Jan 282010

The Leafs, Hurricanes and Oilers are the only teams in definitive selling mode as we approach the Olympic break and subsequent trade deadline and with the way things are going there may not be all that many other sellers out there. So for now, let’s stick with these three teams and Ilya Kovalchuk and make some predictions on whether the following players will be traded and what kind of return they could garner. My predictions will be in the comments.

Atlanta Thrashers
Ilya Kovalchuk

Toronto Maple Leafs
Tomas Kaberle – one more year at $4.25M cap hit and salary
Alexei Ponikarovsky
Matt Stajan
Niklas Hagman – 2 more years at $3M cap hit and salary
Lee Stempniak
Jamal Mayers
Garnett Exelby
Wayne Primeau
Vesa Toskala
Jason Blake – 2 more years at $4M cap hit, $3M actual salary
Jeff Finger – 2 more years at $3.5M cap hit and salary

Carolina Hurricanes
Ray Whitney
Matt Cullen
Stephane Yelle
Joe Corbo
Aaron Ward
Niclas Wallin
Manny Legace

Edmonton Oilers
Sheldon Souray – 2 more years at $5.4M cap hit, $4.5M actual salary
Steve Staios – 1 more year at $2.7M cap hit, $2.2M actual salary
Shawn Horcoff – 5 more years at $5.5M cap hit, 6.5M,6.5M,6.0M,4.0M,3.0M actual salary
Ethan Moreau – 1 more year at $2.0M cap hit, 1.75M actual salary
Fernando Pisani
Robert Nilsson – Another year at $2M cap hit, $2.5M actual salary.
Lubomir Visnovsky – Three more years at $5.6M cap hit, $6.0M, $5.0M, $3.0M actual salary.

Jan 272010

I have been picking on Howard Berger a lot recently, but I won’t say much here. I think his words speak for themselves.

September 30th, 2009

My own sense is that the Leafs will improve, but not quite enough to sneak into the playoffs.

TORONTO… 90 pts (9th)

November 2nd, 2009

Exactly one month of the 2009-10 National Hockey League season has passed for the Maple Leafs and there’s already enough data to reasonably conclude that the franchise will extend its record absence from the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring. That shouldn’t come as a bulletin to any rational person that has watched the club stumble through its first 12 games, but common sense rarely prevails in our rose-colored city.

December 21st, 2009

In a season that looked, early on, as if it would have few defining moments, tonight’s home date with the Buffalo Sabres will speak loudest about the Maple Leafs. There are no extenuating circumstances heading into the match — neither club played last night; both are relatively healthy [though Thomas Vanek is out] – and it represents the most significant hour of the Leafs’ season to this point. If they can follow Saturday’s shut-out conquest of the Bruins by knocking off their prime nemesis of the past calendar year, there will be no reason to think the Leafs cannot remain indefinitely in the playoff hunt.

January 24th, 2010

Though I took a lot of abuse from wishful fans of the Blue & White for suggesting that making the playoffs was a “pipe-dream” after only eight games [and a 0-7-1 start], at least the word “playoffs” was still remotely part of the discussion with 74 games left on the schedule. Now, it will take a blazing streak for the Leafs to merely finish 13th in the Eastern Conference.

Interesting how playoffs after 8 games was a pipe dream but on December 21st there was no reason to think that remaining in a playoff hunt indefinitely was not possible. But that’s Howard for you (though this kind of goofiness isn’t unique to Howard).

The only suggestion I have from all of this is for everyone to remember that the NHL season is a long season and every team has its ups and downs and jumping to conclusions based on 10 or 15 game segments is pointless, especially in a league where there are so few great teams and a whole lot of mediocrity.

Jan 222010

I think it is time that I come out and express my opinion on the Leafs season so far. The Leafs are currently sitting in 14th spot in the east with 44 points in 52 games thanks to a dismal 17-25-10 record. Now I know that many of you are loving that my prediction of the Leafs making the playoffs is going so wrong as now I have to eat crow and admit my bias, but let me point out two things many seem to forget.

1. I don’t think anyone predicted the Leafs would end the season with just 69 points, which is where they will end up if they keep on their current pace. Howard Berger, and others, love to talk about how bad the Leafs are and how we all knew that going into the season except for the most optimistic and unrealistic of fans. But of course, what Howard fails to mention that he didn’t predict the Leafs would end the season with 69 points, but rather he predicted the Leafs would end the season with 90 points and ending up 9th in the conference. Sorry Howard, but you’ll have to admit that you were awfully wrong about the Leafs this season too. And it isn’t just Howard. Almost everyone thought that the Leafs would be improved and likely end up just out of the playoffs. In fact, pretty much everyone predicted the Leafs would end up closer to my 95 point prediction than to the 69 points they are currently on pace for. So, if I am going to eat crow, you’ll all have to too.

2. A significant portion of my optimistic thinking was that I thought the combination of a healthy Toskala, a hopefully good Gustavsson, and a better 3rd goalie in MacDonald would result in much improved goaltending. Here is my exact quote:

Now I know a lot of people will scream bias at this prediction but I truly believe that 95 points is relatively easily obtainable if they even get average goaltending. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that but with a healthy Toskala, a promising prospect in Gustavsson and a more than decent third option in Joey MacDonald not to mention one of the best goalie coaches in the game in Francois Allaire getting average goaltending is certainly within reach. They also have a good and deep defense and a significant number of forwards capable of scoring 20-30 goals so they should produce enough offensively. Goaltending is key.

Well, none of that panned out. Toskala has been even worse than ever and Gustavsson has been good at times, bad at other times and overall just mediocre. The end result is a team save percentage of .885 which is exactly the same as last year. That goes a long way to explaining why the Leafs are so bad this year just as it does in explaining how bad the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Oilers are (those three teams are the 29th, 28th and 27th worst teams in save percentage.

So with that out of the way, let me address some specific issues with respect to the Leafs.

Goaltending going Forward

The goaltending is in complete disarray. Based on his play, Toskala has probably not even earned a roster spot in the ECHL, let along the NHL. Save for a game or two, he has been horrid. He has no future with the Leafs, and quite possibly no future in the NHL (though Raycroft still earns an NHL paycheck so anything is possible). But regardless, he won’t be with the Leafs next season. Furthermore, he isn’t likely to garner any attention come the trade deadline. He has been that bad. So the thought of showcasing him as potential trade bait, even for a 7th round pick, is pointless. I can’t think of a single reason why he should get another start this season. Since the Leafs don’t have their first round pick it doesn’t even make sense to play him just to lose more games. In short, Toskala serves no useful role and has no value to the Leafs whatsoever and so should be George Laracque’d and let go immediately. Play Gustavsson 80% of the remaining games and lets see if he can be a starter in the NHL and bring up MacDonald, who at least might have a chance at contributing to the Leafs organization in some capacity beyond this season. The Leafs need to find out what they have in Gustavsson because they simply cannot being another NHL season without some stability in goal. It’s killing the team and it will kill the confidence of the young players on the team and thus hurt their development.
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Jan 152010

One of the reasons I started this blog 4+ years ago was to dispel some of the myths and utter nonsense that the main stream media, and subsequently hockey fans, spew. Most specifically about the Maple Leafs, but about hockey in general as well. There are a number of other good bloggers that from time to time do the same and I have frequently exchanged e-mails with members of the media to attempt to inform them on reality but sadly, most of them still spew the same nonsense. With this post, Howard Berger will be my main target.

Now, I have exchanged many e-mails with Howard over the years and he often responds and seems like a nice enough guy, but his reporting, especially of late, has been utterly horrific. On Monday Howard wrote a blog post on the Wilson/Burke relationship and that the friendship would not stand in the way of Burke firing Wilson if it came down to that. That is all fine and dandy but at the end of that he talks about the Leafs tradable commodities and how they will not land anything of significance at the trade deadline.

The Leafs’ expendable parts do not possess any such pedigree. Even Kaberle – one of the most gifted passers in the NHL – has severe limitations as a defenseman. There is no physical component to his game; his early playoff record is thoroughly unremarkable, and he can be outmaneuvered by a clever opponent, as Sidney Crosby proved by undressing him at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

For the record, only Nicklas Lidstrom has more points by a defenseman post lockout. Sure, maybe Kaberle isn’t a Chris Pronger or Zdeno Chara but I don’t think anyone has ever accused Scott Niedermayer or Dan Boyle or Mike Green or even Nicklas Lidstrom of being overly physical players. And as for Sidney Crosby undressing Kaberle, well, it is not like Crosby isn’t capable of undressing any and every defenseman in the NHL. Yes, Kaberle is no Lidstrom, and isn’t a Chris Pronger or Zdeno Chara either, but is he as good as Dan Boyle? That’s probably a reasonable comparison and that makes Kaberle an all-star caliber defenseman. It is strange how so many in Leaf land, both media and fans, choose not to give credit where credit is deserved, even with Kaberle.

Howard then moved towards the remaining potential trade targets.

Unless a rival manager takes leave of his senses, he will not trade a top prospect or a draft choice in the first three rounds for any of the aforementioned.

Otherwise, Burke has third and fourth-line commodities to offer up at the deadline. A fellow like Stajan could provide an opposing club durability, depth and character at the key center-ice position, but he will not be an impact player. Neither will Ponikarovsky, Blake, Stempniak, Finger or Toskala – several of whom Burke couldn’t give away.

The above nonsense is some of the most idiotic analysis I see and it isn’t restricted to Howard Berger. Today Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail spewed similar nonsense.

Frankly, I also have little difficulty with Burke’s trade for Phil Kessel: he inherited a club that – let’s face it – didn’t even have a second-line forward on a good team let a lone a first-line forward.

Essentially what they are saying is the Leafs, outside of Kessel, don’t have a top 6 forward, or at least anyone that would be a top six forward on a good team. Let’s start with Stajan. He had 55 points last year and is on pace for 61 points this year. I’ll assume that both Berger and Blair believe that the Washington Capitals are a good team. They are, in fact, the highest scoring team in the NHL, by a significant margin. They are, also, a team that for the most part employs Brendan Morrison as their second line center. Brendan had 31 points last year and is on pace for just 50 points this year. Are you telling me that Stajan would not fit in as a second line center for the Capitals? The Pittsburgh Penguins are deep down the center but they have exactly 2, yes 2, players with more points than Stajan. They also only have one player, and no wingers, with more goals than Ponikarovsky or Hagman. Mike Rupp and Pascal Dupuis are second and third in goals scored by a Pittsburgh winger with 11 goals each. Are Berger and Blair trying to tell me that Hagman, with 16 goals, and Ponikarovsky, with 15 goals (both very reliable defensively as well) aren’t good enough to play on the Penguins top two lines? Sorry, I am not buying it and I do believe that both Blair and Berger believe that the Penguins are a good team. Go down the list of good teams and you will find a number of spots on the top two lines for a number of Leaf players.
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