (lol) and is of questionable value. The Giguere deal would work great... if we could sucker anybody into paying for a constantly injured and often average goalie in Toskala.

What I will say is I will be greatly surprised if the Leafs are still picking 7th come draft time. Burke has mentioned moving up, he's mentioned moving down, and someone out there will be willing to move with him. It's Burke's big chance to really put the pressure on other GMs and change the face of this team, and I can't believe he'll allow it to pass by.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Y'all take Brian Burke way too seriously

I haven't updated in a while, school has been keeping me fairly busy and there's enough Leaf coverage out there that I can get my fix leaving snide comments on other blogs.

But Burke's been getting a lot of exposure lately, and for once I don't really see a post out there that echoes my point of view: That Burke is laughing at each and every single person giving his claims serious exposure.

Since the offseason started Burke has said two things: Our goal next year is the playoffs, our goal this year is to move up as much as we can to try and get the guy we want most. That's simply it, and the amount of writing being given to those simple concepts is baffling.

But let's put some things in perspective here:

1. Burke said this: "The goal for next year is to make the playoffs," Burke said. "If that's not the goal of every GM, they should get out of the business."

Burke is not guaranteeing the Leafs a playoff spot next year (we leave that to coaches who desperately love the taste of crow). He is not saying he will build our club into a contending team overnight. He's saying that our guys will be expected to do their best to win every game, regardless of circumstances. They won't win, but that's irrelevant; the point is that even though next year will be a losing season for us Burke is making it clear that losing will never be acceptable to this organization. It sounds like a bold claim, but it's really just a very simple affirmation of some basic values.

2. Burke also said this: "We'll immediately attempt to move up," Burke said during a morning news conference. "We're going to talk to everyone between us and the first pick and see what the landscape is.

"We're going to see what it costs and we're going to try and move up."

Is that claiming Tavares as Leaf property? No. We'll see what it costs? Try to move up? Burke sounds like a guy prospecting nicer apartments. This statement doesn't say anything significant either. Every GM in the league that isn't picking #1 should be looking to move up. Every GM in the league should want to pick #1. They usually don't because the asking price is often unreasonable. The fact that Burke has vocalized this sentiment doesn't somehow make it a prophecy.

Saying that when we play we'll play to win and when we pick high we want to pick the highest isn't exactly throwing down a gauntlet here, it's simple stuff. Burke is making a statement, but it's not a statement for the Isles, or for anyone else in the league. It's a statement for the fans and players that the organization will never be satisfied with mediocrity, and it's a sad reflection on the state of this franchise that those words somehow seem shocking or bold.

Remember, Burke knows the media well and is a guy with a sense of humour when it comes to people shoving microphones in his face. Near the end of the season he was asked about signing NCAA free agents on Hockey Night in Canada. When Tyler Bozak's name came up Burke said "Who?" The name was repeated and Burke said "Ah... yeah, I think I've heard of him." with a chuckle before launching into his response. Weeks later, Bozak was signed by the club, along with Christian Hanson. I have no doubt the guy right now is having a little chuckle over the furor that his basic statements have caused.

Furor which has spread out into the blogosphere, such as some smug articles here and here. Look, the media's tendencies to blow little things out of proportion when Toronto is involved are almost legendary, do we really need to do this all over again? I also love that posts specifically directed towards media coverage still manage to take the usual cheap shots at the franchise, just because. Did anybody stop to think that maybe Burke was stating the obvious? That maybe this stuff was important for Leafs players and fans to hear? Or that maybe, just maybe, Burke knew this stuff would blow up in the papers and he's having a little fun with all of you?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tank update!

Well the All-Star weekend has passed and the Leafs are finally, unequivocally a losing club. The past little while has been tough, but at least now finally we can look to the future with a clear mind free of the rollercoaster that is the lead-up to the playoffs.

With that in mind, just what picture is shaping up in the standings? Are we close to a lottery pick with the roster we've got now, or do we need a helpful push?

As it stands, the bottom 10 teams are (worst to best):

New York Islanders: 35 pts
Atlanta Thrashers: 39 pts
Ottawa Senators: 41 pts
St. Louis Blues: 44 pts
Tampa Bay Lighting: 44 pts
Nashville Predators: 45 pts
Toronto Maple Leafs: 46 pts
LA Kings: 47 pts
Colorado Avalanche: 47 pts
Vancouver Canucks: 52 pts (lol Sundin)

We're currently sitting in 7th, which is pretty funny considering that's where we ended up last year. Wait, you mean we were trying to make the playoffs last year? And Paul Maurice guaranteed it? Oh. That's actually pretty sad then.

Now being two spots out of the top 5 is pretty unacceptable considering that maybe 3 of the teams below us still had playoff aspirations in mind at the beginning of the season. We can't afford to burn more picks moving up, either.


If I had to guess the movers in our little group of misery, I'd say that it's doubtful any of the teams currently above us in the standings will drop down below our standing, Colorado will get Stastny and maybe Sakic back at some point, the Kings are simply better than us, and Vancouver has to shake out of it's funk sometime. All of the teams above the bottom ten are looking to make a playoff push and I'd bet most of them get more competitive as the season wears on.

As for the teams below us,
the Nashville Predators have got the talent to rise above us. The question lies with their ownership, whether they feel the market can take failure and whether they can even afford to pay the players they have.

Tampa Bay appears to finally be gelling as a team after a huge summer turnover and a laughable coaching mess. They've won 6 of their last 10 and generally Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Smith are enough to beat our entire team. If our boys in blue do their part and lose on the 12th I think there's a good chance we'll see ourselves sinking a spot in the standings.

St. Louis lost their stud dman over the break and weren't impressed enough with Alex Pietrangelo to keep him up (the concussion Hollweg gave him likely didn't help). Steen and Carlo have been getting them points, but not wins, and I think we'll be in a dogfight with the Blues over draft positioning. Still, they're not far away and have two games in hand on us.

Ottawa. Excuse me while I chuckle quietly to myself for a little while.

Alright, despite the Sens protestations that they were turning a new leaf after the break the team has continued floundering, with a losing record in it's last 10. They have three games on us, and could rise above the Leafs if those turn into three wins. Unfortunately the Sens, much like the Leafs, haven't strung three wins together all season. With their depth becoming suspect and their goaltending issues still not solved, it remains to be seen if they're actually any better than the Leafs this year. Like the Preds, the Sens will need to decide if they're selling hard at the deadline and that will have the greatest impact on their draft.

The Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders are just terrible. Awful. We could sell off everyone above 23, call up the entirety of the Marlies and I doubt we'd be able to pass either at this point. Well, maybe Atlanta.


Now, considering all that I can see us maybe sliding down two more spots to land in 5th, enough for a slim lottery chance and probably a damn good player. There are three teams within two points of us but it's hard to imagine all three putting together good streaks when they'll likely want to become deadline sellers just like us. And no matter how hard we sell, the bottom three looks too tough to crack at this point.

So, who wants to come rig the draft lottery with me?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Did anyone see Sifers at all?

So Sifers played just under 7 minutes last night with only one shift in the third period, despite playing over 20 earlier in the season and playing decently well at that. He took some heavy hits but no mention of an injury was made, nor did he leave the bench at any time.

Wilson in his post game noted that a virus has been making the rounds through the team, the defense especially, and he tapped Finger as an example. Except Finger played 18 minutes last night, despite taking two penalties that resulted in 5-on-3's. How did Finger deserve almost triple Sifers' ice time? He certainly wasn't any good on the power play.

So why was Sifers effectively benched for the game? He didn't stand out particularly, either good or bad. He certainly didn't put us in as many rough spots as Finger and Kubina did tonight. And if it was a virus tearing him up and causing lazy play from our vets, why wasn't one or both of Stralman or Kronwall called up to provide fresher bodies? If we needed the "toughness" that Deveaux and I'm supposing Newbury were to provide why haven't we given Phil Oreskovic, a 6' 3" defenseman from North York who has 56 PIMs in 32 games in the AHL, a tryout?

Also, upon the subject of the Leafs' decent amount of blueline scoring in the postgame, Wilson named White as someone whose contributions have been pleasantly surprising. White has 4 points in 20 games as a blueliner, and his assist tonight was so ghostly it might have been given to Alexei Cherepanov (too soon?). What is White slipping into Wilson's beverages to him believe he's contributing offensively? Especially as our power play has been atrocious during White's tenure on D. How does a productive tenure at forward justify the offensive minutes given to White on the blueline?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ian White should be a forward right now.

Alright, first off: Full Disclosure. I am a White hater; I've stated repeatedly and emphatically how, statistically and physically speaking, there simply isn't enough there to warrant the ice time he's getting over just about anybody else in the organization.

But he's been playing pretty well lately as a steady presence on our blueline, and though I still cringe to see him out there at crucial times in either zone, his screw-ups haven't resulted in as many goals as most of the guys making somewhere between 5 and 10 times the money he's making have allowed.

But all that needs to change.

When White clawed his way out of the press box he had to do it as a forward. He promptly scored a goal his first shift in, then a couple games later went on an impressive 6 game point streak, netting 7 points in his first 8 games back.

He then put two 8 game pointless streaks together around a pair of goals in his time afterwards, almost all of which has been spent as a defenseman. Since his hot streak, White's production has been three points in 19 games, and his shooting percentage has been creeping closer and closer to his career average (0.042), residing at 0.082 after a 0.32 clip during his point streak (a fact that makes the stat nerd in me inexplicably pleased).

I think he's terrible at shooting from the point. He tends toward double-clutching close to the blue line when he shoots. He's way too far away for the shot that he's got to fool anybody, he never moves to change his angle, and he takes just a little too long to get it off, giving a goalie enough time to make the save.

His two goals as a defenseman? One was off a beautiful faked shot from Anton Stralman (the last good thing he did before being sent down) in which White had actually crept down to the top of the circle, leaving less ice between him and the goalie. The second was a shot that actually lost power from the blue line, striking the ice early and skipping over Ryan Miller. I think I can put this more succinctly: White is not a good enough shooter to keep on taking the shots he trends towards. He's the Jason Blake of offensive defensemen. If he's going to grow into his offensive potential he needs to either change the way he takes shots from the point, or he needs to not be there at all.


Now, there's nothing wholly wrong about White not producing points if he keeps on providing stable blueline play, right? Not necessarily.

First off, he's second in shots for only to Pavel Kubina, impressive considering White has played 11 games less than him. However, White has half the points Kubina does, and from the blueline he has something like one sixth the offensive production. Or, 2 goals on 44 shots since his first 8 games (for a shooting percentage of 0.045, which happens to be his career average. Hmm...). Or, 1 assist on 42 shots in 19 games while averaging over 20 minutes. If White isn't producing any points while taking this many shots in this time it means he's not creating many offensive chances, which means he's killing our offense, especially on the power play.

Second, this team is a little bit strapped for reliable offense, especially with injuries mounting. We've scored 8 goals in 5 games after our two game blowout streak over Atlanta and Pittsburgh. White's production at forward could be a boon if he were to rediscover it.

Third, we need to figure out White's value on the trade market. If he shows he can be a productive third liner and a steady 20+ minute blueliner then he may actually be one of the best bargaining chips we have at his salary and age. We may even want to keep him if he can keep it up, although if it's the difference between White or a lottery pick at this year's draft I know which I'd make in a heartbeat. I'm also pretty sure that Ian likes scoring goals.

So for our sake, and Ian's, please Ron Wilson: make him a forward when Schenn comes back.