Tag:Toronto Maple Leafs
Posted on: August 29, 2011 2:26 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2011 2:59 pm
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Eastern Conference spots seem set for some time

By Brian Stubits

Sometimes simple and obvious things just hit you. Things you had realized before but for some reason they jump to your attention again. It tends to happen a lot more often during the lazy hockey days of summer.

That's exactly what happened when I began to think about the makeup of hockey markets/organizations, particularly in the Eastern Conference. What popped into my head was the fact that the contenders this season are likely to be the same as they were last season, and for the most part the same they were the season before that. And it's likely they will remain the contenders for the season after next, too.

At that moment I realized the NHL is starting to resemble the NBA in a way. And that's not good. One of the biggest reasons the NBA is in a lockout that seems to have no end in sight (Ken Berger and the Eye on Basketball guys have that covered) is the very issue that only a handful of teams enter every season with a chance to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Everybody's favorite stat about the (lack of) parity in the NBA is the simple fact that since 1984, only eight different organizations have won the championship. That's eight teams in 28 seasons.

Now look at the Eastern Conference in hockey. The Capitals have been atop their division for four straight seasons. The Penguins and Flyers are perennial contenders. Same goes for the Bruins while the Rangers, Canadiens and Sabres are regulars in the 5-8 range in the standings.

Of course that leaves teams like the Islanders (four-year playoff drought), Maple Leafs (six-year drought), Jets/Thrashers (one appearance in franchise history), Hurricanes (perennial contender for first runnerup these days) and the Panthers (10-year drought) to fend at the bottom.

So where do these teams fit? When you have a team like the Islanders seeming ready to step up and compete for the playoffs, who are they going to surpass? The Eastern Conference is full of traditional hockey markets in the American northeast and Canada, big markets either in hockey-crazy cities and ones with rich histories. The West has a few of those as well -- namely Vancouver, Detroit and Chicago -- but not as many as the East.

But have a look at the chart below detailing the past four seasons. Five teams have made the playoffs in each of those seasons and four teams have failed to advance beyond the regular season even once.

Last four seasons
Team Average finish (Eastern Conference) Playoff appearances 2011-12 payroll (capgeek.com)
Capitals 1.75 4 $65,190,128
Penguins 3.5 4 $62,737,500
Bruins 4.5 4 $56,682,976
Flyers 5 4 $64,124,761
Devils 5 3 $58,429,167
Canadiens 5.75 4 $59,770,510
Rangers 7.25 3 $62,935,334
Sabres 7.5 2 $67,895,357
Hurricanes 8.75 1 $49,775,000
Senators 9 2 $51,845,834
Lightning 11.5 1 $59,326,083
Maple Leafs 12.25 0 $59,115,000
Jets/Thrashers 12.25 0 $48,284,166
Panthers 12.25 0 $49,882,042
Islanders 13.75 0 $45,970,166

You get the feeling that at least five spots are locks in the East this year with two more almost assuredly the same. In the lock category you start with four of the five teams that have been staples: The Capitals, Penguins, Flyers and Bruins. Add in the up-and-coming Lightning for good measure. Hard to imagine any of those five not making it this season. In the next two spots I think you can add the Rangers and Sabres. With new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres seem destined to become another playoff regular. These are teams that all improved (or in the case of Boston, didn't have to improve, but more or less stay in tact after winning the Stanley Cup) and were already playoff caliber.

By my stellar mathematical abilities, that leaves one spot essentially up for grabs. Among the group fighting for it will be the Canadiens (the other team to make it each of the past four seasons), Devils and, well, the rest of the conference. Outside of the Senators who are building for a few years from now and maybe the Jets, every team in the conference looks to be better now then they were at the end of last season.

And here's the thing: I don't see how it will be easy to unseat these teams at the top of the conference. Sure, you will have the occasional team slipping through like the Lightning. To extend the analogy back to the NBA, that's like the Oklahoma City Thunder building after years of struggle to a competitive level. But they still have to fight through the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs, all of which are almost guaranteed to be in the hunt. It's hard to imagine a time when the Lakers won't be contenders, and when they have been (post-Shaquille O'Neal) they rebuilt in a hurry and won the title shortly thereafter.

That's what I'm seeing for the Eastern Conference, that kind of perennial favorite similarity. It makes sense, obviously. The best free agents will want to go to the best teams in the best hockey cities and the biggest pay checks. That's to be expected. And that's a huge reason why these teams are able to stay above the equator. It doesn't hurt to have the infrastructures they all have at their disposal, too. From fan support to smart organizational minds and moves, they win more often than not. Success begets success. It's no coincidence that these are also the teams most heavily featured on national TV.

Let's look at the Capitals. Owner Ted Leonsis has been mentioned his 10-to-15-year plan ... not a plan that calls for 10-to-15 years to win the Cup (although it's starting to look that way) but instead to keep the Caps a Cup contender for that time. And because Washington D.C. has shown itself to be a strong hockey market and is appealing to free agents, it's easy to see how the Caps can sustain that. You have a young Alexander Ovechkin on your roster? Lock him up! Just throw a 13-year contract in front of one of the sport's best players and he's aboard for the long haul. Try and do the same when you're in Tampa Bay and you have a situation where you are only able to secure Steven Stamkos for five seasons.

The reasons are obvious, much the same as the Yankees in baseball (and now the Red Sox). You can pen each of those teams into the playoffs before the season even starts and you are most likely going to be right. But this isn't supposed to happen in hockey, not with a supposedly game-evening hard salary cap. It's just the inherent advantages are too tough for a lot of teams to compete with. Essentially, the margin for error is razor thin for the lesser markets/organizations.

Toronto is the exception (sorry Leafs fans) to the big-market success model. It is probably the best hockey market in the NHL, has an incredibly devoted fan base and has not been afraid to spend. But even the Leafs are struggling these days to break that glass ceiling and butt their way into the playoffs. They couldn't beat out the Rangers for Brad Richards' services in free agency.

Now this is why they play the game. You can't lock in these teams to the playoffs. After all, who saw that Devils season coming last year? You still have to earn your way into the postseason. But if you are a fan of one of the bottom-feeders in the East, I'd suggest you cool your jets. The East's upper echelon is pretty well full of NHL aristocrats. The competition will be better and the spots will likely be more fiercely fought for, but it will be hard to break through.

In the West you can hear the mid-level teams saying "welcome to our world."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 29, 2011 9:43 am
Edited on: August 29, 2011 9:46 am
 

Daily Skate: Penguins coach Bylsma eyes U.S. job

By Brian Stubits

NATIONAL DREAM Dan Byslma isn't on any sort of hot seat as the Penguins coach, but he is looking for his next job. That's because Disco Dan has indicated he's interested in coaching the U.S. men's national team (via Sporting News) when the 2014 Olympics come around. ""I'd be more than willing to be a part of a staff, but my goal isn't just to be a part of a staff," the Michigan native said. "At least, the written goal is not just to be part of the staff."

CONCUSSION TALK CONTINUES: In the two-day Molson Export Quebec Hockey Summit in Quebec, the primary point of conversation surrounded the ongoing concussion talk (via Globe and Mail) and what some would call an epidemic in the NHL. With the possibility of Sidney Crosby missing more time, executives are perhaps looking at this issue even more seriously. Not that they weren't before, but Crosby's possible further absence seems to have spurred talks with one goal in mind: reducing concussions. Here's what Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier had to say: "“There are kids who suffer two or three concussions in a year and are pushed to keep playing. I can tell you that if one of my sons gets a concussion, his season is over.”

CAN KESSEL GET OVER THE HILL?: Obviously the Maple Leafs gave up a lot for Phil Kessel, so there expecting a lot from him. He's been an all-star since he came to Toronto, but the fans there are waiting to see more from their top player. That leads us to Maple Leafs Host Stove's burning question ... can Kessel score more than 40 this season? They take a stab at answering that question.

'CANES QUESTION: The Hurricanes was a middle-of-the-pack team as far as scoring last season, so it's not as if there was a drought in Carolina. But with one of the team's three 20-plus goal scorers from last season (Erik Cole) out of town, Chip Patterson at the News Observer wonders who will do the scoring for the 'Canes this season outside of Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner?

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Yes, the season is getting closer. Much closer. Just take a look at what's going on in Columbus' Nationwide Arena ... the ice is coming back (from @ddawley twitpic).

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 22, 2011 12:29 pm
 

Belak headlines cast for 'Battle of the Blades'

By Brian Stubits

I'm no Dancing with the Stars fan, but I know a lot of people are. The show has been a monster hit since its inception and it has seen its fair share of athletes come through. So it seems only right that Canada came up with its own version of the show ... but added ice to the equation.

Battle of the Blades is a show on CBC that has the same concept as the dancing show -- combine a star with a dancer and whittle down to a winner -- but throws in some skates for good measure. Every team is made up of a hockey player and a figure skater and they compete in the world of artistic skating.

Basically, the show is a competition made out of the movie The Cutting Edge. Toe pick!

We bring this to attention because the CBC announced the contestants for the third season coming up. The list is headed by heavy fisted Wade Belak, who spent most of his brawling career with the Maple Leafs. Joining him is former No. 1 overall draft pick Bryan Berard, Brad May, Boyd Devereaux, Curtis Leschyshyn, Cale Hulse and the show's first female hockey competitor, Tessa Bonhomme.

Oh, and Jeremy Roenick is one of the show's regular judges. Who thought the guy would be this busy after retirement?

Last season's champion team was Valeri Bure with figure skater Ekaterina Gordeeva. The first season was won by Craig Simpson and Jamie Sale (you will remember her from the shared gold medal controversy at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics).

Belak isn't the first fighter to bust out his graceful side. Georges Laraque was on the cast for Season 2, and while he didn't beat Bure's team, he did have one memorable, and scary, moment.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 19, 2011 9:22 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 9:29 pm
 

Brian Burke talks shootout, overtime

burkesoBy: Adam Gretz

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke appeared on the Brady and Lang morning show on Fan 590 Radio in Toronto Friday morning and spent some time talking about the recent Research, Development and Orientation camp. The discussion eventually shifted toward the shootout and overtime, a topic of great debate among hockey fans.

When asked how the NHL should decide tie games during the regular season Burke said that, ideally, the two teams would continue to play until somebody scores a goal just like they do in the playoffs, but admitted that is not possible for an 82-game regular season. And he's right. Some of those playoff games end up going an two additional 20-minute periods, and that's just not going to happen over the course of a seven month regular season.

Regarding the shootout itself, Burke expressed his overall dislike for it before saying that he did vote for it and will continue to vote for it.

Said Burke, "I loathe the shootout. I hate it. I detest it. I despise it. I don't know if I can be any clearer, but our fans don't. Our fans like it, and it is a way to resolve games that shouldn't end in a tie all the time, and it's exciting. So I voted for it and I will continue to vote for it."

Whether or not all fans like it is up for debate. Purists and tradionalists that don't want to see any changes to the game likely share Burke's overall feelings toward the shootout, and probably wouldn't be as willing as he has been to vote for it to remain in the NHL. But while fans may complain about it, Burke did accurately point out that, for as polarizing as it may be among fans, you don't see any of them leaving games before shootouts take place (and of course you won't, because that's where the game is ultimately going to be decided). Look at it another way: It's probably the one of the few times other than a goal or a fight that fans, as a whole, come to their feet during a hockey game. For whatever that's worth.

One of the ideas that's been kicked around to help reduce the number of shootouts, while still making sure games don't end in ties, is an idea presented by Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland that would involve four minutes of four-on-four hockey, followed by three minutes of three-on-three hockey.

Burke likes that proposal, but also pointed out that extending the overtime period can be problematic due to the additional wear and tear players would go through having to play a potential seven-minute overtime period a number of times over the course of the season.

"Longer overtime is not an option unless the union agrees to it," said Burke.

He added that he would vote for such a proposal -- and feels most people in the league would as well -- and would also vote for anything that reduces the number of shootouts.

Even though he will also continue to vote for the shootout.

You can listen to his entire appearence on the show at Fan 590.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: August 17, 2011 9:06 am
Edited on: August 17, 2011 2:16 pm
 

Daily Skate: The NHL's new fight

By: Adam Gretz

THE NHL'S NEW FIGHT: As reactions to Rick Rypien's death continue to pour in, National Post columnist Bruce Arthur put together a tremendous column on Tuesday nighttalking about the new fight that the NHL has on its hands: depression. Writes Arthur:
we don’t know enough about why he might have been depressed, about whether fighting was a trigger for that depression. We just know that he suffered from a disease that is still not understood in society, or in sports. Studies have shown that depression is severely underreported in professional sport; even if this case, in which the Canucks attempted to procure various avenues of treatment without putting pressure on the young man, Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis admits they didn’t have an established course to follow. “There is,” he said, “no blueprint.”
The entire column is definitely interesting and worth checking out.

SOME POSITIVE ATTENTION FOR LEBDA: Defenseman Brett Lebda was recently bought out by the Nashville Predators after they acquired him following what was a disappointing run with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His play was the butt of many jokes in Detroit (his first NHL team) and Toronto, and Michael Petrella of The Production Line points out a lot of the positive things he's been able to do throughout his career.

CHECK OUT BRYZGALOV'S NEW MASK: Apparently, Ilya Bryzgalov likes tigers because they are featured on what is supposedly his new mask that he'll wear as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. InGoal Magazine has the pictures.

LEAGUE TO TEST CURVED GLASS: The Research, Development and Orientation camp kicks off today in Ontario, and Dan Rosen of NHL.com has a look at one of the possible changes the league will be testing: curved glass that would replace the padded turnbuckles that used to sit near the end of the player benches.

ALFREDSSON RETURNS TO ICE: Ottawa Senators forward hit the ice for the first time since early February and managed to skate for more than an hour on Tuesday. The session appears to have been a success as the veteran winger said "it felt good to be back on the ice," via Martin Cleary of the Ottawa Citizen. The Senators can certainly use him -- and his offense -- this upcoming season.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: August 16, 2011 5:43 pm
Edited on: August 16, 2011 8:27 pm
 

A look at Zach Bogosian's power play usage

BogosianBy: Adam Gretz

On Monday we looked at the possibility of players potentially wanting out of (and avoiding) Winnipeg, and how captain Andrew Ladd would prefer to not have anybody on his team that doesn't want to be there. Of course, there a lot of reasons as to why a player would want to avoid a particular team or situation, including playing time.

Sportsnet's Mike Brophy put together an article this week that examines three teams (Toronto, Los Angeles and Winnipeg) that are playing hardball with their young restricted free agent defenseman (Luke Schenn, Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian, all of whom were selected at the top of the 2008 NHL draft). Regarding Bogosian, Brophy cites a source in Atlanta (where Bogosian played the first three years of his career) that suggests the 21-year-old puck-moving defenseman struggled offensively in 2010-11 because he was replaced on the power play by Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. With those two likely to man the top unit going forward, Brophy suggests that lack of power play time (which could also cut into his point production) may impact Bogosian's desire to sign a long-term deal with the Jets.

That is certainly understandable and believable, but there is one problem with it: Bogosian's power play usage didn't really change much in 2010-11. In fact, he saw more power play time per game in 2010-11 than he did in his first two seasons in the NHL.

His production dropped, but his ice-time didn't.

Zach Bogosian Power Play Usage
Year Games Total Power Play Time Power Play Time/Game Power Play Points
2008-09 47 52:30 1:07 5
2009-10 81 134:23 1:39 6
2010-11 71 140:43 1:58 4

Was he playing as part of the top power play unit? Not always, as some of that was time on the Thrashers' second power play unit (his most common power play partner on the blue line was Johnny Oduya, but he also saw plenty of time with both Enstrom and Byfuglien). Still, it's not like he was playing top power play minutes (or putting up huge power play numbers) in 2008 and 2009. Even before the addition of Byfuglien his power play time was third on the team among defenseman in 2009-10, trailing Enstrom and veteran Pavel Kubina.

Bogosian is a gifted player and is still extremely young at a position that can take some time to develop, but his decline in offense in 2010-11 seems to have had more to do with a down year than losing out on power play time to Byfuglien and Enstrom.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: August 12, 2011 10:14 am
 

Daily Skate: Lucic Cup day muted; injury updates

By Brian Stubits

LOUSY FOR LUCIC: The Stanley Cup continues to make the rounds among the Bruins, and now it's Milan Lucic's turn. He was the player that had the honor of raising the Cup in his hometown, being met with a mixture of cheers and boos. As we have seen already this summer, a lot of players like to bring the Cup home and share it with the public, but Lucic won't be doing that seeing as how rough some in Vancouver took the Canucks' Finals loss. There was even a party slated for a beach that was scrapped due to fear of hooligans ruining the day. Instead he will have a low-key affair (The Bruins Blog) at his Vancouver home with some family and friends. It's the smart move, but that doesn't make it any less sad to hear.

INJURY ISSUES: When the Maple Leafs traded for Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi, there was some trepidation considering Lombardi missed almost the entirety of last season after suffering the second concussion of his career. Kevin Allen at USA Today says the Leafs and Lombardi are expecting him to be present when camp begins. Allen also goes on to offer updates on a bunch of other injured players such as David Perron, Sidney Crosby and Jonas Hiller.

REWRITING HISTORY: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is doing a summer series on a bunch of what-if scenarios in Minnesota sports, the latest being on if the North Stars never left the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Sure, the city would have a championship to boast about in the last 20 years, but it wouldn't have the Wild and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Worth the robbing of the team?

DOUGHTY SPECULATION: The negotiations go on and on and on in the Drew Doughty talks with the Kings, the possibility growing that they will continue well into September. So while we all wait, Red Light District decided to take a gander at what Doughty's contract should be worth, which should put him at the top of the Kings payroll.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 10, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Predators reportedly buy out defenseman Lebda

By Brian Stubits

The Nashville Predators won't be stuck with Brett Lebda and his contract for next season after all.

The Predators bought out the final year of the defenseman's contract, according to Josh Cooper of the Tennesseean. Lebda was going to make $1.4 million next season, the completion of the two-year, $2.9 million deal he inked with the Maple Leafs.

Lebda was acquired by the Predators in a trade that sent Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi to Toronto, a trade so one-sided that it was immediately clear what Nashville was up to. The writing had been on the wall that it was a salary dump situation and that Lebda wasn't really wanted. He was placed on waivers and cleared, leaving Nashville with two options: keeping him in the organization or buying him out.

Now he's a free agent, looking for a team. Considering he got through waivers -- and the fact that he was genuinely bad last season for the Leafs -- it might be hard for him to find a new gig. But he is still on the right side of 30 (for another few months, at least) so he could intrigue some team at a much lower contract level.

It's no coincidence Lebda enjoyed his best seasons early in his career with the Red Wings when he played with Chris Chelios. But his numbers have gone down, to the point where he played only 41 games last season with the Leafs, posting a minus-14. Rough.

It will be interesting to see if he'll get another chance in the NHL to wipe away the stench of his Toronto tenure.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com