Toronto Maple Leafs Benefiting From Kaberle Trade That Never Happened

 

Tomas Kaberle

 

On August 15th, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs and media all over North America were going crazy in anticipation for a trade that would see veteran defenceman Tomas Kaberle pack his bags and leave the Maple Leafs. Just over three months later and many fans are happy to see Kaberle wearing the blue and white.

General manager Brian Burke’s decision to keep Kaberle now seems to be a very good one, for more than one reason.

The 32-year-old has begun the 2010-2011 season by assisting on three goals in his first four games and posting a plus/minus rating of +3. If one was to watch his defensive play as well, they would notice that he has also been more-than-impressive without the puck.

However, his quick start is not the only way the Maple Leafs are benefiting from the Kaberle trade that never happened.

It’s no secret that Clarke MacArthur is off to a hot start this season. Scoring six points (five goals, one assist) in his first four games, as well as a +2 rating, MacArthur has exceeded expectations.

There were many top-six forwards, wingers and centremen, rumoured to join the Maple Leafs in return for Kaberle. With players like Ryan Clowe, Brad Richards and Marc Savard involved in those rumours, it’s highly unlikely MacArthur would be playing with Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski right now, a line that has been highly successful.

In fact, MacArthur may not have even signed with the Leafs had Kaberle been traded, due to a lack of salary cap space.

That’s not to say Clowe, Richards, Savard or any other player that may have come to Toronto in a trade involving Kaberle wouldn’t be playing extremely well, but as of right now, with a 4-0-0 record, it appears as though the Maple Leafs are better off with Kaberle and MacArthur in the lineup.

The line of MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin may not be the only one benefiting from the Kaberle trade that never happened, though.

Although Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak haven’t looked all that impressive on the top line together, they did have a good game against the Rangers on Friday night. All three have great potential to put up big numbers, with many fans, the coaching staff, management and media expecting at least 50 points from Bozak, 60 points from Versteeg and 40+ goals from Kessel.

It’s likely that the three would not be skating together had Burke of traded Kaberle, acquiring a top-six forward.

With a good game from the trio on Monday against the New York Islanders and another on Thursday against the Rangers, Versteeg, Kessel and Bozak will have some serious confidence instilled in them, leading to some good, if not great production.

**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.

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.


Maple Leafs Look to Start 4-0 With Win Over Rangers

The Toronto Maple Leafs will go for their fourth straight win tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. If the Maple Leafs win, it will mark the first time they have opened the season with four straight wins in 17 years.

With goals from Clarke MacArthur, Francois Beauchemin and Colton Orr, the Leafs managed to score four times on just 14 shots Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

All but three players, not including goalies, have recorded at least one point in the three games the Leafs have played. MacArthur has been a pleasant surprise for the Buds, scoring four goals and adding one assist in three games. Phil Kessel, the team’s second leading scorer, has accumulated two goals and an assist in three games.

Aside from Kessel, the Maple Leafs’ top line has been struggling to produce. Kris Versteeg has just one goal and one assist so far, while centre Tyler Bozak has just one helper. Coach Ron Wilson will be looking for more production out of the three tonight.

The second line, however, has been far from disappointing. Nikolai Kulemin (one goal, two assists), Mikhail Grabovski (no goals, three assists) and Clarke MacArthur (four goals, one assist) have combined for a total of 11 points through three games. The line has been counted on when a goal is needed and used to inject some life into the team with a good shift.

As far as the bottom-six goes, Tim Brent, Mike Brown and Mike Zigomanis have all impressed in their own ways. Brent has scored twice in three games, while Brown has used his speed and pugnacity effectively. Zigomanis, meanwhile, leads the team in faceoffs, winning 71.4 precent of his draws. All three will play important roles in shutting down Marian Gaborik and company tonight.

A part of Gaborik’s company will be Brandon Dubinsky, who is off to a great start this season. With three goals and an assist in two games, Dubinsky will be key to the Rangers’ success tonight. The 24-year-old scored 20 goals in 69 games last season.

Gaborik has yet to score in two games, while rookie Derek Stepan scored a hat trick in the first game of the season.

Tonight will be New York’s home opener, a game that they have not lost since the 2005-2006 season. They finished with a home record of just 18-17-6 last season.

The Leafs will be without defenceman Brett Lebda tonight due to a shoulder injury, but coach Ron Wilson says that he should be available for Monday’s home game against the Islanders. It is unclear whether enforcer Colton Orr will be in the lineup, since he did not return to Wednesday’s game after being dropped by Pittsburgh’s Deryk Engelland in a fight.

The Rangers could be without Erik Christensen. Chris Drury will make his season debut tonight after breaking his finger.

Tonight’s players to watch

Toronto – LW – Clarke MacArthur

MacArthur has scored four goals and an assist in three games this season and will try to continue scoring at such a rapid pace tonight.

New York – G – Henrik Lundqvist

Lundqvist has been struggling this season, going 1-1-0 in two starts, posting a goals against average of 4.03 and a save percentage of .881.

**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.

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.

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs To Battle Montreal Canadiens in Season Opener

It’s finally here─the season opener.

For the first time in almost six months, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs will go head to head, this time at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

After making little to no significant moves in the 2010 off-season, the Canadiens will ice a roster eerily similar to last season’s. Unfortunately for Habs fans, that roster does not include playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. Instead, Carey Price is expected to start in goal for the majority of the Habs’ 82 games.

However, Price may not be starting in goal tonight for the bleu, blanc et rouge. According to TSN.ca, the 23-year-old, as well as veteran defenceman Andrei Markov, didn’t practice with the team on Wednesday due to illness. If Price isn’t available to start tonight, the newly signed Alex Auld will get the nod. If Auld does indeed get the call tonight, Curtis Sanford will be called up from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

Mike Cammalleri was handed a one game suspension for his slash on Nino Niederreiter of the New York Islanders last Saturday. Without Cammalleri, the Canadiens, already an offensively handicapped team, could have trouble scoring goals.

With Cammalleri out, youngster Lars Eller is expected to skate on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. Eller played in seven games last season with the St. Louis Blues, scoring two goals. He was acquired from the Blues along with Ian Schultz in the very same trade that saw Jaroslav Halak get dealt.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, will start veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere in net, choosing to sit sophomore Jonas Gustavsson. Giguere was named the Maple Leafs starting goaltender before training camp even began, and will look to build on a strong finish to last season.

Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg will make up the Leafs top line tonight. Nikolai Kulemin, now in his third season, and Mikhail Grabovski will skate on a line with Clarke MacArthur. Kessel led the league in goals during the pre-season, with Nikolai Kulemin breathing right up his neck.

The Leafs finished dead last in the penalty killing and power play departments last season. With the addition of two-time 20+ goal scorer Kris Versteeg and the return of PK specialist Fredrik Sjostrom, the Leafs should be, at least, somewhat improved when it comes to both scoring on the power play and keeping the puck out of the net while shorthanded.

After being left out of all captaincy positions, fans and writers alike have been speculating about Tomas Kaberle, and whether or not this will be his final home-opener as a Maple Leaf. Kaberle has played for the Maple Leafs his entire career, scoring 45 or more points in a season six times.

Tonight’s players to watch

Toronto – D – Dion Phaneuf

Phaneuf was named the 18th captain in franchise history during the off-season. He had a less-than-stellar training camp and pre-season and will be looking to rebound with a good start to the season.

Montreal – RW – Brian Gionta

Just like Phaneuf, Gionta was named team captain during the off-season. Will he be able to follow in the footsteps of some of the best Habs of all time? Only time will tell.

**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.

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.