Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Slide continues in Leaf Land - Playoffs a distant memory.

Good afternoon Leaf fans! Thanks for checking out our latest blog! This weekend I am going to talk about the Leafs recent woes and the impact it may have on the offseason. We've heard of the 'Suck for Luck' campaigns in the NFL, but this year in the NHL will it be 'Fail for Nail', 'Fail for Mikhail' or 'Stumble for Dumba'? Alright, the Dumba one was a bit of a stretch but you get my point.

Joffrey Lupul
Since February 7th the Leafs have lost 13 of their last 15 games and the Leafs are in the rear view mirror of the playoffs. Their last win coming in Montreal 3-1 last Saturday(I'll take it). To make matters worse, Joffrey Lupul sustained what may be a season ending separated shoulder. The loss of Lupul, to me, was the last shred of playoff hopes Toronto had left for this season. Now comes the question, do you hope to be bad?

Well, to be fair, I would hope no professional hockey team ever wants to lose, if they have any pride at least. But I can't help to hope, even as a Leaf fan that they just keep on losin'. If the Leafs are going to miss the playoffs they should go big or go home. It would do the Leafs a great deal of good to have a top 5, maybe even top 3 selection in the prospect pipeline.

The NHL Draft could be interesting for the Toronto Maple Leafs who currently sit 7th from the bottom of the NHL standings. At the rate they are going, a top 3 pick is not out of the question. Here are the bottom of the standings as of Saturday March 10:

30. Columbus Blue Jackets 22-39-7 51pts
29. Edmonton Oilers 26-35-7 59pts
28. Montreal Canadiens 27-32-10 64pts
27. New York Islanders 28-31-9 65pts
26. Caroline Hurricanes 26-27-15 67pts
25. Anaheim Ducks 29-30-10 68pts
23. Toronto Maple Leafs 30-30-8 68pts

At the pace the Leafs are on, a top 3 pick isn't out of the question, and for the 2012 NHL draft that boasts a very deep draft class, the Leafs could have a future star player on their hands. Here's a quick look at the projected top 3 picks in this year draft.

Nail Yakupov
1. Nail Yakupov, RW(Sarnia Sting, OHL) 31G 38A 69P 42GP

Yakupov has a certain edge to his game that makes him intriguing. He's not overwhelmingly large at 5'11'' weighing only 189lbs but he brings a lot of excitement to the game every time he touches the puck. Although smaller, Yakupov has obviously drawn comparisons to Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin. While I don't see Yakupov being quite the scoring threat as Ovechkin, he may pan out to be a superstar at the NHL level due to his unmatched speed and great vision along with a deadly set of hands.

2. Mathew Dumba, D(Red Deer Rebels, WHL) 20G 33A 55P 65GP

From the Red Deer Rebels Mathew Dumba is a skilled defenseman with a tremendous skating stride. Widely praised for his ability to land big open ice hits, Dumba has been compared to Red Deer Rebel alumni Dion Phanuef. Not a player I see the Maple Leafs taking, Dumba is most likely destined for the Edmonton Oilers who need a young promising D-man.

3. Mikhail Grigorenko RW/C(Quebec Remparts, QMJHL) 39G 45A 84P 56GP

Another skilled Russian projected to go top 3 is Mikhail Grigorenko. In his first season playing hockey in North America for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, Grigorenko has been nothing short of dominant. Currently 7th in the QMJHL in scoring, first among all rookies, Grigorenko could go anywhere in the top 5 this season. As a potential threat to retreat to the KHL his draft stock may slip a little, but there are teams I'm sure that would be more than willing to take the risk to have him suit up for them.

Whatever the case may be, I am always excited to see what happens during the draft and where the Leafs finish could add to that excitement. Keep checking back as the season comes to a close as we will look forward to the draft after the playoffs. In the coming weeks we will be looking at the Maple Leafs prospect pool and players they could look at in the draft to help build on an already steady foundation.

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And if you can't laugh at yourself you're not living, for all my fellow Leaf fans with a sense of humor...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Episode 5

       This is long overdue but here is Episode 5 of the podcast.  This week we look at the big news of the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Ron Wilson.  We also talk about the Leafs hiring Randy Carlyle to replace him.  What does this mean for Toronto and how will it change their season?  We also look at the Raptors improved play as of late as well as the Blue Jays kicking off their spring season against the Pirates.  Let us know what you think about the change in coaching for Toronto.

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Special Podcast: Trade Edition

       Here you go everyone our first special podcast.  This special edition talks about all the trades that happened during deadline season.  Justin and I break down all of the trades and determine who were the winners and losers.  We talk about what the Maple Leafs were able to do and if it will make an impact on their team.  We also talk about who didn't get traded and why this happened.  We hope you enjoy and let us know what you thought of the trade deadline.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Rocky Tenure Of Ron Wilson

       The news that a lot of Maple Leafs fans have been wanting occurred on Friday with the firing of head coach Ron Wilson.  It is a period of time in Leafs history that will most likely be met with feelings of what could have been.  Wilson was an experienced coach who came to Toronto with promises of playoff dreams and Stanley Cup fantasies.  But when we look back at the four years those dreams have turned into nightmares and the Maple Leafs current play has to be the low point.  When I look back on Ron's time with the Leafs I have to think that a lot of the issues that surround the Leafs may not actually be his fault.  However this could be another example of an organization that could not get rid of the players so they got rid of the coach.
Courtesy Maple Leafs Hot Stove
       Ron Wilson was signed on to coach the Leafs in 2008 when Cliff Fletcher was the Interim General Manager and was signed to a four year contract.  In his first season with the Leafs they finished in tenth place.  His signing caused the rumours in Toronto of Brian Burke coming to Toronto.  Half way through the 2008 season Burke came over and began the re build in Toronto.  The turnover was quick as Burke tried to give Wilson a roster that he could use to create a winning team.  Before Wilson's second season, Brian Burke made a trade with Boston to bring Phil Kessel to the Leafs.  This resulted in the the loss of two first round picks and a second round pick.  A decision that would come back to bite the Leafs as they would finish the 2009-2010 season in 15th place.  This gave Boston the second overall pick in the draft costing Toronto Tyler Seguin.  Seguin has gone on to be a key piece for the Bruins and even won a cup with them in his first season.
Courtesy Macleans
       Heading into the Leafs third season the team was taking more of a shape with their captain Dion Phaneuf in his first full season. Kessel was healthy and the young team was starting to develop  However, with a slump at the beginning of the season, the Leafs were soon out of the race.  After the all star break rookie goalie James Reimer almost got them into the playoffs but the Leafs once again fell short.  However, Reimer was signed to a new contract and Toronto fans believed that they had their goalie of the future.
       Then came the 2011-2012 season.  What many felt was a make or break season for Ron Wilson as coach.  The Leafs had brought in the pieces to make everything work.  Tim Connolly was brought in to be the number one centre between Lupul and Kessel.  The Grabovski - Macarthur - Kulemin line was looking to establish themselves as a solid second line.  John-Michael Liles was brought in to replace Kaberle, Jake Gardiner broke out of camp as a rookie sensation and the look of a solid young Leafs team was there.  At the end of the first month Toronto was sitting second in the Eastern Conference and were well on their way to a great season.  And even after the second month Toronto was sitting in fourth place.  The first two months which had normally spelt doom for Toronto had turned into optimism.  However, like seasons past, the penalty kill was near the very bottom in the league.  What was supposed to be Ron Wilson's strength had turned into a very big weakness.  Soon after the Leafs were showing promise they slumped and headed into the new year in 10th place, 2 points out of 8th.  A long cry from where they were early in the season.  After battling in January Toronto sat in 8th place and were in a spot to control their destiny.
       Then February came.  What would be the death march for Ron Wilson and perhaps the Leafs season.  After going 3-0 to start the month the wheels would fall off.  The Leafs would go on to lose 10 out of 11 games with their one win being an overtime victory in Edmonton.  The players looked like they had lost all confidence and Ron Wilson looked and sounded like a man defeated.  The worst game of the losing streak came at home against Florida.  A 5-3 loss that led to Toronto fans chanting "Fire Wilson".
       It turned out that Brian Burke listened to the fans and decided to let Ron Wilson go.  Four seasons of no playoffs.  A losing record.  A dismal penalty kill.  All factors that led to his firing.  What Toronto fans must realize is that the players need to improve.  There is only so much the coach can do.  The team needs to win the battles, gain some confidence and fight for their lives.  Toronto is now in 12th place in the East.  They are 5 points back of Winnipeg and have 18 games to turn their season around.  I fear that if things do not change there will be a very different Maple Leafs team next year.  Something that very well could be needed.  It will be interesting to watch over the coming days and see if Toronto can turn into a team we can be proud of.

Look out for Justin's blog on what head coach Randy Carlyle will bring to the team.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Countdown is on! 2012 NHL Trade Deadline preview!

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. We are less than 12 hours from this seasons NHL Trade Deadline and I am as excited as ever! One word I could use to describe the trade deadline as is emotional, for all parties involved. Such a flurry of emotions are felt by coaches, GMs, players and fans alike. For some it is nerve-racking and for others it's optimistic, in some cases both.

Leading up to todays 3pm EST deadline there has been more surprising signings rather than trades which were on my top 5 players that will be traded(go figure). Here are two of them that had me scratching my head;

Tuomo Ruutu, LW/RW - Carolina Hurricanes

After the resigning of Tim Gleason it seemed as if Tuomo Ruutu was going to be on the move. With his name mentioned many times by nearly every media outlet it appeared Ruutu already had a foot out the door, and then, on February 22nd he resigned a 4 year $19 mil deal with the Hurricanes. This may open up possibilities to see a guy like Brenden Morrow moved, a very similar player to Ruutu in terms of scoring and physicality, something many NHL teams covet.

Ales Hemsky, RW - Edmonton Oilers

Another player I was shocked resigned was Ales Hemsky. Hemsky has been underachieving at best this season and missed the majority of the 10-11 season due to injury. Ales Hemsky by all rights should have been moved by the Oilers yet was resigned for 2 years at $10 mil total. With such a lack of depth on defence, both roster players and high-end prospects, I felt it was the perfect time for Edmonton to make a move for a d-man. I think a signing like this may make Magnus Paajarvi an expendable player, he was very hyped last season as a rookie and this year had hit the dreaded Sophomore slump. If Edmonton has an offer for a young stud d-man sending Paajarvi back the other way, I don't see them not pulling the trigger.

Today could shape up to be a significant day for some teams and an exciting day for fans. Stay tuned today as we are going to be blogging and tweeting a lot throughout the trade deadline. Keep checking back as we will post a list of buyers and sellers and players who have had their names thrown around in trade talks!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

American League East Preview

       As the Blue Jays hold their first official workouts today we felt it was as good a time as any to examine all 5 teams in the American League East.  It has long been seen as the most competitive division in baseball.  While the AL West is getting up there in talent, I still feel that the East is the hardest division in baseball.  While the Orioles are still improving, the other four teams all have the talent to make it to the playoffs and do some damage.  The Blue Jays will have a tough mountain to climb to make it into the playoffs for the first time since their World Series win in 1993.  So lets take a look at what each team has done in the offseason and what we can expect out of each team.

Toronto Blue Jays - 2011 Record 81-81 - Fourth Place
Jays Closer Sergio Santos
       As the Blue Jays come into the 2012 season they bring a lineup that looks identical to how it finished last season.  It will be in the rotation and the bullpen that fans will notice the big changes.  John Farrell comes into his second season as manager looking to improve on the pitching woes Toronto had last season.  It was the bullpen that consistently let the Jays down last season.  In 58 opportunities the Jays only managed 33 saves.  Meaning they only saved 57% of their opportunities last year.  Not a good number for a team in the AL East.  It was because of this that GM Alex Anthopoulos did not make any big changes to the lineup, but made big changes to the bullpen.  Out are the likes of Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch.  In are the likes of Sergio Santos, brought over in a trade with the White Sox.  In is Francisco Cordero who signed with the Blue Jays after being a consistent closer in the Reds organization.  Add in the additions of Jason Frasor and Darren Oliver mixed with the returning Casey Janssen, and Carlos Villanueva the Blue Jays bullpen rivals any in baseball.  The pitching staff will be led by Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.  It is a young staff but it has talent.  It will be up to them to realize that talent.  The lineup will be dangerous as always being led by the two time home run king Jose Bautista.  He leads a lineup that has a ton of potential.  From the 1 spot to the 9 spot Toronto can do damage.  A full season from Brett Lawrie should help the Jays as well as hopeful improvements from the likes of Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson.  This is a team that will be able to put up runs but it will be up to the bullpen to make sure those leads do not get wasted.  My Prediction: Second place in the AL East - AL Wildcard

New York Yankees - 2011 Record 97-65 - AL East Champs
The Captain
       When you talk the AL East you always have to talk about the New York Yankees.  With 27 championships and 40 American League pennants the Yankees are the most successful team in baseball.  Usually known for busy winters, the Yankees took a quieter approach to improving their team.  They didn't go after the likes of Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, but make no mistake the Yankees will be competitive.  The biggest news in Yankee land was the retirement of lifetime Yankee Jorge Posada.  This leaves only Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as the last of the dynasty Yankees from the late 90's and early 2000's.  The biggest issue is going to be age.  The Yankees have tried to improve their farm system and have made some steps, but a lot of the core pieces are aging.  Jeter(37), Rodriguez(36), Teixeira(31), and Sabathia(31) are all on the other side of 30 and are entering the past their prime years.  However with young talent such as Robinson Cano the Yankees should still be able to compete.  The strangest move the Yankees made was trading perhaps their best prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Felix Pineda.  Now do not get me wrong, Pineda has ace type stuff and will help the Yankees.  But the Yankees pitching is fairly strong with the likes of CC Sabathia, Hideki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes.  The Yankees must have been sure that Russel Martin is their catcher of the future because Montero has the potential to be a star in this league.  My Prediction:  Fourth Place Finish

Boston Red Sox - 2011 Record 90-72 - Third Place
Carl Crawford
       Last season was one to forget for the Boston Red Sox.  After suffering one of the worst collapses in baseball history, the Red Sox ended up missing out on the playoffs on the very last day.  They also suffered through rumours of beer drinking and chicken eating in the club house during games.  These stories mixed with the collapse caused their manager Terry Francona to retire and their GM Theo Epstein to move on to the Chicago Cubs.  Their long time closer Jonathan Papelbon signed with Philadelphia which caused Boston to go out and get Andrew Bailey from Oakland to replace him.  The Red Sox will not be counting on big offseason moves to help them improve.  Instead they will be hoping moves made last offseason will help them.  The Red Sox will need Adrian Gonzalez to continue his stellar play and they will need Carl Crawford to return to the form that caused the Red Sox to sign him to a 7 year $142 million dollar contract.  After putting up only 11 home runs and 56 RBI's Crawford will be determined to live up to the contract.  New manager Bobby Valentine will have a challenge in front of him but should have a lineup that can still do some damage in the American League.  This team is too good to have a collapse like they did last season and I see them making a statement and winning the division. My Prediction:  American League East Champs

Tampa Bay Rays - 2011 Record 91-71 - Second Place - American League Wildcard
Rays Stud Matt Moore
       The Rays were the beneficiary of the most epic collapse ever seen.  As the Red Sox fell the Rays rose and ended up securing the Wild Card on the last day of the season.  After a fairly quiet offseason the Rays will look to continue making a name for themselves with a low payroll but a high level of talent.  The biggest move made by the Rays was bringing back Carlos Pena, who spent one season in Chicago.  Pena will provide a boost to the Rays lineup and returns to a stadium he always hit well in.  The key to the Rays success will be the continued growth of their incredibly talented pitching staff.  At the top will be James Shields and David Price.  Behind them will be Wade Davis and he will be followed by two studs.  Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore will enter their second seasons and both have number one quality talent.  Matt Moore is listed as the number one prospect in baseball and is perhaps the best number 5 starter in baseball.  Tampa Bay has taken those years of futility and turned it into a farm system that is the best in baseball.  Every time we think they are going to have an off year they end up making the playoffs.  They will be perhaps the Blue Jays biggest obstacle in making the playoffs.  Both are young teams looking to take the giants of Boston and New York off the top of the mountain.  With perhaps the best manager in baseball in Joe Maddon the Rays will be a force to be reckoned with.  My Prediction:  Third Place Finish

Baltimore Orioles - 2011 Record 69-93 - Fifth Place
       Manager Buck Showalter enters his second full season leading the Orioles hoping his young team takes another step in their development.  They did not make any major moves during the offseason and will be depending on their young stars to help them compete in the tough AL East.  It will probably be a long season for them but they will play every game tough.  The key to their success could be the development of Matt Wieters.  Entering his third season Matt will look to turn into the star the Orioles know he can be.  Other then that the Orioles will rely on Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Mark Reynolds to provide the offense.  Tommy Hunter leads an unproven pitching staff and will need their offense to provide as many runs as possible.  My Prediction:  Fifth Place Finish

       It should make for an interesting season and we will all be watching with excitement as we hope to see this exciting Blue Jays team emerge as a contender.  It would be nice to see the Rogers Centre full and rocking like it was back in the 90's.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Movers and Shakers leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline

Helllllllo sports fans! Thanks as always for stopping to read the blog! It is that time of year hockey fans, the time of year fans love and players hate, that's right...the Trade Deadline! Today I'm going to breakdown the significant trades that have happened so far leading up to the deadline and what implications they may have on the Leafs going into the February 27th Trade Deadline.

So far the big movers have been the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers. Philly making depth moves to bolster their blueline and Tampa selling off for draft picks.

Pavel Kubina
Philadelphia made two moves to acquire veteran defensemen to try and fill the gap left by the injured Chris Pronger who is out for the rest of the season with a concussion. Last Thursday the Flyers traded a 2nd round pick in 2012 and a 3rd round pick in 2013 to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Nicklas Grossman. Then on Saturday Philly traded for defenseman(and former Maple Leaf) Pavel Kubina from Tampa Bay, a large steady d-man with a big shot from the point. Tampa received mid-level prospect Jon Kalinski, a 2nd round draft pick and a 4th round draft pick. Philly is taking the 'go big or go home' approach this year really pushing for a playoff spot as they have traded away four draft picks and a prospect to obtain these two players. However with the acquisition of Brayden Schenn in the off season and drafting Sean Couturier, Philly can afford to lose a few picks.

After trading away Kubina to Philly, Tampa Bay made two more moves acquiring draft picks for the future. First Tampa traded journeyman centre Dominic Moore to the San Jose Sharks for a 2nd round pick. The next move Tampa made was swapping right winger Steve Downie with Colorado's defenseman Kyle Quincey and then flipped Quincey for a 1st round pick from the Detroit Red Wings. 

New Hab Blake Geoffrion
The last significant trade that has happened so far was out of Montreal. The Habs traded defenseman Hal Gill and a conditional 5th round pick to the Nashville Predators for a 2nd round pick in 2012, Robert Slaney and forward Blake Geoffrion. The amazing and most exciting part of this trade is Blake Geoffrion, the grandson of Canadiens legend Bernie 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion, a hall of fame right winger and the inventor of the slap-shot AND great-grandson of another Hab legend centre Howie Morenz who is an original 12 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Montreal fans will be chanting this kids name for quite a while and he will be treated like a rockstar in Hab-land. 

So how does this affect the Toronto Maple Leafs? Well, with Philly trading for two big d-men essentially replacing Chris Pronger, the chances of them trading for Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn have been greatly reduced. With the Flyers being the most likely destination for Schenn, chances are he will most likely be staying with the Leafs.

Columbus centre Jeff Carter
Luke Schenn
In past years, Brian Burke has been notorious for beating the rush and dealing well before the deadline while being quite at the actual deadline. If Burke is going to continue that pattern, there is a good chance the Leafs will either make only minor deals, or not make any at all. With Rick Nash's name being thrown around every day in nearly every rumor from every media outlet, many Leaf fans are preying to whatever god they pray to that he will end up in Toronto. I do not see this happening, you never know, but I don't think it will happen. A more likely scenario would see the Leafs landing Jeff Carter from Columbus, he fills a need the Leafs need in a 1st line centre and the asking price would be much less than for Nash. If Columbus were to send Carter to Toronto it may still include a package with Luke Schenn, but most likely something centered around young prospect Nazem Kadri. A lot can change in a week as we all know too well, what is rumored today may be an afterthought tomorrow. So far leading up to the deadline things have been fairly quiet with no big names being moved but all in all the deadline will still be exciting, I for one took the day off work just to keep up with the moves and get some blogs up for you guys!

Thanks as always for taking the time to read our blog, let us know your feedback! Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @leafsdinosbirds.

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