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.

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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.

Toronto Maple Leafs Offence: Believe

 

The Leafs are expecting big things from Tyler Bozak this season

 

Gone are the days of Mats Sundin, Alex Mogilny and Darryl Sittler, the days when the Maple Leafs offence wasn’t worst in the entire league and the days when fans league-wide weren’t counting out the Maple Leafs when it came to the playoffs.

Instead, it’s become the complete opposite. Now a days, people are expecting the Leafs to finish in the bottom ten in the league, and the Stanley Cup seems as far away as ever.

However, that doesn’t mean that fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have reason to cheer. That’s not to say the Maple Leafs are going to make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, but what it does say is that with strong play from the back-end, things could get interesting.

We all know how good the Toronto Maple Leafs defence is, at least on paper, so I’m not going to sit here and talk about their defensive play.

Instead, it’s time for people to start believing that this Maple Leafs team can put the puck in the back of the net, if they can put their minds to it and get creative.

With the likes of Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak leading the offence and Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin right behind them, things are starting to look up for the Leafs when it comes to scoring goals.

Phil Kessel, a two-time 30+ goal scorer, knows exactly how to find the back of the net. Still, people say that if he’s going to continue scoring 30+ goals a season, he needs a play making centre like Marc Savard to play with—but what about Tyler Bozak?

Bozak played in 37 games last season, scoring 27 points, including eight goals. If he can live up to expectations, he could become just as good as Marc Savard, leading to more production from Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg as well.

After playing third line minutes in Chicago due to being a victim of the Blackhawks’ tremendous depth, Kris Versteeg should see top-line minutes with the Maple Leafs, at least until a sixth offensive threat is added. When it comes to Versteeg’s production this season, things are looking great. With a total of 44 goals in his first two NHL seasons, Versteeg should thrive on a line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.

The trio of Kessel, Bozak and Versteeg won’t be relied on too heavily in the latter part of the season if Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski can prove to be the players everyone is hoping for.

Grabovski, who was acquired by the Maple Leafs in July of 2008 from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2010 second round pick and the rights to Greg Pateryn, scored 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in just 59 games last season. Although those stats seem impressive, he still has yet to prove that he can be a solid top-six centre.

If he does become the top-six centre the Maple Leafs had hoped for, Grabovski should be able to put up 50-60+ points, which could mean big things for the Leafs.

Just imagine what it will be like if Nikolai Kulemin can drastically improve upon in 2009-2010 statistics. Unfortunately, a drastic improvement is unlikely.

After scoring 16 goals and 20 assists while posting an even +/- rating in 78 games during his sophomore season, Kulemin is expected to put up even better numbers this season. If the 24-year-old can score at least 40 points in 2010-2011, combined with a 50 point seasons from Grabovski, the Maple Leafs will have a solid duo skating on the top-two lines. Still, general manager Brian Burke needs to find someone to round out the top-six, preferably a winger.

Little offence will come from the Maple Leafs’ bottom-two lines. Made up of Colton Orr, Mike Brown, John Mitchell, Tim Brent, Fredrik Sjostrom and Colby Armstrong/Clarke MacArthur, as well as extras Mike Zigomanis and Jay Rosehill, not much more than 130 points should be expected from the bottom-six.

The Maple Leafs combined to score a total of 576 total points last season.

Let’s not forget, though, that not all offence comes from the forwards.

Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle are all expected to be highly involved offensively, at least as far as defencemen go.

Phaneuf, the team’s new captain and a former 60 point, 50 point, 49 point and two-time 20 goal scorer isn’t expected to contribute the same amount of offence as he did to Calgary in his first two seasons, but he should be somewhere around the 40 point mark after all 82 games.

Beauchemin, who has never scored more than 34 points or eight goals in a season, has a cannon for a shot. He will be a large part of any success the Maple Leafs have on the power play.

His setup man, Tomas Kaberle, was left out of all captaincy. The former 67 point man will once again use his passing expertise on the power play and five-on-five.

Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek will all be minor contributors to the offensive side of things, but will, just like any other player, be expected to score a decent amount of points.

The Maple Leafs forward group is one of the youngest and most inexperienced in the league. With that in mind, be patient. There will be growing pains, and there will be dry spells. If this group of young NHLers can gel, produce and remain fairly consistent, Bozak, Grabovski, Kulemin and Versteeg will all be top NHL players and point producers one day, while Phil Kessel should reach the 40 goal mark.

Let’s just hope it all happens while they’re still playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

Three Reasons Why Luke Schenn Will Earn A Big Raise

Luke Schenn is in line for a big raise

He has been tagged as the franchise player by many, and it may be just about time to give him the contract that fits that label.

With two full National Hockey League seasons under his belt, 20-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn is no longer short on experience, and with the way he has been playing, it may be about time that he earns a hefty raise, whether it’s with the Maple Leafs or not.

Here are three reasons why Luke Schenn has a good shot at receiving a lucrative contract come July 1, 2011:

Development

Both of those years, he has been learning from a coach with a great reputation in Ron Wilson. Not to mention the likes of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle and Dion Phaneuf.

When Phaneuf came to Toronto, he made everyone around him better. Now that he is captain, he will be expected to continue doing exactly what he was, which means great things for the development of Schenn.

Supporting cast

The Maple Leafs log jam on defence has been well documented by the media, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, especially for Schenn. As long as he makes the team, which seems more than likely to happen, he will have a great supporting cast to work with, only helping him to play better and become a better defenceman, both on the defensive side of things and the offensive side.

Leafs forwards, meanwhile, should help the normally stay-at-home defenceman rack up the points and assists. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should expect Schenn to put up 30+ points, but with the likes of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Kris Versteeg and possibly Nazem Kadri up front, the 6-foot-2, 215 pound Schenn shouldn’t lack offensive numbers this season.

Contract season

The native of Saskatoon will be entering his contract year in 2010-2011, which could mean either great or bad news. Sometimes players thrive when they are in the final year of their contract, knowing that a big season could earn them a hefty raise come July 1. Some, however, are the exact opposite, as they try to do too much, ultimately forcing them to make poor decisions on and off the ice.

Schenn has had two good seasons in the league, one of them was outstanding considering that he was a rookie in a hockey mad Toronto market. In 2009-10, his statistics improved drastically. Scoring five goals, three more than his previous total of two, and 12 assists for a total of 17 points, three more points than his previous total of 14, his second season was nothing short of impressive.

Schenn’s gritty and tough style of play has made players all over the league aware of when he’s on the ice, something that every team wants from every single one of its players.

With the way he has played in his first two seasons, all signs point towards a good, if not great, contract season for Schenn.

So just how much money and how many years should he receive? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see how this season goes for the young NHLer.

**You can contact Lukas by e-mail at lukas@gacksports.com and follow him on Twitter @lukas_nhl.