Leafs Nation are a passionate bunch! We wear our hearts on our sleeves and aren’t afraid to fight to make a point so it’s always an exciting time when a new trade rumour, free agent signing, or other Toronto Maple Leafs news hits the web. Every Wednesday, I’ll break down what’s “in the news” and give you my perspective. You know what they say about opinions- everybody has one, some just stink more than others! This is how I see it… in my VIEW FROM THE BLUES!
Training Camp Starts…
The offseason is officially over as the Leafs began their 2015-16 training camp this past Thursday. The team gathered in Toronto for media day before boarding a flight to begin the on-ice portion on Friday. It was the usual 5-month layoff for our beloved Maple Leafs, but for some reason it felt even longer than usual this time around. This was probably due to the fact that fans had to endure one of the worst seasons in recent memory. The 2014-15 campaign was like a Pauly Shore movie, easily forgettable and pretty much unwatchable for most Leafs fans!
In fact, the scene was so horrible that it almost made me long for the Ballard years! Those teams didn’t win either, but at least they were fun to watch. Unfortunately, last season’s edition of the blue and white had no Wendel Clark to score 30 plus goals and hitting everything that moved. It also had no Rick Vaive, Borje Salming or Russ Courtnall.
What we were forced to watch was enough to make some fans boo the team off the ice at the ACC. Some threw jerseys onto the ice in disgust, while others threw waffles. No wait, the waffles were from a different horrible season. You’ll have to excuse me as it’s easy to mix up horrible seasons when there have been so many in the past 14 years.
However, there is now reason for us to smile as a lot has changed in since the season ended. The coach has changed. The general manager has changed. Phil Kessel is gone. Do you smell that folks? That’s hockey and it’s back!
The Leafs camp began in Bedford, Nova Scotia this past Friday with 69 players taking to the ice in three different groups. That number was brought down from 73 just a day earlier, but we’ll get to that later…
Training Camp Notes…
Down Goes Brown?
Second year pro Connor Brown did very well at camp while playing on a line with Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk. The 21-year old winger has looked stronger and is now tipping the scales at almost 185 pounds, far cry from the 150 he was when drafted by the Leafs in the 6th-round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Brown is a great example of how boys turn into men in the few years after being taken in the draft. It remains to be seen whether the Leafs are serious about promoting him to a full-time spot with the big club.
Harrington Surprises On Blueline
Another big surprise so far has been defenceman Scott Harrington, who was acquired by the Leafs in July as part of the Phil Kessel trade. He has made himself very noticeable while paired with Roman Polak and has shown a very aggressive side. Dust-ups with both Joffrey Lupul and James Van Riemsdyk showed that Harrington is serious about cracking the Leafs opening night lineup.
Who’s Number one?
New coach Mike Babcock says he’s watching and wanting a number one goaltender to emerge between Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer. “I’ll sleep better at night and I won’t have to make that decision every day when I come to the rink, said Babcock. “I don’t have to listen to you (media ask) everyday ‘Who’s starting tomorrow?’ I think we should all know who’s starting tomorrow because one guy is better.”
Tie Goes To The Veteran
Babcock has said on several occasions that he use a “tie goes to the veteran” mentality when selecting his roster. However, even if players like Brown, Nylander, Hyman, Harrington, Percy or Loov fail to crack the roster, it may not be their last chance at seeing NHL action this season. If the Leafs are in fact looking to move veteran players at the deadline in March then they will need to bring players up to fill those empty spots on the roster.
Lamoriello On The Hunt?
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Leafs new general manager Lou Lamoriello would love to acquire center Travis Zajac from his old club. My question is: why? This club already has enough older players that will be on the wrong side of their thirties when cup contention is achieved. Adding another makes no sense at all.
The First Cuts
The club trimmed the roster on Sunday evening assigning 16 players to the AHL or back to junior. Heading to the Marlies were forwards Eric Faille, T.J Foster, Justin Johnson, Jack Rodewald, Matt Rupert, Ryan Rupert, Nikolai Skladnichenko, Brady Vail and defencemen Justin Holl and Max Nicastro. Forwards Martin Dzierkals and Michael Joly, defencemen Stephen Desrocher, Cody Donaghey, and Aiden Jamieson, and goaltender Lucas Peressini will all head back to their various junior clubs.
The Second Cuts
More cuts came on Wednesday when the club sent forwards Casey Bailey, Frederik Gauthier, Brendan Leipsic, and Josh Leivo to the Marlies, and Travis Dermott, Andrew Nielsen, Dmytro Timashov back to their respective junior clubs.
All That Remains
After the cuts, the Leafs now have 46 players left in camp: 26 forwards, 15 defencemen, and 5 goalies. Expect that number to come down again before the end of the week.
Pre-Season Game Notes…
Mon, Sept 21- Air Canada Centre- Toronto- 4 Ottawa- 1
- Mike Babcock and his assistant D.J Smith were behind the bench for the first home game of the pre-season. The Leafs looked strong in this one demonstrating a ferocious forecheck and physicality not shown in years. It didn’t take long for the Babcock influence to show.
- Jonathan Bernier was impressive in his first start stopping 28 of 29 shots and showing outstanding rebound control. This performance was the first step in seizing the job as number one goaltender.
- P.A Parenteau scored twice while skating on a line with Nick Spaling and Daniel Winnik. He showed a quick release scoring both of his goals while playing on his off side as the 4th forward on power plays.
- Spaling and Stuart Percy were the other Leaf goal scorers.
- William Nylander went 12 for 19 in the faceoff circle and set Parenteau up with a beautiful pass for his second goal of the night.
- Connor Brown skated on the wing in the spot formerly occupied by Phil Kessel, on a line with Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk and certainly didn’t look out of place.
- Roman Polak was in a particularly ornery mood throwing his weight around frequently and pummeling Davis Dziurzynski after the latter rocked Brown with a clean hit.
Leafs Player of the Game- Jonathan Bernier
Mon, Sept 21- Canadian Tire Centre- Toronto-4 Ottawa- 3 (OT)
- The bench in this split-squad game was run by Babcock’s assistant Jim Hiller, with whom he also worked with in Detroit.
- Joffrey Lupul scored twice including the game winner in 3 on 3 overtime and was the best player on the ice for the Leafs by far.
- The other Leaf goals were scored by defencemen Dion Phaneuf and T.J Brennan.
- Goaltending duties were shared by Garrett Sparks and James Reimer, who gave up all three Senators markers and looked shaky at times.
- Rich Clune, who signed an AHL contract with the Marlies this summer, did a good job of playing the agitator role. His rambunctious style of play drew the attention of Senators tough guy Chris Neil at one point but the two failed to engage in fisticuffs.
Leafs Player of the Game- Joffrey Lupul
Tues, Sept 22- Bell Centre- Toronto-2 Montreal- 1 (OT)
- Antoine Bibeau and Garrett Sparks looked good in goal for Toronto. The Marlies will be in good shape between the pipes this year.
- William Nylander looked good once again scoring on a beautiful give and go with Jake Gardiner.
- Mitch Marner played in his first pro-game and performed well on a line with Nylander and Leo Komarov.
- Dmytro Timashov continued to impress with his slick passing ability.
- Jake Gardiner scored the winner in OT on a great pass from Brad Boyes. The latter has taken a great first step at earning an NHL contract for this season.
- The Leafs dressed a young lineup which included 2015 draft picks Marner, Timashov, Travis Dermott, and Andrew Neilson.
Leaf Player of the Game- Jake Gardiner
Fri, Sept 25- Buffalo Sabres- Air Canada Centre
Sat, Sept 26- Montreal Canadiens- Air Canada Centre
Tues, Sept 29- Buffalo Sabres- First Niagara Center
Training Camp had barely begun on Thursday when news of a 6-player trade hit the newswire. Fans were shocked when details came out and it was revealed that the club had shipped out a handful of players.
Michael Grabner- F- 6’0- 185
To New York…
Taylor Beck- F- 6’2- 206
Carter Verhaeghe-F- 6’2- 185
Christopher Gibson- G- 6’1- 190
Matt Finn- D- 6’0- 197
Tom Nilsson- D- 6’0- 183
It’s certainly a shock when an organization that is clearly heading into youth mode trades 5 players who are all under the age of 25 for a soon to be 28-year old winger with a history of underachievement. However, there are deeper meanings behind this trade that the average hockey fan may not know. Yes, the Leafs certainly gave up some youth but the truth is…they really had no choice.
Each NHL team is allowed to carry a maximum of 50 players signed to contracts for any given season, including players on the active roster and injured reserve list. Before the trade, Toronto had 49 players signed and had little room to make any roster moves. That number is now down to 45, giving the club some options heading into camp. With players like Curtis Glencross, Brad Boyes, Devin Setoguchi, and Mark Fraser invited to camp on PTO’s, it was absolutely necessary that the club clear roster space.
In order to make such a drastic change in their contract number with just one trade, they had to give up some young talent but let’s not get too upset. The club didn’t lose anybody who figured in their long-term plans anyways. In fact, with the exception of Beck who was only acquired two months ago, none of the players heading to the Islanders were even a lock to make the Marlies this season. Christopher Gibson has been a class act and a loyal soldier for this organization in the past two seasons, but was set to battle Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau for the two spots on the team. The loser was set to take up residence in sunny Orlando, Florida for the winter.
Matt Finn and Tom Nilsson played a combined 72 games with the Marlies last season and were in tough to find playing time on a very deep Marlies blue line. Stuart Percy, Scott Harrington, Viktor Loov, and T.J Brennan will probably be in line for most of the Top 4 minutes and Pettr Granberg will return shortly after having surgery on his achilles. The Marlies also signed Caledonia-born Andrew Campbell, who played 33 games with the Coyotes last season.
However, in my opinion, the biggest reason that Finn and Nilsson became “the odd men out” was because of the impressive play of Rinat Valiev and to a lesser extent, Travis Dermott in last weekend’s Rookie Tournament. Valiev performed admirably during the tournament and seems poised to play a big role with the Marlies this season. Dermott will play at least another season in the OHL and will represent his country at the World Junior Championships. Without getting into too much detail, Finn was simply “not as good” as those two and it was quite possible that both he and Nilsson would start the season in the ECHL.
Carter Verhaeghe was a third-round selection of the Leafs in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and is quite possibly one of those classic cases of fans overvaluing the prospects in the organization. The word on Verhaeghe is that he actually regressed in his fourth and final season in the OHL last season. An “ordinary” performance in the rookie tournament last weekend made him expendable. Beck was essentially New York’s “reward” for helping the Leafs gain contract space. He will fit in well on a young and exciting Islanders team, though he may not see the top-six scoring role there that he spoke of in recent interviews with Toronto media.
So who is Michael Grabner? Fans may remember him as the guy who scored two shorthanded goals in the same game against the Leafs in the 2013-14 season. Injuries have limited him to just 143 games in the past three years in which he scored 36 goals and 60 points. Grabner’s biggest asset is his speed which may make him a big part of new coach Mike Babcock’s plans. He kills penalties, has decent hands, and could bounce back with a great year if he stays healthy.
The reality of the Grabner acquisition is that he is in the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $3 million. The Leafs will make it a priority to put him in a position to succeed in order to flip him at the deadline for a pick or prospect. Yes, another short-term, low risk solution for a team seeking help heading into the playoffs. If all goes well, Mark Hunter will be picking 37 times in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
All kidding aside, this was a trade that needed to happen. As Paul Hendrick said on this week’s Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast those extra contracts are “precious” and open up a lot of flexibility for the Leafs to make more moves. Losing a few younger players is bound to happen once in a while. In fact, just this past February the Leafs dealt Carter Ashton and David Broll for what eventually amounted to nothing. So we lost a few prospects- were any of them named Marner, Nylander, Kapanen, or Brown? I rest my case. Life will go on for our Leafs, as it will for the fans.
The Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast…
This week was our first show recorded after the start of training camp and there was lots to talk about including Mike Babcock’s intense, up tempo practices and the reactions of the players. Of course, the biggest news of the week was the aforementioned six-player deal that brought Michael Grabner to Toronto. “The Voice of the Marlies” Todd Crocker joined the show in the first period to give his take on the trade and how it affects the Marlies and the organization as a whole. In the second period, we were joined by Paul Hendrick of Leafs TV. Henny was supposed to join the show for two periods but only had time for one as he was on route to the Halifax Airport to catch a flight to Ottawa for Monday’s pre-season game against the Senators.
We all have some great memories as Leafs fans and chances are that our guest next week more than likely provided the soundtrack to most of them. That’s right, next week we will be joined by the legendary Joe Bowen! Known as “The Voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs.” Joe started calling Leafs games in 1982 and is sure to have some great stories to tell!
Mystery Leaf Contest…
If you’re a regular listener, then you’ll know that we have an awesome contest going on right now as well. The prize is this awesome framed print of Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour commemorating the the 1993 season. The print is approximately 30″ x 24″ and would look great on the wall of any mancave but is still classy enough to fit into the decor of any room in the house. So how do you win it? In every one of the first 12 episodes, three clues will be given out at different points throughout the show. Those clues will all be hints to the identity of the “Mystery Leaf” player of that particular week. At the end of episode 12, you should have all of the players names written down.
Email all 12 “Mystery Leafs” in order to: firstname.lastname@example.org along with your phone number. All correct entries will be entered into a draw and the winner will be picked on the air during a future show. I can’t wait to see who wins!
Tweet of the Week…
I don’t mean to be a “homer” with this week’s “Tweet of the Week” but this one was too good to not share. If you listen to our Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast then you’ll know that we like to mix in a little humour between periods with some commercials featuring products that all have a bit of a Maple Leaf theme to them. One of our loyal listeners decided to test his photoshop skills with this tweet.
Thanks Big Red!
Please send all comments, opinions, and hate mail to: email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter: @robb_ellis
I’ll catch ya next week… FROM THE BLUES!