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.

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.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Is Clarke MacArthur The New Phil Kessel?

Clarke MacArthur has been more than impressive this season

There is a new sniper in Toronto, at least for now.

25-year-old Clarke MacArthur has been scoring at a rapid pace so far this season, averaging over a goal per game. With a total of five goals in four games, MacArthur has scored one more goal than $5.4 million man Phil Kessel, and has the same amount of points, with six.

So is Clarke MacArthur the new Phil Kessel? Can he score 30+ goals this season?

MacArthur is no stranger to quick starts. The former Sabre began last season by scoring four goals in his first six games, but finished with a total of 16 in 81 games. The season before, he began by scoring three goals in his first six games, but finished with 17 in 71 games.

So with Thursday night’s home game against the New York Rangers being his sixth game (barring injury), the question must be asked: can he keep it up?

Yes.

In each of the four games he has played in, MacArthur has skated on the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, both of whom seem to be finding their way this season as well. MacArthur praised Grabovski and Kulemin for their willingness to get into the corners and do the dirty work, all the while feeding him the puck.

With line mates like Grabovski and Kulemin, boat loads of confidence and no end of the trio’s success in sight, MacArthur could easily score 25-30 goals for the first time in his National Hockey League career. If that happens, Brian Burke will be praised for his work in signing MacArthur to a $1.1 million contract after he was awarded $2.4 million by an arbitrator.

However, the key to MacArthur’s success this season is his line mates, who, if they keep playing this way, could rack up the points themselves as well.

Kessel, meanwhile, has been playing on the top line, receiving top line minutes with Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak. If Kessel, Versteeg and Bozak can find their way, which they appeared to do on Friday night against the Rangers, the spotlight probably won’t shine on MacArthur as much as it is right now.

With that being said, it’s improbable that MacArthur will become as good a goal scorer as Phil Kessel.

What do you think? With Clarke MacArthur finish the season with more goals than Phil Kessel?

**Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.


Toronto Maple Leafs Improve to 3-0: How Long Can They Keep It Up?

J-S Giguere has been more than impressive this season

The Toronto Maple Leafs improved their 2010-2011 season record to 3-0-0 on Wednesday night with a 4-3 victory over the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins. During their three game winning streak, the Leafs have also defeated their biggest Northeast Division rivals in the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.

But with a second line made up of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, and a top line in which no player is over the age of 24, just how long can the Maple Leafs continue their winning streak?

Many fans are already jumping to conclusions, saying that the Maple Leafs will have a big season, make the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup. Although the playoffs are a possibility, the Stanley Cup is not a reality.

In order for the Maple Leafs to make the playoffs, both Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson need to remain healthy, find consistency and stay consistent. So far, Giguere has done exactly that through two games, while Jonas Gustavsson showed plenty of upside Wednesday night against Pittsburgh.

Giguere, who won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, is the perfect goalie to play with Gustavsson. The 33-year-old is still a very good player in the NHL, and knows what it takes to play in the National Hockey League. Gustavsson, who played well in his rookie season, posting a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .880, can learn a few things from Giguere.

However, in order for the two to put up good numbers, they will also need some help in front of them, something the team has not improved on this season.

The Maple Leafs’ defence has allowed 71 shots against through three games, 13th best in the NHL. Last season, the Maple Leafs allowed 2440 shots against, also 13th in the league.

In order for the Maple Leafs to play better defensively, Dion Phaneuf will need to step up his game if the way he played Wednesday is any indication of his play in the future, while Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek will all need to keep playing the way they are, at the very least.

If there is a bright spot when it comes to the Maple Leafs defence early in the season, it’s the penalty killing units. With a success rate of 90 percent, the Leafs are the fifth best penalty killing team in the league. Last season, the Leafs killed off just 74.6 percent of their penalties, which put them 30th in the league.

The Maple Leafs can keep playing the way they are and be successful for now, but once they start running into teams like the Washington Capitals, the defence will need to become stronger.

The Maple Leafs’ forwards, on the other hand, have been nothing short of impressive.

Clarke MacArthur has at least one goal in each of his three games as a Leaf so far with a total of four goals and five points, Phil Kessel has two goals and an assist, Nikolai Kulemin has a goal and two assists, Mikhail Grabovski has three assists and Kris Versteeg has scored one goal while adding an assist. In short, the players who are expected to put up a decent amount of points have been.

But what has gone unnoticed by a lot of fans and media members is that the Leafs have been spreading the scoring up and down the lineup.

Luke Schenn, Tim Brent and Mike Komisarek all have two points, while Colton Orr, Mike Brown, Mike Zigomanis and Tyler Bozak each have a point. Keep in mind that the season is only three games old.

Nevertheless, if the Maple Leafs’ top line is going to become their best line, Tyler Bozak will need to start producing in order for Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel to put up big numbers.

All in all, the only area to be more than normally concerned about is the defence. As long as the forwards can keep putting up the numbers they have been, the Maple Leafs will be in good shape for another week, at least, though it is still too early to start getting excited

Now, this is not to say that it will happen, but let’s not forget, the last time the Maple Leafs started a season 3-0, in 1999, they won the division.

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

 

 

NHL 2010-2011: Northeast Division Power Rankings: Week One

Once again, Ryan Miller will be a huge part of the Buffalo Sabres

The 2010-2011 NHL season is right on the door step.

From signings and trades, to draft picks and major injuries, it was a very interesting off-season all around the National Hockey League, let alone the Northeast Division.

Going into the new season, there are a lot of questions surrounding each team in the Northeast Division. Those questions include the playoffs, rookies, replacements and even special teams.

Teams like Toronto and Boston need to improve offensively in 2010-2011, while Toronto and Ottawa will be trying to catapult themselves into the top half of the league defensively.

Here now are my Northeast Division power rankings for week one.

1. Buffalo Sabres

Record (2009-2010): 45 – 27 – 10

Conference (2009-2010) – 3rd

Division (2009-2010) – 1st

Major Acquisition – Jordan Leopold

Questions:

Can the Sabres rebound after being upset in the 2010 playoffs?

Will Tim Connolly play the entire season?

Can the Sabres finally turn an impressive season into an impressive playoff run?

How will the Sabres defence play without Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman?

Prediction:

With the acquisitions of Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn, the Sabres shouldn’t feel the pain of loosing Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder too much.

Even after finishing 10th in the league when it came to offence, general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff are both expecting big seasons from Derek Roy, Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford. Although all three have played well since coming to Buffalo, they have the ability to put up better numbers than they have.

Goaltending won’t be a problem for the Sabres. Entering his eighth season with the team, Ryan Miller will be the starting net minder once again. In 333-career regular season games, Miller has posted a goals against average of 2.57, and a save percentage of .914.

Patrick LaLime will be Miller’s backup for the third straight season. LaLime played in 16 games during the 2009-2010 season. With a goals against average of 2.81, a save percentage of .905 and a record of 4-8-2, he was a solid backup.

2. Boston Bruins

Record (2009-2010): 39-3019

Conference (2009-2010): 6th

Division (2009-2010): 3rd

Major acquisition – Nathan Horton

Questions:

Can the Bruins finally make it past the second round of the playoffs?

Will Tuukka Rask play this season like he did last?

How much better will the Bruins offence be with Nathan Horton now on the roster?

How will Tyler Seguin play?

Prediction:

After finishing dead last in goals scored per game and total goals scored, the Bruins will be entering the 2010-2011 season better offensively, at least on paper. With the acquisition of Nathan Horton and the addition of Tyler Seguin via the Entry Draft, the Bruins now have two more offensive weapons to attack with.

Horton, who scored 57 points in 65 games last season, is a former 30 goal scorer, a one-time 28 goal scorer and a one-time 27 goal scorer. Seguin, meanwhile, scored 106 points (48 goals, 58 assists) in 63 games last season for the Plymouth Whalers. Both are expected to be significant contributors to the Bruins this season.

Unfortunately, the Bruins will be without top-line centre Marc Savard to begin the season. Savard, who played in just 41 games last season, is still suffering from post concussion syndrome.

General manager Peter Chiarelli made no major changes to his back end or goaltending in the off-season. Once again, it will be Zdeno Chara anchoring the defence, while Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart and Johnny Boychuk will follow.

Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, is expected to be the starting net minder, with veteran Tim Thomas backing him up. Even with goals against average of 2.56 and a save percentage of .915, Thomas was not able to keep Rask from taking his job last season.

3. Ottawa Senators

Record (2009-2010): 44-32-6

Conference (2009-2010): 5th

Division (2009-2010): 2nd

Major acquisition: Sergei Gonchar

Questions:

Will Sergei Gonchar play just as good in Ottawa as he did in Pittsburgh?

Will Alex Kovalev be able to rebound after a poor first season in Ottawa?

Will the Senators be able to get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since making it to the Stanley Cup Finals?

Will Pascal LeClaire finally have a healthy season?

Prediction:

As you can see, three of the four questions above are about individuals. For a long time now, off-ice distractions and poor performances from certain players (i.e. Ray Emery, Alex Kovalev) have hurt the Senators considerably. As of right now, the only individual who might hurt the Senators’ chances at a successful playoff run is Pascal LeClaire. If LeClaire can stay healthy and have a good season, the Sens are set in goal.

When Andy Sutton and long-time Senator Anton Volchenkov headed to free agency, things didn’t look good for the Senators in the 2010 off-season. General manager Brian Murray, however, rebounded nicely with the signing of Sergei Gonchar. After Gonchar, the Senators defence isn’t great, but good. Chris Campoli, Chris Phillips and young Erik Karlsson will likely round out the top-six to start the season, with Filip Kuba returning to the lineup later on.

Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher will once again headline the Senators offence, while Nick Foligno, Chris Kelly and Peter Regin will lead the group of secondary scorers. Last season, Spezza, Kovalev, Michalek, Alfredsson and Fisher all combined to score 108 goals, almost half of the team’s 210 goals.

4. Montreal Canadiens

Record (2009-2010): 39-33-10

Conference (2009-2010): 8th

Divison (2009-2010): 4th

Major acquisition: Dustin Boyd

Questions:

How will Brian Gionta play wearing the ‘C’?

Will Carey Price have a good season?

Without making any major moves in the off-season, will the Montreal Canadiens make the playoffs?

What happens if Carey Price struggles?

Prediction:

If the Habs are going to have a major back fall this season, it will be their goaltending, which will either be great or horrible. After trading playoff hero Jorslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues during the off-season, the Canadiens re-signed fourth year goalie Carey Price to a two-year contract. Price’s struggles when the fans turn on him have been well documented by the media and could cost the Habs this season.

Aside from Jeff Halpern and Alex Auld, who will likely see third line and back up duties respectively, Dustin Boyd was the only acquisition by the Habs who should have a some what large impact. Boyd, a former Calgary Flame, has played in 2010 career games, scoring just 31 goals.

The Canadiens finished 26th in the league when it came to offence last season, worse than the Maple Leafs. Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec and newly named captain Brian Gionta will once again lead the Habs offence. All four will need to have huge seasons if they plan on making the playoffs, let alone competing for the Stanley Cup.

The back end doesn’t need much explaining. Much like most of the roster, it stayed the same.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs

Record (2009-2010): 30-38-14

Conference (2009-2010): 15th

Division (2009-2010): 5th

Major acquisition: Kris Versteeg

Questions:

Will Nazem Kadri be a big contributor if called up during the season?

Will this be the year the Maple Leafs break their playoff-less streak?

Will Dion Phaneuf still play well while wearing the ‘C’?

Will Phil Kessel score 40 goals?

Prediction:

There is no doubt that the addition of Kris Versteeg will help the Toronto Maple Leafs when it comes to offence, a category that the Maple Leafs finished second-to-last in the league in last season. A much more experienced Nikolai Kulemin will also help, as well as youngster Tyler Bozak and 30 goal scorer Phil Kessel.

Even with how good the back six looked on paper last season, they need to play better. With the likes of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson and Dion Phaneuf, a case could be made that the Leafs defence is one of the strongest, deepest groups in the entire league. They just need to show it.

Of course, if the Leafs are going to make sure that the puck doesn’t go in their own net as much as it did last season, they will need some help from the goaltenders. If veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere and sophomore Swede Jonas Gustavsson can each turn in healthy, good and consistent seasons, the Leafs will be set in goal.

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