The Toronto Maple Leafs: A Teams Evolving Image
With Brian Burke now at the helm of this storied—and lately pathetic— franchise, he has shown a clear and concise direction.
He wants this team to be big, mean, tough to play against but also skilled. This is a very tough combination of adjectives, or skill sets, to find packaged into one player, but Burke has done his best to find these players. Or at least find players with some skill sets and some with others to compliment each other.
The one player on the Leafs that probably personifies a "Burke-style player" more than anyone else, would be heir to the captaincy—Dion Phaneuf.
He brings a great combination of physicality, leadership, offensive ability and defensive awareness.
With that, here is the transformation the Toronto Maple Leafs took from last years draft to today.
The College Kids
Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg were signed as seniors out of the NCAA in April 2009.
Each of them have played their own feature roles, none more impacting than Tyler Bozak.
Considered to have top 15 (draft-wise) talent, Burke was able to reel in the talented center from U of Denver. At 6'1 195 lbs, Bozak isn't tiny. And to compliment his decent size, he has great hands in the faceoff circle as well as playmaking ability. 27 points in 37 games, he was on pace to score approx. 60 points in 82 games, which would have led all rookies.
Hanson, also a center, is 6'3 202 lbs and looks to play more of a bottom six role. He is big, strong and can keep up with speedy players. He's very solid defensively and has some offensive touch. He could fit well as the third line center.
Stalberg is 6'3 210 and has the best combination of size and speed. While he only had 14 points in 40 games, there's obviously something special about him because he was the centerpiece in the trade that brought Kris Versteeg to Toronto this offseason.
This slide will really focus on the prize of the draft, seventh overall pick Nazem Kadri.
When the Kings selected Brayden Schenn, Burke was clearly ticked off, hoping to pair the Schenn brothers as the future stars for the Leafs. But Kadri is no cheap imitation.
At almost the same size, Schenn only has 10 lbs on Kadri, Kadri put up six less points in three less games. Kadri, in 12 playoff games, scored 27 points. Schenn in 15 playoff games, had 19 points.
In the interview that followed the pick, Burke was asked if he felt he had to "settle" for Kadri. He quickly responded that no, we got a smart hockey player who plays with a ton of heart and will be something great in the NHL. We can only hope.
While Kadri has been putting on weight this summer, this will only help support the case for him to be on the opening night roster for the Leafs.
Signing Colton Orr
Colton Orr was signed on July 1st by Brian Burke, to bring that "tenacity and truculence" to a notoriously soft line up. Orr sure was truculent, with career highs in PIM (239) as well as points (six).
Orr was obviously not signed to score, but was signed to fight and intimidate. Although if anyone remembers the snipe on Marty Brodeur? Pure beauty. But that takes back seat to his season long rivalry with Matt Carkner of the Senators. Orr really beat the snot out of him.
Signing Mike Komisarek
Komisarek is 6'4 245, and although he is not a fighter, he is a solid defensive defenseman. He does not shine on the offensive end, with only four points in 34 games, but he was strong in the defensive end.
He is considered to be "soft" at times, but he projects to be in the first pairing of defensemen, along with Dion Phaneuf. Komisarek is coming back from injury and will hopefully re-discover his play from his days on the Habs.
July 2nd, 2009
Carl Gunnarsson is signed to a three year EL deal. Burke re-signs RFA Mikhail Grabovski for two years, $2.9 mil a year (cap hit).
Gunnarsson is a lanky 6'3 195 lbs defenseman. He is very solid defensively and has a solid offensive aspect to his game. If Kaberle should be moved Gunnarsson could see considerably more time on the PP, where he can show off his great slapshot.
Grabovski, after putting up 48 pts in 78 games in 08-09, had some injury problems this past year, only putting up 35 points in 59 games. He has considerable speed and offensive potential, but his lazy defensive play does not fit well with the Maple Leafs new team philosophy.
Signing Francois Beauchemin
Francois Beauchemin was signed to be a solid, all-around defenseman for the Maple Leafs, and that he was. He is signed through the 2011-2012 season, but could be moved at the upcoming trade deadline to a contending team. He is a veteran presence (30 y/o) and has put up solid numbers in his NHL career.
This past season he tallied 26 points while playing all 82 games for the Blue and White, with four of his five goals coming on the PP.
He was a -13 on a very weak defensively Maple Leafs team (it didn't help having Toskala) but with the arrivals of Phaneuf and Giguere, the Leafs +/- evened out a bit more. Beauchemin played a lot on the PK and could look to assume a role on the second PK and second PP next season.
Signing Jonas Gustavsson
In my mind, Brian Burke's biggest offseason acquisition was the Swedish net minder. Gustavsson was courted by as many (but not limited to) 10 NHL teams. He settled on signing with the Maple Leafs, his decision influenced by the fact that Leafs goaltending coach, Francois Allaire, is known to be a specialist with taller goaltenders. (This also influenced Jussi Rynnas' decision).
At 6'3 192 lbs, Gustavsson is a tall lanky net minder, who can get up and down in his stance very quickly. He has great pad movement, and with his long legs he can get cross crease very easily.
This season, in 42 games he was 16-15-9 with a GAA of 2.87 and a SV percentage of .902 . Although his numbers were not stellar, he had a great last stretch of the season and showed glimpses of greatness with some jaw dropping saves.
The Phil Kessel Trade—September 18, 2009
I am not going to analyze the trade, I'm not going to weigh the pro's and con's of it, I'm just going to tell you that Phil Kessel is absolutely sick.
Coming off of a torn Labrum (pretty serious injury) there were doubts as to whether Kessel could keep up his goal scoring. Without a training camp, minimal offseason training and no preseason, Kessel stepped into the lineup in November and performed just fine.
After undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous testicle, Kessel returned in the 08-09 season and scored 36 goals and 60 points, following that up with 30 goals and 55 points this season, playing 70 games in both seasons.
Anyone that can return from testicular cancer and a torn labrum and score 30 twice in a row, is alright by me.
Opening Night Roster—October 1, 2009
Trading Jiri Tlusty
On December 3, 2009 Jiri Tlusty (13th overall in 2006) was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Philippe Paradis (27th overall in 2009).
Tlusty was selected ahead of Michael Grabner (14th), Bob Sanguinetti (21st), Claude Giroux (22nd), Semyon Varlamov (23rd), Patrik Berglund (25th) and Nick Foligno (28th).
Tlusty, more infamous for his naked pictures than his play on the ice, wasn't working out for the Leafs. Paradis was later packaged with Viktor Stalberg and Chris DiDomenico to acquire Kris Versteeg (and Bill Sweatt's rights) from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Acquiring Dion Phaneuf
On January 31, 2010 the Leafs traded Nik Hagman, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and Ian White to the Calgary Flames. In return the Leafs received Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjostrom.
Flames GM Darryl Sutter felt pressured to make a deal, and pulled the trigger on one of the most one sided trades of the year.
The Maple Leafs receive a potential franchise defenseman, who has been underperforming the last two seasons, as well as a top defensive prospect in Keith Aulie who is projected to challenge for a spot on the Leafs blue line this summer, and Fredrik Sjostrom. Sjostrom is a bottom six forward with limited offensive talent, but is one of the top PK'ers in the NHL.
The Leafs traded and over performing Nik Hagman, a mediocre center in Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers the fourth line/press box mainstay and Ian White. White was the most valuable piece given up, he put 26 points in 56 games with the Leafs. Most of all, I miss the stache.
Dumping Toskala and Blake
On January 31, 2010 the Leafs sent goalie Vesa Toskala along with Jason Blake to the Anaheim Ducks, in return they recieved J.S. Giguere and his massive contract.
Blake and Toskala's contracts, both products of the JFJ tenure, were both busts for the Maple Leafs. Toskala was never a proven number 1 starter, and was shunned by Leafs fans far and wide. Blake, though he had glimpses of a great goal scoring touch, never amounted to anything more than a 5'10 36 year old who was inconsistent.
The Trade Deadline (Plus Other Close Dates)
On March 2, 2010 the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Alexei Ponikarovsky to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for prospect Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula. Caputi was given substantial minutes down the stretch of the year, and seeing as the Penguins were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs and Poni since signed with the Kings. The Leafs win this deal.
On March 3rd (the trade deadline) the Leafs traded the struggling Lee Stempniak to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Matt Jones and a fifth round draft pick.
The Leafs then traded Martin Skoula, one of the greatest Leafs ever (yeah the one picked up the day before) to New Jersey for a fifth round draft pick.
They then traded goalie Joey MacDonald to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 2011 seventh round pick.
The Leafs then acquired NCAA defensive prospect Chris Peluso from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a sixth round draft pick.
The Final Roster
On March 18, 2010, the Leafs signed top defenseman prospect Jesse Blacker to a three-year EL contract.
On March 29, 2010, the Leafs signed college prospect (U of Vermont) Brayden Irwin to a two-year EL contract.
On April 23, 2010, the Leafs signed top Finnish goalie prospect Jussi Rynnas to a two-year EL contract.
On April 28, 2010, the Leafs signed NCAA goalie prospect (Cornell) to a one-year EL contract.
2010 NHL Draft
For full, in-depth analysis of every pick/trade made during the NHL Draft, see the below article.
The Kris Versteeg Deal
On June 30th, 2010 Kris Versteeg and prospect Bill Sweatt (who will remain unsigned) were traded to the Leafs in exchange for Viktor Stalberg, Philippe Paradis and Chris DiDomenico.
Versteeg is a versatile forward who can play all three positions. This past season he had 20 goals for 44 points in 79 games, and in 22 playoff games, he had six goals for 14 points.
Versteeg, though 24, brings playoff experience, Finals experience and is a two time (consecutively) 20 goal scorer.
Free Agency—July/August 2010
On July 1st, after being speculated as Burke's number one target, the Leafs agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract with the grinding winger.
Armstrong will fit right into the Leafs third line, and will probably see time on the PK as well. He is a physical player who isn't afraid to get dirty on either end of the ice. In 79 games he had 15 goals and 14 assists, for 29 points. Although Burke is likely hoping Armstrong can play more like he did in 2008—09 when he had 22 goals and 40 points while playing in all 82 regular season games.
Brett Lebda was signed on July 7th to a two year contract paying ~$1.45 mil a year. Lebda's signing pushes the Leafs numbers on the blueline to eight. This leaves two (or three) very speculated moves looking more and more likely to happen. Firstly, it looks as if Kaberle will most likely be moved but there is still the chance he is not. In that instance Lebda would act as the seventh defenseman. The second move being Jeff Finger being planted in the AHL. This will eliminate his salary from the NHL payroll, freeing up about $3.5 mil in cap room. The third move (if it is considered a move) would see Keith Aulie be the seventh d-man. This move would only come into effect if Kaberle were to be moved. He could see as many as 20 games in the NHL, leaving Lebda with about 60 games. Last season Lebda played 68. Lebda has more value than just a third pairing d-man. He brings a load of playoff experience and is a positive influence in the dressing room.
Kaberle Remaining Untraded
Brian Burke said he would only trade Kaberle if he would receive a top-six forward or a set of picks (including a first). He also said he had no problem with keeping Kaberle if there was no deal up to his standards. Well he did just that, as August 15th came and went, Kaberle stayed.
The situation was a win-win for the Maple Leafs, who now have a perennial 40 point defenseman on a drastically improved team. However, this leaves the Leafs with eight defencemen with NHL experience (scratch Finger-seven) as well as Keith Aulie, Juraj Mikus and Jesse Blacker waiting in the wings.
This could potentially lead to a variety of moves, the most likely being not doing anything and enjoying a solid blue-line. The other move could be moving Beauchemin in hopes of a third-fifth round pick and a prospect (preferably a center).
Leafs Sign Clarke Macarthur
On August 28, 2010 the Leafs announced a 1 year deal for 5'11 191 lbs center.
In 81 games last season, he had 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points. While these numbers are not particularly noteworthy, there is something he has that is more than numbers. Macarthur is a gritty forward that plays on the PK and can get the puck from the corners.
Macarthur looks to fit into a 2nd/3rd line role and will likely give players like Caputi, Mueller and other forwards time to develop on the Marlies.
Projected Roster—October 2010
Extra: James Reimer - has put up solid AHL numbers and will get some looks if the Leafs have injuries in the crease.