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 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.