It’s been so long since we watched a hockey game together.
For too many months, we were caught up in the discussion involving collective bargaining agreements, standard player contracts, hockey-related revenue, defined benefit pension plan, federal mediation, entry-level contract, arbitration and so on and all of a sudden you needed a few credits in 100-level business courses to be qualified to call in to a radio show.
Tomorrow we get to start loving and hating hockey players again.
“Stars” and “Goats” have been a Nations Network tradition. You can edit your Nations profile (you should sign up for an account if you haven’t) to modify the players you will love no matter what, and hate no matter what. Last season, The Leafs Nation had players like Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin listed as “stars”, while defensively-liable Joffrey Lupul and Colton Orr were selected as goats.
Below are this year’s picks by our contributor staff. Add your own in the comments, and to your profile page.
Steve Dangle’s Star and Goat
Star – Mikail Grabovski
Lost in the whole debate about losing Connolly, Lombardi, and Aucoin, and the constantly swirling speculation Bozak will be traded, it’s often forgotten is the best pivot period the Leafs have period no questions asked period. It’s not even debatable. If he’s going, that means the second is going. That means the first line is probably going. That probably means more goals for. It also probably means fewer goals against. Of all players on this roster, it’s weird to say, games will be won and lost on Grabovski’s performance.
Goat – Dion Phaneuf
Here’s another guy who, when playing well, looks pretty good. I can forgive his defensive lapses when they’re infrequent, justifiable in certain situations, and he’s scoring well. I can’t forgive them when it’s the first or second period, 5-on-5, and he just blows a tire or gets beat wide again. Love him or hate him, the guy’s gonna log 22 minutes on a light night, so he better be sharp. He needs to be paired with a nice, boring defenceman like Gunnarsson. That pairing actually looked great in 2011-12 until Gunnar went down. Not long after that…well…y’know.
Ryan Fancey’s Star and Goat
Star – Nik Kulemin
He’s back, baby. It’s not a bold prediction or anything, but I think Kulemin simply gets back to his scoring ways and notches the equivalent of 20 goals in a full season, so, around 11 or 12 in this one. He’s always been good on the other side of the puck so no worries there. The only question mark, I suppose, is how things shake out between Kulemin, van Riemsdyk, and MacArthur when it comes to a top six winger spot. If he gets off to a good start he should get there. The fact that he’s already played 36 games (with 38 points) this season in the KHL certainly doesn’t hurt.
Goat – Randy Carlyle
To be fair here, Carlyle doesn’t have a lot to work with. But the hammer has to fall on someone in these prediction articles.
The Leafs still have major holes in the roster and aren’t exactly the type of team that fits together nicely. The roster is still a mess and I doubt he’s going to be able to make much sense of it. I guess, technically, the goat is Burke. But since he doesn’t actually work for the team anymore, I can’t elect him.
Carlyle will have his chance to start proving himself with a new season starting instead of taking over a team in freefall, and I think he’ll fail. He seems a tad old school with his tough demeanor and such, and I’m not sure it will be effective with players like Kessel, JvR, and Lupul. The team isn’t exactly tough on paper, and if he tries to transform them in to that on the ice, it could backfire since they’re awful defensively. This team can’t afford to be in the penalty box more than it needs to be.
Carlyle has been touted as some sort of expert in defensive hockey. I’ll believe that when I see it and happily eat crow if he makes a real difference.
Gus Katsaros’ Star and Goat
Star – Nazem Kadri
Hard to find a legitimate star this season, aside from Kessel’s scoring ability, but I think that the best thing that will come out of this shortened season is the establishment of Nazam Kadri as an NHL player. He won’t shoot the lights out offensively, but will contribute. With all the scrutiny, the watching, judging eyes and negative opinions, he will solidify his status as an NHL player with a permanent spot on the roster and an end to the ‘bust’ mindset. He will also usher in the new era of homegrown talent, being the first draft pick in the Brian Burke era, and not the last to make it as a pro hockey player. The hope for each draft is to get at least 2 players onto your NHL roster per draft. The total from the Burke era would be eight, in some form, unless they are traded for other assets. Kadri represents that first breakthrough.
Goat – Goaltenders (it doesn’t matter who)
It doesn’t seem to matter who is between the pipes, the first issue will always be, they should have upgraded in goaltending. The old Luongo rumors will be lamented and the responsibility on winning games will always fall in the crease among members of the media and even in the blogosphere. The combo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens will have to be able to survive the scrutiny, even if their performance isnt the specific issue this season, there’s a built in excuse: they didn’t upgrade their goaltending.
Cam Charron’s Star and Goat
Star – Mikhail Grabovski
There is no athlete in Toronto sports currently whose talents are more misunderstood and whose contributions are more written off than Mikhail Grabovski’s. Perhaps it is the basement metrics that allow me to see what others are missing, perhaps I am blinded by spreadsheets. I only lived six months in Toronto (before realizing living as a hockey blogger in downtown Toronto was probably an unsustainable lifestyle during a lockout) but of the Maple Leafs jerseys and sherseys I came across, the names were familiar: Lupul, Phaneuf, Kessel, Reimer, all familiar names, all important players, none who are so determinant on the Leafs’ fortunes as Mikhail Grabovski, the Belaroussian Bus Driver.
I’d love for all the Blue Jays fans who own a J.P. Arencibia shirt or jersey to make an exchange. You all know he’s a .222 career hitter, right?
Goat – Colton Orr
The Leafs are paying $1.5M in retained salary to Matthew Lombardi. They’re paying $1M each to Colby Armstrong and Darcy Tucker. Tim Connolly will make $3.85M playing with the Toronto Marlies. None of these forwards was a better option than Colton Orr to make this roster? Really?
Orr is going to be put into a depth role, because bad hockey teams like to regular run fighters out in the depth role, and the Leafs are a bad hockey team. The one positive aspect of this team, that it’s loaded with good 3rd line talent, is going to be wasted because Colton Orr is going to see regular shifts next to Jay McClement. Orr can’t skate. He can’t check. He can’t do much of anything right, and he makes $1M to do whatever it is he doesn’t do.
You could say that an enforcer protects your star players. What protects Grabovski and Phil Kessel and Nik Kulemin is that they’re faster than any of the other goons that the other team puts out on the ice at any given time. No smart coach is going to try to intimidate Kessel with their carp on copy of Colton Orr. If Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle believe that Orr acts as a deterrent to teams taking liberties against the Leafs’ top players, then every time one of them gets injured, or so much as hit, it’s Colton Orr to blame.