Toronto Maple Leafs’ Defence: How Do They Stack Up?

Carl Gunnarsson

The Maple Leafs have acquired a new defenseman…again.

It’s becoming a trend, doesn’t it seem? The Leafs will sign or trade for another defenseman rather than focus on another forward.    

This time it was 28-year-old Brett Lebda and 25-year-old Danny Richmond.

Lebda, who has spent his entire five season, 326-game NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, signed a two-year, $2.9 million contract on July 7th.  He’s a smooth skating, stay-at-home defenseman,  but he can score too. Lebda has a career total of 18 goals scored in addition to 50 assists and a +/- rating of 31.    

Danny Richmond, the another free agent acquisition, has no goals in 49 NHL games, and three assists to along with a -12 rating.

After spending the majority of his career in the minors and a split last season between Peoria and Rockford, Richmond won’t likely achieve a roster spot with the Maple Leafs at the start of the 2010-2011 season. Especially considering the amount of defencemen the Maple Leafs already have set to play in the NHL.

The signing of Brett Lebda gives the Maple Leafs eight NHL-ready defenseman to fill seven spots at the very most; Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger, Carl Gunnarson, Tomas Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin and Luke Schenn are the other seven.

But just because those eight are on the roster right now doesn’t mean that they’ll still be there by the start of game one of 82.    

Of those eight defensemen, Jeff Finger is the most likely to be eliminated from the Leafs’ roster once the season begins. Finger is set to make $3.5 million next season, which is much more than he appears to be worth. Most hockey fans will tell you that Brian Burke is going to send Jeff Finger to the minors; a move that could ruin his career.    

Those hockey fans are wrong.    

Based on what he’s done in the past, they will either trade him or place him on waivers.    

When Ilya Bryzgalov was stuck behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim, Burke looked hard for a trade for Bryzgalov. And he didn’t give up even when he couldn’t. Ultimately, Burke placing him on waivers where he was claimed by the Phoenix Coyotes. He went on to lead his new team to the playoffs for the first time since the post-lockout era began.    

When Burke came to Toronto, troubled Mark Bell was stuck in the minor leagues. Burke saw potential in Bell and immediately placed him on waivers. Bell was claimed by the Rangers, and though he didn’t succeed with his new team, it was still a class-act by Brian Burke.     

Needless to say, the American Hockey League is not an option for Brian Burke when it comes to Jeff Finger—unless he can’t find a team that wants to take him.    

Of course, Jeff Finger is not the only Maple Leaf defenseman that is heavily involved in trade talks right now.    

32-year-old Tomas Kaberle has been mentioned in trade rumours league-wide for the last two years and has been attracting a lot of attention from as many as six teams. None of that attention, however, has been worth the Maple Leafs’ time…so far. 

Do not expect him to be traded before the 2010-2011 season begins, as his trade value will only increase as time wears on.    

Moving on to the projected starting defence, you will realize that one of the biggest problems the Maple Leafs have is their amount of left-handed shooting defencemen. Tomas Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Francois Beauchemin and even newly acquired Brett Lebda all shoot left-handed. Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn are the only two players who are right-handed of the projected starting six.    

Left-handed shot, Tomas Kaberle, will be playing in his regular spot to begin the season; top line, left side.    

Dion Phaneuf is the most likely one to accompany him on the top line. As the captain, Phaneuf will be starting the season atop the defence corps and if he plays anything like he did last season, he will be staying there. Even though he shoots left-handed, he should fit in well on the right side, being an offensive defenceman.   

The second pairing will take on more of a shut-down role, consisting of Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek. Both right-handed shots, Schenn and Komisarek are both stay-at-home defencemen.    

Luke Schenn has a great first pass and jumps in on the offence when he deems necessary. This makes him the better of the two to stick on the left hand side.    

Mike Komisarek has scored just 12 times in 395 career games. The 28-year old should be playing on the right hand side due to his lack of offensive skill.    

Carl Gunnarsson posted three goals and 12 assists in 43 games in 2009-2010, nearly putting him on pace for a 30-point season. Even with those impressive numbers, Gunnarsson still has a lot to learn, such as how to improve his own end and how to earn his ice time. He has the stuff to make it to the NHL, and most likely will. That said, Gunnarsson will need to start next season at nearly the bottom of the lineup and work his way up.    

With so much to learn, the 23-year-old is best suited to play on the left side of the third, paired with a veteran like Francois Beauchemin.    

Beauchemin first struggled to make it to the National Hockey League, but when he did, he flourished. In fact, he even won a Stanley Cup in 2007 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. His great work ethic and leadership would be great for Carl Gunnarsson, especially if they can build some chemistry.    

Brett Lebda is likely to be used as a seventh defenceman/healthy scratch on most nights,though he could manage to sneak into the top four if he can impress when given the chance. Lebda is widely regarded as one of the smoothest skating defenceman in the entire league, and could prove to be a very useful player down the road.    

So to recap, here are my predictions on the Maple Leafs’ defence for the 2010-2011 season:    

Line 1    

Kaberle, Phaneuf    

Line 2    

Schenn, Komisarek    

Line 3    

Gunnarsson, Beauchemin

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @lukas_bib for even more up-to-date information on your Toronto Maple Leafs!

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NHL Rumors and Rumblings: Buds Turn Up The Heat, Avalanche Talking With Oilers and More

Andrew Cogliano

It’s been a busy week in the NHL, with the re-signings of Cody Parent, David Perron, Ondrej Pavelec and Mason Raymond, Spezza setting the record straight and Gange getting traded to Tampa Bay.

Unfortunately, all of that was over shadowed by Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk signed, and even had an official press conference for, his new 17-year, $102 million contract on July 19th. However that deal was rejected by the NHL for salary cap circumvention. On Monday, the NHLPA filed a grievance on behalf of Ilya Kovalchuk, sending the case to an arbitrator, which leads us into this week’s NHL rumors and rumblings.

Will the NHL fine the Devils?

Mark Everson of the New York Post says that the National Hockey League is not threatening to fine the New Jersey Devils for salary cap circumvention, but have not ruled out that option. If the NHL does decide to fine the team, it could be anywhere from $1 million to $5 million. Kovalchuk, meanwhile, could face a fine as low as $250 thousand and as high as $1 million. That is, of course, if an arbiter rules in favour of the NHL.

Maple Leafs turning up the heat

TSN.ca is reporting that the Maple Leafs will be “turning up the heat” when it comes to Tomas Kaberle sometime around August 1st. They will begin telling teams that already have offers on the table for Kaberle to improve them, or he will be taken off the market.

Bruins, Wheeler going to arbitration?

James Murphy of ESPN.com is reporting that the Boston Bruins and forward Blake Wheeler have reached an impasse in contract talks and are expected to go to arbitration today (Tuesday).

Oilers, Avalanche talking about Cogliano?

The Edmonton Journal is reporting that the Colorado Avalanche have called the Edmonton Oilers about the availability of Andrew Cogliano.

Savard trade talks are still ongoing

TheFourthPeriod.com is reporting that 33-year-old centre Marc Savard is still being shopped around by the Boston Bruins. The report also says that other various reports have linked the talks to the Leafs, Kings and Oilers.

Selanne returning to the Ducks?

Temmu Selanne is still in talks with the Anaheim Ducks about making a return, says the Orange County Register. Ducks GM Bob Murray also told the Register that he met with Selanne and his agent this week, and that he is expecting to meet with them again next week.

If you don’t want to wait until Tuesdays to find out all the latest rumors, follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_bib for rumors and news as soon as they’re reported.

Toronto Maple Leafs Perfect Fit for Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong

Kris Versteeg celebrates after scoring a goal. (cbc.ca)

The Maple Leafs shocked hockey fans the day before free agency began by taking a different route to improving their team.

Rather than signing a big name free agent, they completed a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that saw Kris Versteeg and prospect Bill Sweatt come to Toronto in exchange for Swedish winger Viktor Stalberg (as well as prospects Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis).

Versteeg, who is coming off of a 20 goal season, avoided the sophomore slump that is dreaded by many second-year players.

The Lethbridge, Alberta native has scored 42 goals over the first 170 games of his career, and won a Stanley Cup last season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Versteeg, 24, now knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup, meaning that the Maple Leafs have another player coming into their dressing room who should be a good influence on the younger players, including Nazem Kadri.

The Maple Leafs did not stop making attempts to improve their roster after trading for Versteeg, as they continue to build their team for the 2010-2011 campaign.

After trading for Versteeg and keeping Tomas Kaberle, they went out into the open market on July 1 and signed free agent agitator Colby Armstrong.

In 79 regular season games Armstrong scored 15 times, adding 14 assists, and posted a +/- rating of 6. Perhaps what is even more impressive about Armstrong is that he recorded all of those statistics and dished out many huge hits, but he only sat in the penalty box for just over an hour.

So, with the two newest Maple Leafs getting ready to hit the ice in October, the question now begs: where do Versteeg and Armstrong fit in?

Kris Versteeg is a goal scorer, not a third or fourth line type player.

With that being said he may just be the top six forward that Brian Burke, the entire Maple Leafs organization, and Leafs fans have been wanting.

Versteeg does have the potential to be a top-line winger, which works out great because he can play left wing, centre or right wing.

Phil Kessel is a right winger, meaning if you were to place Versteeg on the left side you could place young playmaking centre Tyler Bozak between them.

Colby Armstrong on the other hand, is a different kind of player.

He is a Brian Burke type of player, someone who is not afraid to drop the gloves or try to get under the skin of other people who is also able to score as well. 

It will be rare for Armstrong to receive playing time on the top-line but he does have the potential to be a second line winger on a team like the Maple Leafs, who are still lacking offensive skill.

However, a bottom six role would still be more suitable for a player like Armstrong.

The Maple Leafs are not done yet when it comes to improving their club, and there are still many free agents out on the market who could fit in well with the Maple Leafs.

Raffi Torres is one of those players.

The one thing that Brian Burke has to be careful with when negotiating with Torres is that he does not over pay him. Playing on their third or fourth line, Torres can be a very useful player.

Some general managers have made the mistake of signing him for too much money.

For example, last season Torres made $2.75 million. 

When put together, Torres, Colby Armstrong, and Christian Hanson would make a great third line. Hanson does not have much of an offensive upside, but can chip in offensivly when needed. Armstrong and Torres both have the ability to score, but, like Hanson, are better when they are placed in checking roles.

If Torres is not brought into Toronto, than Brayden Irwin would be the best candidate to play on the third line with Hanson and Armstrong. Irwin, a native of Toronto, played in two games last season collecting no points while posting an even +/- rating.

With that being said, a line of Hanson, Armstrong and Torres or Irwin could make a very productive third line.

If Irwin does not make it into the lineup, than the American League would be the best option. Since Irwin has only had a small taste at what the NHL is really like, it wouldn’t hurt to allow him time to develop.

Newly acquisitions aside, there are players who are on the roster who also have considerable talent.

While Bozak, Kessel, Hanson, and Sjostrom have all be mentioned, Nazem Kadri, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski have not.

Nikolai Kulemin was considered to be one of, if not the, best two-way forwards on the Maple Leafs last season. Kulemin tallied 36 points in 78 games last season with an even +/- rating.

Not only will he be beginning the 2010-2011 season with high expectations, but he will also be beginning the season under a new contract.

Kulemin signed a two-year deal with the Leafs this offseason that will see him make $2.35 million in 2010-11 and another $2.35 million in 2011-12. 

Grabovski, meanwhile, was very selfish at points last season, choosing to keep to puck and attempting to make plays himself rather than passing it to a fellow teammate and heading up ice.

Nevertheless, Grabovski still managed to score 10 goals and tally 25 assists in 59 games last season. He will make $2.85 million next season and $3.10 million the following season before becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Nazem Kadri was selected seventh overall by the Maple Leafs in 2009 and had a small taste of the NHL last season. The 6’0″ 167 pound centre is expected to be playing for the Maple Leafs this coming season and contribute largely to their offensive plans.

He would be a great fit playing between the speedy Grabovski and Kulemin on the second line.

Kulemin, Kadri and Grabovski are still young and have a lot to learn.

If Kulemin can help teach Grabovski and Kulemin play better on their own end and Grabovski can teach Kadri some of what he knows, then the three of them could make a great second line.

Luca Caputi is a young forward and the main part in what the Maple Leafs got in return for Alexei Ponikarovsky. In 19 games with the Leafs last season he scored one goal and five assists.

If he is placed with an energetic, hard working player like John Mitchell, then he could easily work his way up the depth charts. For now, he and Mitchell are more likely to take on a fourth line role.

Fredrick Sjostrom would be the most practical player to put on the right side of the fourth line. With very little ice time, Sjostrom is great at blocking shots and injecting energy into a lineup. 

As you may have noticed, there are players missing. 

Mike Brown and Jay Rosehill and Colton Orr are all absent.

Mike Brown was acquired during the draft from the Anaheim Ducks for a draft pick. Brown is not a substantial NHL player, nor will he be.

The 25-year-old scored six goals, adding one assist in 75 games. The season before that he scored two goals in 28 games with just one assist.

Brown will most likely be a healthy scratch most nights and a fourth line player when he is in the lineup.

Jay Rosehill is more of an enforcer than anything else.

With Colton Orr already playing on the Maple Leafs’ fourth line and the team having an extra forward on their roster, the chance of Rosehill being in the lineup for 35 or more games is very small.

Rosehill does have a shot at being on the roster as a healthy scratch, however.

Unfortunately for him, the more likely thing to happen would be him playing in the minors.

Colton Orr, also an enforcer, makes much more money than Jay Rosehill and is the older of the two. With that being said, Orr would most likely be chosen by the Maple Leafs over Rosehill. Expect Colton Orr to play about 40 to 50 games next season, being a healthy scratch on other nights.

So to recap, here is what the Maple Leafs depth charts should look like come September, assuming they do sign Raffi Torres.

First Line

Versteeg, Bozak,  Kessel

Second Line

Kulemin, Kadri, Grabovski

Third line

Irwin/Torres, Hanson, Armstrong

Fourth Line

Caputi, Mitchell, Sjostrom

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @lukas_bib for even more up-to-date information on your Toronto Maple Leafs!