Toronto Maple Leafs: Fire Wilson, Fire Burke, Make a Trade, or Keep It The Same?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have played 25 games this season and sit 13th in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. For a team that many people though could finally make the playoffs, the Maple Leafs have been a complete dissapointment this season.

There are many people that could take the fall for that and normally the players and coaches are the first to be considered. However, Leafs general manager Brian Burke has even admitted himself that he hasn’t done a good job since joining the team just over two years ago, basically calling it a complete failure.

There is no doubt a change needs to be made in Toronto. Whether it’s a trade, a coaching change or something else, Maple Leafs fans would be more than willing to welcome anything that could change the direction of this sputtering franchise.

But should it actually be Burke who takes the fall?

Since coming to Toronto, the Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs twice, although the first time certainly wasn’t Burke’s fault.

Here is a look at some of the moves Burke has made since joining the Maple Leafs:

  • Traded Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton to Atlanta for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart.
  • Traded Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and Ian White to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrick Sjostrom.
  • Traded Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala to Anaheim for Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
  • Traded two first round draft picks and a second round draft pick to Boston for Phil Kessel.
  • Traded Viktor Stalberg, Philippe Paradis and Chris DiDomenico to Chicago for Kris Versteeg and Billy Sweatt.
  • Drafted Nazem Kadri.
  • Signed Tyler Bozak, Jonas Gustavsson, Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Clarke MacArthur, Colton Orr and Brett Lebda.

Only about half of those moves have actually worked out and the other half either started off well and have tailed off or have not worked out at all. However, if you see the Maple Leafs’ roster as it looks on paper, the Maple Leafs are a good team without a good offence.

With that being said, can the blame be placed on the coaching staff, most noteably head coach Ron Wilson? The answer is simple: yes. But just because blame can be placed on Wilson, that doesn’t mean all of it can be. Professional hockey players need to be able to play in just about any system and when over half of a team’s roster cannot, that team has a serious problem.

Right now, that is the problem the Maple Leafs are having.

But let’s not forget that we’re also talking about the NHL’s youngest team here.

The oldest player on Toronto’s roster is J.S. Giguere at 33. Tomas Kaberle (32) and Francois Beauchemin (30) are the only other players 30 or older.

What does this mean? It means mistakes will be made, and patience are needed to be successful. Still yet, one has to think that with the tremendous skill young players like Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Carl Gunnarsson, and veteran players like Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Mikhail Grabovski have, why are the Maple Leafs struggling so much?

Well, maybe it is Ron Wilson after all. Is Wilson the right man to work with such young players? Is he too hard on his players? Neither of those questions can really be answered by anyone either than players and management, but after two seasons of not making it anywhere near the playoffs, his tactics clearly are not working.

That’s not to say fire Wilson, but what it does say is if this team doesn’t start to improve within the next month or so and everyone is still serious about making the playoffs, a change needs to be made.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Report: Maple Leafs’ Burke Inquired About van Riemsdyk

Despite already having the youngest team in the National Hockey League, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is looking to get younger.

According to Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun (via Tim Pinaccio of csnphilly.com), Burke contacted Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren about the availability of forward James van Riemsdyk. The report says Holmgren was quick to tell Burke that van Riemsdyk is not available.

Burke has been rumored to be combing the entire league for a trading partner in an attempt to spark his team, especially offensively. With over $3 million in salary cap space to work with, Burke certainly has the ability and flexibility to make a big trade.

Van Riemsdyk, 21, has three goals and seven assists in 22 games this season, which would put him seventh on the Maple Leafs in points with ten. In 100-career NHL regular season games, van Riemsdyk has 18 goals and 27 assists. He also played in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 World Junior Championship tournaments for team USA, scoring a total of 21 points in a combined 12 games.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Toronto Maple Leafs Still Searching For Consistency

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season so far has been nothing but a rollercoaster ride.

Through their first 23 games, the Maple Leafs have had three major stretches: a four-game winning streak that came in the first four games, an eight-game losing streak and a stretch in which they won three out of four games. As you can see, the Maple Leafs haven’t exactly been the most consistent team in the National Hockey League this season.

A lot of that blame can be placed on Phil Kessel. Kessel, a potential 30-40 goal scorer, has just ten goals and four assists in 24 games this season. Kessel started the season with seven goals in his first eight games, but has since tailed off.

The 23-year-old’s poor play certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, as his lack of effort has forced him into head coach Ron Wilson’s “dog house” multiple times this season.

Kris Versteeg meanwhile, also has 14 points, but in one less game. Those statistics put him on pace for 58 points, which would be the second most total in his NHL career.

Although 48 points seems like a good season, it would be deemed a poor one for Versteeg, who is being expected to thrive off of top-six minutes, something he didn’t get in Chicago. He started slowly, but with eight points in his last 11 games, Versteeg has been playing extremely well. He too will need to become consistently good for the Maple Leafs to make any charge at the post-season.

Many would be quick to point out that the acquisition of a top-line centre to play with Kessel and Versteeg would help the two, but that cannot be used as an excuse.

But of course, not all the blame can be placed on just two players.

Dion Phaneuf, although currently injured, is off to a very slow start this season. The 6’3″, 214 pound defenseman has played in 11 games this season and has a minus-6 rating. This lack of effort and what looks like a lack of passion has been put into question by almost everyone this season.

Phaneuf, the team captain, is expected to lead the team. If he isn’t able to lead the team on the ice, he certainly can’t having an easy time leading them in the dressing room.

Despite his poor play, Phaneuf’s return to the lineup definitely won’t hurt, as he is still a very useful asset.

The 25-year-old has scored 77 goals in his NHL career, 48 of which were scored on the power play. His big shot and offensive ability should help the Maple Leafs.

Other Maple Leafs defencemen still looking to find their way this season include Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, both of whom have felt the pressure from the Toronto fans and media to do better.

Someone who has not struggled all that much, however, is Luke Schenn. The third-year defenceman is plus-1 in 24 games this season and has been one of the most stellar and consistent Maple Leafs all season long. With six points so far, Schenn is on pace to score a career-high 20 points this season.

Despite the importance of offence and defence, goaltending is one of the most important aspects of hockey, and the Maple Leafs have it. With Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere splitting time in net, the Leafs always have an above-average goalie as their last line of defence.

In 13 appearances this season, Giguere, who just returned from a groin injury, has a goals against average of 2.90 and a save percentage of .890.

Gustavsson, meanwhile, was more than impressive during Giguere’s time away. The sophomore goalie has a record of just 3-7-2, but has a goals against average of 2.66 and a save percentage of .910. Unfortunately for Gustavsson, the Leafs haven’t been giving him very much offensive support, something that he and Giguere need in order to win games.

If the Maple Leafs can get going offensively, they should be able to find some consistency and possibly even climb into the playoff picture. However, that is easier said than done. The Leafs sit in the bottom five in the entire league when it comes to finding the back of the net and there are no signs of that changing any time soon.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Maple Leafs and Senators to Battle on HNIC

Just hours from now, the Ottawa Senators will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in what will be the Leafs’ 22 game of the season, and the Senators’ 24th.

Tonight’s game will be the third meeting between the two teams this season. The Maple Leafs won the first meeting 5-1 on October 9th in Toronto before falling 3-2 at home on November 2nd.

The Maple Leafs have won three of their last five games, including three straight at home. Unfortunately for the Buds, they have also dropped six consecutive games on the road. With a Maple Leafs win, a Senators loss and a Sabres loss tonight, the three teams will be tied for third in the Northeast Division.

Jonas Gustavsson, who will start tonight, has been nothing but impressive during Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s time out. The 26-year-old is 3-5-1 this season and has a goals against average of 2.39 to go along with a .919 save percentage. Gustavsson’s recent success has earned him another start, as he will get the nod tonight against the Senators.

Phil Kessel, who was benched for most of the second period of Tuesday’s victory over the Dallas Stars, had an assists in last night’s 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. He leads the team with 10 goals and will be expected to help lead the Maple Leafs to victory tonight. Nikolai Kulemin, meanwhile has four points in his last five games, but has just one goal during that same span. He has 13 points in 21 games this season.

For the Senators, goalie Pascal LeClaire has played extremely well since returning to the lineup, allowing just two goals in his last three games.  He has a save percentage of .938 in those three games.

Mike Brown will be a game-time decision for the Maple Leafs, while Ron Wilson would not confirm that Brett Lebda, who has been a healthy scratch for the last four games, will draw back into the lineup. Colby Armstrong and Dion Phaneuf are still on the injured reserve and will not play.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

 

Burke Still Looking to Trade, Could Use Goalies as Bait

Despite the recent success the Toronto Maple Leafs have been experiencing (winning three of their last four and three straight at home), general manager Brian Burke is still looking to make a trade, according to TheFourthPeriod.com (via the Toronto Sun).

The report suggests Burke still wants to add an “offensive-minded” forward, be it a centre or a winger.

The speculation has led many to wonder what Burke might use as potential trade bait, naming Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and, of course, Tomas Kaberle as options. However, with sophomore Jonas Gustavsson, the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere and surprisingly impressive minor leaguer Jussi Rynnas all under contract, the goaltending position could be a focal point.

Gustavsson has been getting plenty of playing time during Giguere’s absence. In nine games this season, Gustavsson is 3-4-1 and has a save percentage of .922 to go along with a goals against average of 2.30. With a career record of 19-19-10, save percentage of .906 and goals against average of 2.77, Gustavsson could be in line for a much bigger role with the Maple Leafs.

Giguere, meanwhile, has also been impressive. The 35-year-old is 5-5-2, has a save percentage of .895 and has a goals against average of 2.78 in 12 games this season. Unfortunately, however, he earns $6 million this season and could be feeling the pressure from Rynnas, who has a GAA of 1.79 and a save percentage of .941 in 12 games with the Toronto Marlies this season.

The problem with trading Giguere is that he has a no-trade clause, meaning he gets to block any trade he is involved in. Any deal would be hard for the Maple Leafs to complete before Christmas, however, as Burke’s self-imposed holiday trade freeze goes into effect on December 9th.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Richards to Maple Leafs Becoming More Likely Each Day; Ribeiro Also a Possibility

For months now, people have been talking about a potential trade between the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs that would see Stars’ centre Brad Richards become a Maple Leaf, possibly in return for Tomas Kaberle.

However, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has yet to speak publicly about a trade involving the two teams, and has not yet been spotted at a Stars game, not that it really matters anyways.

But even though Burke hasn’t been speaking of a trade, does that mean it won’t happen? Of course not. As everyone knows, Burke is the kind of general manager who likes to keep his mouth shut, and give very little information involving transactions.

With that being said, the chances of Richards becoming a Maple Leaf could be increasing each day, given the way he has been playing, his contract situation, and the Stars’ ownership/revenue situation.

Richards, 30, is off to a blazing start this season. In 18 games, the former Tampa Bay Lightning forward has nine goals and 15 assists, a total of 24 points, to go along with a plus-10 rating. He is earning $7.8 million in this, the final year of his contract with the Stars.

Also well-documented has been the Stars’ current ownership situation, which will make it extremely hard for general manager Joe Nieuwendyk to re-sign Richards. Stars owner Tom Hicks has reportedly set an internal budget that is well below the league mandated $59.4 million salary cap, meaning it will be next to impossible since Richards will likely want about $8 million per season.

That’s not to say the Maple Leafs will want to pay him that much, although their salary cap room next season may allow them to.

Richards would be a nice addition to a team that does not currently have a top-six centre.

The addition of Richards could also mean good things for the development of Nazem Kadri, who, with three assists in four games, appears to be becoming more of a play maker than a goal scorer, although his career is only five games old.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported on Saturday not only that the Maple Leafs are interested in Richards, but Mike Ribeiro as well.

Ribeiro, a three-time 20+ goal scorer, is currently the Stars’ second line centre. He is earning $5 million per season, but still has two more years left on his contract following this season. With that and the fact that the Stars would get a greater return for Richards in mind, Nieuwendyk would likely rather trade Richards over Ribeiro.

However, Garroich said the New York Rangers are also interested in both Richards and Ribeiro. Both have a no-trade clause, meaning they can block any trade they’re involved in. Unfortunately, for the Maple Leafs, that could be a problem, as the Rangers have four more wins in two more games this season.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Teeing It Up: Maple Leafs and Canadiens to Battle on HNIC

The Toronto Maple Leafs will visit the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre for what should be a spirited affair.

The Canadiens will be looking to enter the second quarter of the 2010-2011 season on a high note. The Habs are currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 12-6-1 record, good for 25 points. It won’t be an easy task for them, however, as the Maple Leafs are 4-0-1 in their last five meetings.

The Canadiens are coming off of a 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators, the team Toronto came back against after being down 4-1 on Tuesday evening. Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta combined for a minus-8 rating on Thursday night.

Toronto has won two straight games. A win tonight against the Canadiens would be a huge confidence booster after losing their eighth straight a week ago today.

To win, the Maple Leafs will need to beat red hot Carey Price. Price has a goals against average of 2.11 and a save percentage of .928 this season, each of which are seventh best amongst NHL goalies.

At the other end, Jonas Gustavsson will get the start. Gustavsson is 2-3-1 this season with a goals against average of 2.55 and a save percentage of .913. He made 29 saves against the New Jersey Devils Thursday, a game that the Maple Leafs won 3-1.

Jussi Rynnas will back him up as Jean Sebastien Giguere is expected to miss another week or so with a groin injury. Giguere’s injury gives Gustavsson some time to prove that he can be a starting goalie in the NHL.

“It’s awesome, you want to play those games when the crowd is going nuts and it’s really loud,” Gustavsson said after Thursdays’ win.

Nazem Kadri will play again tonight. Kadri has three assists in as many games this season, but is still looking for his first NHL goal. Tonight will be his fifth-career NHL game.

Phil Kessel has four points in his last three games, while Kris Versteeg has five points in his last four games, including three goals.

The Canadiens will host a short pre-game ceremony tonight on the life and death of Pat Burns, who died Friday evening at the age of 58. He coached both the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

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