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.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Why The 2010-2011 Season Won’t Be Like Any Other

2010-2011 will be an exciting season for the Leafs and it's fans

Never before has anyone ever seen a season that may be about to go down for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With hundreds of questions, multiple rookies and new players, the potential to make the playoffs is finally there and an offence that could either be good or horrific, the coming season will be nothing short of interesting and exciting.

If the Leafs plan on making the playoffs in 2011, the team’s goaltending duo of Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere will need to be absolutely outstanding. Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin will also need to turn in good seasons on the back-end, something that they didn’t do in 2009-2010, granted Komisarek on played in 34 games.

Entering the 2010-2011 season, there is more than just a few questions surrounding the Maple Leafs. Here are just some of them:

Will the Leafs finally make the playoffs?

Will Tyler Bozak be able to score 50 points?

Will Kris Versteeg flourish with more ice time in Toronto?

Will Phil Kessel score 40 goals?

Will the penalty kill be better?

Will the power play be better?

Will Nazem Kadri make the team? How well will he play if he does?

Fans and writers alike will look for those questions to be answered during the season. Although a case could be made that some of them have already been answered, we’ll have to wait.

The Leafs finally have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in years. It has been five seasons since the team has last made the playoffs in 2004, the year before the extremely infamous lockout.

However, if the Leafs want to make the playoffs they’re going to need the young and new players to live up to expectations.

This means 60+ points from Kris Versteeg, 35-40 points and an intimidating presence from Colby Armstrong and 40 points from Nazem Kadri (if he plays a full season). Luca Caputi, who has had a great pre-season, will be expected to score at least 15 goals this season, while Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin will all be looked at to put up at least 50, 55 and 45 points respectively.

Perhaps the biggest star in the Leafs lineup, Phil Kessel, will be expected to score 40 goals. Kessel has twice scored 30 or more goals, once with the Bruins (36) and once with the Maple Leafs (30). With a play maker like Bozak, who scored 27 points in 37 games last season, 40 goals from the 6’0″, 202 lbs sniper finally seems like a reality in Toronto.

Versteeg, Armstrong, Kadri, Caputi, Bozak, Grabovski, Kulemin and Kessel will all play a huge role in proving everyone wrong about the Leafs offence. As of now, almost everyone is writing off the Leafs offensive skill, saying that the team’s top two lines are either too weak in size and strength, too weak in skill or not experienced enough.

Although it’s obvious the Leafs still need another top-six forward, preferably a winger, the offence could still prove to be good, not great.

Ron Wilson and company will also look for improved seasons from plenty defencemen, including Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn.

Komisarek, who didn’t score a goal but did score four assists in 2009-2010, played in just 34 games due to a shoulder injury. In those 34 games, he also posted a +/- rating of -9. If Komisarek can return to form this season, he will be looked at as a huge part of how the Leafs played.

Francois Beauchemin, meanwhile, played in all 82 games, but also struggled to play the way he was known for in Anaheim. Scoring five goals and 21 assists for a total of 26 points, the 30-year-old’s offensive statistics were right around where they normally are. His plus/minus, however, was not. With a rating of -13, Beauchemin was often picked on by fans and the media when the Leafs were in the midst of a bad skid.

As for Gunnarsson, and Schenn, the raised expectations having to do with nothing but development. Even though they all went through rough patches last season, all three were impressive.

Gunnarsson began playing for the big club midway through the season. He appeared in 43 games, scoring three goals and 12 assists while going +8. Schenn, a fellow defenceman, scored 17 of his 31-career points last season, playing in all but two games.

Goalie Jonas Gustavsson is also expected to improve upon a strong rookie campaign.

Gustavsson was known for big time saves and keeping the Leafs in games last season, but he was also very inconsistent. The Monster is definitely capable of improving upon his 2009-2010 goals against average of 2.87 and save percentage of .902. He also has a great veteran goalie to learn from in JS Giguere.

Giguere, who will be entering his 13th NHL season, is likely to see split time, sharing the duties with Gustavsson. The 33-year-old native of Montreal, Quebec played in 35 games last season for the Ducks and Maple Leafs, with against average of 2.85 and a save percentage of .907.

As you can see, the Maple Leafs are set when it comes to goaltending and defence this season. If the offence can significantly improve upon the 210 goals they scored last season and a league-worst %14 power play conversion rate, this young team is destined to make the playoffs.

If the offence is just as good as or worse than last season, however, then don’t expect the Leafs to be any higher than 12th in the Eastern Conference standings after all 82 games.

Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl.

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.

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.