Monday, March 31, 2008

Hope springs eternal

Hey Peeps and anyone else checking in. A special "Hey" goes out to Hazel Mae if she is checking in.

Leaf Nation joins the legions of baseball fans across the continent in welcoming Opening Day in Major League Baseball – for the third consecutive year, our focus shits to baseball much earlier than we would have liked. Following the MLB in April really sucks – but with no playoffs to look forward to, there's not much choice until the June entry draft.

Before we here on the page move to the MLB – one last Maple Leafs focused post for the season. The Leafs served notice Saturday night that, while they aren't going to the playoffs, there are no freebies over the last few games of the season. After a couple of poor efforts against the Bruins, the Leafs played with some passion and intensity in a 4-2 win over the Canadiens at the ACC.

The critics are all to happy to point out that Saturday's game is shining example of what is wrong with the Leafs – they are capable of playing great hockey when there is nothing on the line. With two consecutive late season runs at the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference falling short, it is hard to argue the point; unless of course, Cliff Flecther and his eventual successor go into the off-season with a view to making difficult, but necessary changes in order to move forward.

The Leafs cannot go into the off-season like they did last year – former GM John Ferguson Jr. felt he had a playoff team going into this season and chose to keep the team in tact and try to improve their chances with the addition of a key free agent – Jason Blake. It is incumbent on the new management – still thinking Cliff Fletcher is "INTERIM" GM until Brian Burke moves over from Anaheim – to get out from under some of JFJ's most grievous mistakes, and build on a few of the positives JFJ left behind.

Vesa Toskala's first year in the blue and white was, for the most part, a successful one – he had some shaky moments (see youtube), but there were many more nights where he was the star of the game. While I questioned the wisdom of giving him a contract extension prior to playing a single game with the Leafs, I'll admit that the extension worked out well, as it looks like Toskala will be getting less than market value for being a solid number one. Leaf Nation is calling for Andrew Raycroft to be bought out and Justin Pogge brought up to be Toskala's back-up next year – is it worth is to bring Pogge up for 20-25 games next year? Don't think so – Raycroft will likely be back and given an opportunity to build his trade value…which stands at zero right now.

The Leafs defence, which was porous on far too many a night, should not be kept in tact. The 2008/09 Maple Leafs cannot afford to feature Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina as top 4 defencemen – while both, especially Kubina, have picked up their play of late; the evidence against them consistently playing that was is overwhelmingly against them. It was widely speculated that Fletcher had deals in place to move both of them before the trade deadline – but as we all know, both refused to waive their no-trade clause. Kubina would likely be the easier one of the two to move – his play over the last month has been top 4 like and his NTC is voided this summer after the Leafs failed to make it to the playoffs; but the Leafs management shouldn't let McCabe skate by on this one. His salary was based on his, then perceived, status as the team's number one D – it was an obvious miscalculation on JFJ"s part; it was speculated that McCabe was ready to OK a trade to Long Island (where he played before), those talks need to be reopened and a deal completed.

The feeling here is that McCabe should go and the Kubina should stay – Kubina's contract is far less burdensome than McCabe's. Tomas Kaberle, Kubina and Anton Stralman, who has shown steady improvement this year, make up three of the Leafs top 4 defencemen next year – it may be too much to hope that Carlo Colaiacovo play one injury-free season. A free agent signing may be in order with Ian White and Staffan Kronvall rounding out the top 6.

The Leafs had a few pleasant surprises up front, most notably the emergence of Nik Antropov as a legit FULL SEASON top 6 forward, followed by the Matt Stajan and Alex Steen showing they are more than depth players. Stajan, touted as a future captain, really showed down the stretch that he deserves a serious chance at being the team's number two center next year – his play over the last month reminded many of the emergence of Alyn MacAulay in a playoff win over the Tards a few years back. Alex Steen stepped up his play in the absence of Mats Sundin to prove he can be a solid second line winger or very solid third line center. Rookie Jiri Tlusty has also gotten better as the season has gone on, showing a lot more confidence taking the puck in past the opposition's blue line – the kid has some nice scoring tough going for him. . Some of the AHL call ups also showed well in brief stints.

Jason Blake gets a pass on this year – it wasn't a good year for the free-agent signing, but he gets a pass for playing through his medical condition. Darcy Tucker doesn't get a pass though – still a favourite amongst Leaf Nation, Tucker had a very disappointing season. The speculation was that he played hurt most of the year – who is to say – but from what he showed this year, he was unwilling or unable to bring a physical element to his game. In previous years, Tucker got first line PP duty – which was reflected in his goal totals; the emergence of Antropov has taken much of Tucker's PP time and with it, much of his effectiveness. There is talk the Leafs will buy him out if he doesn't waive his no-trade clause; can't suggest the buy-out as a good option. This is a tough one – but the preferred option would still be to trade him. Alexei Ponikarovsky had a so-so season – you always expect more from a guy with his skill set; but he seems to be missing something. His contract isn't bad – which makes him a candidate to stay, but a new GM (cough cough Brian Burke) might look to move him.

Mats Sundin showed he has plenty of game left – so signing him to a two or three year contract should be a no-brainer. Re-signing the captain should be the first order of business for management. Dominic Moore, who was picked up off of waivers is a guy who has earned a shot at next year's team – Moore had some great games this year and was one of the Leafs' steadier forwards night in and night out. Boyd Devereaux should be brought back as well.

After the projected top 6 of Sundin, Antropov, Stajan, Steen, Blake and Tlusty; it's open for the like of Robbie Earl, Jeremy Williams, Nikolai Kulemin and others to show they can play.

There isn't a lot of wiggle room up front – Leaf Nation can only hope Tucker gets moved and a few guys continue to build on improvements realized this year. What will next year bring to our Toronto Maple Leafs? Who knows…today, all I can say is


Go Big Blue!


Toronto Maple Leafs rookies Anton Stralman and Jiri Tlusty had two goals a piece to lead the Leafs to a 4-2 win over Montreal on Saturday night.

Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo scores AGAIN.


The week ended off on a positive note – bringing down the, still ugly, total a bit closer to respectability (- $2,800). MLB always brings some good options. Today's suggestions:

Seattle over Texas – gotta back local boy Eric Bedard in his first start for the M's. Lay $100 on Seattle - $185.

Enjoy opening day gang -thanks for taking the time to check in.

Hazel, here's hoping things are groovy in your world.

I'm Out!


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