Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join.
BY: MATT WRIGHT @MATTWRIGHT9
Good morning Leafs fans.
First of all, would like to express my thanks to the guys at The Leafs Nation for this. If you’re interested in my writing background, I wrote a blog a while back called "Leaf & Lion" which earned me $12.61 in Google Adsense dollars. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to spend the money on a half case of beer or a footlong Chicken Teriyaki. Then I forgot about it. That brings us up to speed.
My first column will be "gently" borrowed from the best hockey column on the internet, Elliott Friedman’s "30 Thoughts". One of the best parts about being a Leaf fan is that the fanbases thirst for knowledge actually warrants this kind of microscopic attention, so I’ve scoured blogs, tweets, and the back of my mind to make some observations on the state of our team going forward after the all-star break. So, without further delay…
1. Last year, felt like Phil Kessel’s All-star presence was unwarranted. A lot of people (who may have had a point) thought Grabovski should have went in his place. This year, with three Leafs present was no doubt that we had a legitimate reason to be there. In fact, with Lupul as an assistant captain and the hate from the Ottawa fans, they were a pretty prominent part of the weekend. Telling statistic: Maple Leafs were responsible for 25% of Team Chara’s 12 goals. Gotta love it.
2. A lot of people weren’t pleased with Ottawa’s reaction to the Maple Leafs – personally, I loved the boos. The Leafs have been pretty terrible for a few years and I’ve sensed a lack of hate from Habs and Sens fans. It’s almost like they’ve been pitying us. Now that the Leafs are clawing their way into legitimacy, the hate is heating up. With the Gomez, Kaberle, and Markov contracts they might be in a bigger hole than the Leafs ever were. Tough to pretend I’m not pleased with that.
Something I wasn’t so pleased with? An Ottawa fan who suggested (quite audibly) that Joffrey Lupul should "draft Wade Belak". Stay classy, Ottawa.
3. A friend of mine in Ottawa spotted Lupul, Hartnell, Kane, Malkin, and Weber leaving the hotel in a cab together Thursday night. You can fill in the blanks.
4. Funny story about Kessel in the ASG: he and Keith Yandle were paired against each other in the fastest skater. Kessel won the race with a 13.203 second time, not before the Yandle did his best Wile E. Coyote impression (WRITER’S NOTE: awful, unintentional, unforgivable pun) and tried to hook Kessel. Yandle fessed up and added this: "Absolutely," said Yandle; confessing to the hook. "That’s what I was trying to do. Tryin’ to do something right.I asked him if he’d ‘Rock, Paper, Scissor’ me for which side we’d start. But he was too scared, because he knows how good my ‘Rock, Paper, Scissor’ game is."
5. A dirty part of me wanted to see Seguin centre Lupul and Kessel and that wish was granted. Seguin made a pass to Lupul so gorgeous I cried a little. But take a look at the boxscore – there’s no doubt who’s the third wheel here. Seguin’s thoughts on playing with the Leaf duo? According to his twitter feed: "Linemates tomorrow are the Toronto boys; Lupul and Kessel. Gonna be fun".
Apparently, Seguin asked Claude Julien if they could play together for the sake of the "story". I like Tyler Seguin. Obviously I’d like him more in blue and white but I’ve read a lot of Leafs fans hoping he’d be a bust or even get hurt. I want to win the deal too, but Seguin never asked to be traded from Toronto and I’m sure he’d have been happy to play here if that was how the cards were dealt. Good player.
6. Can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed to see Phaneuf lose the hardest shot competition to Spezza. Anyone else surprised he didn’t crack 100? Interestingly, during a summer Bauer camp with a bunch of NHL stars (Kessel, Seguin, Kane, and Stamkos to name a few), Kessel came second to Stamkos in the hardest shot contest. For a man who rarely takes slapshots, Kessel’s was a thunderous 104. Wish he’d use it more.
7. While I’m a big fan of Dion and Kessel, it was clear that Lupul has more charisma. He was clearly a big hit with the players and has earned a lot of respect among his peers (as he should) and looks poised to be a legitimate star in this league. Loved him taking shots at the Ottawa fans.
8. Brian Burke on what he would have thought if someone told him Lupul would be an all-star the year after he traded for? "I’d have sent you for a urine test".
9. For all the praise of the Phaneuf trade, the Beauchemin for Gardiner/Lupul deal is Burke’s best as GM. For an aging player that didn’t really fit in, Burke acquired a player who has been our best overall forward this season and (in my opinion) Dion Phaneuf’s defensive partner going forward in Toronto. Wilson obviously trusts Gardiner with a ton of ice time and you have to imagine as he improves and gains confidence; if that’s even possible, he’s great fit to play with Phaneuf.
10. Another reason I think the Lupul deal trumps the Phaneuf deal? Francois Beauchemin has settled in beautifully in Anaheim, having been a bright spot for them and earning a contract extension to finish his career as a Duck. Burke’s relationship with Murray in Anaheim is obviously very strong and will be beneficial going forward. You better believe Calgary is going to be pretty weary doing business with Burke going forward because they really got hosed in the Dion/Aulie deal.
11. While the winner of the Kessel trade will be debated for a decade, even Burke’s most controversial deal landed us our most talented player. That speaks volumes. You have to spend big to get nice things. Do you disagree? Fair enough. Are you reading this on an Iphone? Shut up.
12. Every year we’re linked to Ryan Clowe but I can’t see San Jose moving him. He isn’t having the best of seasons but he’s a playoff warrior and adds a lot of toughness, size, and skill to the top six. Would love to see him line up with Grabbo and Kulie. Rumblings are that San Jose are big fans of Korbinian Holzer – I’d be alright with a Mac/Holzer package to bring in the Big Newf.
13. If Ryan Malone and his ridiculous contract are coming to the Leafs, Komisarek better be heading the other way – and not much else.
14. As much as I’d love one of the Ducks "big three", I can’t see them being moved to the Leafs. I mean, how many times can we trade with them? I would love to get Bobby Ryan (the most likely trade candidate) and obviously Corey Perry would be a dream (the least likely trade candidate), but Ryan Getzlaf fills a void on the Leafs better than anyone in the league.
Getzlaf is a big, skilled, tough #1 centre who could really take on a leadership role and elevate Phil Kessel’s game. If he’s available, there’s not much I wouldn’t give up to bring him here. On a related note, my dad wrote me an email this morning that told me that he doesn’t want to trade Grabovski unless it lands a true superstar – someone like "Booby Ryan". Yes, indeed. Someone like that.
15. Rick Nash is continually linked to Toronto, but he has a balloon of a contract and if you look at his numbers they really aren’t worth the money he makes. I don’t know if it’s because he’s played with mediocre linemates in Hockeyville, Ohio, but he’s more of a risk than you’d think. I simply don’t think he’s worth the cap space or the package necessary to pry him from Columbus.
16. Matthew Lombardi is going to be interesting to watch going forward. Right now, he looks like a bit of a cap burden but he’s finding his game in Toronto. He’s a strong two way player and has blinding speed which could see him garner more time with Kessel and Lupul. Keep an eye on him, he could be a difference maker sooner rather than later. Keep in mind how long it took Lupul to find his game. Patience is a virtue not often found with Leafs fans.
17. The Hurricanes signed Tim Gleason to a four year, 16 million dollar deal. You have to believe Brian Burke is pleased with this going forward as taking Gleason off the market increases the value of guys like Schenn, Komisarek, and Franson. I really think of them is going to be moved. I’ve said since the summer that this is the year we flip quality depth assets for a legitimate star – flip a bunch of B+ talent for a solid A. I still believe that.
18. @justinfisher made an interesting point on Twitter. While Komisarek’s cap hit is tough (4.5), his actual salary for the next two years is 3.5 million.
19. I’m convinced Dion Phaneuf’s forehead is growing.
20. Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh was a heartbreaker. From Bozak’s disallowed goal, to some shady refereeing, to the last minute collapse, it was just a tough one to watch. We outskated the Penguins all night and were blew a victory we deserved. As a hockey fan, though? What a game.
21. Kris Letang is an absolute beast. He can go toe to toe with any defenseman in the league right now and plays with a surprising amount of grit. He led the Penguins in ice time, prompting Gord Miller to describe him as "The Busiest Penguin". If anyone reading this wants to write children’s books, Gord Miller just gave you the title of your next bestseller.
22. Last night, we were treated to a 1-0 snooze victory, courtesy of some late heroics by the Mac & the USSR line. Grabbo doing the Foligno Leap on a goal that he didn’t even score really shows how badly he wants to win. That’s why he has the "A" on his sweater. Lock him up. By the way, I’ll take a boring 1-0 win over a barnburner OT loss any time.
23. More on the Grabbo line: led by Crobovski, they’ve now tallied a massive 19 points in three games. We’ve been waiting for this all year. People will be prone to criticize Kessel and Lupul’s slowed production, but let’s keep in mind they’ve carried the Leafs all year long. Grabovski and co. have arrived right on time.
24. Logging big minutes, quarterbacking special teams, leading the team on and off the ice, you have to say it: we would be in a lot of trouble without Dion Phaneuf. Captain Charisma (…) really is the backbone of this squad. Having a defined leader definitely makers a difference. It terrifies me how close we were to naming Francois Beauchemin or Mike Komisarek captain.
25. I think Phil Kessel is the Rain Man of the NHL. I don’t care to elaborate on this.
26. Loved Reimer getting a shutout last night. Gustavsson has been a key to our success this year and I think he’ll be trusted with some more games down the stretch, but I truly believe Reimer is the man to lead us to the playoffs. I almost forgot how exciting it was to watch him break out last year. Goosebumps.
27. "You have to do whatever it takes, even if it’s a shot to the head. You gotta make those sacrifices". – Mike Brown. This is the kind of stuff that Mike Brown is saying in JANUARY.
28. After a perfect January, the Leafs move to 29th in the league in PK. The Leafs have killed 19 straight penalties. I can’t even type that with a straight face.
29. I really liked Luke Schenn’s play in the back-to-back against the Pens. Last night he was noticeably physical (as per usual) and did a great job on Malkin. Anyone get the feeling that Schenn doesn’t like Malkin? He absolutely destroyed him a couple years back. Tuesday night there was a couple times that Luke got himself into great scoring position. Unfortunately, Luke Schenn has hands like feet. I’m not holding out hope for him to turn into an offensive force, but I will say this: he’s going to be a very effective player eventually, and if we trade him we better be getting something good in return.
30. For a final thought, I’d like to waste my breath and call for a little peace in Leafs Nation. Tuesday night we blew a point and people were losing their minds. Wednesday night we got a hard fought win and people were dancing in the streets. What a difference a day makes. In the big picture, we pulled ¾ points against a hot Penguins team and pushed our way into seventh place. It’s like the Louis C.K. bit – everything is amazing and nobody is happy. This time of the year we’re usually sitting in the basement with our first round pick in another teams pocket. After a great start, how quickly we feel the Leafs owe us something. We’ve got players overachieving and underachieving. We’re a young team on the way up with a solid core. We should be fighting for a playoff spot and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Settle down. Breathe. Get behind your team.
The Leafs are competitive and are gunning for a playoff spot. It’s been a while, and we aren’t there yet. But life is about the little things. If I told you we’d be in seventh this time last year, you’d be pretty happy. It’s been a long wait. Crack a beer, sit back, and enjoy the ride. We deserve it.
Thanks for reading, Go Leafs Go, and follow me on twitter: @mattwright9