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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