Five Free Agents the Maple Leafs Should Consider

Owen Nolan

It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs offence isn’t exactly the best in the league. Sure the Maple Leafs roster consists of two-time 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel, two-time 20-goal scorer Kris Versteeg and (likely) rookie Nazem Kadri, who is expected to be a large part of the Maple Leafs offence, but the offensive talent level drops significantly after those three.

Many people wanted and expected Tomas Kaberle to be traded by Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke by August 15th, in return for a top-six forward, preferably a top-line centre. With Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri or even Mikhail Grabovski playing the centre ice position however, Tomas Kaberle remaining a Maple Leaf may not be such a bad thing. 

The trade route is not always the way to go when looking to acquire offence, defence or a goalie, even now that Evgeni Nabokov, Sergei Gonchar and Matthew Lombardi have all be signed. In fact, there are still players with offensive talent and/or potential available.

While there are some free agents still available that could no doubt help the Maple Leafs, Brian Burke can’t go out into the free agent market and sign a couple of players who used to be big time point producers, hoping that they can become the surprise-of-the-year.

What it does mean is invite about five players to training camp and see if anyone impresses. If someone does, sign them to a one-year contract that won’t be too hard to move if needed.

Here is a look at some free agents still searching for a team that the Maple Leafs should think about inviting to training camp:

Owen Nolan

Although he is considered by many to be injury-prone, don’t let Nolan’s 38-year-old age fool you. The 6’1″, 214 lbs big man netted 16 goals and 17 assists in 73 games with Minnesota last season, after scoring 45 points in 59 games in 2008-2009.

The Belfast, Ireland born forward spent parts of two seasons with the Maple Leafs between 2002 and 2004 before sitting out for 2005-2006 season after loosing a season of hockey due to the 2004-2005 lockout. Over that two-year span with the Maple Leafs, Nolan scored 60 points in 79 games (26 goals, 34 assists).

Should the Maple Leafs sign Owen Nolan before training camp even begins? No.

Should the Maple Leafs invite him to training camp? Yes.

Will be need to impress? Oh, you bet he will.

It is unlikely that the Maple Leafs would sign Nolan to a contract out of camp if he doesn’t crack the top-six, or even the top-nine. With the Maple Leafs’ youth and speed on the top two lines, its unlikely that Nolan will receive a contract offer contract, but he should get his chance.

Patrick O’Sullivan

After being a massive disappointment last season with Edmonton (11 goals, 23 assists, 34 points), Patrick O’Sullivan was placed on waivers, cleared them and was traded to Phoenix for Jim Vandermeer, where his contract was bought out.

O’Sullivan, now a free agent, was a cap hit of $2.95 last season, according to CapGeek.com and would likely take a significant drop in salary if a team were to offer him a contract, giving him a chance to play. At age 24, he would be more likely to make the Maple Leafs if invited to training camp than Owen Nolan. The 5’11”, 190 lbs O’Sullivan is a former 22 goal scorer and could match that total again if given the chance.

Much like Nolan, however, he would have to impress everyone at training camp.

Todd Fedoruk

Many people want, or are expecting the Maple Leafs to sign Raffi Torres by the time the regular-season begins, however there may be a more affordable fit. Although Todd Fedoruk does not quite put up the same offensive numbers that Torres does, he can still provide the same, if not more, amount of grit.

A fighter, Fedoruk put up 54 penalty minutes last season in 50 games. The 31-year-old has posted 1050 PIMs in 545-career regular-season games.  

Marek Svatos

A two-time 25+ goal scorer (32 in 2005-06, 26 in 2007-08), Svatos has never played more than 69 games in a season.

With the Maple Leafs lacking another top-six winger and Colby Armstrong best fitted for the third line, Marek Svatos could fit in very well on the right side of the second line. If Svatos can turn in a healthy season, the native of Slovakia has the potential to put up 50+ points.

A cap hit of $2.05 million last season, Svatos would come in nicely somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million.  Had it not have been for his struggles last season (seven goals, four assists, 54 games), Svatos would likely come in at a much more expensive price, something that would be unaffordable.

Ryan Johnson

Johnson, an exceptional penalty killer, would bring nothing but good to the Maple Leafs. One of the most underrated players in the League, Johnson is one of the most fearless forwards around.

The 34-year-old is a great shot blocker, and was a staple on the penalty kill in Vancouver. For a team that finished dead least in the League on the penalty kill last season with a 74.6 percent rate, the former Panther, Lightning, Blue and Canuck would be more than welcomed in Toronto.

At a cap hit of $1.10 million last season, Johnson is not getting any younger and this could be his last chance at playing in the National Hockey League. With that being said, he would more than likely be willing to sign a contract worth somewhere around $875 000. 

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail at lukas.bib@gmx.com. Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking sports scores, news and rumors. Information from HockeyDB.com and CapGeek.com was used in this post.

Report: NHL to Change Regular-Season Tiebreaker

National Hockey League

According to TSN.ca (via ESPN.com) the National Hockey League will change its regular-season tie breaking rule.

The previous tiebreaker saw the team with the most amount of total wins in a tie take over sole possession of their respective position in the standings. For example: if the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils were tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference and each had 102 points, but the Sabres had 45 wins and the Devils had 44, the Sabres would take over sole possession of fourth.

The new tie breaking system is supposed to be implemented in time for the coming season.

With the new system, the team with the most amount of wins, excluding shootout wins, will win the tiebreaker.

The new rule was first proposed by Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson at the general managers meetings in March. The new rule is supposed to make hockey more of a team game, especially considering the new tie breaking system could decide who makes the playoffs and eventually wins the Stanley Cup, which almost happened last season.

After making the playoffs thanks to a shootout victory over the New York Rangers on the last day of the regular-season, the Philadelphia Flyers took the Chicago Blackhawks to six games in the Stanley Cup finals before loosing in overtime.

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail at lukas.bib@gmx.com. Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking sports scores, news and rumors.

Kaberle’s Father Speaks Out

Tomas Kaberle

Tomas Kaberle may be staying quiet about his situation with the Maple Leafs and coach Ron Wilson, but his father certainly isn’t.

In an interview with Czech hockey magazine Hokej (via Toronto Sun), the elder Kaberle, Frantisek Senior, said he’s surprised that his son is still a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I cannot image how he will get along with coach Wilson, who relies primarily on aggression and stress. That’s not Tomas, he’s a technical type of defender,” said the former member of the Czech national team. “I think that during the course of the year he will be traded to another club. There is only one chance for Toronto to get something back in return for Tomas now. In my opinion, I can’t see Tomas entering a new contract with the Toronto. Not if Ron Wilson continues to be employed there.”

Tomas Kaberle was not traded by Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke before his no-trade clause was reinstated on Sunday, August 15th.

Frantisek Sr. also talked to the magazine about the possibility of Marc Savard becoming a Maple Leaf.

“The problem is his health. He suffered a concussion last season and there is the possibility of a similar blow to his head and it could even end his hockey career. In this regard, such a trade for Toronto would have been very risky,” said Kaberle Sr., who also believes that NHL superstars no longer want to play for the Maple Leafs.

“I have been following Toronto for a long time,” he said.  “I didn’t believe it much in the beginning, but it seems that the best players don’t want to go to this club. The reason is because of the huge pressure from the fans, and especially the media. Not every hockey player is able to deal with it.”

He does, however, believe that his son can put up with the large amount of pressure put on Maple Leaf players.

“I think that Tomas won’t even comment on (trade possibilities) anymore,” he said. “He is content in Toronto with both the club and the city. I still think though that some change would be welcomed.”

Frantisek Kaberle Senior has a lot of hockey experience. Not only did he play for the Czech national team, but he also coached in the elite league in the Czech Republic.

The 32-year-old Tomas has spent his entire career with Toronto, scoring 80 goals and 402 assists. He is known as one of the best defenceman in the National Hockey League but has been listening to trade rumors about himself for the last two years.

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail at lukas.bib@gmx.com. Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking sports scores, news and rumors.

NHL Tests Potential New Rules at Research and Development Camp

National Hockey League

The NHL has begun testing potential new rules during the research and development camp at the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence. Up to 21 potential new rule changes are being tried out, including a new, much wanted, icing rule, called hybrid icing.

With hybrid icing, the risk of major injury is reduced significantly, if not gone.

Hybrid icing is a mix of no-touch and touch icing. When the defending player reaches the faceoff dot before the attacking player, the linesman will blow his whistle.

Lately, the debate about icing has become almost as popular as Tomas Kaberle trade rumors. From staying with touch icing, to making the game less entertaining with no-touch icing, it looks like the NHL may have found the median.

Here is a list of all potential new rules being tested during the National Hockey League research and development camp:

  1. Hybrid icing rule;
  2. No line change for team committing an offside;
  3. Crease reset rule;
  4. Face-off variation (face-off controlled by whistle in place of traditional puck drop);
  5. Overtime: three minutes of 4-on-4; three minutes of 3-on-3; three minutes of 2-on- 2 followed by shootout (5 players per team).
  6. Bigger crease;
  7. Verification goal line (additional line situated behind the goal line);
  8. Wider blue lines;
  9. Line changes zone in front of each bench;
  10. Face-off variations (infringement results in the offending player moving back further, three face-off dots down the middle of the ice);
  11. OT – three minutes of 4-on-4; three minutes of 3-on-3; three minutes of 2-on-2 with long line changes; followed by three shooters per team shootout (if tied after three shots then players who have shot previously can shoot again).
  12. No touch icing;
  13. Team that commits an offside infraction cannot make a line change and face-off is in offending team zone;
  14. Face-off variation: after a face-off violation, opposition center may choose his face-off opponent;
  15. Second referee located off the playing surface;
  16. Delayed penalty rule;
  17. No icing the puck while shorthanded;
  18. OT – 4-on-4 (with long line change) followed by a shootout with five players;
  19. Variations of special teams play;
  20. OT – 4-on-4 (with long line change).

The teams that competed on the ice with the above rules are almost completely made up of Canadian Hockey League players, meaning many NHL general managers, coaches and even scouts attended the tw0-day event, including Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and Senators general manager Brian Murray.

The two-day hockey camp wraps up on Thursday, August 19th in Etobicoke, Ontario.

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail at lukas.bib@gmx.com. Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking sports scores, news and rumors.

Information from NHL.com was used in this post.

Tomas Kaberle Remains a Maple Leaf

Tomas Kaberle is staying with the Maple Leafs, at least for now.

The veteran defenceman was not traded between the draft and August first, meaning that he will now need to waive his no-trade clause in order for the Maple Leafs to trade him to another team.

Brian Burke said that he is not at all disappointed. He had this to say in a statement:

“The hockey club confirms this evening that Tomas Kaberle remains a Leaf. While a number of Clubs made offers to trade for Tomas, none of them reflected Tomas’s value to our team. I understand a period like this is stressful to the player, and we are pleased that there is a resolution, and we can all continue to prepare for the coming season.”

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail at lukas.bib@gmx.com. Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking sports scores, news and rumors.

Burke: “If These Offers are all we Get, Kaberle is Staying Put”

With today being what some people are calling “K-Day,” speculation about Tomas Kaberle is higher than it’s ever been.

“If these offers are all we get…he’s staying put,” Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke told TSN early Sunday morning. He also explained that there was no action on the Kaberle front on Saturday night.

Kaberle, who is the longest-serving current Maple Leaf, will see his no-trade clause kick back in Sunday at midnight.

The 32-year-old, 11-year veteran played in all 82 games last season, posting seven goals and 42 assists. That was the sixth time that he has played in all 82 games.

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail at lukas.bib@gmx.com. Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking sports scores, news and rumors.

Can the Maple Leafs Make the Playoffs in 2010-2011?

Francois Beauchemin

Before I begin, I want to say that I am not like a lot of other Leafs fans. In other words, I am not going to sit here and tell you that the Maple Leafs are going to make the playoffs and maybe even win the Stanley Cup just because they haven’t for so long now. With that being said, if you disagree with what I am about to say than don’t comment saying that I am just someone who thinks that their team is better than every other.

Moving on.

It is no secret that the Maple Leafs have not made the playoffs since the lockout. In 2004, the last time they made the playoffs, the Maple Leafs beat out the Ottawa Senators in seven games before being eliminated in the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

It has been five on-ice seasons since we have experienced one of those seasons with legitimate hope. Hope that we experience a Stanley Cup victory.

Although it’s highly unlikely the Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup this season, they may be one step closer to breaking the forty year slump.

Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg will be the likely leaders of the Maple Leafs offence, and possibly the most loved by fans.

Kessel managed to score 30 goals in 70 games last season with the Leafs which is six less than what he scored in the same amount of games with the Bruins in 2008-2009. Kessel seemed to be the leader of the Maple Leafs’ offence last season, scoring more than once in a game on six different occasions.

He also knows how to persevere. Kessel, who suffered from testicular cancer in 2006, is now cancer free. He won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance during the 2006-2007 season.

Kris Versteeg, who is fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with Chicago, scored 20 goals and 44 points last season after netting 22 goals and 53 points in his rookie season.

These two young veterans will be a large part to any success that Maple Leafs have during the coming season. In fact, Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel will likely be the biggest providers of the Maple Leafs offence aside from Tyler Bozak, who has the potential to put up 50 points this season.

Lets not forget about Nazem Kadri though.

Kadri, the Maple Leafs’ seventh overall draft pick in 2009, scored 92 goals and has helped out on another 166 (258 points) in 242-career regular season games in the Ontario Hockey League. The 19-year-old also has one NHL game under his belt after an emergency call-up last season. He went pointless in that game while going -1.

Although he may not start there, Kadri will end up as the Maple Leafs’ second line centre.

When put together, the four of them could be a large part of the Maple Leafs’ top-six forward group, with two other spots remaining. Those other two spots will be made up Nikolai Kulemin and any forward that Brian Burke might get back in return for Tomas Kaberle.

Nikolai Kulemin will be entering his sophomore season after an impressive rookie season. Playing on the Maple Leafs’ second line with Kris Versteeg (assuming that the Maple Leafs get a top-line winger in return for Tomas Kaberle), Kulemin could score 20 goals and put up 45 points, which is four more goals and nine more points than his production in 2009-2010.

With a group of top-six forwards that will be entering the campaign with more experience and very good potential, the Maple Leafs’ offence will be much more dangerous than last season.

While the top two lines will be putting the puck in the net, the third and fourth lines will be nothing short of intimidating. Boasting the likes of Colton Orr, Mike Brown and (if the Maple Leafs do not acquire a top-six forward by training camp) Colby Armstrong.

Orr and Brown will be used on the fourth to punish the other teams physically, while Fredrick Sjostrom will skate along with them on most nights. Colby Armstrong could find himself skating with Luca Caputi and John Mitchell to try to shut down the top line of the opposing teams while scoring goals when needed.

As you look into the Maple Leafs’ defence, you will notice that Francois Beauchemin had a slightly below average season in 2009-2010, scoring just five goals while adding  25 assists and posting a +/- rating of -13. If Beauchemin, who won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, can have a better season in 2010-2011, then he may find himself being leaned on by Ron Wilson in big moments.

Beauchemin has the potential to reach 10 goals and 40 points. If he can, then the Maple Leafs power play will improve dramatically.

Of course Beauchemin will not be the only defenceman the Maple Leafs need help from if they want to improve their power play. Dion Phaneuf struggled last season before being acquired from the Calgary Flames in late January. The 25-year-old scored two goals in 26 games with the Buds last season, but don’t let the statistics fool you.

Phaneuf was leaned on very often by the Maple Leafs as the guy who could give the team a massive spark.

The former 20-goal-scorer was named captain of the Maple Leafs this off-season after being recognized for his great work ethic and ability to lead a team both on the ice and in the dressing room. Assuming that Phaneuf can balance the duties of captaining the Maple Leafs and being a top defenceman, the entire Maple Leafs defence will be strong for the latter half of the season.

With that being said, don’t be disappointed if Brian Burke elects to keep Tomas Kaberle.

Kaberle, an 11-year veteran of the league, is one of the best defenceman in the National Hockey League. As long as Kaberle is playing for the Maple Leafs, the young players, especially the young defencemen, will follow him. If Kaberle and newly named captain Dion Phaneuf are both playing the for Maple Leafs, the young defence corps will learn a lot.

With the being said, the Maple Leafs could make some big mistakes in their own end for the first couple weeks of the season, but the potential to rebound nicely is there.

However, just because things are looking good so far doesn’t mean that the Leafs will make the playoffs for sure.

For years, the Northeast Division was known as one of the toughest in hockey. Now that the Atlantic Division has taken shape and the Pacific Division is well on its way, the Northeast is not quite as comparable as it used to be.

Nevertheless, the Maple Leafs are still going to have to deal with teams that are tough to play against. Buffalo, Boston, Montreal and maybe even the Senators have the potential for big seasons in 2010-2011.

After loosing Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman and Raffi Torres in the off-season, Buffalo rebounded fairly well with the signings of Jordan Leopold, Rob Niedermayer and Shaone Morrisonn. The Sabres are likely to have a similar season as they did in 2009-2010 (45-27-10, 100 points, 1st in Northeast Division) since they didn’t really improve their team.

The Senators lost two very solid defencemen in the off-season in Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton, while also watching Matt Cullen leave the Nation’s capital. They did, however, manage to lure Sergei Gonchar away from Pittsburgh and into the red, black and gold. Gonchar, who scored 11 goals last season, is the puck moving defenceman the Senators were looking for.

Even though they lost Miroslav Satan, Dennis Wideman and Byron Bitz, the Boston Bruins still managed to improve their offence by acquiring Nathan Horton. Horton, who has played his entire six-year career with the Panthers, put up 57 points in just 65 games last season. There is no doubt that the Bruins improved their offensive attack after finishing dead last in the league in goals scored per game and total goals scored last season.

Last but possibly not least, the Montreal Canadiens didn’t exactly improve their team during the 2010 off-season. After losing the likes of Jaroslav Halak, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Glen Metropolit and Sergei Kostitsyn, Pierre Gauthier only managed to sign Alex Auld and Dustin Boyd. The Canadiens are taking a massive risk with Carey Price as he has not proven that he can come through when the crowd turns on him while Jaroslav Halak, who was traded to St. Louis, carried the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final.

The Maple Leafs, who went 5-2 last season against Ottawa, will need to start the season series against the Senators the way they finished it in 2009-2010 if they want to prove that they can win in their own division. But of course, they will need to be able to beat the best in the division, and the league, to prove that they are a brand new team.

So, can the Maple Leafs make the playoffs? Yes.

Will it be easy? No. 

As a young team, the Maple Leafs will make a lot of mistakes, especially early in the season. But just like we saw last season, the Maple Leafs have the ability to string some wins together. It won’t take long before the Maple Leafs can start to string multiple wins together with the potential the offence actually has.

There will be a lot of ups and downs during the 2010-2011 season, but in the end the Maple Leafs will make the Stanley Cup playoffs, finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference just three points in.

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail at lukas.bib@gmx.com. Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking sports scores, news and rumors.