NEW RECORD! Sens 5 – Leafs 4 (OT)

So hockey is back! And the Leafs… kinda played? Some things happened, which we all might be interested in…

 

auston-matthews-new-record

I don’t have the money for Photoshop, nor the expertise to use it. So enjoy my copy/paste of Mario Party’s new record onto AM’s glamour shot becaussssse! AUSTON MATTHEWS BECAME THE FIRST PLAYER TO SCORE 4 IN HIS FIRST GAME! We even got a loser point out of it! he did miss his assignment on the overtime goal, but goals are scored off of others mistakes, and despite being ridiculously mature and good at stuff, he’s still a rookie.

 

Now onto my hard-hitting analysis. We were ok, just ok. We were good offensively, really good, fantastic even. AAAAND piss-poor defensively so it didn’t matter. Andersen (Who shall henceforth be called Lego) looked shaky and inconsistent, which is honestly expected with A) 3 and 2/3rd games played on the way back from injury, B) a new set of defencemen C) those defencemen being short a man from pretty well the outset with Hunwick being hurt and D) a whole whack of guys learning the system. We had at least 7 rookies in the lineup, and Babbers missed a week of training camp with which to assess and teach due to the world cup (my main opposition to the tourney). It’s going to happen, guys are rusty and they’ll shake it off as a group. We looked similar last year until guys figured out Babcock’s system, but this should be the last time he’ll have to teach it en mass.

All in all, not a terrible way to start the season, but would have been nice to win it. If I’m being honest I was too giddy watching the game to notice much else really, other than the fact that Mitch Marner could have had just as many as Matthews with slightly more fortunate bounces. Kid has scary speed. Anyways, I promise I will have a more in-depth write up next game, but hey, hockey is fun again!

 

Leafs record: 0-0-1-0

Next Opponent: Boston – Saturday October 15th on CBC.

See ya then!

 

Rookie Tourney: Habs v Leafs – Potatocam saves the Day

Well, while speed killed last game, tonight was all about the rough stuff. The Habs mauled the Leafs physically out of the gate, laying on the body and not allowing them room to use their wheels. As an aside, there are webcams with better resolution than the cameras used in OHL arenas, so a lot of plays, players, and even the puck were hard to see clearly.

The period started, as I mentioned, physically. The Habs were on the body early and often, and their work paid off quickly. Off a 2 on 2, a small saucer pass, that didn’t really change the angle too much, was blasted by Antoine Bibeau’s glove far side by Daniel Audette. I’m not a fan of the goal, and I think Bibeau should have been further up on his crease, but the pass shouldn’t have gotten through in the first place. This seemed to wake the Leafs up a little, as they started to push the throttle a bit more, but it came at the expense of defensive responsibility. While there were several odd man rushes against, it was off one of these that the Leafs tied it up on a counter. I’m not sure who was the man defending the rush, but I’m not happy with them, as they failed to cover the pass and veered towards the passer, but luckily Nicolas Mattinen was back in time to interrupt a chance on net. From there the play turned up the ice and Keaton Middleton – a defender from this year’s draft class – came off the bench and wristed a floater on net that beat Fucale. The period ended with the Leafs starting to throw their weight around a bit, and boy did that set the tone for period 2.

The Leafs stopped caring about the Habs being physical, and threw hits of their own instead. Andrew Nielsen had a heavy hit in his own corner, Timashov threw his body down to block a shot, and the Leafs 3rd goal of the period was a result of Justin Holl taking the reverse hit to poke the puck out to Tobias Lindberg. However a few shifts before that, in what was an oddity of the night, Tony Cameranesi broke around the outside with SPEED and fired a shot on Fucale, which he then followed to the net and finished. All in all, the Leafs turned a 6-6 shot count to end the first to a 13+ shot surplus at the last shot count I heard announced all game. Also in a little awesome moment, William Bitten shoved into Bibeau, so Bibeau turned into a gardener and planted him into the ice.

The Leafs carried the play for the most part in the third period. They continued with the physical play and kept pressure on the Habs, but Fucale stood his ground on some good chances by the Leafs. Lindberg took a holding penalty to prevent a clean 2 on 1, but needn’t have bothered as 4 seconds into the penalty kill the Canadiens tipped the puck in off a point shot, couldn’t see who it was (thank you based potatocam). The Leafs followed with a dominant shift by Freddie Gauthier, Dmytro Timashov and Trevor Moore, with Montreal hemmed in their own zone. Nikita Scherbak took Andrew Nielsen into the boards in front of the ref, after the whistle, with no call, and like a pretend tough guy grabbed onto Neilsen’s visor to yank his head around when the refs were there to save him. A shift later Nielsen was given a slashing penalty for knocking the stick from a Montreal player’s hand, which Montreal capitalized on via Mike McCarron’s 2nd of the night as the announcers informed me, solving the mystery of who scored Montreal goal number 2. As a second aside, not thrilled with the reffing in this game. Dermot then took a legitimate tripping penalty, leading to the 3rd Habs powerplay in a row. Marner had a shorthanded breakaway stolen at his own blueline by the linesman, but the Leafs killed the powerplay. In the last 2 minutes, off a shift with Freddie the Goat’s line, Nielsen kept the puck in at the line, walked in to the top of the circle and breezed a puck through Fucale’s legs (I think) to put the Leafs back up at 4-3. The Habs pulled their goalie on the next shift but to no avail as the Leafs kept the Canadiens out of the dangerous areas of the ice to close out the game. Leafs go 2 for 2, 4-3. Final shots: Not announced but I’d like to believe we outshot them.

 

Standouts

Keaton Middleton – Used his big frame well throughout the game despite the fact that he was clearly inexperienced, and scored the first goal of the game.

Martins Dzerkials – Was the only player other than the entire Marner line really able to use his speed in the 1st, and was also noticeable in 2nd

Marner line – See yesterday’s assessment on all 3 players, it will apply here. Slick passing, offensive chances, good chemistry and a goal from Tobias Lindberg. If we ever split the big 3 between 3 lines, I could see this line flourishing at an NHL level.

Travis Dermott – Made himself involved in the play but passed up on a few opportunities to shoot in favour of passing.

Nicolas Mattinen – Brought more physicality to his game tonight, was still great position-wise and was directly responsible for breaking up that 2 on 1 I mentioned in the 1st.

Nikita Korostelev – Good release, needs to learn to play away from the puck more, but showed he wasn’t afraid to take the body on the backcheck

Antoine Bibeau – Made a lot of saves on many odd man rushes, showed feistiness and a green thumb. First goal was weak in my opinion but was pretty solid other than that. Needs to show a step forward this year.

Andrew Nielson – Was the last man back often, and was physical catalyst. Needs to keep his emotions in check, as refs will always call retaliation.

Tony Cameranesi – Showed good puck pursuit in scoring the 2nd goal and had some good looks on net besides that.

Rookie Tourney: Sens v Leafs – Speed Kills

Finally a hockey game where I don’t have multiple horses in the race! The World cup is fun and all, but we have players everywhere there, and it’s hard to keep track of who I’m cheering for and when. The itty bitty wee Leafs rookies (because we drafted small hurr hurr) were all over the ice, and the Sens, from the opening whistle.

With Kasimir Kaskisuo not tested much in the opening period, the Leafs proved the old adage represented in the title, speed kills. The young guys are skilled, but it was speed on the forcheck and crisp passing that opened the Sens wide. Marner looked fantastic, and had a spectacular give and go mid period with Colin Smith and Tobias Lindberg. But the lone goal of the period went to Trevor Moore, thanks to a spectacular backhanded cross-ice pass from Dmytro Timashov.  To close out the period, Tobias Lindberg was shoved into Matt O’Connor in the Ottawa net and, predictably, received a penalty for being shoved. O’Connor was roughed up, and while he closed out the period, was replaced by Chris Driedger in the second.

If the 1st period was a display of all out speed, the 2nd was a display of speed in waves. The baby Leafs were quick to fall back when losing the puck. They would then get between the Ottawa defender and the forward he was in the middle of passing it to, chip it back towards the Sens end, and attack again. Relentlessly. There was one small blip where the Leafs iced it and Mitch Marner couldn’t get off the ice for about 2 minutes, but he showed a lot of poise and didn’t allow himself to get caught flat-footed for a penalty. The Leafs should have added to the lead, as Tye Felhaber had a breakaway off a beaut of a backhand pass from J.J. Piccinich, but Driedger kept the Sens in it, weathering the storm.

In the third, it was the absence of speed from the Leafs that killed them. As the Senators usually do at this tournament, they started running around. Dunn crushed a defender to the Boards, then ran over Kaskisuo with no call, before the Leafs got a break in the form of Valiev’s stick… breaking, on Dunn’s tap of it. The powerplay looked good but couldn’t connect, and then the Sens struck on their 15th shot of the night. The rest of the period was uneventful, with the Sens opting to kill the last 13 seconds behind their net.

Overtime was speed personified. Back and forth play with both goalies standing on their heads. Sheldon Keefe made what looked like an odd move. He put 3 forwards in Timashov, Marner, and Smith out on the 3 on 3 in lieu of a defenceman. The Sens broke in with a man alone in front, and it looked like it might be over. BUT THEN MITCH MARNER WITH THE JETS! Marner got back in the nick of time to smack the puck off the Sen stick and out to the near blue line, Colin Smith grabbed it from there and took off. He beat his man outside towards the net and put it home past Driedger. Leafs win 2-1. Can’t find the final shot count so: Leafs a lot, Sens less than a lot.

 

Standouts:

Trevor Moore had good finish on a Timashov pass for the first of the night and was buzzing all night.

Mason Marchment in the 1st period was all over the puck, fighting for every inch of the ice. He let off after the 1st however, and it remains to be seen if that’s an effort level he can maintain through all 3 frames

Rinat Valiev was sharp both offensively and defensively, making crisp passes and breaking up plays.

Nicolas Mattinen had fantastic gap control, didn’t make any glaring mistakes, and kept himself in position well. It will be interesting to see how he does for the London Knights this year.

Colin Smith was involved in that 1st period back and forth with Marner and Lindberg, and of course scored the game winning goal in overtime. That whole line showed great chemistry all night.

Dmytro Timashov had some slick passes and did something with the puck on every shift.

Nicklas Brouillard showcased a heavy shot, and was solid on the line similar to Valiev.

Mitch Marner was everywhere, involved physically, and made plays along all 200 feet of ice surface. As an aside, Marner showed a very similar instinct to Matthews away from puck, as he was always getting to where the puck was going to be before it could get there.

Tobias Lindberg provided a good physical presence on the line with Marner and Smith

Matthews is Signed, You Can Shut Up Now.

The biggest “question mark” this off-season so far has been “When will Auston be signed to his contract?” I’ve refrained from writing about it so far because it’s stupid, and incredibly panicky and unwarranted. When has this management group as a whole ever tipped their hand about anything? “Oh they’re playing hardball, they’re going to piss him off!” Says who? Shanahan, Lamoriello and co. haven’t said a damn thing to anyone, we don’t know their motivations, and we don’t know what took so long. But lo and behold, he’s on contract!

 

A big part of the fan base is currently losing their minds over every little thing that could be perceived as anything less than a home run. Signing Polak “It’s a step back! He’ll take time from the rookies!” We aren’t sending out a lineup of 6 “25 and under” defencemen, especially without having veterans ready to step up and help, that’s stupid. Signing Martin, “Oh this plug is going to take time away from the kids, Lou is literally Nonis!” Management has been consistent with their views on having the kids sheltered and – as discussed in my article on this signing, said they’d be bringing in toughness to help protect the younger guys on the team.

 

The Media and Blogosphere hasn’t helped in this regard, some publications have discovered what The Sun has seen for ages: negativity drives views. The Mainstreamers get frustrated that they no longer have “sources” in the Leafs to know what they plan on doing, and publish hit pieces. The bloggers, many of whom consider advanced stats as the be all and end all of hockey conversation, are railing on their perceived “step back” to the Burke, Nonis and Randy days of hiring fighters to play 5 minutes a night and spend 20 in the box. It’s amazing how two groups of usually demonstrably intelligent people can be so fixated on making something out of literally nothing.

 

Anyways, Matthews is signed for max bonuses as per his agent, only the management know what they’re doing, and the Media, as well as the rest of us, have no damn clue what it is until it happens. Now onto almost 4 more weeks of speculation on Jimmy Vesey and how it’s somehow going to be Lou’s fault he won’t sign with us. Joy.

Hey Nico, Let’s Go Bowling!

Roman Polak is back for another year with the Leafs. Didn’t take long for the fan base to turn on management, with some coaxing along from the mainstream media. It’s amazing how talk of how we have “the smartest management group in the NHL” turns to “Oh my god they’re so dumb!” based on the signing of two role players.

When it comes to facts, the Leafs management team has assembled a good, young, and skilled core of prospects and young defencemen. Nikita Zaitsev has not played on a North American ice surface for any sustained amount of time in his career. Polak – due to a lack of foot speed – has HAD to play positional hockey throughout his career, as a right-handed defender. If Polak can help Zaitsev adjust his positioning to fit the North American surface, Zaitsev will be able to pull of pinches that Polak regularly misses due to that aforementioned speed. Add to that playing every game in the Sharks cup run, and he’ll prove to be a good source of experience even for guys like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner.

Polak returning also creates some internal competition in the bottom 4, which Babcock loves. If there’s one thing Toronto needs during the rebuild, its competition. The Oilers, for example, had no competition for spots, and granted young players big contracts before they did anything of note. If even half of those players had to WORK their way into the lineup, Edmonton may be a powerhouse right now instead of persistent bumblers.

In short order, the Leafs have reacquired a defenceman who A) loves to get rough and B) helps with total team development. Polak is, in essence, a big bruiser who will stick up for teammates and gives opposing players something to think of before taking a run at someone. As you may or may not recall, Andreas Johnson got his block knocked off in the AHL playoffs, and a distinct lack of players of Polak’s ilk was noticeable when the Marlies had no one but Rich Clune who could answer back.

Polak is on a 1 year deal, and while the amount has has yet to be disclosed, it’s not an anchor contract, and should be easy to flip at the deadline if we are in a similar position as this past season. Should one of the youngsters prove more deserving of his roster spot, room will be made, one way or another. That being said, role players are important, and every team has them. Like I mentioned in my article yesterday, not every player on a roster is a 40+ point-getter, and Polak is a good penalty killer and can clear the front of the net effectively, which is something every team needs. He can get exposed by speed, and that was evident in the Pittsburgh series, but on the flip side, every team got exposed by the Penguins.

As a final point, the management team isn’t stupid. Not everything needs to be an analytical Grand Slam to be considered, and you can’t ice an NHL team with no veteran leadership on the back-end. The Leafs have exactly 1 veteran defenceman on each side of he ice in Hunwick and Polak now, and that’s not a bad thing. Welcome back Roman, at the very least, I’m glad you’re here.

#KeepMatthewsSafe

Day one of the free agent period is pretty well in the bag, and Leafs nation appears to have collectively forgotten what was said at the end of the season.

“Well, obviously we’re gonna look after that in the off season, I can promise you that. There will be none of that foolin around going on. We’re a group right now, obviously, we don’t have a lot of that (toughness) right now. We’ll get that fixed.” – Mike Babcock 03/19/2016

 

Mike Babcock promised that the leafs would bring in tough players to protect our young stars, and that is exactly what Uncle Lou and Co. have done by signing Matt Martin. If Babcock, one of the best NHL coaches around, believes that the leafs need some grit present on the team, you can’t really question that. This isn’t the Brian Burke/Dave Nonis “5 minute fighters” style of toughness either. This is bringing in a player who will battle for the puck, throw his weight around, and make some of the dirty elements around the league really think about whether it’s worth the amount of punishment to take a run at one of our guys for 10+ minutes a night at least.

That being said, Matt Martin is no slouch as player either. No he doesn’t put up many points, but no team in the NHL has 4 lines of 50+ point guys. Martin brings a very good defensive mindset to any line he may play with, and should be able to offset some of the expected “rookie” mistakes that come when you have a team full of kids under 25. He’s got good shot suppression numbers, is consistently near the top of the league in hits, and raised his line’s CorsiFor by about 5% give or take. At only $2.5 million for 4 years, this deal won’t hamper the team when it comes time to start extending players coming off of entry-level deals. On top of all that, this gives the Leafs another player they can expose in the entry draft, and should Martin be a player that is claimed, all these complaints about a 4 year term will be a moot point.

All in all, on day 1 of Free Agent Frenzy, the leafs did well to stay clear of all the over-priced role players, and sign a reasonable deal that helps keep our rookies safe, without sacrificing a whole line to fighter types.

What is Going On? Drafts, Trades, and Signings

So the draft happened, and it looked odd for Toronto. Then the Leafs traded for some more future top 6 help. Then everything happened today. Really though what was that?

 

First at bat, the draft. So pick #1 went as expected, Auston Matthews is a Leaf. Yay! From there everything was derailed, and we saw a lot of off the board picks. Yegor Korshkov and Carl Grundstrom being our big follow up picks in round 2, along with Joseph Woll at goal in Round 3. Now as I’m getting to the draft a bit late, I’m not going to analyze our late round picks down to minutiae other than to say: older and bulkier. But the Leafs certainly stocked the cupboards at this draft in terms of depth. We have 1 guaranteed NHLer, a few players who can step into AHL and ECHL roles right away as overagers to replace players that will graduate to the NHL, and a few prospects who will have a bit of time to develop before graduating to pro hockey. Our 2nd round picks excite me however, as Grundstrom has played with both Nylander and Timashov in the past and is known as a right prick, and Korshkov was pointed out by the same scout who brought up Soshnikov. Watching highlights of Yegor especially, if he even gets to even 205 lbs. and maintains the same level of stick handling he’s been seen as capable of, we may have our replacement for JVR in a few years.

 

Next up we have the Leafs second trade in relation to the draft, coming on day 2. Scott Harrington to Columbus for Kerby Rychel. For the life of me I cannot find any clips of him in the AHL, but his OHL highlight reel was impressive to say the least.  He has a sneaky release, and has good ability to use his hands in tight to the net to ensure he gets a shot off. If his lower point totals in the AHL playoffs are a motivational issue, one can hope a change of scenery will do him well. As for Harrington, while he made the team out of camp, he became injured often and subsequently was passed on the depth chart within the organization. With Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen coming up in the system, there wasn’t really room for him in the blueprint.

 

Now finally we come to today. June 29th. The day Montreal and Edmonton exploded. I work at night, so I woke up about 10 minutes after the Montreal trade and spent about 3 hours playing catch up on a 30-45 minute period. I bear the responsibility of informing you however, that Rick Nas… no wait, Eric Staa… no that’s not right either… Stamkos? Yup that’s it, Steven Stamkos isn’t coming to Toronto. I don’t honestly know why anyone is surprised. Toronto is used as a bargaining chip to get what you want from other teams 99% of the time. You have clips of players saying it’s their dream to play for the Leafs, but the problem is, they also don’t want to be responsible for it failing. And why is that? Because they’ve seen what the media does to players here. They’ve seen friends and family turn on stars. For readers of my age group, the headline “Curtis Jo-Sieve” may stand out from your childhood. This same media vilified Mats Sundin for refusing to give up hope in his team and accept a trade. This same media called James Reimer’s mother because the Leafs wouldn’t tell them whether he had a concussion or not. Say what you will about whether NHLers are paid to deal with the media, that’s your opinion. But players are still people, and no one in their right mind is going to move from the Florida sun and sand, and relative anonymity to the general public, to having “reporters” that admit to considering stalking you for a picture of what you eat to justify their hit piece.

 

Besides that, Subban for Weber, scary in the short term, laughable in the long term. This is actually a deal that can screw over both Nashville and Montreal. Weber has 4 or so more good years in him before hitting his decline years, after which they have 0 top tier defensemen ready to take over. Whereas Nashville has to worry about Weber retiring and stacking his cap hit on top of PK Subban’s. In the short term though, Weber has a very scary shot, but at least our #1 goalie is already used to facing it. And then Edmonton has traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. Why? Remember the Taylor vs. Tyler debate during Seguin and Hall’s draft year? Well I guess Chiarelli misheard it as Taylor AND Tyler. He has actually traded BOTH the 1st and 2nd picked players in the 2010 draft for underwhelming returns. Adam Larsson will be a decent defenseman, don’t get me wrong. But Taylor Hall is one of the premier scoring left wingers in the NHL. He’s almost a point a game player, and he’s played his career with the OILERS! You’d figure Pistol Pete would have learned his lesson, but I guess not.

 

Now, free agency is coming up, and the Leafs no longer have Steven Stamkos to worry about offering a contract to, so what next? I personally think the Leafs target a defenseman like Kris Russel or Jason Demers. While Matt Hunwick was a good soldier for the Leafs last season, I feel they might want an upgrade there. Alternately, they could offer a contract to Luke Schenn. He would be able to play his game (read: hit things) with a fast defenseman like Jake Gardiner, and he could be a steadying presence for a rover like Connor Carrick. But obviously that is all speculation, and nothing more.

 

It’s getting exciting!

Leafs Draft Special: Things Are Happening!

First things first, congrats to Phil Kessel and the Penguins on the Stanley Cup win. I was sure the Sharks would be able to beat the Pens into submission with the rough and tumble Western Conference style game and was clearly wrong on that. It’s nice to see a player that was routinely made into a whipping boy for the failures of the upper management get his due, and hopefully the Toronto media is eating crow. Now, onto the Meat and potatoes.

I saw a lot of scorn for my pick of Tkachuk at #2 for the Leafs in our mock draft here, good thing it doesn’t matter anymore ‘cause lotteries are awesome when you win them. So the first overall pick is pretty much set at this point to be Auston Matthews and should it differ from that Leafs nation’s collective eyebrow will be raised so high the Space Station will be its neighbor. All the trust in the world has been given to Toronto’s management group, but you have to think there would be something seen as critically wrong if #34 doesn’t go #1 to a team that has had a void down the middle since Mats Sundin left the organization. The real question then becomes, what happens with the other 10 draft picks?

 

“In my opinion the leafs would now be better served packaging some picks to move up in the draft to the mid 10’s, or packaging the 30th with a defensive prospect like Percy for a goaltender, someone around 23 to 25, as an upgrade to our current Goaltending depth.” This is the biggest part cut out of the 1st draft of this article, because it’s basically happened. In a move that a lot of people saw coming but didn’t really think would be that smooth or quick, the Leafs acquired Fredrik Andersen from Anaheim for the 30th pick and a 2nd next year and immediately signed him to a 5 year, $25 million contract extension. Andersen is a 6’4 Danish goaltender (first Dane to suit up for the Leafs ever by the way) and completes our Cali goalie bingo card (I know you need 5 for bingo, go with it). He also has 125 games of experience packed into 3 years, which reads better than Vesa Toskala (5 years for 115 games) and Bernier (5 years for 62 games). Andersen has played a starting load in the NHL before, and if anyone knows goalies, it’s Lou Lamoriello.

 

The Leafs picks after the 1st are: 31st, 57th, 62nd, 72nd, 92nd, 101st, 122nd, 152nd, 179th, and 182nd. That’s a grand total of 11 picks in 7 rounds, and 3 in the first 2 rounds. While I expect the Leafs to continue with last year’s general style of draft, going for skill first and positional need second, I don’t see trading down for more picks being on the table this year. The Leafs are at a point in their rebuild where they’ll be able to hit the playoffs consistently starting sometime in the next 2 years, and it would pay to build some chemistry now. I’d be lying if I said I had read everything about some of the later rounds, but I believe the team can make better progress picking up some more established pieces over adding 10 raw prospects to an already talented player pool (Auston Matthews does not count as a raw prospect).

 

Now as for the first 2 rounds, the Leafs biggest organizational need is goaltending depth still, which is unfortunately weak in this draft. And after that it’s the wing. We have a lot of defensive prospects coming down the pipe, and a lot of centers in the organization. Depending on how players slot in, one to two of Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, or Mitch Marner will slot in on the wing in the NHL this year and probably moving forward. Left wing has JVR and… not much else in terms of guaranteed high end players. This can change if either Willy or Mitch shift over in that direction. The leafs are pegged to take Filip Gustavsson with 31, but I could easily see them taking someone like Brett Howden, who put up 24 goals and 40 assists on Moosejaw this year, to be a big bodied presence down that left side. I could also see the Leafs jumping the gun and grabbing Sean Day at 57. Day’s well documented struggles after being granted exceptional status entering the OHL aside, I can see Lamoriello having faith that he can get the big man to dedicate himself better to the game, and the current culture of the Leafs in protecting their players from the Media hounds could appeal to Day, and let him focus more on playing his game than the distractions.

All in all, the Shanaplan is in full swing. The only place I can see the Leafs might be in trouble is the upcoming expansion draft and meeting the still-not-official available player requirements. But that’s more that we’ll need to have enough players to expose to the draft. The Leafs fortunes are looking up, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Fried Computers, Lucky Number 13 and Young Guns.

So it’s been a while. Any of my twitter followers will have seen that approximately a month ago, I was working on a Marlies article – related to their near record setting season and what it could mean for their playoff chances. Then something died in my computer and all my work was gone.  I had charts, and they were pretty.  So apologies to any who were looking forward to it. But luckily more exciting things have happened since then.

THE LEAFS ARE DRAFTING FIRST! We rode the treads of hope all the way to victory (side note, someone more skilled than I would be owed a favour if they turned Bernier’s pads into tank treads). In a fantastic reversal from last year, where coming down to the last ball the Leafs snatched defeat from the Jaws of victory on the last number, the Leafs had the lowest chance at being top dog coming down to the last ball when Mats Sundin saved the day. The ghost of wasted Leafs potential came back to give us a second shot at redemption as #13 was the winning Leafs ball. So the question becomes who do the Leafs draft? Do we pick up a scoring winger who may be as good as a superstar level player? Or do we draft the 6’2, Franchise level power-forward centerman that you literally cannot get anywhere but at the draft? If you answered winger, allow me to direct you to the trades for a Mr. Kessel as a reason why you don’t pass up on a potential star centre over a superstar winger.

Now the Leafs are deep in the middle with small skilled centermen in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. But Marner has shown a propensity for being an offensively skilled and defensively responsible winger at the OHL level and would look really nice distributing from the wing to either Willie or Auston. With Nazem Kadri locked up long term to a good 2nd line (or elite 3rd line) center’s contract, and Steven Stamkos nothing more than a possibility, you cannot pass up on a player of Matthews ilk.

In system news, the Marlies are currently trailing 1-0 in their second round series against the Albany Devils. Will Ny missed the first game of the series with illness, and it was obvious that the powerplay is nowhere near as efficient or dangerous without the Swedish Assassin. Hopefully he returns to the lineup and to regular season form, as 1 goal and 1 assist through the first series was well off his usual production. Meanwhile in the OHL, the invisible Mitch Marner just won the  Red Tilson Trophy as the league MVP, and is at a near historic pace in the OHL playoffs. 37 points in 14 games is mind-boggling and skill-wise he seems to have outgrown the league. The only question remaining for Marner is whether he is physically ready to compete against NHL competition, and if not, is it worth taking that risk anyways? And last but not least Dzerkials and Timashov are facing off in the QMJHL Finals. Tima has been more impressive stats wise netting 22 points in 15 games, but Dzekials is no slouch with 10 in 13 in his first year across the pond.

To round out the day, it’s a confusing time as Leafs fans. It’s an odd sensation to have hope for this team with how often we’ve been burned, but it seems like we are finally safe to have a sense of cautious optimism. Not because, hey, we might make the playoffs, but because it wasn’t even necessary to do so to see growth in the right direction. The management of this team has done a fantastic job of showing progress without feeding into the perpetual hype machine, and without breaking from a clear and planned upward progression. It might finally be time to come out of “hiding” and be proud of the Maple Leafs crest once again.

Autobots! Roll Out!

Optimus Reim is no more. Well more fittingly he’s ditched his Blue and White paint scheme for Teal and Silver. Lou Lamoriello jumped the gun on deadline day with a series of moves the preceding week; including a surprise Winnik deal just hours before February 29th officially began. As it stands, The Maple Leafs have come out of the deadline with a clear direction. Youth, and lots of it. For much of the day the biggest news out of the NHL was the mass call up of: William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, Connor Carrick, and Zach Hyman. Even better when you consider that missing from this impressive list of prospects is Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic, whoever we draft in 2016, and a slew of other non-First round prospects that look to be strong bets to make the big leagues.

Now before we get into the trades themselves, I’d like to take a moment to talk about James Reimer. James was a heart and soul kind of guy. He never blamed his teammates for his mistakes, and always had a positive outlook on the team. He dealt with far too much negativity from the fan base and the media, even having his wife threatened on twitter over his play (after getting hit in the head. Go Toronto!). And yet he said, even this season, that he wanted to be a Leaf for the rest of his career. This man dragged a sub-par team kicking and screaming into the playoffs, and then again into game 7 in a series I was sure we’d be swept in, and his reward was a new goalie being traded for instead of his defensive core being strengthened. Optimus Reim will be missed in Toronto, and I personally wish him all the best.

Now onto trades! First off, on the 21st, the Leafs sent Shawn Matthias to Colorado for Colin Smith and a 4th round pick this season. Smith is a 22 year old Right handed center with 38 points in the AHL this Season to tie his first AHL season in 19 less games. The Leafs definitely won this trade in my opinion. The next day, the Leafs sent Roman Polak and Nick Spaling to the Sharks in part one of two for 2nd rounders in 2017 and 2018, and Raffi Torres who was promptly told to stay away from the Marlies AND the Leafs.

On February 27th, Sharks trade part 2 of 2 occurred, with the aforementioned  James Reimer and Jeremy Morin headed over for Alex Stalock (Marlies), Ben Smith (Spotfill Leaf) and a conditional 4th in 2018, which becomes a 3rd in the Same year if San Jose makes the finals (HAHA, not with the Blackhawks in the West… sigh). Now I’m not sure if you could tell from the above, but Reimer was my favorite player on the team. If you look at both trades with San Jose together, it looks like this: Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, James Reimer and Jeremy Morin for a 2nd rounder in 2017, a 2nd rounder 2018, That Conditional 4th, Raffi Torres Alex Stalock and Ben Smith. That overall return looks good, but that’s the only way you can look at the Reimer trade as a success. Lou’s first iffy trade, but they happen (but muh Reims D:).

And last but not least in Uncle Lou’s bag of tricks was the Daniel Winnik trade 2.0. The Leafs sent Mr. Winnik and a 5th round pick to the Washington Capitals (Washington vs Chicago NHL finals, calling it now) for Brooks Laich (Cap dum…LOCKER ROOM PRESSENCE!) Connor Carrick – 21 year old Right Handed(!!!) Defenseman with offensive upside – and a 2016 2nd round pick. Wow, awesome trade. If Winnik can return to last year’s form, this trade becomes closer to even, but if not, the Leafs win hard on this one. That’s 2 years in a row that we’ve picked up a 2nd round pick for Daniel Winnik, and everyone was surprised, including Winnik himself. Carrick played his first game in a Leafs uniform the same night and looked pretty good beside Martin Maricin, which is a feat in and of itself.

After the deadline passed, Lamoriello’s press conference was interesting to say the least. He announced that there was no real interest in PA Parenteau, which by default means there was definitely no interest in Brad Boyes or Micheal Grabner. Lou also told the media that Jared Cowen would be getting benched for the rest of year to make sure he wouldn’t be “injured” in time to foil a buyout. We’ll see what the NHLPA has to say, but they can’t exactly say that the Leafs HAVE to play him, as he hasn’t done much to justify a spot over any of the Leafs young guns. And after that it was just general question and answer time with not much in the way of groundbreaking information.

In the end, the Leafs had an A- deadline. Failing to get value for Parenteau was disappointing, but you can’t make the fish bite the hook, you can only try to make it look as appetizing as possible. Beyond that the Leafs did a very good job maximizing their assets and making room for the youngsters to have a shot that many of them have proven they deserved.