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Friday Thoughts

Leafs Whoop Raycroft

Although a lot of us want to see the Leafs stumble their way into a high draft pick, it's perfectly normal to enjoy the Leafs light up Andrew Raycroft seven times. Our starting goaltender of two seasons ago, Raycroft made sure to let in at least three a game, and were it not for the potent Leafs offense of the time, the wins would have come few and far between.

Tavares Night

I'm off to watch the London Knights as they visit the Kingston Frontenacs. Tavares has 14 goals and 22 points in his last eight games, and has been on fire since being traded from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights. I'm also excited to watch the Knight's Nazem Kadri and the Frontenac's Ethan Werek of Kingston, two of the top forward prospects in this year's draft. Taylor Doherty of the Fronts is another interesting player, who before the mid-season rankings, was considered a mid-to-late first rounder. He's now ranked 71st in North America.


Well, last week I asked the readers whether or not they think the Leafs will name a captain this season. 89 percent of you believe they won't. Well, fair enough. If the Leafs do name a captain, Brian Burke will have something to do with it. I know Wilson isn't going to name someone a captain if he thinks Burke might look for trade offers for that person, so until Burke takes them off the table, Wilson likely won't budge.

Leafs With Third Pick

In this week's poll, I'm going back to the 2009 entry draft. It's on every Leaf fan's mind, and it can't come soon enough.

We all know that Tavares and Hedman are going 1-2 in the draft, but after that there will be a degree of variation. So, theoretically, were the Leafs sitting with the third pick, who should they take?

Offers to Burke Improving; Who Stays, Who Goes?

According to the Toronto Sun (via. Spector), Burke admits that the calls he's getting for his assets are starting to interest him. Just yesterday, Burke was asked whether Antropov was a trade asset, to which he replied "my priority is not to improve his trade value. My priority is to get him playing better so he can help the Toronto Maple Leafs win some games right now." Right. I think we're getting a little too wordy here.

Who Stays?

Dominic Moore - F - I don't care what Eklund thinks, Burke is not going to give away Moore. Doesn't matter what the 'buzz' is, I'm sure the interest to move Moore does not exist within the franchise. He is a superb role player who works hard and has decent hands. A perfect third liner; that is, if he's truculent and beligerent enough for Burke. He's quickly winning over the fanbase, and despite what rumour gatherers might hear about who may or may not be inquiring, he's probably one of the players who stays put through the rebuilding phase. That is, unless he can tangibly prove his intangible assets as a player (read: Mike Commodore at 4.3 mil, Ryan Malone at 4.5 mil) and seek money elsewhere.

Jason Blake - F - I just don't think anyone wants that contract, despite his recent strong play.

Vesa Toskala - G - Contract is a problem. As is the market for shaky goaltending. I think Burke fails with this one, but not for lack of trying.

Pavel Kubina - D - Burke will not part with both Kubina and Kaberle at once. Kaberle will bring the picks, Kubina will keep the team respectable.

Lee Stempniak - F - Burke won't want to hurt Fletcher's feelings by undoing his last move as interim-GM.
He'll let Stempniak show what he's worth next season.

Well that's just ridiculous! I thought Burke was going to burn this roster to the ground? Well, he may. But it won't all happen before the trade deadline. When the summer comes, the roster changes will continue.

Other shoo-ins for the stay list: Schenn, Hagman, Kulemin, May, Mitchell, Grabovski, Finger, Van Ryn.

Who Goes?

Nik Antropov - F - Perfect time to trade Nik to a market that contains no big-time forwards. A desperate GM will have to roll the dice on Nikky.

Tomas Kaberle - D -Will attract some seriously eye-popping offers. We'll never get a Jeff Carter offer again, though. *sniff*

Ian White - D - White's age, contract and strong two-way play makes him a nice addition to any team. Shouldn't bring much back in return, though.

Alexei Ponikarovsky - F - Will bring back a lot less in return than people expect, but likely to be traded.

Jamal Mayers - F - A lot tamer than the Mayers of past seasons. Might attract some interest from teams looking for leadership.

I Just Don't Know

Matt Stajan - F - I have no idea if Stajan is going anywhere. For the most part, he's avoided the trade talk because he's had a good season and is seen as a solid team player. Whether he fits into Burke's plans really remains to be seen.

Your Two Cents

At this point I'm going to ask you to put yourself in Burkes shoes. What do you do with this roster? What do you expect to get in return for our assets?

Pogge Auditioning Begins

SPORTSNET.ca is reporting today that the Leafs will start Pogge between the pipes when they face the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

Ron Wilson says that Pogge will then be returned to the AHL, and didn't specify when he plans to use him next.

This essentially turns Joseph into a lame duck backup goalie. He now knows that he's only around to fill the roster position, and so that Wilson doesn't necessarily need to force Pogge into playing, were Toskala to get injured or lose his starter's role.

Once again, Pogge is getting his chance to shine in another Leafs road game. You can expect Wilson to keep Pogge well clear of the boo-birds in the ACC for most of the season. Whether it's the experienced CuJo or the youngster Pogge does not matter; Leafs fans will boo a bad goaltending performance. A wise decision indeed made by Mr. Wilson as he tries to build up the young netminders confidence.

Word is that Pogge will be part of a rotation that will send him back and forth between the Marlies and Leafs. I can hardly expect, were Pogge to keep winning games, that returning him to the Marlies would be in the goalie's long term interest.

And if Toskala gets moved at the trade deadline, such a 'rotation' might not be between the NHL and the AHL but between the big club's bench and crease.

Pronger to Leafs Rumours Swirling

The talk of the town this weekend is that the Leafs might go after Chris Pronger before the trade deadline. Yes, the possibility is there, but the logic is not.

Nick Kypreos suggested recently that if the Ducks continue to fall down the standings, GM Bob Murray might be tempted to get some serious return on a trade that would send Pronger elsewhere.

This trade rumour is probably the imagination of someone who could see it happening. Sure, Burke just traded with Anaheim to get Brad May, and the Leafs have tried to make trades with Anaheim in recent memory (such as the Bobby Ryan trade), but this is one for the scrapheap.

First of all, it's unlikely that Toronto could possibly put together a package better than any of the other teams, and believe me, if Murray was shopping Pronger there would be at least 10 other teams inquiring. Don't think for a second that just because Burke knows Murray well, he'll have the edge in winning a Pronger race.

And who said Pronger would be on the block anyways? If anything, Anaheim will use Pronger to keep it in the playoff race, and if a trade were to take place, it would be during the offseason when more cap is available.

Don't look into this one too much. The Leafs should be going for a player who's 10 years younger than Pronger, in Jay Bouwmeester. But we're not likely to get him either.

Will the Leafs Name a Captain This Season?

That's the question I'm asking you in this week's poll.

To be honest, I have no idea why Ron Wilson hasn't done this yet. One of the things he has constantly called his team out for is their lack of consistency and leadership.

Seeing how proud Ron Wilson is of himself, it's hard to explain why he hasn't created some sort of leadership hierarchy to give his team a bit more form. While the topic of naming a captain this year has gone out the window ever since Wilson chose a system of rotating assistants, it's not too farfetched to imagine he wants a captain while the going gets tough for his team in the second half.

Then again, if you're Wilson, you don't know how long your leaders are going to be sticking around. Both Kubina and Kaberle have attracted interest from clubs around the NHL, while other potential leaders such as Dominic Moore and Jamal Mayers might not necessarily be in the team's long term plans.

It's certainly not easy to predict what will happen in this second half, but if I'm the coach I want the players taking a bit more responsibility.

Last week's poll results are in, and a staggering majority (four people) of you believe the Leafs will finish between 20th and 25th overall. That's not an unreasonable prediction, seeing how the Leafs have spent most of the season in this range.

Anyways, please vote on the new poll. Also, read my power rankings. I don't know how many people actually know it exists yet.

A quote from yesterday I liked, by Mike Ulmer of mapleleafs.com as he referred to the Leaf's rebuilding plans. "How much time will this take? We are talking about a wait that began in 1967. The cavalry, relatively speaking, is just over the hill. What we do not yet know is the size of the hill."

News: Earl Traded to Wild

Minnesota Wild swap LW Ryan Hamilton for Toronto's LW Robbie Earl.

This makes perfect sense. Burke wants two lines of pure skill and substance, and two of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.

Since Earl is supposed to be the former, and has failed to demonstrate any signs of making it to a top-six role, his time was up when Burke took the helm.

This is definitely a step in the right direction, seeing how the Leafs have piles of mediocre forwards who are career third liners and lack any sign of a real offensive superstar. You may as well have a little more belligerence while the going gets tough for the franchise. That's something Hamilton can do.

A few extra hits a game might even get fans at the ACC on their feet, which would please nobody more than Matty Stajan.

Your thoughts?

The Leafs Could Get Tavares With Burke-esque Cunningness

The last time I wrote about how the Leafs could land John Tavares, the Islanders had 28 points and sat dead last in the NHL standings.

That hasn't changed.

What has changed between now and then, is my mindset on this whole Tavares sweepstakes. If the Leafs continue to fall, and believe me, they're about to, they definitely have a chance to slide into the second overall pick.

The assumption recently has been that John Tavares will go first. We're all very caught up on the way John completely tore up the World Juniors, and it seems that he's the unanimous top prospect coming into this year's draft.

But let's look at it in the way we've been told to look at it by folks such as Bob McKenzie of TSN who know the league well and are excellent predictors of what will happen in certain situations. Let's look at it with the mindset that whether Tavares or Hedman goes first overall is based on which team has the first pick.

Now let's assume that the Isles are first on the clock in this year's entry draft, and the Leafs second. If you put all other things aside - World Juniors and recent trends - Tavares and Hedman are still neck and neck. And it's true that GMs listen very carefully to NHL central scouting. If Tavares and Hedman are very close in ranking, then the Islanders will pick whoever would improve their team more. For the Islanders, that means Hedman has the inside track.

You see, the Islanders of late have been grabbing every forward they can get their hands on. They moved down in the draft because they weren't interested in Schenn, and opted to take a forward they liked a lot in Josh Bailey, a pick some might call a 'reach'.

The Islanders have a wealth of forward prospects, including Kyle Okposo, Corey Trivino, Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau, Robin Figren and Ryan O'Marra.

Who are their defense prospects? None worth mentioning, really.

So it makes sense that if the Isles have the first pick and want Hedman, they might be able to blackmail the second team if they want Tavares. If the Leafs want Tavares and have the second pick, the Isles might opt to switch places, just as they did in this past year's draft, where the Leafs took Schenn and the Islanders took Bailey. Or, the talks could melt down and the Islanders just take Hedman and number two takes Tavares anyways. But if Isles GM Garth Snow plays his cards right, he may be able to extort something out of the second team to go, by either threatening to take Tavares or simply not disclosing who the team plans to take.

If you're Burke, and you're set on landing Tavares, you are going to do it; you must have things your way. He would likely make it happen if this situation presented itself this way. He traded up to get both Sedin twins in 1999, so he might force his way into that first pick. It's also widely believed that Burke is searching for offensive prospects in this year's draft, due to the lack of blue-chip offensive talent in the Leafs system.

For Leafs fans who are sobbing as the Islanders continue to lose games, who have their fingers crossed that DiPietro isn't as injured as the reports are saying, that somehow Doug Weight and Bill Guerin don't end up being traded, and that Kyle Okposo all of a sudden carries the Islanders on his back, I tell you to breathe easy.

If the Leafs can just fall to the second pick overall, the road to Tavares might be there. I can assure that it's going to be a bumpy one, though.

Could Blake Be Moved? Don't Underestimate Burke

The one player who seems to have eluded all trade rumours this time of year has been Jason Blake. After all, the media pounded the idea into our minds that his contract is unmovable, based on his current and past performances. However, Jason Blake has been one of the Leafs best players this past month, and definitely one of the best left wingers.

Would a team even dare taking on Blake's contract of four million a season for the next two years? Well, looking at the forwards who may or may not be available at the March trade deadline, some GM just might be crazy enough to take on Blake.

Remember how Mark Bell was packaged by San Jose in the Toskala trade? Well that was so the Sharks were free of a player who was facing DUI charges. Do not be surprised if Brian Burke can come up with a scheme to rid the Leafs of Blake.

The fact is that Blake could indeed become effective in certain situations (why not put him on Crosby's wing?), and whatever burden another GM may want to shed, such as a cap restriction, the cap-wealthy Leafs are a place where such a player could be dumped off.

Who knows what has gotten into Blake recently, but he's been racking up the points like his life depends on it. Maybe the gap between his performance and his salary isn't so vast after all. Yes, he's not a four million dollar performer, but then again, neither is Mike Commodore.

There are foolish, desperate GMs out there.

Don't doubt it. What does everyone think?

Tavares in a Leafs Uniform? Pray to the Hockey Gods

As of today the Leafs sit in sixth to last place. This is, in fact, close to as far as the Leafs have fallen this season.They've been closer to fifteenth overall, and they've been as low as fifth last. What is true for the Leafs is that if they want to fall any further, they're going to have to make a valiant effort (or lack of) and get some luck on the way.

Also as of today, the Leafs have 10 more point than those lowly New York Islanders who have amassed a 12-26-4 record giving them 28 points. It's hard to get much worse than that! And the Leafs are far and away a much better team. In fact, it's not impossible to imagine Ron Wilson coaching this team right out of a top 10 pick.

And that's where Brian Burke comes in. If the Leafs want to get a draft pick, the Leafs need to strip this team to the ground - or at least closer than the other teams. If that doesn't work, then they'll need a bit of silly luck.

Here's my "Tavares Sweepstakes" wishlist.

1. The Islanders and Thrashers learn how to play hockey.
It's safe to say that these two teams would only rise above .500 if they joined the AHL. What's worse is that they're likely to trade whatever assets they have before the deadline. Doug Weight and Bill Guerin, the creaky old warriors that have held the fort for the Islanders this season, will be shipped out of New York for whatever they're worth. In Atlanta you are likely to see defenseman Schneider and perhaps one of their goalies dealt. So let's hope we get MVP performances from goalies Rick DiPietro and Kari Lehtonen, because the teams playing in front of them are atrocious.

2. The Lightning find ways to score, win in shootout.
The Lightning have only won 12 times this season. Almost as many times as they've won games, have they lost in the shootout or overtime: a total of 10, or approximately once in four games. They're getting heroic performances nightly from Mike Smith, but the defense in front of him are a bunch of pylons. The trading away of puck-moving blue liner Dan Boyle was one of the worst last season.

3. Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis and Los Angeles avoid the injury bug.
These teams all need to stay healthy in order to float above the Leafs in the standings. They all have the potential to win games (don't be surprised if the Stars squeak into the playoffs), but they need their men to get healthy/stay healthy. Nothing would please me more than seeing Andy McDonald and Paul Kariya both return for the Blues and revive that team in the latter portion of the season.

4. Ottawa needs to...do many things
Dear god. If you think this team is a few players away from becoming good, you're wrong. Let's look at this team from top to bottom and you tell me where there aren't holes.

Goal tending - some of the worst, and most inconsistent. Their best netminder is Alex Auld, a man who some thought had used up all of his lives staying in the NHL. But this journeyman has found a way to stick around, and he's made the most of it.

Defense - who, aside from Filip Kuba, can even move the puck through the neutral zone? And their supposed defensive specialist, Chris Phillips, is a godawful minus-20.

Up forward, you have three guys in Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson who absolutley need to put up points nightly for this team to be successful. In the absence of that, you don't have much of a supporting cast. This is a one line team and everybody knows that. However, in previous years people have overemphasized their importance. Now we see what happens when they're the only thing the team can rely upon.

What would be ideal is for the teams mentioned above to care less about the draft and more about this current season. They need to adopt the Leafs mediocrity model of trying to squeak into the playoffs at all cost. Unfortunately, the Leafs might not be so fortunate, and the other bottom-dwellers in the league are probably all thinking about who they're going to send away before the trade deadline. We're going to need to outdo them.

Alas, we probably aren't going to get our way. The Leafs just don't give you that irk of terribleness that we've seen of the Islanders, Atlanta and Ottawa. My one glimmer of hope is that the Islanders beat us. Yes, we would be at 40 points and they would be at 26, were it not for that game.

If and when we don't get Tavares
There are piles of other players in this draft who the Leafs could use. I certainly wouldn't be upset seeing any one of these guys in Blue and White. Hedman is ranked first in the list I'm about to give, but I can assure you the Leafs need prospects at forward, and would likely take Tavares. Might help them sell more jerseys.

ISS Top Prospects for 2009 NHL Entry Draft, December 2008
1. Victor Hedman, LD 12/18/1990 L 6.06 220 Modo SweE
2. John Tavares, C 9/20/1990 L 6.00 200 Oshawa OHL
3. Matt Duchene, C 1/16/1991 L 5.11 196 Brampton OHL
4. Jared Cowen, LD 1/25/1991 L 6.04.7 218 Spokane WHL
5. Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, LW 4/12/1991 L 6.01 198 Timra SweE
6. Jordan Schroeder, RW 9/29/1990 R 5.08.2 175 Minnesota WCHA
7. Evander Kane, C 8/2/1991 L 6.01 180 Vancouver WHL
8. Nazem Kadri, C 10/6/1990 L 5.11.5 180 London OHL
9. Richard Panik, C 2/7/1991 L 6.01 202 Trinec CzeJr
10. Brayden Schenn, C 8/22/1991 L 6.00 193 Brandon WHL

Kaberle Makes First Move in Fuelling Trade Rumours

Earlier today Tomas Kaberle was asked by reporters about his no trade clause, and he admitted that if asked, he would waive it. This isn't surprising to me, really. Kaberle knows that if he chooses not to waive it, he'll just be a lame duck with a team out of the playoffs.

For a guy who's career future probably doesn't lie in Toronto, that's not a very good game plan. Burke has the right to move Kaberle after the June draft (as well as Kubina) if the Leafs do not make the playoffs. Kaberle and Kubina know that they are both big parts of whether the Leafs make the playoffs, but they also know that they are not in the team's future plans.

I feel like the breaking point for these guys like Kaberle and Kubina was when it became apparent that Mats wouldn't be returning to the team this season. There's one thing all players want, and that is to win, and have some security. Without Mats, and within an organization that wants to restock its prospect cupboard, its not hard to see why Kaberle knows that his time in Toronto is reaching its end.

Like McCabe before him, Kaberle is likely to make a list of teams that he's interest in and present it to Burke, before he chooses to waive his no trade clause. I really don't expect this to happen any time soon, as I know Burke will first try to create a race throughout the league for his assets - Kubina, Kaberle, Ponikarovsky, Toskala, Antropov and perhaps Stajan.

To Leafs fans - I ask you to be patient with Burke. There will be lots and lots of rumours about potential trades in the upcoming weeks, but Burke knows how to play his cards right. He will wait until teams are desperate, and perhaps out of other options.

Burke Busy With Family; Ron Wilson Speaks About Possible Trades in Leafland

Today Ron Wilson was approached about whether the Leafs have had any contact with the Blue Jackets, and he essentially said that it's not his job to deal with that stuff.

That being said, Burke is busy right now moving his family from Anaheim to Toronto. Indeed, Wilson also made a good point by saying that right now the teams that want to make an upgrade to their rosters can't because of cap restrictions.

That's why it's understandable that Columbus is a primary target for Columbus-Toronto trade rumours. Columbus has a decent amount of cap space left, about 6.4 million. Just enough to fit a puck-moving defenseman like Pavel Kubina, or an Antropov plus someone else.

Columbus is a team that wants to prove to its fans that its committed to making the playoffs, and their fanbase and attendance is slowly easing away after a long honeymoon since they began as a franchise in 2000.

Burke at the World Junior Game Today; Burke Wants Draft Picks

For anyone who was watching the Russia-Czech Republic game today would have seen that Brian Burke was there, as was Daryll Sutter. Could be interesting to know if the two talked about their respective teams. Probably nothing, though. The two are simply good friends. Seems odd that the two would get the time to watch this game, but there are a few prospects to watch in this one - notably Tomas Vincour on the Czech side, and Dmitri Kulikov on the Russian side.

From what Burke said to the TSN panel, he hasn't heard any offers of real value yet. That will change, the closer we get to the trade deadline. Burke admitted he wants more draft picks, and said he is unlikely to trade up in the draft - mostly because it costs you later draft picks. Seems like hes got his head on straight!

Kubina and Antropov to Columbus...Could it go Down?

Here's something to mull over. I'm hearing from a few sources that Blue Jackets scouts were watching the Maples Leafs game when they took on the Buffalo Sabres tonight. Who might they be looking at? Some around the web are saying they are looking at Antropov and Kubina.

Burke and Columbus might be a good mix - a GM who wants to make a mark and an organization that wants to show its fan it wants to once and for all make it to the post-season.

This could get interesting.