Tuesday, 28 February 2012

NHL Trade Deadline - Full Recap

The NHL's trade deadline past yesterday at 3pm EST. There were more than a few big names kicking around as many major sports broadcasts launched their respective ten-hour trade deadline specials. I'll cut to the chase though, most of the bigger name players, such as Nash, Grabovski and others, ending up staying put with their current teams. The day moved slow, but in the end there were more than a dozen trades before the deadline.

Here is a recap of each trade and a bit on who I think walked out a winner, and who walked out a loser.

Nashville had one Kostitsyn brother, and got the other to get some chemistry between the two for their playoff run this season, but they may have given up too much for a pending UFA. Kostitsyn was drafted 10th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. The 27-year old had 20 goals and 45 points in 81 games last season and is at a similar pace this season. Those aren't astonishing numbers, but he may prove to be a good secondary scorer. Andrei's brother Sergei will be an RFA this summer. If he decides to stay in Nashville, maybe he can convince his brother to stay as well, and Nashville might walk out winning this trade after all.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

This is the part of the movie where "The Monster" is destroyed

Jonas Gustavsson, #50, Toronto Maple Leafs
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
In the movie of the Toronto Maple Leafs 2012 season, the hero is currently at war with the villain. However, in this complex story-line, the villain is actually one of the good guys who means well, but can't seem to handle the pressure and ends up doing harm to their surroundings. The villain is Jonas Gustavsson, and even though he is good at heart, the hero, Brian Burke, needs to take him down, away from the surroundings where he is causing all this destruction.

Last nights hockey game will likely mark the beginning of the end of the Gustavsson goaltending experiment in Toronto. It takes a special kind of goalie to play in this city. He has to be composed, confident, and skilled. It doesn't take much for the fans in Toronto to turn on you, as we have seen in recent years with Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft, just to name a few. Without those three characteristics in perfect balance, this city will eat you up as a goalie.

Gustavsson, who is 27 years old and in the last year of his current contract, will likely be a free agent this summer. I hope the best for him, and I hope he thrives in a smaller market that doesn't demand perfection from their goalies. Without all the pressure on his shoulders, he may be able to find more consistency in his game.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Leafs win 3-1 over Devils... Wait, no they lost 4-3 courtesy Jonas Gustavsson

Joffrey Lupul's facial expression says it all.
Leafs lose 4-3 in overtime on Tuesday night
PHOTO: TMLsHockeyBlog
The Maple Leafs played 60 hard minutes in Toronto tonight. It has been a while since I have seen the team put in a complete effort like this. They are on the wrong side of a losing skid and barely in a playoff spot, mostly due to the Washington Capitals struggling just as much as Toronto.

The Leafs started the game with a ton of effort and speed, but it was the Devils that scored first as the Leafs defenders left Petr Sykora wide open to tap in his own rebound. From there, Jonas Gustavsson would take over. He let in two bad goals through the five hole that seemed to zap the Leafs of any momentum as they were pushing back to take the lead in the hockey game. Down 3-2 in the final minute of the third period, Phil Kessel would slide the puck past Brodeur and tie the game, but in overtime the Monster struck again. Mark Fayne's point shot was going wide, but Gustavsson stretched to stop it anyway. The puck would hit Gustavsson under his left arm and bounce into the net. The Leafs would lose 4-3 in overtime.

This is the final straw for the goaltenders in Toronto. Enough is enough and something needs to give. I can't imagine Gustavsson will get another start for a while. To say the Toronto's playoff hopes are in jeopardy is an understatement. They need a goalie that can make the simple saves, and sometimes make a big save. As it stands right now, neither of the goalies on their active roster, James Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson, have proven to be a number one goaltender. The starting role has bounced back and forth for a while now. You would think that one of the goalies would take the opportunity and run with it, but that hasn't happened.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Leafs lose 6-2 to Canucks

Leafs goalies Jonas Gustavsson (left) and James Reimer (right)
as Reimer was pulled from the net in Saturday's game
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a really bad whole and can't seem to climb out of it. They have just won win in their last six games including last nights 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks shed some light on truly what kind of team the Leafs can be against a top team in the league. The answer on this night was a skilled offensive team with terrible defensive zone coverage, and two goalies who, rather than play really well to prove they want and have earned the starting goaltending job, end up getting the start moreso based on the other goalie's struggling efforts.

The game started out bad when the Canucks scored in the first off a mis-timed pinch by Keith Aulie. We've seen too many of those come back and end up in the back of our net. Aulie needs to gage when is a good time to pinch, and when isn't. Once in a while you will make mistakes, but you would think after being burned by that play so many times, he would be more hesitant to pinch.

It's tough to blame James Reimer on many of the goales the Canucks scored on him last night, but on the flip side he didn't go out there and make any big saves to help the team. If you're a bubble team like Toronto you need your goalie to step up and make some big saves every game. I'm not deflecting away from the issue, which is absolutely awful defensive zone coverage, but a big save from Reimer would have been nice last night. Jonas Gustavsson came into the game in relief of Reimer, and did not look any better, in fact I would say he looked worse, but I wasn't really paying attention, tuning in and out at that point.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Habs trade Hal Gill to Predators

Hal Gill
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
It must be really difficult to manage a team when the ownership keeps you on a really tight budget. Such is the problem in Nashville. That is why in the off-season the Predators traded Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi to the Maple Leafs for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. The only reason the Predators gave up an asset like Franson is because they wanted to get Lombardi's contract off their books. Nashville would end up letting Lebda go and keeping Slaney, until today.

The Predators traded Slaney along with Blake Geoffrion and a second round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Hal Gill and a conditional draft pick. Gill, who is 36 years old, is in the last year of his current contract and will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. With not much money left to pay to Gill from now until the end of the season, the Predators add some depth to their defense as they prepare for the playoffs, at a very minimal cost.

Looking back at the those two trades, there isn't much return for what the Predators have given up. They did manage to save the 3.5 million dollars per year, for this year and next year, that Lombardi would have been paid, but have given up quite a bit for not much in return. Compared to last years roster, out of Nashville is Cody Franson, Matthew Lombardi, Blake Geoffrion, and a second round draft pick, and in return is just Hal Gill, who is likely just a rental player until the end of the season.

Mikhail Grabovski Trade Rumour - What Makes Sense?

Mikhail Grabovski, 84, Toronto Maple Leafs
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
When asked about Mikhail Grabovski on Insider Trading, Thursday night, TSN analyst Darren Dreger had this to say:
"The preference is to sign him, but he could go. In fact, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a deal on the table, right now, that would give them a second round draft pick and a prospect for Mikhail Grabovski. Brian Burke believes that he can sweeten that, if necessary, maybe get a first rounder out of the deal. But again, they're not making that decision until February 27th. They know they need him, and the preference is to sign him."
The Leafs will only trade Grabovski if they feel a contract will not be figured out by the trade deadline on February 27th. Toronto does not want to let him go to a free agent market without getting anything in return. Ideally though, Maple Leafs General Manager, Brian Burke, wants him to remain in the blue and white if the two sides can agree on a deal.

As it stands now, the offer of a prospect and a second round draft pick is a bit weak for Grabovski. There is no indication on how good a prospect is on the table, but unless it is a very good prospect, with a ton of NHL upside, I don't think the offer is enough to get Burke to pull the trigger. If in fact Grabovski is to be traded before the trade deadline, he is likely to get a better offer in the next week and a half.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Rick Nash in a Leaf uniform - Is it a good idea?

Rick Nash, #61, Columbus Blue Jackets
photo: mapleleafs.com
News broke on Tuesday that Rick Nash is willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to a short list of teams. Rick Nash is under contract until the end of the 2017-18 season. His cap hit is $7.8M per season. The list is supposedly 5 teams or less, and as for Canadian teams, it has been reported that the Canucks, and the Leafs, are somewhat in the run. The problem for both teams is that they are right against the salary cap.

The price the Blue Jackets have put on Rick Nash is 3 or 4 good young players. According to TSN, a deal that would move Nash to the Maple Leafs would involve Jake Gardiner and another two or three good young players. The problem is that the Maple Leafs don't want to "mortgage their farm", or trade away all of the good young assets that they have drafted and acquired over the last few seasons.

So, Maple Leafs General Manager, Brian Burke, must ask himself a few important questions. Are there sufficient players available on the Marlies that can jump up to the NHL level and play in an opening that might be created by trading for Nash? Will the Leafs have to trade away salary to have a manageable amount of cap space to make the trade? Is it worth it to trade away a handful of good young talent for Nash?

How To Wipe With Nine Million Dollars - The Tim Connolly and Mike Komisarek Story!

Tim Connolly #12, Toronto Maple Leafs
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
So, the Leafs lost again, their fourth straight in regulation. Jonas Gustavsson was in net tonight, and although he let in 5 goals, he looked pretty good aside from a penalty shot goal against. Although, one could argue if Phaneuf didn't get lost on the play there wouldn't have been a penalty shot after all. Kiprusoff was the key to the Flames holding a 3-1 lead until late in the third period when the Flames added two more goals as the Leafs had pretty much given up. The lone goal scorer for Toronto was Tyler Bozak. Leafs defensive zone coverage was a disaster, the slot was open all night and the Flames were ripping them at the Monster from close range. The final score was 5-1 in favour of Calgary.

After three straight loses and an injury to Gunnarsson, the Leafs had to juggle their lines heading into tonight. I don't disagree with the decision to juggle the lines, but I can't say the same for the players Ron Wilson decided to promote. Tim Connolly was jumped up to the second line, where he played the wing with Grabovski and MacArthur, and Mike Komisarek started the game on the first defensive unit with Dion Phaneuf. You would think with the salary spent on these two players, over nine million dollars per season combined, they would deserve their new assignments, but if you've watched many games this season its quite the opposite.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Carl Gunnarsson leaves practice after collision with Jay Rosehill

Carl Gunnarsson celebrates with Jake Gardiner
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson left practice this morning after suffering an injury due to a collision with Jay Rosehill. It's sad enough that Jay Rosehill gets to practice with the team and collect an NHL salary, but now he could be on the bad side of many Leaf fans if in fact Gunnarsson is out for a substantial period of time.

Apparently Rosehill and Gunnarsson collided during practice and Gunnarsson was helped off the ice. He seems to have injured his leg and Ron Wilson suggested that "an image" would need to be taken and reviewed before the team can correctly evaluate the injury. It sounds like he's definitely going to miss some time, but hopefully its not a long-term injury.

Despite the fact that the Leafs have quite a bit of depth on defense, they have some big shoes to fill. Gunnarsson has arguable been the Leafs best defenseman this season. He's a steady defender, who also has some offensive flare. Any replacement the Leafs put into the line-up will not be as good as Gunnarsson has been this season.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Leafs Spoil Sundin Night And Make Playoff Race Interesting

Sundin's night spoiled as the Habs
destroy the Leafs 5-0
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
After a good week of hockey where the Leafs won all three of their games from last Wednesday to this past Monday, the Leafs have struggled badly. They most certainly are making the playoff race interesting, but not in a good way if you're a Leaf fan. They have lost their last three games and have played progressively worse in each game.

It was Mats Sundin's night tonight. His jersey number 13 was honoured and raised into the rafters accompanied by ceremony where Sundin would be cheered for the majority of the 20 minutes of his speech. That was about all the cheering the Leafs would get as the next three segments of 20 minutes would be filled with boos from the stands. The Leafs were flat again tonight. Reimer let in two questionable goals, one through the five-hole and another that fluttered between his arm and squeaked into the back of the net. Luke Schenn attempted to stick handle the puck in the defensive zone, which is usually not a good idea, and turned it over to Montreal for another goal. Dion Phaneuf let Lars Eller walk around him for the fourth goal and Reimers night was done. Gustavsson would come in the third period and would let a goal in on his first shot against, which was a breakaway for Montreal.

Friday, 10 February 2012

2013 Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 - Leafs vs Red Wings

The NHL made it official yesterday. The Winter Classic for next year would be in Detroit at Michigan Stadium, which is more commonly known as the Big House. The Leafs would visit the Red Wings in front of over 110, 000 fans. This isn't big news as this was a poorly kept secret, the rumours had been around for nearly a month. Assuming HBO does a 24/7 series on the event, like they have in the past, it will be a very exciting month leading up to the Winter Classic.

Two Original Six rivals will be going at it in front of an NHL record breaking audience. Leafs GM Brian Burke said, "It's Hockeytown against the center of the hockey universe", when describing the event. The Winter Classic is expected to break the NHL record for largest attendance at a single game, but there are also plans for a series of events to build up to the game around the city. Rather than calling the entire plan the "Winter Classic" its being dubbed the "Hockeytown Winter Festival".

The Winter Festival is set to include far more than the outdoor game between the Leafs and the Red Wings. As per tradition there will be an alumni game played at Comerica Park, but there is expected to be far more. The Great Lakes Invitational, which is a tournament of Michigans four college teams, is also to occur during the weeks leading up to the outdoor game. There is also going to be an AHL match-up between the Maple Leafs affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, and the Red Wings affiliate, the Grand Rapid Griffins. Two OHL games, high school games, youth hockey games, and public-skating sessions are also to be arranged at Comerica Park.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Tough Schedule - Leafs Lose Second Straight

Flyers beat the Leafs 4-3
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
The Maple Leafs schedule is starting to get the better of them. The team suffered its second consecutive loss after playing their third game in four nights. Things dont get better for Toronto as they have very few rest days over the next handful of games.

The Leafs came out really flat in the first period and for the most part James Reimer held the Leafs in it until Hartnell batted a bouncing puck out of the air and through Reimers legs. The Leafs would answer back several times in the game, but ultimately lose 4-3. Tyler Bozak had a very strong game, he scored twice for the Leafs in the losing effort.

Toronto picked up their game at some points through the second and third periods but ultimately made one too many mistakes in front of James Reimer tonight. When you're playing a quality team like the Flyers, you cannot make as many mistakes as the Leafs did, but you could somewhat justify it with the packed schedule and players being tired.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Leafs Bitten By The Curse Of The Awful Goal Once Again

Gustavsson lets in a soft goal vs the Jets
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com

After Kessel opened the scoring to give the Leafs an early one goal lead, a familiar face came to see the Maple Leafs in their efforts against Winnipeg tonight. It was another really bad goal against due to goaltending that simply isn't up to the task. Jonas Gustavsson lets a really soft backhand from a near impossible angle get by him and the Jets would tie the game. Winnipeg would later score again to make it 2-1 and held the lead through the rest of the game.  

For it being the second game in back to back nights, the Leafs put together a very honest effort. The team as a whole worked hard throughout the game, and maybe didn't deserve to win, but at the very least it should have been a tie game through regulation. The Leafs were hesitant to shoot the puck, often electing to make one more pass for the perfect goal that just didn't materialize. That being said, they didn't deserve the fate they walked away with tonight.

Up until James Reimer took back the number one starter job in the last few weeks, those watching the Maple Leafs were all ready to watch an awful goal make it's way into the net behind a blue and white jersey. Joe Bowen's excited voice saying "he would like that one back" would ring in my ears game after game. I had almost forgotten the feeling altogether for the past few weeks as Reimer backstopped the Leafs to a few wins with some very steady goaltending.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Reimer Records Second Straight Shutout

Reimer making one of his 49 saves tonight en route to
his second consecutive shut out
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
James Reimer had a spectacular game tonight as he recorded 49 saves for his second shut out in as many games. In his last two starts he has stopped all of the 74 shots against and likely has taken back his position as starting goaltender for the Maple Leafs. The Leafs picked up an easy 5-0 Victory over the Ottawa Senators, who have really fallen off the map lately. Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak each picked up a goal and two assists, while the back end pitched in for the other three goals. Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, and Cody Franson all scored as well tonight.

The 5-0 win for the Maple Leafs caps off their fourth win since losing to Montreal two weeks ago. The Leafs only loss was in overtime on Tuesday after a late game collapse versus the Penguins. So they have 9 of a possible 10 points in their last five games. The 5-0 loss is terrible news for the Sens, it extends their losing streak to 6 games. They have recorded just one point of a possible 12 in their last six games. Ottawa does have a 3 point cushion on the 9th place Washington Capitals, but the Capitals have four games at hand. If the Sens don't change things soon, they could find themselves on the wrong side of a playoff race rather quickly.

Friday, 3 February 2012

How Good Is Cody Franson And What Is He Worth?

Cody Franson #4 - Toronto Maple Leafs
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
When the Leafs traded Slaney and Lebda for Franson and Lombardi everyone thought the key to the deal was Franson. The Leafs would take on the extra salary from Lombardi but in exchange Nashville had to give up a good young defenseman. Cody Franson, who is 24 years old, had 29 points in 80 regular season games, and six points in 12 playoff games last season. The Leafs weren't just getting a prospect in return, but an NHL ready defenseman who makes a mere 800k this season. Everything seemed to be going well until the season started and Cody Franson found himself a healthy scratch. On top of that, he publicly made known he felt that he deserved to play on a regular basis for the Leafs. This caused a bit of controversy, and suddenly things didn't seem as bright as they were in the off-season, which is when the Leafs made the trade.

Franson would be patient over the next half a dozen games or so until he finally got a shot to play, but he didn't look all that impressive and was in and out of the line-up until Toronto suffered some injuries on the back end. As Franson continued to play more he became more steady in the defensive zone, cutting out those little mistakes that a coach hates, and he showed his offensive skills as well. Franson has a really hard shot, but also knows when to take a softer shot and get it through the traffic on the net. Leafs defenseman have struggled many times with actually getting a shot on the net, often times they shoot the hardest slap shot they can muster and the puck sails over the net or wide of the post.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Optimus Reim is Back! Leafs beat Penguins 1-0!

James Reimer celebrates after a shutout victory over
the Pittsburgh Penguins
PHOTO: mapleleafs.com
After a humiliating defeat to the Penguins two nights ago, where the Leafs blew a three-goal lead in half a period, the Leafs started James Reimer last night. The game was rather dull compared to Tuesday night, but there were more than a few good points to take from it. The most important being that the Leafs jumped to 7th spot in the East with 58 points. Also, Clarke MacArthur, who has seen his role increase since being put back on the second line with Grabovski and Kulemin, is back to putting up the type of number he did last year. MacArthur scored the lone goal in this game last night as he deked around Johnson and slid the puck into an open net.

John-Michael Liles and Colby Armstrong returned to action last night. The Leafs send Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie down to the Toronto Marlies in order to free up roster spots for the two returning players. Both played exceptionally well, given their respective roles in the line-up, it looked as if neither had missed a single game.

James Reimer was perfect last night as he stopped all 25 shots thrown his way by Pittsburgh. Granted, he did get a little help from the goal posts and crossbar on more than one occasion, but he settled into the game rather quickly and was steady as the game progressed. He recorded his second shutout of the season and held the one goal lead for the Leafs.