Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Good Time For A Change

Hobbes wrote that in a state of nature, life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."  I can't help but feel like taking a coaching position in the NHL is pretty much the same.

With the Leafs 3 points back of the Winnipeg Jets and with what Steve Burtch at PPP illustrates as an uphill battle to reclaim the 8th seed in the East, Ron Wilson's tenure as Leafs' Head Coach looks to be drawing to a close.

While Wilson's time in Toronto was far from successful, it's tough to lay too much blame at Wilson's feet for many of the Leafs' failings.  During Wilson's four years as Leafs' Head Coach, the team has finished 30th, 30th, 21st, and 25th (so far) in team save percentage.  It's no surprise that with his job on the line, Wilson has started pointing fingers.

Of course there are other areas of concern which are more directly impacted by coaching.  The Leafs' penaltykill, for example, has ranked 30th, 30th, 28th, and 29th in Wilson's four-year term.  While it's true that he didn't have the best penaltykillers, it's incumbent on the coach to produce better results than those.  It's hard to believe that a coach with Wilson's resume wasn't able to put together a single decent season in this regard.

Whether you choose to lay the blame for the team's failings at Wilson's door or not, it's fairly clear that the Leafs will likely making a change at the helm should they fail to reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Brian Burke: Woe is Me

I remember my Grade 12 prom; weeks of anticipation and excitement all leading up to the big night. Who would I end up dancing with? Would Stacey the head cheerleader totally make out with Karl in the Limo? How long would it take grunge kids get wasted in the bathroom and demand the DJ play nothing but Nirvana?

Yes, prom was supposed to be a night of great memories and classic stories to be retold happily to future generations. Instead, I had just over 1 beer, sitting with my best friend at one of the back tables for the majority of the night. Stacey got in a fight in Karl and left at 8pm, and the grunge kids decided Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” wasn’t mainstream synthesized crap after all.

Needless to say, prom was a disappointment. However, that pales in comparison to the rotting despair stewing in my stomach as I sit here at the close of Trade Deadline, with nothing.

We made a minor deal, shipping out Keith Aulie to Tampa Bay for Carter Ashton. By all accounts Ashton is a good prospect, possessing the size and draft pedigree that will certainly bolster our prospect pool moving forward. Aulie was a nice piece too, but our blueline had become crowded this year and change was inevitable. My frustration doesn’t stem from the merits of our one and only deal; it’s due to Brian Burkes comments at the post-deadline press conference.

For those of you that missed it, below are some of the notable words from Burke on deadline day:

"I'm debating starting our own trade freeze 10 days before the deadline, much like I do prior to Christmas … that's how distracting it is."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Top Leaf-Related Storylines of the Trade Deadline

Happy Trade Deadline!

There's no denying that last year's deadline was a bust and this year's may not show much promise from a league-wide perspective but there are lots of interesting storylines with regards to the Leafs.

In the spirit of the day, we've decided to list the biggest Leaf stories to follow as the day wears on.

Grabovski: Will he stay or will he go?

Negotiations with Mikhail Grabovski have taken a turn for the weird.  Last week it was reported that Grabovski was seeking 'Kessel money' ($5.4M) but that Burke was offering $5M.  Looking at those figures, one would expect that a deal was eminently reachable.  With less than 24 hours to the deadline, there's no deal in place and it's suddenly decision time for Brian Burke.

If Burke sees Grabovski's departure as a 50:50 proposition, it's likely that Grabo will be plying his trade elsewhere by Monday evening.  Even with the Leafs fighting for a playoff spot, the rebuild is still very much ongoing and there's no way this team can afford to lose a player of Grabovski's calibre for nothing.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The 5 Emotions of Deadline Day

Our truculent, exuberant General Manager has succeeded in many respects since taking over the franchise in November of 2008. From that moment Burke has systematically eliminated bad contracts (Ed Note: and added a few) and stockpiled the organization with valuable assets and talented prospects.

The positives, thus far, have outweighed the negatives. The rebuilding process has taken longer than we may have expected, but no fan can deny that the team has been rebuilt. Certainly 10th in the Conference doesn’t scream success to most of us, but it is progress.

With the trade deadline looming on Monday, February 27th, Leaf Nation is understandably restless. Burke has succeeded in righting the ship, but he has a long way to port.

This deadline day may very well be the day that defines the Brian Burke era in Toronto. The playoffs are not something we hope will happen this year; they are something that must happen. We have lived through the rebuild with the knowledge that a carrot dangles perilously at the end of the journey. For the first time in 8 years the team is in position to make a significant run at the post season.

I expect Monday to be a day of mixed emotions. With live updates coming from phones, twitter, Facebook, wall-to-wall mainstream media coverage – there will be no shortage of feverish excitement, and paralyzing fear as the rumours swirl.

I don’t imagine I’ll be in a state of mind to objectively criticize Burke, and the Leafs performance on this day of days that is the end of the trading season. As a result, I thought it best to write down my expected emotions, and the trades possibilities that could accompany each.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Brian Burke Rolls Up A Winner

After winning nothing but doughnuts, finally, something we can use.

Glove tap to Cole for the artwork.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Toronto Maple Leaf Deadline Wishlist

With the trade deadline on Monday and the Leafs having played a pretty bleak brand of hockey over the past two weeks, there aren't a wide variety of topics on peoples' minds.

Trades, Trades, and Trades.

There are no shortage of needs (or wants) for the Leafs right now and with the team standing on the razor's edge between playoffs and another year of spring-rate golf, it looks like Brian Burke is going shopping.  In the spirit of the season, we at BCP have picked a few guys that we think the Leafs should have their eyes on this deadline.

In no particular order:

Jeff Carter
The pros and cons are all well known.  Carter is a big-bodied center who puts up better than 30 goals consistently.  He's also pretty strong in his own zone and can play on the penalty kill which is, despite its performance of late, still a need for the Leafs.

Unfortunately, Carter also comes with a few seemingly nagging injuries, a history of being a malcontent / trouble-maker, and a lifetime contract which will make keeping him accountable a bit of a problem.

Still, we're bullish on Carter.  If he's an efficient contract for the first two-thirds of his deal, then I'm not too worried about the tail.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Goal Production, Kessel, and Windows

Today I was listening to the radio on the way into work. It was a call in show, with Leaf fans discussing the looming trade deadline and what moves the team should, or shouldn’t make come February 27th. What I found interesting were the comments from one fan, who said the team was only approaching its “window” to win. His logic being that we have a young core and our star player, Phil Kessel, is still in his mid-20s.

I find myself flip flopping often when it comes to the right strategy moving forward. Part of me is content to continue building through the draft and free agency, while another part would like to see some picks and futures traded to build the team in the interim for the playoffs.

What was interesting was that this fan believes our window is only beginning to open. Kessel is only 24; we hope that he will be a Toronto Maple Leaf for the next decade and that his production will be steady over that time. However, goal scorers rarely enjoy consistent elite production, as there are inevitable ebbs and flows associated with a career.

What I’d like to do is look at how long Phil Kessel’s window as an elite player should be expected to last. We can assume that the Leafs' chances at a long playoff run will in many ways be tied to Kessel, and his ability to perform at the level he’s shown this season.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Trading in a Hard-Cap World

With the trade deadline looming, there are no shortage of rumours swirling around the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Tune into a sports radio station for fifteen minutes and you're apt to hear both, "I would never trade a package that includes Gardiner for Nash," and, "I would trade Kadri in a heartbeat if it would land us Nash."

There are lots of reasons for the diverging opinions.  With the hard salary cap, trading has become considerably more complex than the simple calculus of 'who got the better player'.

Saying something as simplistic as, "why trade Grabovski for a prospect that we hope develops into a player that's as good as Grabovski" is oversimplifying things but saying "Corey Perry was drafted 28th overall" is a weak argument too.

I see trading in today's NHL involving four key variables: Talent, Cost, Control, and Potential.

When the Leafs first acquired Dion Phaneuf, there was very little doubt that they had won the deal on the traditional barometer of 'talent' but Calgary needed to clear some of his 'cost' and add some potential in Ian White.  Phaneuf was, at the time, an extremely inefficient contract and Ian White looked to be developing into a cost-efficient top-four defenseman.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mats Sundin & The Shadow of 93

My usual weeknight routine is as follows – I arrive home around 6pm from work, quickly plop down in my 1978 La-Z-Boy recliner and try to catch the end of Pardon the Interruption on TSN. Around 6:15pm I attempt to make dinner, which usually results in pizza pockets and a slice of wonder bread – I have a sneaking suspicion certain key food groups are missing from that equation.

On any normal night, I’d finish eating and after begrudgingly doing some dishes and maybe a load of laundry eventually make my way back to the lazy boy and watch whatever sporting event happens to be on. What was different about Wednesday night was that the Leafs were playing Calgary, but since they’re out on the West coast the game didn’t start until 10pm.

With no Leaf game on, I began to meander through the 120 channels the friendly people at Rogers afford me, only 6 of which I ever watch – MTV, TSN, Sportsnet, Leafs TV, the Score, and TLC (I like home reno shows, okay?).

I ended up pausing on Leafs TV. There was a semi-press conference being broadcasted wherein a nondescript Leafs TV host was interviewing Mats Sundin in front of what appeared to be Real Sports Bar in Toronto, taking questions intermittently from a sea of onlookers proudly donning their blue and white #13 Maple Leaf jerseys.

I watched for about 15 minutes. Mats was his usual affable self, deflecting any questions about his career accomplishments, crediting them to the help and support of past teammates (cause you just know he wouldn’t have had 1,349 points had he not been flanked by Jonas Hoglund). There was the usual string of questions: how did it feel to win the Gold Medal with Sweden at the 2006 Olympics? What was your favourite career accomplishment? And so on...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Leafs in the Playoff Bubble

My morning news cycle today was inundated ad nauseum with Jeremy Lin coverage. Lin-isms, Lin highlights, Lin jerseys, heck there are even rumours that Lin mania may surpass the recent circus that was Tebow. Turns out the Harvard grad, turned NBA superstar, turned arch nemesis of Carmelo Anthony has got some game. But amidst all the hoopla and Linsanity I was able to catch a quick glimpse of the current NHL standings. Our lads in blue sit 8th in the Eastern Conference, with 62 points. It’s both incredibily exciting, and dreadfully terrifying to teeter so close to the mendoza line of a playoff spot. Alas, that is the nature of resting perilously on the post season “bubble”.

I realize that discussing the playoff picture in mid February, when we’re still 2 full months away from post season hockey, might seem pre-mature to some. However, we’re a fan base that has spent the better part of 8 years debating the intricacies of no trade clauses, salary caps, draft weekends, rebuilds, asset management, the Muskoka 5, and Tyler Seguin. It’s refreshing to this fan, to finally have something tangible to analyze.

This year we don’t need any miracle run through the month of March. There needn’t be an aging Martin Gerber stringing together an unlikely winning streak, no Darcy Tucker tapping in power play goal after power play goal from the doorstep. The Leafs playoff chances lay in their own hands for the first time in what has certainly been a very long time.

There are a number of questions surrounding the Leafs over the next 2 months. Most notably, how will the trade deadline frenzy impact our roster, especially with the recent news that Rick Nash has short listed Toronto as one of his favoured destinations. However, deadline deals or not, there is still a playoff race under way and as such we’ve taken a look at 3 Eastern Conference teams also floating on the bubble. Focusing on their key players, and the factors that could influence their post season chances down the stretch.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Pursuing Rick Nash

It's official: The trade season is upon us.

While it was reported on the Fan590's Prime Time Sports by co-host John Shannon a week or so ago that Rick Nash had hinted that he wouldn't be opposed to a move out of Ohio, things really hit a fevered pitch today.

Yahoo! Sports kicked things off late last night with a report that Nash was on the trading block and then Aaron Portzline, a  Blue Jackets' beat writer confirmed that this was likely the case, and finally, the evening was capped off with insider-royalty, Bob McKenzie speculating that the Leafs were likely among the teams on Nash's shortlist.

While one might expect that any fanbase that had an opportunity to see a star talent land in their hometown would be excited by the possibility, Rick Nash isn't without his warts.  Reaction has been mixed among Leaf fans so we decided to put together a list of the pros and cons of chasing after Nash.


Big Talent, Bigger Contract
Rick Nash's present deal lasts another 6 years at a staggering cap hit of $7.8M.  Not only is that pushing it in terms of the length of deals that Brian Burke finds acceptable, but it would make him the highest paid player on the team by a wide margin.  As things sit today, the Leafs are up against it as far as the salary cap for next season is concerned and while there would undoubtedly be some money going out in any deal that would land Nash, we would also likely find ourselves out of the Grabovski sweepstakes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Leafs' Achilles' Heel and How It Can Be Addressed

One of our New Year's Resolutions here at BCP was to be less reactive on a game-to-game basis.  Having said that, last Saturday's game against Montreal was representative of a larger trend at work and it's something that needs to be addressed in the worst possible way:  The Leafs need bigger forwards in their top-6.

I know that there has been a large segment of Leaf Nation who have been advocating the 'stand pat' position, and a larger group still who feel that a shutdown defenseman is our greatest need (even as I write this, I'm not entirely convinced that I don't find myself in this camp) but Saturday's game showed one of the chinks in the Leafs' patchwork armor.

The Leafs have no answer for a dump-and-chase, neutral zone trap style of team.

The Leafs are at their best on the counter-attack.  Quick exit passes by the defense which in turn allows the Leafs' speedy forwards to back down the opposition defense.  We're one of the fastest team's in the league but when that speed is taken away, what are we left with?

Now, I understand that a lot of you are probably looking at this skeptically and feel that I'm overreacting to Saturday's loss but let's look at other teams that play a similar style.  Yesterday, Darren had a look at the Boston Bruins, a team who have historically given the Leafs a hard time.  The Bruins forecheck hard and deny space in the neutral zone. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On the Horizon: Playoffs and the Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins scare me.

It’s not an easy thing for a guy to admit but, in a 7 game playoff series, those guys give me the hee-bee gee-bees.

It's the same sensation I felt toward the person, animal, monster, or whatever he was, living inside my closet, under the bed, and on occasion outside the bedroom window. He only seemed to visit on dark rainy nights, or after I had mistakenly watched “The Blair Witch Project” alone at the age of 13. Respect the censor's rating, I did not.

Anyone who pretends to know anything about hockey (and we here at BCP love to pretend), understands that the path to the 2012 Stanley Cup is paved straight through the Bruins backyard. Any team coming out of the East is destined to take a trip through TD Garden and that’s bad news.  It's bad news for most teams, but especially so for our boys in blue.

The Leafs record against the Bruins this season is a lowly 0 and 4, with some of those losses being of the ‘blowout’ variety. Given that we’re sitting in 8th in the conference with 62 points, and the Bruins are 2nd with 70 points, it’s entirely possible we’ll face Boston in the opening round of the playoffs.

After 8 long years of playoff absence, any sort of appearance, cameo, or drop-in will certainly be invigorating for Leaf fans. However, an embarrassing 4 game sweep at the hands of a hated divisional rival will quickly dispel many of the good vibrations. Don’t we want just a little more? Shouldn’t a playoff round win, or maybe 2, be the stated goal this point?

In the movie Wall Street Gordon Gekko famously says, “greed is good”, and when it comes to sports, I tend to agree. Challenging for a playoff spot deep into February was the first step, but now as the playoffs loom, I’m starting to think big: Zdeno Chara big.

The Bruins do have a lot of things going for them as the playoff stretch drive approaches. They’re big, they’re tough, they have 3 lines that can both score and beat you up in the parking lot after the game if needed. The referees seem to abide by a different edition of the NHL rule book for them, where punches to the head, goaltender interference, and the instigator rule don’t seem to exist. Reminds me of when Colin Campbell was the league's chief disciplinarian and had a myriad of explanations for every suspension he doled out. Hey, doesn’t his son Gregory Campbell play for the Bruins? It’s just a world of friendly coincidences I suppose...

The real question is; can we possibly beat them? And if we can, how the heck do we plan to do it?

Thankfully, we here at BCP have developed a 5 step plan for the Maple Leafs, with the intention of de-throning the vaunted Bruins. Think FDR and the New Deal only with less importance, thought, and detail.

1. Hit Chara. When you watch a game against the Bruins it hurts the mind to witness how little contact Chara takes over the course of a game. Most forwards avoid finishing their checks, and instead do a quick ‘fly by’ or stick check as Zdeno moves the puck to the nearest outlet. He may be the biggest, baddest guy on the ice every night, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t human. At nearly 35 years of age he’s still in fantastic shape, but no longer in his prime. If we’re playing him a playoff series he needs to be hit, and hit hard every time he touches the puck. If you’re able to combine a signifcant level of physical punishment with the 25-30 minutes he’s logging a night, hopefully by games 4 or 5 of the series he’s beginning to slow.

2. Shoot from anywhere
. Tim Thomas gets a lot of credit for being a ‘revolutionary’ goalie, as his style is truly one of a kind. He attacks the puck and challenges shooters in a way unlike any other goalie in league. The by-product of this style is he’s rarely in a stable position to make a second or third save. Thomas is often forced to flop around the crease, in an attempt to recover from overcompensation on the first shot. If the Leafs can shoot, and shoot a lot, they’ll generate rebounds and second scoring chances. Tim is great goalie, and he’ll be tough to beat, but rebounds combined with traffic in the crease are the perfect tonic to solve his technique.

3. Top-6 size. No team will be able to match the sheer size of the Bruins. Maybe not since the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s have we seen a team with the mix of size and toughness that the Bruins possess. While we won’t be able to match that, the Leafs do need to address their lack of size at the trade deadline in the way of a top-6 forward. The checking in playoff hockey is significantly tighter than the regular season. Rarely do we see the wide open end-to-end play that can characterize mid-season games. As a result, the ability to cycle the puck, and control the offensive zone becomes even more essential to success. Players like Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, or Bobby Ryan would go a long way toward beefing up our scoring lines and allowing us to better cycle against the Bruins defence.

4. Don’t retaliate, ever. Of course this is easier said than done, and over the course of a 7 game series it’s inevitable that there will be the odd bout of fisticuffs, or post-whistle scraps. The key is that the Leafs don’t let this become a recurring theme and allow people like Campbell, Lucic, Thornton and Marchand say and do what they want between the whistles. With our penalty kill (albeit improving) still a sore spot for the team, it’s critical that we remain out of the box and take the focus away from special teams.

5. Phil Kessel: Utility Man. In every game Kessel has played against Bruins since the trade they have matched him up against Zdeno Chara. This has proven to be an absolute disaster for Kessel (in fairness does any player matchup well with Chara?) as Zdeno’s long reach and physical nature have held Phil more or less in check during every encounter. There is no way to completely solve this, but to combat it Wilson needs to experiment with Kessel in a number of different positions, especially on the road where the Bruins will have the last change. I want to see Kessel playing the point at times on the Power Play, taking a shift with the 3rd and 4th lines where possible, and sporadically switching wings with Lupul. Offensive production from Kessel will be the key to any potential success this post season, and it begins with keeping him out of big number 33’s shadow.

Disagree with our 5 point plan? Have a secret method of defeating Zdeno (Ed note: kryptonite?)? Or do you simply want to compliment Curt on his burgeoning career as talented Microsoft Paint artist? Hit us up on Twitter at @bcphockeyblog

Friday, February 10, 2012

Phil Kessel Is Never One To Rub It In

Scott Gomez: $7.4M well spent.  If Phil Kessel made the same number of dollars per goal this season as Gomez, his $220.7M salary would singlehandedly put the Leafs over the cap 3.43 times.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Something's Gotta Give

Yesterday, the Toronto Marlies played host to the Rochester Americans in a 4-3 Marlies win.  The Marlies are now 6 points clear of the Americans for first in their division and are playing some really good hockey for coach Dallas Eakins. 

In the win, both Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin scored goals and Korbinian Holzer added a pair of assists.

It's unfamiliar territory for a lot of Leaf fans, but we now find ourselves in a position where our farm team has developed some talent that needs to move beyond the AHL and start getting NHL minutes for the sake of their development.

Last week, we had a look at Nazem Kadri and how his stats compared against other forwards from his draft class and the draft class that preceded his.  Our conclusion was that, so far, Kadri is right on track in his development however that same track also makes him a fulltime NHLer no later than the beginning of next season.  If he's going to develop, the time is fast approaching where he'll need to get serious, fulltime NHL minutes.

Matt Frattin didn't look out of place during his time with the Maple Leafs, though he seemed to have been afflicted with whatever snake-bite-disease that has kept Nikolai Kulemin from scoring this season.  Frattin has re-found his scoring touch with the Marlies, potting 9 goals in 15 games (and has been firing at an even more prolific rate lately).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Phil Kessel: Chasing the Rocket

Ooooooh Yeaaaa indeed, you giant blue bowl of addictive sugary drink mix.

Our boy Phil Kessel has officially arrived, and we here at BCP are drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid by the giant humanoid pitcher.

Kessel’s emergence this year as an elite offensive star has been an absolute delight to watch. He’s been nothing short of electric most nights this season. Dazzling us with an explosive first step and acceleration, while sealing the deal with his vaunted wrist shot from the wing (patent pending).

At 24, this season has been the perfect storm of circumstances for Kessel; with his health issues a distant memory, a growing chemistry with running mate Joffrey Lupul, and a developing maturity at both ends of the rink.

When the Leafs traded for Phil in September of 2009 some believed his success in the yellow and black was a direct result of lining up with skilled playmaker Marc Savard. Those cries have turned to fading whispers, as Kessel has proven this year he can generate his own chances.

Center Tyler Bozak doesn’t have the skill-set of a Savard, but his ability to forecheck and play consistenly down low has meshed perfectly with Kessel's speed and dynamic release.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jake Gardiner's Chances At A Calder Nomination

The last Maple Leaf to win a major NHL award was Doug Gilmour's Selke win in 1992-93 (shout out to @Bambooshirt and @gottabe_KD).  That makes it nearly a two-decade drought for one of the league's proudest franchises.

This year, Phil Kessel has put his name into the hat in the Hart trophy race and I'm sure that should the Leafs make the playoffs, he'll garner some attention.  Joffrey Lupul will have as good a chance as anyone at the Masterton but any trophy that Jason Blake can win is not a trophy that I'm willing to consider a 'major' one. 

The Leafs' best hope this season may actually be Jake Gardiner in the Calder race.

Looking at the Calder favourites up to this point in the season, Gardiner will probably have a little work to do. 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 35 points so far this season but missed some time with a shoulder injury.  He left last night's game with another shoulder injury and with this season looking like the Oilers will be continuing their cherished tradition of June lottery picks, RNH may be encouraged to take it easy in order to avoid longterm shoulder problems -- the Oilers have been through this once with Hemsky after all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Man in the Middle: Who the Heck is Tyler Bozak?

Things shouldn't have been easy for Tyler Bozak this season. 

On July 2nd, centerman Tim Connolly signed a 2-year contract with the Leafs worth $9.5M, Mikhail Grabovski was coming off a career year with the Leafs and was called the team's most valuable and consistent player by his coach during his end of season press conference, and Bozak had posted an unspectacular 32 points in 82 games.

The 25 year old should have been a third line player and his -29 rating last season seemed to suggest that even that spot might be in jeopardy.

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switerzland they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock." -Orson Welles, The Third Man

Adversity can bring out the best in people -- it certainly seems to have had that effect on Bozak.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Return of James Reimer

He’s back, back again. Yes, James Reimer is back.  Tell a friend.

To say that James Reimer’s career with the Maple Leafs has been a whirlwind would be a dis-service to whirlwinds. Reimer, or Optimus, as I prefer to call him – has experienced all the euphoric highs, and devastating lows that playing in the Toronto sports market offers.

However, with back-to-back shutouts over the streaking Penguins on Wednesday, and a five to nothing trouncing of the effeminately haired Senators Saturday night, we at BCP are declaring that the 23 year old net minder is officially “back”.

While his return may lack the drama of Jordan’s triumphant comeback from the obscurity of minor AA baseball, or Lemieux’s return after a 3 year layoff in Pittsburgh, there is cause to celebrate as a Leaf fan. Reimer has had to battle for every second of playing time since being drafted back in 2006. To truly appreciate the journey he’s taken, and what the last 2 games could represent, let’s look back at the history of Reimer as a Leaf:

June 24, 2006The Leafs select Reimer in the 4th round of the entry draft, 99th overall, from the Red Deer Rebels (WHL). James flew almost completely under the radar in his draft class, as the Toronto media focused their reporting on the more highly touted prospects taken earlier through rounds 1 to 3. Jiri Tlusty was taken 13th overall, followed by Nikolai Kulemin (what a steal) at 44. There were 10 goalies taken ahead of Reimer, including Jonathan Bernier, Jonas Enroth, Steve Mason, and Seymon Varlamov.

December 28, 2008Reimer records his first career AHL win for the Toronto Marlies, beating the Manitoba Moose 3-2.

October 13, 2009The first official call up to the big club, as Reimer backs up Joey MacDonald in a game against the Colorado Avalanche. The call up was the result of an injury to starting goalie Vesa Toskala, sadly for Leaf fans, it was not career ending. Reimer didn’t end up seeing any time in the game, and was subsequently sent back to the Marlies.

December 20, 2010In a game against the Atlanta Thrashers Reimer makes his NHL debut, stepping in for the pulled Jonas Gustavsson. At this time Reimer was almost a complete unknown to Leaf fans, having been 5th on the depth chart heading into the 2010-11 season. The initial development plan laid out by team management was to keep him in the AHL for the entire season.

January 1, 2011The first win of his NHL career – 5 to 1 over the Ottawa Senators. Reimer was far from the official number one at this point, battling an aging Jean Sebastien Giguere and an inconsistent Jonas Gustavsson.

March 27, 2011I purchased my Optimus Reim blue T-shirt from a sporting store in the mall. This has nothing to do with Reimers development as a Leaf, or his career arc – it’s just an awesome nickname and an awesome shirt.

April 9, 2011The 2010-11 season drew to a close with a 4 to 1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. By this time Reimer was considered the goalie of the future in Toronto. His numbers to close out the year were consistent, finishing with a 2.60 GAA and a .921 save percentage, however critics wondered how he would fare once NHL shooters were given time to study his tendencies.

June 9, 2011The Leafs sign Reimer to a 3 year, $5.4 million dollar contract, carrying an annual cap hit of $1.8 million.

October 22, 2011In a game against the rival Canadiens, Reimer is clipped in the head by winger Brian Gionta as he cut across the crease. There is no penalty on the play and Reimer is said to have sustained a head/neck injury, and is listed as day-to-day.

November 9, 2011Reimer remains out with what some are calling ‘concussion-like symptoms’ and there is speculation that he has had a number of concussions in the past. Toronto Star reporter Dave Feschuk decides to call Reimer’s Mom for further information, sparking a media frenzy, and allowing Brain Burke to get angry on camera – always entertaining.

December 3, 2011He returns to the crease against the Boston Bruins, allowing 4 goals on 30 shots in the loss. This is the first game in what would be a string of inconsistent outings which resulted in the team turning to Gustavsson through the holidays and into January.

A lot of critics are citing Reimer’s increased confidence as the source of this recent turnaround, and consecutive shutouts. I hate to use the word “confidence” when describing hockey players because I feel like it diminishes the professionalism and talent they possess when we agree that emotional fluctuations in their confidence can have a dramatic impact on their ability on the ice.

One of Reimer's major issues this season has been his performance (or the team's performance) on the penalty kill which had decimated an otherwise perfectly adequate save percentage.  With the Leafs' PK now performing admirably, Reimer has achieved the kinds of results that many Leaf fans expected from him.

Something certainly has clicked for Reimer over the past 2 games, but I don’t think it’s psychological. I believe we’re watching the evolution of a goalie who is only 23 years of age, and still developing as a pro. I hope this is the beginning of a second have surge akin to the heroics Reimer displayed to close out last year. If he can return to that form, and steal games in the manner in which he’s capable, maybe, just maybe, we’ll punch our ticket to the big dance this spring.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Battle of Ontario Has Its Champion!

Mikhail Grabovski.   Slayer of pineapples, smiter of Kostitsyns, and all-around bad-ass dude.

He doesn't take this rivalry lightly and neither should you.

Far From The [Maddening] Crowd: Why We All Need To Relax On Nazem Kadri

The word 'bust' has been thrown around a little too liberally of late.

Maybe the 2003 Draft Class has just elevated everyone's expectations beyond all reason.  Maybe Luke Schenn having an incredible rookie season as a 5th overall pick changed our definition of what it means for a draft pick to have succeeded.  Whatever the reason, our heart of our shoes, we Leaf fans can't seem to give Kadri his dues.

Now granted, Kadri hasn't outperformed some of the players from his draft class.  Tavares, Duchene, and Evander Kane have all established themselves as fulltime NHLers and all play prominent roles on their respective teams.  Let's remember though, that these players were selected before Kadri and there's a reason that was the case.

If we look at the forwards selected more immediately in Kadri's range, we have Brayden Schenn (5th), Nazem Kadri (7th), Scott Glennie (8th), Magnus Paajarvi (10th), and Zack Kassian (13th).  None of these players has truly made their mark on their respective teams up to this point.

Sam Gagner: Also Not A Fan of -32

With people wondering where Sam Gagner's 8-point outburst came from, we here at BCP have our own theory... 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Nazem Kadri: 7th Overall and a Bust?

There are few things I remember more vividly than the events that transpired on June 26th, 2009. I was at my then girlfriend’s house trying to convince her that watching the new Sex and City movie on DVD was not nearly as important as watching Leafs' future unfold in what was certain to be a pivotal moment in the looming rebuild.

We argued a bit, and she begrudgingly went upstairs, allowing me to the watch the draft on the couch – which is subsequently where I slept. I did, sadly, see Sex and City later that week – I’ll never understand why Carrie took Big back, leaving her at the altar, proving that he wasn’t the man she had built him up to be throughout the series. Sigh, but I digress...

I called up Curt S, who was then only known as “Curt”. We talked over our predictions as to how the draft would transpire, with both of use agreeing that the odds of Duchene, Tavares , Hedman, or Kane slipping all the way down to 7 (when the Leafs first picked) were slim to none. Our goal, like that of most of Leaf Nation, was to somehow trade up and choose Brayden Schenn, uniting him with older brother Luke.

At the close of the 4th pick we had sadly missed out on the top tier of draftees, then Schenn went to the Los Angeles Kings at 5. As pick 7 approached it was agreed unanimously that Magnus Parjavi-Svensson (then known as Svensson-Pajaarvi) from Sweden was the best option left on the board. His size and speed would be a great addition to our top 9, and many scouts had compared him (unfairly) to a young Peter Forsberg.

Brian Burke stepped up to the mic, confident as ever, to announce Toronto’s 1st round selection. He went on to choose Nazem Kadri of the London Knights. I suddenly heard a loud crash on the other end of the phone, and it went silent. I tried calling back a couple times, and eventually got through to Curt. He has thrown his cell phone in disgust against a nearby wall, and needed a few moments to collect himself – he really wanted Magnus – I think it was around this time we decided to start a blog.