Oct 052011
 

The Leafs traded for David Steckel yesterday and while this is by no means a significant trade my first reaction to it was a very positive one.  A fourth round pick is almost worthless and Steckel is a more than useful quality defensive third/fourth line guy who can kill penalties, something the Leafs desperately need.  Upon further review of the stats, I still like the trade because of it’s low risk but my thoughts on Steckel are a little more mixed than I first believed.

The Good

On the surface, Steckel looks like a premiere defensive forward.  Over the past 4 years, Steckel has the 9thth lowest on ice goals against per 20 minutes of the 250 forwards with 1500 5v5close minutes of ice time and he has been consistently very good at keeping the puck out of his own net at even strength.  His four year HARD+ rating is 1.152 and his HARD+ ratings for the past 4 seasons are 1.112, 1.262, 1,102 and 1.094.  All of these things point to Steckel being a good, or maybe very good, defensive forward.

The Bad

Throwing a damper on everything I just said, his quality of competition is quite weak.  His OppGF20 (opposition goals for per 20 minutes) ranks 227th of 250 and surprisingly he has over the past 4 seasons had slightly more offensive zone starts than defensive zone starts.  Now this isn’t all bad.  His opponents on average scored at a rate of 0.766 goals per 20 minutes of 5v5close ice time while Steckel and his teammates held them to 0.499 goals per 20 minutes but I would have more confidence in his defensive numbers if he was playing against top level opponents.

The Ugly

One of the key roles the Leafs likely acquired Steckel for is to provide some desperately needed help to their woeful penalty kill.  The problem is, Steckel’s PK numbers are quite woeful as well.  Of the 63 forwards with 500 4v5 PK minutes over the past 4 seasons, Steckel ranks in 48th in goals against per 20 minutes though he is a much better, but still average, 28th in fenwick against per 20 minutes.  Furthermore, the quality of his opponents on the PK hasn’t been all that great either as he ranked 57th of 63 in OppGF20 and 60th of 63 in OppFenF20.  Add it all up and it is quite likely that Steckel has been a below (maybe well below) average PK guy over the past four seasons.  That isn’t good news for the Leafs PK in 2011-12.

The Skinny

Although the numbers cast some doubts as to whether Steckel will live up to my initial reaction when I heard the trade, I still like the trade because it is a low risk trade and adds some defensive minded depth and size to the Leafs lineup.  I’ll take a wait and see attitude with regards to Steckel being a quality addition to the Leafs penalty kill unit but at the very least he’ll be a quality addition to the fourth line.  A fourth line that includes Steckel along side Mike Brown and Colton Orr could at the very least be a physically intimidating energy line that hopefully is more than responsible defensively and that isn’t all bad.

 

May 262011
 

The biggest hole in the Leafs lineup that GM Brian Burke has been trying to fill for a couple of summers now is the first line center role and that hole in the lineup still exists and needs to be addressed before the Leafs can be serious playoff contenders.  Tyler Bozak was given a chance and failed (though it was probably overly optimistic to expect him to be that level of player) and the hopes of getting a top center in a Kaberle trade also did not pan out (though Colborne is a fine center prospect and may be a quality center a few years from now).  High first round draft pick Nazem Kadri is another option but as of yet hasn’t developed into that level of player.  That said, if nothing changes Kadri is the guy penciled into that role but that wouldn’t be an ideal situation entering the 2011-12 season.  Not only is that putting a lot of pressure on Kadri (who has enough on his shoulders already)  but some within the organization have suggested Kadri might be better suited as a winger than a center.  Regardless of the reason, Burke is desperately in search of a true, established first line center.  Let me take a look at a few of the options.

The only real first line center option in the unrestricted free agent market is Brad Richards.  At 31 years of age he probably has at least 4 or 5 really good seasons left in him and he is a very good playmaker and overall offensive player and likely be a significant boost to the woeful Leafs power play but he is a liability defensively which is a concern for me.  The question is, what are you willing to pay for him as there will be ample competition for his services from Dallas, the NY Rangers and probably others.  Since Burke is against handing out long term deals more than 5 years it may cost Burke 5 years at $8-8.5M per season to get Richards signed.  The Leafs have the cap space to do it, but should they commit that much to Richards?  Would you? Personally, I think if you can get him for $8M or less you do it.  Anything more is getting a bit rich.

The other option for filling the first line center hole is through trade.  Two teams that I can think of that are deep at center and may be (or need to be) looking to make changes are the Flyers and the Sharks.  The Flyers have depth at center, very little cap space, would like to re-sign Ville Leino (but would be at a significant increase in salary) and need to spend some money improving their goalie situation as well (Vokoun?).  They have Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who have or can play center.  I’d love to see a Jeff Carter or James van Riemsdyk in a Leaf uniform but van Riemsdyk is still on a cheap rookie contract so doesn’t really solve the Flyers money issues and Carter has one of those long term deals that Burke doesn’t like to hand out.  Briere would probably be available and not cost much but his cap hit is $6.5M for four more seasons and he’ll be turning 34 around the time the 2011-12 season starts so he isn’t really someone I see Burke being interested in.

San Jose just suffered another playoff disappointment at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks so one has to wonder if they finally bite the bullet and make a significant change to their core group of forwards.  They have Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and my rookie of the year pick Logan Couture as players able to play the center position and all are capable of being first or second line centers.  Of the four, Pavelski might be the most ‘available’ but he is also probably the least suitable as a first line center so I am not sure the Sharks are an ideal trading partner for a center.

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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.