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.

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.


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.

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.

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

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.