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Let's talk honestly about “direction”, as in where the Leafs are going…Part I of II

With the 2011-'12 NHL regular-season now behind us, my thoughts have moved to what direction the Maple Leaf franchise is really going in, under Brian Burke’s leadership—fully three and a half years into his stewardship.

We all know we have a younger roster in place, some speed and, yes, mobility on the back end (notably the promising Jake Gardiner, a modern-day rover-style defenseman).  And yes, we have those other “kids” either here now, or soon to be:  Frattin (though, at 24, not that much of a kid any more), Kadri, Colborne and young Blacker and Holzer on defense.  And of course many Leaf eyes will be on the newest addition to the kiddie corps, Carter Ashton- and that top five or better draft pick upcoming in June.

So OK, Burke has built a young team…fair enough. We have some speed and some blueline “depth”, with more pieces to come, we’re told, in the minors.  But here’s the rub.  I've talked here most of this past season about what I perceive as the lack of real "team toughness".  And I'm not talking about fighting, simply the ability and willigniness to play the game hard- along the boards, in the corners, and in front of both nets.

Exactly where is the grit, the legitimate toughness that you also have to have on your roster?  Yes, speed and explosiveness are vital in the game today.  Being able to think the game and execute plays, with pace, matters.  And we showed that at times earlier this past season under Ron Wilson.  But one thing that hasn't changed in the fifty plus years I’ve been observing the game of hockey is that, come playoff time, teams inevitably dig deeper than they have all season long.  They play much harder.  Even guys that don’t normally have that “edge”, that sandpaper in their games, will sometimes step up in that regard. Just getting into the playoffs seems to require some of that grit nowadays.

And hey, maybe, when the Leafs do play in the playoffs (next spring??), they, too, will be so inspired that they will deliver that same kind of determined play that I’m talking about.  My problem, I guess, is that I’m not sure exactly where this toughness is going to come from.

Let’s do a mini roster assessment:  who are the guys who really like the physical going on this team (and I’m not referring to fights)?  Who likes to play a physical game, to hit—and be hit.  Do we have guys that come back hard after they have been plastered?

In the for sure “yes” category (these guys like to play physical hockey and can give it and take it), I will put, without hesitation, the following players:  Mike Brown, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek.

In the “I want to believe they will play a physical game or will at least not back down from the punishment” I will list Mikhail Grabovski and Dion Phaneuf (and possibly Matt Frattin, who I think has the potential to be a power forward but hasn't quite shown me enough consistency in that regard just yet- he's still developing...).

In the “they will at least try to annoy the other team and get them off their game” category I would include Colby Armstrong.

Finally, in the “I’m not sure where he fits, but I’m hoping he can play through it all” goes Lupul.

But for me, that’s it.  That’s the entire group that I see with any physicality whatsoever in their game, in a serious sense, on the Maple Leaf squad. (Maybe I'm forgetting someone...)  I mean, yes, Franson can occasionally dole out some hits, but I’m not sure I look at him as a defenseman who brings that element to his game regularly.

Truth is, I even feel a bit of indecision about some of the guys I’ve listed above.  I have no hesitation about Brown or Schenn. But the thing is, Brown can only play limited minutes, and Schenn was playing 5/6th man minutes many nights, so he’s not on the ice a ton.

Komisarek can hit, but as much as I’ve tried to look at his contributions here positively over the past three seasons, the bottom line is: for a number of reasons, he has not been able to stay in the regular line-up, much less play the role of physical leader, intimidator or anything along those lines.  Teams don’t say, “Watch out, Komisarek is on the ice”.  That’s just not happening.  He remains mistake-prone and that over-shawdows his physical abilities.

Phaneuf, well, I know a lot of Leaf fans love the guy, and see him as a big, imposing player.  I just don’t see it.  Oh, I see the once-in-a-while big blast on an opposing forward from him (and sometimes it’s not how often but when you do it that matters, and I get that), but I‘m trying to remember many times (any?) where his physicality, or a big “hit”, turned the momentum in a key game in favor of the Leafs.

As for Grabbo, I think we are all living with the memory of him being plastered into the end boards by Chara last season right in Boston, and coming back (probably concussed) to score a huge goal in a big Leaf victory.  That was something, for sure.  But did we really see, this past season, him fighting through traffic the way he did most of last season? Will he keep doing it with his big, new contract in his back pocket?  I love the guy, but I think it's a fair question.

So, on the current roster, we have a couple of guys (Schenn and Brown) who play low or modest minutes (and a defenseman in Komisarek who plays irregularly) who “bring it” and are fearless.  They will fight but more importantly will  stick their nose in messy areas and stand up for teammates.

Then we have guys who have a reputation for either toughness or being able to compete against hard opposition (Dion and Grabbo), a minor agitator in Armstrong and a guy who I  hope fits the bill here, in Lupul.  That's it.

Look, I’m not saying we have to have a team full of guys like Bob Gainey, Terry O’Reilly or even Brendan Shanahan and Claude Lemieux (who was a major agitator, and really good at it).  Name your favorite current player who has size, toughness and say, can also score. Milan Lucic springs to mind, of course, and the current President of the Bruins, Cam Neely (left), was, in his hey-day, pretty much the kind of player I have in mind. (Hey, we can dream...)

But really and truly, do we have anyone, come a crucial playoff game, who is going to take abuse in front of the opposing net, get knocked around, slashed, high-sticked, hammered, and go back and stand there again like nothing happened—until the Leafs score that big goal?  Like Tomas Holmstron?  Like Draper, McCarthy and Maltby did in Detroit for years.  Because, in addition to all that skill that Detroit had, that’s what it took to have a shot at winning—yes, just to have a chance.

I’m not saying we can’t do it—I just don’t know who will be willing—or able—to do it?
So I’m back to my original point.  We have this pretty fast team.  Against weak opposition, or teams that are not hard to play against and give us space, we can look fantastic.  We’re young and Burke did not want to give up any part of his re-build whatsoever (excepting Aulie, something I’ve already discussed at length here) to possibly make the playoffs this spring.  He will claim he was/is being “consistent” in not straying from his “re-build”.  In my mind, however, he would actually have accentuated his re-build if he had moved the wildly inconsistent MaCarthur, or Lombardi for a legitimate prospect or a decent first-rounder (if it’s true that they were offered that kind of return), since winning it all this season was highly unlikely anyway.

But forget this spring.  That bus has left.  We missed the dance.  Let's look ahead- and here's my question:

Does anyone really believe that the Leafs are only one or two pieces away?   Do we really have anywhere near a “complete” roster?  Come a playoff match-up with Pittsburgh, Boston, New York or Philly, how would be fare, right now?  Do we really have a team with the different attributes that you need to be elite (and I’m not even discussing goaltending yet)?

Any thoughts?  Try to be specific with names from the current roster (or in the system) that meet the criteria I outlined above.

Part II tomorrow.  In the meantime, I look forward to hearing your comments.


  1. Good article, only thing is you left our Kulemin. He is one of our more physical players and was an absolute beast last year. If he regains last years form for next year he'll be a HUGE part of our team identity going forward I think.

  2. Thanks Anon.

    I think you make a very good point on Kuli. I guess I've talked about him so many times here that, given his "light" performance this past season (I just didn't think he was as physical as he had been in 2010-'11, with a few isolated "big hit" exceptions), I left him out of the equation. Also, his injury sent him out of sight out of mind for me, I guess.

    I'm on the record here as saying he will definitely bounce back next season. But I hope he also is a way more physical player than I saw most of this past season. With his size, there is no excuse not to have a physical impact many nights.

  3. Agreed Michael, Kulie's physical presence was almost non-existent this year and it makes sense that you left him out, but I also think he'll bounce back next year. Losing his friend in that plane crash messed with his head early on and he never recovered, I think he'll bring back his killer instinct next year.

  4. First off - no, we are not one or two players away from being a serious contender. In fact, I doubt we're one or two years away from it.
    Our forwards lack size, and without someone who, as you say, is ready to stand in front of the net and take a licking but just keep sticking around to make a play, then we'll never go anywhere. Beyond that, we don't have forwards on the first two lines who even forecheck with authority. We've got to find those players. I'll give Lupul and Kessel a pass, because their scoring chemistry is something to hang onto. But Kulemin, the biggest disappointment this year in my books, MacArthur and Grabowski all need to step up the aggression. And whoever plays center for the first line will need to be a dominator. Connolly, Lombardi, Armstrong just didn't do anything. So we need a new third line. The only player I see who's ready to muck it up on an every game basis is Brown. He's no fighter, but he gives the kind of effort required on the checking line. Steckel was using his size a bit more under Carlyle, and getting rewarded with some good scoring chances and a couple of goals. They're both keepers for me.
    We don't have one defenceman who regularly lowers the boom on players who stand in front of the net. Carlyle's on record as saying he likes Phaneuf's effort, but I see a defenceman who regularly gives the puck away, or just swats at it, and who is beaten inside and out at least three/four times a game. I want to like him, and Komisarek, Schenn, Franson and Liles, but not one of them lived up to what I expected. They all seemed to have difficulty reading plays, and I gave up counting the number of blocked shots they fired and errant passes that got picked off both in the other team's zone and our zone. And as other teams adjusted to our fast breakout patterns, we never seemed to adjust ourselves. Gunnarsson had the best year, I'd say, but even his play deteriorated as the season wore on. I think we need better defensive coaching, and more punishing play.
    The bigger question though, at least for me, is leadership. And that's where we're fatally deficient. But maybe that's going to be addressed in your Part 2, so I'll hold off for now!

  5. It might be 2 to 4 pieces, but they are big pieces.

    A veteran goaltender who could come in and play 40 really good games would do wonders...but might be hard to come by.

    I don't know that we can find that first line center. Our best hope might be that we draft one and hope he develops and could play in two years.

    Until then it might be Bozak centering the first line or perhaps Kessel centering Lupul and a reinvigorated Kulemin. Frattin can play with Grabo and MacArthur.

    I still think we lack a forward with size skill and grit. I think of Ryan Clowe, but San Jose isn't going to give him up. Perhaps Travis Moen, but Montreal will want to keep him too.

  6. I agree that Kulemin could, and probably will rebound. I suspect if Burke could have moved Lombardi, as you mentioned, at the deadline he would have. MacArthur is fine on this team but Lombardi is over priced for what he brought and his role. MacArthur could still be a second liner in Toronto or a good third liner.

    I'm really hoping Burke (he is the guy that mentioned it) drops the top six, bottom six outlook. As I've stated hear before, championship teams role 3 effective lines that contribute to the score sheet with a 4th line that is the Brown-Steckal-Crabb-Rosehill types. If I remember correctly from a stats check I did, the cup winning Blackhawks had a 3rd line that averaged roughly 25-30 points a person.

    On the plus side from what I just mentioned, Connolly was a third liner and had 36 in 70, Kulemin 28 in 70, and Crabb 28 in 68. And the negatives to counter that - Connolly and Kulemin were 6th and 7th in scoring for our forwards, and Crabb should be a fourth liner instead of the 2nd/3rd he was used as. Kulemin spent much of the time on the 2nd line and should have produced more. Connolly would be fine if he wasn't being paid like a 1st or 2nd liner @ $4.75M

    And my final thoughts. I've mentioned here I'd like the 3rd line next season to feature Bozak at centre, which most agree, with rookies that break in (such as Frattin or Kadri) and/or two-way players that could contribute to both ends a la Gaustad, Pahlsson(PKer), Moen, Moss. The team shouldn't have to rely on guys like Kadri being a leader on the scoresheet. Let him work his way up the depth charts and learn from the guys ahead of him. Detroit does it well.

  7. Are we one or two pieces away? Depends on the pieces. If we're talking Gretzky and Coffey, perhaps!

    But really, looking at who could potentially fill those grit roles in the future, all I see is Brad Ross and perhaps Tyler Biggs (although his lack of scoring at the NCAA level makes me wonder if Burke spent a 1st round pick on a future AHL all-star). I'd also say Kadri because I see that fire in him when he plays. I believe he's a future top-6 who wants to make a difference (and must be given a fair shake next season).

    My theory though, is that if we had just been able to get into the dance this year, we would have been so much clearer on what we have and what we don't. Right now we're looking at the roster and wondering, "who can step up?", and it looks grim. But the answer to that is often hard to answer, because someone inevitably steps up and proves to everyone that they have a certain quality that no one thought they had. To me that's why missing out this season represents such a loss. It means Burke and co. are going into the offseason without a clear enough idea of what they need. And that leads to mistakes.

    Another reason this season hurts is that making the playoffs drives up the value of your players. Just getting into the playoffs means your players have a chance to shine in big situations. So when it comes time to move them (and the Leafs have to move a lot of them), that's another bargaining chip in your favour. This whole collapse and yet another playoff miss has, in my opinion, damaged the reputation of our players when it comes to trades. Sure, most of our guys have decent skill sets, but what have they actually accomplished in the eyes of other GMs? For the most part, failure.

  8. The team clearly wasn't tough this past year. Burke has gone pout of his way to add toughness through the draft with guys like Devane, Biiggs and Ross, but those guys won't be around to contribute for years.

    People talk about Parise or Sutter, but to me the two priorities to address on the UFA market are goalie and team toughness. Guys like Moen and/or Prust in the bottom six would help a lot. Mike Brown is great, but he gets injured. He needs help. Obviously toughness in the top six would help too, it's just much harder to come by.

  9. Can't argue with your points, Gerund O'. Well made, as always.

    Leadership may be one of the biggest questions of all and, as you know, we have addressed that subject here many times. For today. I was mostly focusing on one of the "missing ingredients" for the blue and white, the lack of overall team toughness- which was a problem for me even in the team's "high-flying" days earlier in the season.

    Thanks Gerund O'. Great stuff.

  10. I would love either of Moen or Clowe, DP, but as you say, neither of those organizations would likely be prepared to part with those guys.

    I just think we need to find one (preferably more) of these guys somewhere.

    The goaltending could be handled by Reimer, if he comes back healthy and ready next season. A number-one centre...that's not easy to find, eh?

    Thanks DP.

  11. Great post, Skill2Envy...I know from previous posts you're a fan of Gaustad. (What is his contract status, by the way, is he a UFA this summer?.) DP mentioned Moen as well. They are indeed the kinds of players that bring some sandpaper and that we very much need- whether it's them or players like them.

    I agree with your analysis (and Burke has, as you mention, said the same thing) about three lines that need to play significant roles. You need more than six forwards who can contribute. (My problem with Connolly is not just the "money", but that regardless of what line he plays on, I think he would be invisible come playoff time.)

    I agree that Bozak can be that third-line centre. Should have been his role from the get-go.

  12. Mills, you just provided a very important (and sometimes missed) aspect of why missing the playoffs hurts so much. First, as you said, there is always the chance that a player would emerge and prove his mettle come playoff time. Every team seems to have those "sleepers", guys who are OK but then really prove their "worth" in the spring. Now, we just don't know.

    And as you also cite, there is the corresponding loss of perceived value in players who weren't even "good enough" to get to the post-seaosn in the awful eastern Conference.

    Until you do it in the playoffs, most players are largely a mystery, eh?

    I think Kadri can play here, too. And I agree with those who say, though, that we shouldn't depend on him. Let him grow into whatever role he is best-suited to with the big player over time.

    Very well said, Mills. Thanks.

  13. We're on the same page, Hurricane. I'd like to like a lot of guys on this team, but I'd like them even more, I sense, if we could just add some legitimate toughness. Thanks.

  14. Excellent article Michael. I totally agree that the toughness factor is both vital to and missing from the Leafs. When I look at the elite teams of the East I see teams that will go into the dirty areas and battle for the puck. I can't count the number of times the leafs were pinned in their own end for an entire shift (particularly the Kessel-Bozak-Lupul line) by a relentless forecheck.

    New York, Boston and Philadelphia dominated the Leafs, not because they had overwhelmingly greater talent, but because they had players with grit who were willing to go the extra mile.

  15. Thanks Pete Cam.

    Interesting that you say that about the Flyers, Bruins and Rangers. While they all have some nice players, I agree that they aren't necessarily overwhelmingly talented. But they play hard- hard on the puck, hard in the corners and in front of both nets.

    We can look at the Bruins- they are not the old "Big Bad Bruins" as a commentator said on the weekend. But they play hard most nights, and that automatically makes a team tough to play against.

  16. Long suffering Leafs fanApril 9, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    Nope, not in the least! Outside the knuckles applied by Jay Rosehill and one time Leafs Colton Orr, this team is simply not tough enough. When the opposition begins to build a wall in the neutral zone and around their net; you can count on it that our hero's will wash out and shrink like one of those cheap Wal-mart brand T-shirts.

    Steckel, Crabb and Brown will give the team a lift from time to time with some energy, but I don't believe for a moment that the opposition is shaking in their skates saying "On no I can't believe that coach is making us line up against them!". The same can be said about the defense. We haven't had a defense that literally has given any cause for concern in the mind of opposing forwards who dare adventure in the area of our goal, since the days of Jamie Macoun, Bob Rouse, Todd Gill, Dave Ellett and Sylvain Lefebvre. Macoun and Rouse in particular were very scary!

    As pointed out by you Mike, you can plead and hope that a man of Franson size will do those things that Macoun and Rouse once did. But all you're asking for is a lot of frustration. If its not in his make-up, it will never be! Kind of reminds me of when the Leafs drafted Bob Neely and later traded for big bad "teddy bear" Dave Dunn to fill the role of Mr. Nasty on the blue-line. Nothing but a lot of heart-ache and frustration for management and fans a like. Best to move him a long.

    Besides the toughness needs on the back-end, this team desperately needs a third-line in the likes of Keon, Pulford, Ellis-
    Tiger Williams, George Ferguson, Pat Boutette-
    Peter Zezel, Mark Osborne, Bill Berg- or
    Travis Green, Darcy Tucker and Shayne Corson. Everyone of them mention brought a certain level of competitiveness that made it tough on the opposing team.
    Do we have that at the present moment? Maybe in time Kulemin may turn into a Pulford type, he surely has the strength and defenvise where for. I can see Frattin becoming a strong two-way winger like Ellis, he certainly shoots and skates like him. With a little finished and strength, I can see Ashton being a strong corner man like Pulford and Corson were ;) cheers!

  17. It's true, Long Suffering. We just don't have many guys with that make-up. And you're so right about "hoping" players (I remember well the players you mention) will bring that kind of game simply because they have size. If it's not in their make-up, no, you're right, it's just not there.

    I do think Frattin has a nice role here in the future. Kulemin should be able to provide something along the lines that we're talking about.

    I think a lot of modern-era Leaf fans long for the days of that great Pat Burns no-name defence including, as you said, Rouse and Macoun who could make you pay.

    And yes, Zezel, Osborne and Berg. Those were the days when a third line was really a third line.

    Thanks Long Suffering....

  18. To my recollection, the holes holes that ultimately sunk the ship were identified on this site long before the ship began to take on water. For that reason, I am assuming that a number of the points made today, will prove to be prescient in the fullness of time.

    Ryan Hamilton is a dark horse who is rarely mentioned. He appears to have a number of the qualities that are noted on VLM as lacking, that evasive quality that manifests in a number of ways around discipline, perseverance, determination, personal sacrifice, and so on. From what I understand, those qualities are abundantly evident at the AHL level, and the remaining question would be whether or not those qualities can be transposed to the NHL.

    For sure, Hamilton is the type of player best appreciated in a live context, as much of his positive impact would take place away from the camera. And of course, no one really knows how his skill set would apply at the NHL level. Nevertheless, he might be one overlooked example of one of the ingredients that could be available in house at an affordable price. Presuming that he would be given a fair shot (a huge assumption I know) I imagine that the AHL playoffs will allow him, and several others an opportunity to display their mettle in a context of elevated competition.

  19. Your reference to Ryan Hamilton, Bobby C., makes me think of someone like Joel Ward. We all remember what an impact Ward had in the playoffs last spring for the ever-improving Nashville Predators. (He parlayed that into a nice contract as a free-agent with the Capitals this past season, where he put up modest numbers but overall was a solid "plus" performer...)

    I don't believe Ward played serious NHL minutes until he was 28 years old. He's not a "star", but a hard-working guy who thrives, it seems, in a playoff environment. How old is Hamilton now, 27?

    Whether, as you say, Hamilton could be that type of guy, I don't know either. For what it's worth, his recent two-game "cameo" made me think (as I had posted here before his call-up) he indeed deserves a longer look.
    He has certainly been one of those loyal organization guys, for sure.

    Sometimes an "answer" is right in front of us.

    Thanks Bobby. I always look forward to your posts here.

  20. I tried to take a more objective (read: without blue-tinted glasses) look at what the state of the Leafs are over the weekend. Here's a kind of summation of what I've found.

    In regards to the actual content of this post (which was fantastic as usual), I completely agree that there aren't really any hard-nosed, gritty players (aside from Mike Brown) who play hard-nosed, gritty, but still intelligent hockey. Rosehill is a bad ice hockey player. Steckel is big but doesn't play big. Crabb is hard-nosed, and I actually quite like him as a penalty-killer, but he's not a tough guy. Schenn could be called tough, but when he plays tough, it's often at the cost of giving up position and abandoning his assignments. Phaneuf hits hard, and has been smarter with his targeting, but he's not really a tough-guy. Komisarek just isn't fitting here...With regards to Hamilton, the reason he isn't going to get a chance is because he's a 4th-liner at best, and Leafs have those in abundance.

    My outlook for the team, when taken with the perception of the Leafs as an organization, the track record of Brian Burke, and the current state of the roster, is that the team is not in great shape. I think the Leafs can probably make the playoffs with a few moves this offseason, but I think we're very far from being serious contenders.

    We have no #1 defenseman. We arguably don't even have a real #2, rather we have 2 pretty good #3 guys, who can play #2 if needed. We have probably 5 or 6 #5/#6 guys (Liles, Schenn, Franson, Komi, Holzer, Blacker). We have 1 maybe 2 top-line forwards (Kessel, probably Lupul). We have 2 2nd-line centers (Grabo, Connolly), but only 1 other 2nd-line forward (Mac), unless Kadri can show us something. Ostensibly, we have a good 3rd line (Kulemin, Bozak, Frattin is my hope for next year), and then a plethora of 4th line quality players (Lombardi, Brown, Crabb, Steckel, Armstrong, Ashton). We have no #1 goaltender.

    That puts our needs in the off-season as:
    #1. Get rid of (by any means possible) Komi, Lombardi, Armstrong, and preferably Liles/Connolly
    #2. Get a #1 goalie
    #3. Get a #1 defenseman
    #4. Acquire a top-line center (preferably power-forward)
    #5. Acquire a top-6 winger (also preferably power-forward)
    #6. get a #2 defenseman

    As I see it, achieving most or all of #1 can facilitate #3 and #5 (Suter and Parise respectively). Trading some salary + kadri + some other prospects + Scrivens/Rynnas can maybe get us #2 in the form of one of the "available via trade" goalies.

    Matt Carle would be nice for #6. #4 could be Grigorenko/Galchenyuk if either somehow falls to us in the draft (though they'd probably start out on the 3rd with Bozak continuing to fill in on the 1st).

    So it would seem like all these are achievable, except for the issue of how the Leafs are perceived - as a poor organization. Because of the perception of the team, I don't think the Leafs have any realistic chance at either Parise or Suter or even Matt Carle. I don't think UFA goalies like Vokoun will want to sign here. I don't think teams like Vancouver or Nashville perceive Toronto prospects like Kadri very highly, which makes trades like Kadri + for Schneider or Lindback also unlikely.

    I think in the end the Leafs will end up getting Jonathan Bernier to goaltend, who sucks and is only hyped for draft pedigree, none of Parise/Suter/Carle, and be unable to get rid of any of the boat anchor contracts save Komisarek via the amnesty clause.

    Furthermore, I think with the poor luck the Leafs have, someone from 6-9 will win the lottery, and our pick will move to #6 in a 5-sure-thing-player draft, and the new CBA won't even have an amnesty.

    Now I am just sad...

  21. Yes, the sun sort of went away as you walked us through that, Darryl!

    I can't argue with a lot of what you said. It's well laid out and you've obviously thought this through as objectively as any of us can try to be.

    I don't believe in Connolly as a number-two centre any longer. I just feel we need a lot more than he can give, physically, for that job. But who will trade for him and that salary, I wonder?

    I hear your point on Hamilton. We do have a lot of fourth-line players here already. My thought, as Bobby C. alluded to, is that he may have the kind of character and determination that would benefit the big club. Not all of our current third and fourth-line guys have that consistently.

    Interesting point you raise about Kadri, and whether other top organizations see him the same way that many Leaf fans do.

    The only reason most UFA's would come here at this point is money, and that wasn't enough for Brad Richards last summer. Maybe someone will choose Toronto, but it's not a big free-agent destination at this point, it seems.

    Your point on Bernier caught me as well. Is he a budding star, or a guy who has a reputation because the Kings, as you mention, drafted him high?

    Good stuff, Darryl.

  22. Some fun thoughts from Blue Chip Prospects:

    "Mikhail Grigorenko
    Ht/Wt:6' 3"/200 lbs
    At 6 foot 3 Mikhail posses the size to fill a top 6 center role on just about any team. He’s a talented playmaker, and has the size to succeed in the NHL almost immediately. Expect that 200 pound frame to increase a bit as he continues to fill out. The imagination can’t help but wander – Lupul – Grigorenko - Kessel..."

    "Alex Galchenyuk
    Ht/Wt:6' 2"/185 lbs
    Possibly the most well-rounded player in the draft class, Galcheynuk could be the best and most likely fit for Toronto - a responsible 2-way center with size and offensive upside. With Grabovski signed long term, these two could make for a dynamic 1-2 punch down the middle, assuming Alex blossoms early."

  23. They have some very good stuff, DP, on the Blue Chip Prospects site....Thanks.

    I guess we'll find out for sure where the Leafs pick after the lottery announcement tomorrow night- then the talk will ramp up about which guy will fall to the Leafs!

  24. Who on the team will take a hit to make a play? Maybe 2-54 guys. Who will make a hit to break up a play? Maybe 5. Not good.

  25. This could be the year Burke gets Stastny. I wonder why so many people are opposed to it. Why are people so set on a Wendel Clarke like centre for the Leafs.

    He is an excellent playmaker and that is what Kessel/Lupul need. I'll do a quick comparison on Stastny vs Richards (the guy "we" wanted) for the last 3 years. Richards isn't a power forward either so I think our fans can be nutty sometimes.

    Stastny (26) - 234GP, 63G, 126A, 189PTS
    Richards (31) - 234GP, 77G, 157A, 234PTS

    Sure Richards had better numbers but he also played for far better teams in Dallas and NYR than the rebuilding Avs and with much better players.

    Stastny fits into the group that we currently have being 26 and wouldn't require the contract Richards received. Most also think he is overpaid so his $6.6M cap hit should come down on a new contract after next season. From the get go I had Franson and Connolly(replacement centre and smaller cap) going to Avs for Stastny. Franson would still be a fit as he is young and a puck-mover which would fit well with the Avs. Connolly wasn't the centre or player he was expected to be so I think he falls out of my prediction.

    Does anyone else want Stastny or am I alone here? Amnesty clause would help get rid of Komi and what if we could also add Malone following Stastny. We have to prospects to get him if TB was willing to move him. Connolly, Armstrong and Lombardi would also need to be moved for addition cap.

  26. My guess is that the big cap hit would make some Leaf fans hesitant to embrace the acquisition of Stastny. He has the skill to add a lot here, but I do wonder how much less he would be prepared to sign for. I'd be interested to hear how others feel.

    He is young enough that he should have many good years ahead of him. It would be the ideal time to have a guy like that in the line-up. (I still think we won't regret not getting Richards last summer....that was just too much money, and too much term, for a guy who may have a sudden production drop off at some point...he's played a lot of playoff hockey over the years.)

    My sense is Leaf fans want a big centre because it's something we feel we haven't had for a while. He doesn't have to be "tough", but I believe people want some size in that slot, in part to help open things up for Kessel. But again, I can't speak for others.

    Thanks Skill2Envy.

  27. For those of us indulging in thoughts of who might be available to the Leafs for next year, let's not forget the very real potential for unacceptably (to their GMs) early exits from the playoffs for Washington and San Jose. Add to that Anaheim's annus horribilis and there may be some rosters blown sky high this off-season, raining potential talent around the league.

  28. How didja leave Kuli off the list? He,Frattin, Grabbo & Brown (Armstrong & probably a few others,too) are the "A" list. A "tough" player is one that expects & takes a hit without a retaliatory penalty in response. The above guys can take a hit without a "suck-attack/panty-wetting".

  29. You raise a good point, Kiwi Leaf.

    Other teams struggled this season as well, and eight more clubs will see an abrupt end to their year as early as next week. Rosters will be turned over and players all be available.

    The only thing I will say is it strikes me that the Leafs will have to "give something to get something". They won't part with Gardiner, so I'm not sure other clubs will offer high-end players for mediocre parts.

    That said, it will be an interesting summer, Kiwi Leaf. We'll have plenty of fodder for conversation here...Thanks as always.

  30. Fair point on Kulemin, Anon. I'm a Kuli fan, but he left me wanting a lot more this past season. He'll have plenty to prove next season, for sure.


  31. michael you got a shout-out in a article! probably upped your hit-count! :-D

    btw., where's the doug gilmour on the team? someone who could play with two black-eyes game in/out for weeks.... THAT is grit/passion/determination. phaneuf throws a big hit now and then, but to me, he's disappointed from a toughness/rough perspective.

  32. Hey, thanks for that, Alex. Good to know.

    Yes, you are absolutely right about Gilmour. (I guess I'm so far from seeing that on this roster...he didn't even come to mind!!)

    I'm with you on Phaneuf. He brings something, but I don't agree with Burke that he is a great leader. I just don't see it. (Or that he is a shutdown defenseman...I see too many guys blowing past him to feel like he can handle the elite guys consistently...)

  33. As a big hockey fan for 35 years, but an outsider to the Leafs, I can say ... See the NY Islanders. Very similar clubs at this point. I'm not saying this to be provocative; they're just both youngish, quick, mistake-prone and yes, with the exception of a few players, more soft than not. And of course, most obvious of all, both teams have been largely out of it for decades now.

  34. Thanks for dropping by, JNS. That's a fair comparison, in terms of where the teams are now. (Some Leaf fans might prefer like to think we've had a bit more success than than Islanders in semi-recent years, getting to the "final four" in 1999 and 2002, but there's no question both teams have struggled of late...) Some uncertainly in goal, but a largely young roster in both cases with some offensive pop.

    One of the discussion points locally, JNS, is where the Leafs are in their "re-build" versus, say, the Canadiens and the Oilers.

    We can perhaps throw the Islanders into that mix, as well. Thanks.