Feb 182011
 

First off, it should be a sad day in Leaf land as we all say good bye to Tomas Kaberle.  It seems many people are unaware of just how good Kaberle was and still is.  Here are some facts about Tomas Kaberle:

  1. Since Kaberle entered the NHL in 2008-09 the only defenseman with more assists than Kaberle is Niklas Lidstrom and only Lidstrom, Gonchar and Pronger have more points.
  2. Since the lockout only Lidstrom has more assists among defensemen and only Lidstrom and Rafalski have more points.
  3. Among all skaters, not just defensemen, Kaberle ranks 20th in assists since the lockout and has more assists than Vincent Lecavalier and Eric Staal.
  4. His point production has not tailed off significantly the past several seasons despite many people seemingly believing otherwise.  He had 49 points last season and is on pace for about 52 this season.
  5. Only 2 defensemen (Keith, Enstrom) have more combined assists this season and last and only 8 defensemen (Green, Keith, Boyle, Lidstrom, Enstrom, Visnovsky, Doughty and Yandle).

That is pretty good if you ask me and while he had his flaws he truly was an elite puck moving and passing defenseman.  He’ll be missed in Toronto.

Now, it is time to take a look at the Leafs future.  What Burke has done the past couple years has actually been pretty extraordinary and for all those who have begged for the Leafs to go with the build through the draft method of team building here is some of the assets currently in the Maple Leaf organization.

  • 2011 Boston 1st round pick
  • 2011 Philadelphia 1st round pick
  • Nazem Kadri – 7th overall 2009
  • Luke Schenn – 5th overall 2008
  • Joe Colborne – 16th overall, 2008
  • Jake Gardiner – 17th overall, 2008
  • Phil Kessel – 5th overall, 2006
  • Dion Phaneuf – 9th overall 2003
  • Joffrey Lupul – 7th overall 2002
  • Mike Komisarek – 7th overall, 2001
  • Fredrik Sjostrom – 11th overall 2001
  • Colby Armstrong – 21st overall, 2001

Now we don’t know what Kadri, Colborne, Gardiner and the two 2011 draft picks will turn out to be, but that is what rebuilding through the draft is all about (and isn’t that what Leaf fans have been demanding).  So while it may not be the traditional build through the draft, what Burke has done to the depth of young talent on these Leafs has been amazing, even if we haven’t seen the results on the ice yet.  On top of that, the Leafs should have about $25M in cap space available for next season (though MacArthur, Bozak, Schenn and Gunnarsson need to be re-signed). Fear not Leaf fans, I believe good times are ahead, and not too far away.

Jul 022010
 

When Brian Burke makes a trade more often than not he does it by targeting players and going hard after them until he gets them.  He did this with both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.  He identified them as players he needs to fill a hole on the roster and went hard after them.  If Brian Burke is to trade Kaberle he will probably do the same.  He isn’t going to trade Kaberle for the sake of trading Kaberle, but rather for the sake of filling a hole on his roster.  He has on numerous occasions identified the need for a scoring winger, preferably one with size and although he has added Versteeg and Armstrong in the past 2 days he may still be seeking that kind of player, especially if he can’t get Kulemin signed to a contract.  So, we need to ask, who fits that profile and might be available?  To answer that question, lets take a look at all the wingers who scored more than 25 goals this past season.

Ovechkin, Marleau, Kovalchuk, Semin, Heatley, Parise, Burrows, Ryan, Nash, Iginla, Penner, Kane, Jokinen, Samuelsson, Hornqvist, Moulson, St. Louis, D. Sedin, L. Eriksson, Knuble, C. Stewart, Vanek, Stempniak, Gionta, Perry, Bourque, Neal, Selanne, Latendresse, Briere, Cammalleri, Sharp, Brunette, Raymond, Holmstrom, Hagman.

The majority of those players you can immediately scratch off the available list because their teams just won’t trade them (i.e. Ovechkin, Marleau, Heatley, etc.).  Others are probably too old (Knuble, Holmstrom) or not established enough (Jokinen, Moulson) for Burke to be interested in.  There are some interesting names though that might be available.

Certainly Kovalchuk is available as an unrestricted free agent but as I recently wrote, I think he will cost more and demand a longer term contract than Brian Burke is willing to give.  Teemu Selanne is an unrestricted free agent as well and has a history with Burke, but I suspect he ends up in Anaheim or retires and he is outside of Burke’s ideal age range.

The interesting players on the list are Alexander Semin, Bobby Ryan, Loui Eriksson, James Neal and maybe even Tomas Vanek.  Alexander Semin is probably the most skilled forward in that list and for salary reasons it seems almost certain that the capitals will have to part ways with him at some point but they are probably looking more for a physical defensive defenseman on defense than another offensive one like Kaberle.

There has been a ton of speculation revolving around Bobby Ryan.  We can be sure that Ryan is the exact kind of player that Burke would love to acquire.  He is young, he can score, and he plays a physical game.  On top of that, with Scott Niedermayer retiring the Ducks could use another defenseman but Kaberle might be just too much like Lubomir Visnovsky to be an ideal fit.  It would also cost more than just Kaberle to pry Ryan away from the Ducks and the Ducks may in fact be more interested in a young defenseman like Luke Schenn than in Kaberle.

James Neal and Loui Eriksson, both of the Dallas Stars, are intriguing possibilities.  Eriksson is coming off back to back seasons with 36 and 29 goals and 63 and 71 points and is just coming into his prime.  Eriksson is signed long term and has a no trade clause so it is uncertain if the Stars would, or can, trade him.  James Neal, on the other hand, is an unsigned restricted free agent and in his 2 NHL seasons he has scored 24 and 27 goals and should only get better.  The Stars have some depth on the wing with Morrow, Ott, Eriksson, Benn, and others so they may be willing to trade Neal in the right deal.  I also believe that the Stars could use another defenseman because after Robidas there isn’t really much there.  Trading for Neal will probably cost more than just Kaberle but would probably cost less than trading for Ryan, especially if the Leafs were willing to take some salary in return.  I personally think Neal would be a nice addition to the Leafs and would fit in perfectly with their young core.

The final player in the 25+ goal category that might be available is Tomas Vanek.  Vanek if you recall was signed to a big offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers which the Buffalo Sabres matched but Vanek has not really lived up to his $7 million per year contract.  He has been good but I am sure the Sabres hoped for more.  The Sabres have said goodbye to long time defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman and are in the market for some new talent on the back end.  They have signed Milan Jurcina, but still need a defenseman or two.  Buffalo is also a small market team that probably won’t spend to the salary cap and might be willing to part ways with Tomas Vanek if the return fit their needs but it will take some kind of replacement forward along with Kaberle for them to make that trade (Kulemin?).  Vanek has good size and 40 goal potential and I am sure would be of interest to Burke but a deal like this with a division rival would be a tough one to make.

Wingers with 20-25 goals that might interest the Leafs and might be available are the Blue Jackets RJ Umberger, the Stars Jamie Benn, the Sharks Setogutchi or the Lightning’s Ryan Malone.  RJ Umberger is interesting as it was Burke who drafted him in 2001 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.   Jamie Benn is on a cheap entry level contract which likley means Dallas has no interest in trading him so scratch him from the list.  With Tampa signing Pavel Kubina today it seems less likely they would be interested in another defenseman and will probably keep Malone.  Setogutchi doesn’t have the size that Brian Burke is seeking but he had 31 goals in 2008-09 and has more pure scoring ability than any current Leaf forward outside of Kessel.  The Sharks are also likely looking for a defenseman to replace the retired Rob Blake and may have interest in Kaberle.  Another Shark forward that may interest Brian Burke is Ryane Clowe.  Though Clowe may not have the goal scoring ability of Setogutchi he has good size and can play a tough physical game.

If I had my wish, I would love to see either Bobby Ryan or James Neal in a Leaf uniform.  Both have good size and have 30+ goal potential (maybe 40+ for Ryan).  Failing that, one of the Shark wingers would be interesting pickups.

Jul 242009
 

Ok, I just read an article that Howard Berger wrote yesterday on how the Leafs must trade Tomas Kaberle. It was a pretty disturbing read actually because it showed the ignorance of just how good Tomas Kaberle has been and how ignorant Howard Berger is to what Brian Burke is trying to build in Toronto (not just a team of tough guys).

While he is unquestionably the Leafs’ best defenseman, Kaberle is not, nor has he ever been, in the upper echelon among NHL stars. He is an above-average performer some nights; middling and ineffective on many others, with an enviable ability to head-man the puck. His repertoire does not include even a shred of physical aptitude, which would seem to disqualify him as a Burke protégé.

I will accept that Kaberle has some flaws, mostly in the defensive end (be he is not really a liability either) but to call him middling and ineffective on many nights is short changing Kaberle a whole lot. In Kaberle we are talking about a defenseman who is among the top scoring defensemen post lockout. Here are a comparison of defensemen post lockout.

Niedermayer: 291games, 50g, 166a, 216pts, +4
Kaberle: 295games, 32g, 177a, 209pts, -14

Now when you take into account differences in the quality of each defenseman’s teammates and Kaberle’s numbers start to look very impressive. And as for Kasberle and his softness not being a Burke type player, well Burke has always said he tough guys on his squad to make room for skilled guys like Kaberle and the guy Berger is promoting Burke trade Kaberle for, Phil Kessel, is certainly not a physical presence either. Brian Burke was more than happy to make room for Markus Naslund in Vancouver and Teemu Selanne in Anaheim and it’s not like Scott Niedermayer is the most physical of defensemen either. Pair Kaberle with Beauchemin and you have a great mix of skill and physical play. Post lockout the Leafs have been in the top 12 in scoring every season and that isn’t because the Leafs have had an abundance of highly skilled forwards. It is because the Leafs have had skilled defensemen like Kaberle and to be so eager to trade him away is just plain silly. I am glad Brian Burke has more sense than that.

Though some may invoke Kaberle’s “many contributions to the Maple Leafs”, the club could just as easily have missed the playoffs the past four years without him. Fact is, Kaberle hasn’t appeared in a post-season game in more than half-a-decade, and we can easily count, on one hand, the number of playoff encounters he influenced prior to 2004.

The one thing that really bugs me about Howard Berger is that he often jumps to conclusions about players based on whether that player has made the playoffs yet. Just because Kaberle hasn’t been in the playoffs the past four seasons is not evidence that he is a bad player. It astonished me that for someone who watches as much hockey as Howard Berger does that he seems to forget that hockey is a team sport. There are reasons why the Leafs haven’t made the playoffs and Tomas Kaberle’s name should not come up anywhere on the list of reasons. Using that logic Roberto Luongo must be a bad goalie because he has only won 6 playoff games in his career spanning nine NHL seasons.

That’s why it is almost impossible to conceive that Burke will not be presented an adequate trade proposal before Aug. 15th. Though the GM contends he will only move Kaberle if his “socks” are blown off, he knows he isn’t bartering Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dion Phaneuf, Dan Boyle, or any front-of-the-pack NHL defenseman.

I’ll accept that Kaberle isn’t Chara who has such a unique set of attributes or Lidstrom who might be the best defensemen in the NHL ever and probably not Phaneuf who also adds a physical dimension to the game that Kaberle doesn’t bring, but I’d say Kaberle is definitely comparable to Boyle. In fact, Boyle might be Kaberle’s best comparison. Neither are big or play physical and statistically over the last four seasons they are fairly comparable with Boyle being a bit more of a goal scorer while Kaberle having more assists. Both are good skaters and very good puck handlers and both are very good anchoring the power play. Kaberle’s strengths and weaknesses compare very favourably to Boyles and at a $4.25 million salary Kaberle’s value is outstanding.
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Mid-summer hockey thoughts

 NHL  Comments Off
Jul 242009
 

We are approaching mid-summer, though the weather seems to indicate it is still late spring with below average temperatures and lots of rain. That said, the NHL draft is over as is the prime free agent season and while several teams have new looks and have pretty much set rosters, other teams still have moves to make. Here are a few mid-summer hockey thoughts.

Are the Philadelphia Flyers a better

The Philadelphia Flyers made one of the boldest moves of the summer trading away Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and a couple of first round picks for Chris Pronger. As good as Pronger is though, are the Flyers a better team? In addition to losing Lupul they have also lost Mike Knuble to the Capitals via free agency and between Lupul and Knuble that is a loss of 52 goals. That is a big hit to the Flyers offense that they will have to make up. A healthy Briere and the development of Claude Giroux or James Van Riemsdyk could offset some of that loss. On defence Pronger definitely makes the Flyers a better team. With Pronger, Timonen, Coburn, Jones, Carle and Parent they will have one of the better defences in the NHL but there isn’t a lot of depth beyond those top six so staying healthy will be important. But the real problem for the Flyers has been their problem for the past 15 odd years. Goaltending. Last year the Flyers had the 6th best team save percentage as Biron had a .912 save percentage and Niittymaki had a .912 save percentage but both goalies suffered from inconsistent play from time to time. While Biron and Niittymaki are far from elite level goalies, both played fairly well in goal last year but neither of them were welcomed back to the Flyers. Replacing them will be Ray Emery returning from the KHL and Brian Boucher who had a good year in San Jose last year but over his career he hasn’t proven to be anything more than a decent backup. It may not be a stretch to say that Ray Emery will be a key to how good the Flyers will be in 2009-10. Is Emery capable of playing 60 games of quality goaltending? It is certainly possible as he played 58 games for Ottawa in 2006-07 posting a 33-16-6 record with a .918 save percentage. Problem is, he followed that up with a dismal 2007-08 season going 12-13-4 with a very weak .890 save percentage. It seems he had a good year in the KHL last year so maybe his 2007-08 season was an off year but it seems clear to me that for the Flyers to be a better team Ray Emery has to be pretty solid in goal and that is a big question mark. Without decent to good goaltending the Flyers can’t be considered among the top Stanley Cup contenders.

Are the Calgary Flames better

The Flames made a similar move to the Flyers in acquiring Jay Bouwmeester but are they really a better team? To make room for Bouwmeester the Flames had to part with Jordan Leopold, Adrian Aucoin and most importantly Mike Cammalleri. Last season the Flames finished 8th in the NHL in goals but Cammalleri scored 39 goals for the Flames and was a big part of the Flames offense. A full season of Olli Jokinen will pick up some of the slack but the Flames offense will be centered around Jokinen and Iginla and not a lot more. Additionally Rene Bourque scored 21 goals (in just 58 games) last year which was a career high and it might be a stretch to expect him to repeat. It is difficult to imagine the Flames offense next year being as good as last years. The defense is in many way comparable to the Flyers with an excellent top four of Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr and Sarich and a couple of decent guys to fill out the depth charts but not much beyond that if there many significant long term injuries. But like the Flyers, the problem I see with the Flames is in goal. That may surprise some but Kiprusoff has been relatively average the past few seasons. His save percentage has dropped from .933 in 2003-04 to .923, .917, .906 and down to .903 last season. That is not a trend that a Flames fan would enjoy seeing continue but is there really any reason to believe it won’t? One of the problems has been that the Flames have never brought in a good enough backup to give Kiprusoff any rest time and another off season seems to be passing by where they have chosen not to address that issue. I don’t see the Flames being any better this upcoming season and may in fact take a step back.

Should the Leafs keep Kaberle

There have been a number of rumours this summer about the Leafs trading Tomas Kaberle. The biggest rumour was Kaberle to the Bruins for Phil Kessel but in recent weeks the rumours have died down and the other day Burke came out and stated that he believes that Kaberle will start the season with the Leafs. For Leaf fans, I think this is good news as I believe that keeping Kaberle is in the Leafs best interest. Going into next season the Leafs could have a top 4 defence grouping of Kaberle-Beauchemin-Schenn-Komisarek. That is a pretty good group with a nice mix of offense and defense and physical play and when you round it out with two of White, Van Ryn, Finger, Exelby, Frogren and Stralman and you have one of the better top 6 in the league.
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