Archive for the ‘HOCKEY’ Category

Jason Head_Shot[1]

By Jason Sutcliffe

A week ago the Toronto Maple Leafs announced the contract extension of captain Dion Phaneuf; 49 million dollars over seven years. Leafs nation seems to be fairly divided. Some support and agree with the decision and others show disdain and frustration towards the idea of paying Phaneuf 7-million/year.

What do I think about it? I am a here and now kind of guy. I do not care what a player has done; I care about what he has done lately. There are definitely pro’s and con’s to Dion’s game, and what he brings to the Leafs.

He plays an average of 24min23sec/game against the best the league has to offer and to this point is an impressive plus-13. Passing up on resigning the 28-year-old captain would have left a big hole to fill on the back-end. Those are a lot of minutes.

It is important to note that it is not filling the minutes in a single game that is the challenge but across a long, physical, 82-plus game season.

Dion brings durability to the Leafs blue line; he has only missed 18 games since joining the club. That consistency is tough to find. For me, his desire to be here is his biggest selling quality. I always like guys who enjoy playing here and want to be here.

Unfortunately, when we are paying him 7-million/year he needs to bring more to the table than a desire to play here, and the ability to play a lot of minutes.

Offensively Phaneuf is not pulling his weight this season; he currently fails to crack the top thirty among defenseman in. goals, assists or points. In fact, Phaneuf only sits in the top ten in two statistical categories, plus-minus and penalty minutes, he is ranked 10th and 5th respectively.

Statistically, Phaneuf appears to be mediocre, even amongst  the Leafs defense core. Other than Dion’s plus/minus there is not much that makes him stand out, he is pretty well par with Franson, Gardiner, and Reilly.

Big price tags bring big expectations; expectations that he will be a player the team can lean on, and look to for a big play or a big goal. Dion has struggled to be that guy; he has not scored a PP goal, or a GWG this season, and has taken some very untimely penalties.

The elite defenseman in the NHL seem to be elevating their games to a higher level than Dion–at least thus far. Phaneuf currently shares a tax bracket with the likes of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Drew Doughty and is earning more than Duncan Keith, Eric Karlsson, Keith Yandle, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. This season, statistically, Dion is not showing the same all-round game as these other players.

Phaneuf is not a bad defenceman he is actually quite good. However, he is not worth 7 million a season. That is a statement made only by the comparison of him to the other elite defenceman earning the same money.

Fans are freaking out because money brings expectation—everything is relative. If Dion played 18-21 minutes a game, making between 4-5 million/year and was putting up the same numbers, believe me everyone would love Dion.

To conclude I have no deep-rooted hatred for Dion as some other fans do, but I do think that his contract was too lucrative for what he brings to the table. Hopefully he proves me wrong—Go Leafs Go.

The Leafs

By Jason Sutcliffe

The new look Toronto Maple Leafs will take to the ice at the ACC tonight for their home opener against the Ottawa Senator’s. The battle of Ontario is one of the best rivalries in hockey and is sure to be a hard-fought game. The Leafs have started off the season very well, but the Senators led by goaltender Craig Anderson will be a good test, and tell us a lot about the depth of our team.

With Clarkson sitting out his ten game suspension and Fraser injured for approximately ten games, The Senators will test our depth as both players are key pieces to the puzzle.
The upside is that we will get our first glimpse of highly touted prospect Morgan Reilly in regular season action. Reilly skated with the Leafs in practice and was paired up with Jake Gardiner, but Carlyle has said he is unsure who Reilly will be paired with come game time.

It is going to be interesting to see how Rielly handles the pressure of playing his first NHL game in the middle of the Hockey Universe. There are very high expectations for Reilly, and his skill set is certainly deserving of those expectations. There is going to be an adjustment period for sure, and he will need to adapt. Personally I think his skill set is suited for the fast paced game, and we should get a glimpse of that tonight.

Reimer and Bernier are both fighting tooth and nail for the starting position, and it is unclear as of yet who will get the nod the home opener, but I have to think that it is Reimer’s job to lose. It is a good time to be a Leaf fan with two highly skilled and reliable goaltenders between the pipes.

It is a new look in Ottawa this season as for the first time in ten years the “C” will not be worn by Daniel Alfredsson; instead the reigns have been handed to number 19 Jason Spezza. Spezza was groomed for this role right from his draft day. I am curious to see how they respond to a new leader as I am a firm believer that attitude reflects leadership.

Normally the loss of a guy with the offensive ability of Daniel Alfredsson would crush a team, but the addition of Bobby Ryan from Anaheim I believe makes them stronger. This is going to be a good, competitive hockey game, and I am looking forward to these divisional rivals bumping heads all season long.

The Senators have a lot of good, young talent, right from the net out, but I believe the Leafs are the stronger team. The Leafs have the depth that Ottawa does not have. We have three solid lines that can score goals, and a lot of young talent on the blue line.

Also, with so much depth it gives Carlyle more options. He can throw many different looks at teams if things are not working out. Having those options readily available makes coaching a lot easier.

The ACC will be rocking tonight, the boys will be ready, and Rielly will make his debut on the biggest stage in the hockey world. I can’t think of a better home opener than the battle of Ontario. Tonight is going to be a great game.

Jason Head_Shot[1]

By Jason Sutcliffe

Some of the rule changes in the NHL this year are just ridiculous and lack insight into the game. The two that stick out for me is the new “hybrid-icing” rule and the “keep your helmet on” rule in regards to fighting.

The hybrid-icing rule is just ridiculous, and how they believe that it will effectively reduce the amount of injuries is mind-boggling. Simply put the rule says that if the defending player is clearly winning the race for the puck icing will be automatically called, but if the race is close or the offensive player is ahead than they will let it go.

This makes absolutely no sense. How will injuries be prevented if icing is not waved off during a close race for the puck? Those are situations where career or season ending injuries happen. The only thing that this rule efficiently does is save the defencemen from having to skate back and touch the puck when there is no race for it.

If it is truly the NHL’s objective to remove these types of injuries from the game than they should have implemented the “no touch-icing” rule that would make a lot more sense. Where the play would be blown dead as soon as the puck crossed the red line. I am not saying that I am a fan of “no touch” icing, but if removing these injuries from the game is a priority for the NHL than that is the only way that they can effectively do it.

The new rule in regards to players keeping their helmets on during a fight will prove to be completely useless. There is a fraternity among NHL enforcers, and if anything this new rule will show that. What we are going to see a lot of this year is both players removing their helmets before a fight and taking the extra two minutes penalty.

The league implemented this rule in an attempt to prevent injuries. During hockey fights, many times both players end up wrestling each other to the ice, and on occasion players have smacked their heads off the ice resulting in injury.

The leagues enforcers will be more than willing to take the chance of that happening as opposed to breaking their hands punching a helmet, which is much more likely.

This was clear during the Leaf/Canadien’s game when Fraser and Moen squared off. Both guys dropped the gloves, and Fraser gestured to Moen to take his helmet off and after a few seconds they simultaneously removed their helmets. We are going to see this all year long, and for years to come, especially now that they have grandfathered in the visor rule.

For anyone who does not know what that term means, it is now a rule that anyone who has played less than 25 games has to wear a visor starting this year. It is the same thing they did with helmets in the 80’s. As players retire over the next ten years or so, everyone in the league will be wearing a visor.

I am all for changing the rules to make the game safer for everyone involved, but only when the rules make sense, and are functional.

Jason Head_Shot 2[1]

By Jason Sutcliffe

There has been discussion surrounding Phil Kessel and his new long term contract that has him making $8 million-a-year for the next 8 seasons. There are a lot of people who believe that Kessel is not worth that, and the Leafs have grossly overpaid for him.

There are some glaring faults in Phil’s game that is for sure. However, if you look at Phil Kessel based on performance he is right where he should be in regards to his scoring. He was 8th in the league, 6th the year before that. Both years he was a handful of points away from cracking the top five in the league.

It is true that, guys like Crosby and a few others missed a bunch of games and may have finished higher than Phil, but that is part of the deal. Phil is reliable and durable; he has not missed a game in the past three seasons. It has been almost impossible to keep all of our scorers healthy, but Phil has been a mainstay in our lineup.

At the end of the day, what this comes down to for me, is simple; how many people are there that can do what Phil Kessel does, and out of those players how many are available during the next off-season. Phil was quite possibly going to walk next July, and you can not just replace a point-a-game guy. There are less than 10 in the league, and we have one.

Also, Phil proved he was able to perform in the playoffs, and did so facing the team he has had the most trouble scoring against. He had 6 points in 7 games.

I am not a fan of certain parts of Phil Kessel’s game, but I am a realist, and just letting Phil Kessel go is not an option. It is extremely hard to snag players who have the upside of Phil Kessel.

One stat that jumped out at me though was that last year Phil was a –4. That is unacceptable if you are going to be our big scorer I would think that being a plus hockey player is imperative. Phil will have to continue to improve defensively, and become a little more aggressive along the boards in order to become a complete hockey player, and gain the confidence of the best hockey fans in the world.

The added depth and secondary scoring added to the Leafs lineup should open up the game for Phil a little bit. Teams can no longer just shut down our top line and walk away with two points. Our lineup will force teams to spread out their defensive specialists putting some of the focus on our 2nd and 3rd lines. If Phil can stay healthy, this could be the year that he breaks the top 5 in league scoring. GO LEAFS GO!!!

Jason Head_Shot[1]

By Jason Sutcliffe

So David Clarkson and Phil Kessel have both been handed suspensions for their actions in the brawl with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night. Clarkson has received 10 games for leaving the bench and joining the fight while Phil Kessel is suspended for the remainder of the preseason, but will lose no pay and will not miss a single regular season game.

There are mixed reactions towards the incident and the subsequent suspensions. Some people feel as though Kessel should not have received any punishment at all, some people feel as though the three games is just right, and some people feel as though it was not harsh enough. I for one feel as though both suspensions were fair and fit the crimes.

Clarkson’s suspension is standard for anyone who leaves the bench and becomes involved in an altercation on the ice. So I was not so surprised, and I do not think many others were either. I think it does need to be said though that Clarkson needs to practice better judgment. We are not paying him 5.5 million a year to be an enforcer. He is useless to us suspended for ten games. There is a whole slew of guys on the bench that can play that role.

As for Kessel I had no problem with the first slash, it was the second one and the spear that followed which I have the problem.

There are a lot of people, who are calling Phil Kessel a coward for his actions, and maybe they are a right, but his actions were no more cowardice than John Scott’s. Scott is an enforcer in this league. He is one of the tough guys. He is also 70 lbs and 8 inches taller than Phil Kessel. What exactly was Phil Kessel supposed to do? Fight him…He would have gotten the beating of his life.

Scott had no business attempting to fight with Phil Kessel. Kessel does not fight, and it was pretty clear that he was scared to death. It was nothing more than a bully tactic by Scott, and one that he will have to pay for as you can bet that Orr and McLaren will be in the line-up the next time these two meet.

With a physical altercation clearly not an option for Kessel he did what came to him in the moment; and frankly I do not blame him. Kessel did nothing to initiate a fight with Scott it was a targeted attack on Scott’s part against a player unable to defend himself effectively. That is a cowardly move on Scott’s behalf and goes against the unwritten code of the enforcers and the game. The Leafs are not short on tough guys for Scott to take a poke at, to go after Kessel is ridiculous.

I view the first slash as nothing more than a slashing penalty, but the second slash and the spear after Scott engaged with Clarkson was un-necessary. Kessel crossed the line there and deserved to be suspended for that. He at no point initiated the fight, and for that reason I think that the suspension is fair. I was also glad to see that the Buffalo coach has been held accountable for his actions in sending out the “goon squad” for a premeditated attack.

The Leafs may have done okay in the battle, but they certainly lost the war. Clarkson’s an addition that is a central piece of our puzzle, and we will not have him in our lineup for the first 10 games. In a division where 9th and 5th were separated by 6-8 points, we will need every point we can get, and we need every piece of our puzzle healthy and in the lineup.

Hockey is more than a game

By Jason Sutcliffe

I was originally going to write about the Toronto Maple Leafs and what they mean to the city of Toronto and Torontonians. However, when I began to brainstorm, and started reflecting on my childhood memories and the role the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey played in my life—well, I had a much more personal story to tell.

My first memory of hockey goes back to when I was about 3 or 4 years old. I was in the living room of my house at Woodbine and Gerrard. I was running around with my little stick, and ball well my Dad and my uncles watched hockey night in Canada on Saturday night. Saturday night was a special night for me as a kid. That was the night I got to stay up late and hang out with the guys (as my Dad would say). Those were great nights, eating chips, drinking a bit of pop and watching the leaf game—so cool!

Some of my favourite times with my Dad were when he would take me to the Leaf games at Maple Leaf Gardens. I was about 8 or 9. We would do that like 3 or 4 times a year. I got to see Wayne Gretzky play that was awesome.

As a teenager, when we were not seeing eye to eye, and he did not agree with the things I was doing or the decisions I was making we could find common ground with hockey. We could talk about hockey or take in a hockey game. It always seemed to help us find a way to work out whatever problems we had. For us hockey is not just a game, it is a passion, it is part of who we are.

I am now 32 years old with a family of my own. My Dad he is now an old man, and in poor health, but still every morning we get together for a coffee at the local coffee shop. We sit out in his car, have a coffee and talk hockey. We share a passion for the game Of course there are other reasons why we are so close, but I would like to think that part of the reason we are best friends today is because of our love for the sport of hockey.

It has been almost 30 years since I was that young boy running around with my little hockey stick, scoring goals on my little net. I now have a son. He was born on March 6th of this year. A couple of weeks after his birth he sat with me on the couch and watched his first Leaf game.

My wish is that one day I will be that old man having coffee with him talking about the leafs, and he will be curling up with his son on Saturday night to watch the greatest game on Earth. We grow older and time passes, but the game—the game stays the same.

That is what hockey means to my family and me!

Jason Head_Shot 2[1]

By Jason Sutcliffe

There has been a lot of speculation about how the Leafs are going to do next year. I just finished reading an article on the Bleacher Report, about CF%, FF%, POD and a bunch of other stats I know nothing about. To make a long article short it said that the Leafs are going to be terrible next season.

Me, I think differently, I operate on my understanding of the game, and what I watch. The Leafs were right in the mix in the Eastern Conference, tied with Washington for fourth with 57 points, putting aside the fact that Washington had one more win then we did and that they were gifted third spot in the conference over Boston by the previous method of playoff seeding.

There were some teams in the East that had their fair share of injury issues, but so did the Leafs. Right at the start of the year we lost arguably our best player, Joffrey Lupul who only played 16 games due to injury and a short suspension. We lost our starting goalie James Reimer for a 2-week stretch in February and we lost Gunnarsson for 11 games as well.

We suffered in the face-off circle in both the offensive and defensive zone, with only one solid face-off man in Tyler Bozak. Our leading scorer Phil Kessel started the season with 4 points in the first 9 games, and had two stretches where he went 9 games without a goal. Also we lacked some size up front, given the style of hockey that Carlyle expects these guys to play.

Our PP and GA/Game were average at 14th and 17th in the league respectively.

All that being said we were able to ride into the playoffs on the back of the 2nd best PK in the league and the 6th best GF/Game.

During the off-season, Dave Nonis has done his best to make us stronger where we are weak and I think he has done a better than decent job. He has made us bigger and stronger down the middle and on the wing by acquiring Dave Bolland from Chicago and David Clarkson from the New Jersey Devils.

Bolland should fit in nicely as our third line center adding some size, grit and making us stronger in the face-off circle. He also adds a great deal of experience, after winning two Stanley Cups and scoring the Cup winner this past season, he knows what it takes to win.

Clarkson could very well be the best addition to our second line that was available, adding size, toughness, and a decent scoring touch he should fit into Carlyle’s style like a glove, and compliment Lupul and Kadri very well.

With the addition of some size, scoring ability and depth right through to our third line, it should take some of the attention off of Phil Kessel and allow him some breathing room, with teams being forced to spread their defensive specialists out to provide coverage for a very talented second line.

With Reimer having had some issues with injuries over the past couple of seasons Nonis went out and provided a little insurance and quite possibly a new starter, when he acquired Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings. This could end up being the best goaltending duo in the NHL next season; it would not surprise me at all. I think Reimer has earned his spot as the number one, but an injury or a run of a few bad games could change that easily.

The key like most teams in the NHL is our ability to stay healthy. We won’t be able to avoid injuries all together but if we can keep them to a minimum we should be better than good.

Maybe three-quarters of the way through last season I said that the only team in the East that we would have a problem with come play-off time would be the Bruins. After what has taken place in that organization during this off-season I am even more confident that with our style of hockey we could walk out of the new Atlantic division and the conference.

I think our team is built to win play-off games and I strongly disagree with people who think that we will be un-successful this upcoming season. There is not a team in our conference that the Toronto Maple Leafs is incapable of beating.

Two solid goalies and four lines–well, I have seen teams with the cup with less. I think our boys are a serious threat to every team in the league, I like our chances.

Jason Head_Shot 2[1]

By Jason Sutcliffe

Thursday afternoon the Toronto Maple Leafs announced  they had locked GM and Senior Vice President David Nonis in for another 5 years. A move I personally think is the right one. He has been consistent to his plan for what he and Carlyle want to see here in Toronto.

Last year the Leafs had more success than they have in a decade. After finishing fifth in the conference and showing a lot of heart coming back from being down 3 games to 1 against Boston to force a game 7. For Toronto fans it was a different feeling knowing we were a competitive team in the Eastern Conference. Truthfully, I think the city was still skeptical about feeling optimistic until game 6 ended.

After the tears dried and the pain subsided following our meltdown in the final 10 minutes of game 7, it was clear to Leaf fans that the club was headed in the right direction.

The holes in our team game were exposed and it was painfully obvious what pieces of the puzzle needed to be added in order for us to succeed in the upcoming season; most importantly we needed to get better and stronger down the middle, tougher on the wings without compromising skill, with Reimer’s injury issues over the past couple years we needed a reliable back up, and we needed to add at least one solid defencemen.

Nonis had checklist for the off-season. So how has he done? Well as far as getting stronger down the middle, he took care of our present and helped out our future on draft day when he drafted Fredrick Gauthier, a 6’4”, 214lbs centre from the Rimouski Oceanic, and added Centre Dave Bolland from the Blackhawks for a 2nd round pick and two 4th round picks.

It cost us fan favourite Mikael Grabovski but that was the necessary loss, as we needed to resign Tyler Bozak to stay strong in the face-off circle, which Nonis was able to do. I was impressed with Nonis’ ability to make the tough decision and make the right one, to resign Grabovski regardless of work ethic and fan appeal would have been counter productive.

He was able to give us some size and grit down the wings by adding free agent David Clarkson in early July when the free agency market opened up. Clarkson may prove to be the perfect addition to our second line as his style of hockey should mesh very well with Lupul and Kadri.

I was one of the few who was happy that he kept to the script and added the skill set that we required to fit into Carlyle’s brand of gritty, hard-nosed hockey. There were a number of other names available through free agency and the trade market that were high-profile but did not fit into Carlyle’s system. Nonis did not just jump at players because of a name he followed the plan and obtained the pieces he felt best completed our puzzle.

Before any of those acquisitions, Nonis went out and got Bernier from the L.A. Kings, the back up to Jonathan Quick who in many eyes was only a back up because he was playing behind Quick. This gives the Leafs a solid pair of goaltenders between the pipes. I am curious to see who will get the nod for the Leafs when the season starts.

With a couple of months to go before the season starts there is still time for Nonis to add the last required piece in my opinion, which is a solid stay at home defencemen. They have signed Ranger who may be able to fill that role but only time will tell. I would imagine that Nonis will be keeping his eye out and working on something before the season starts, unless his plan is to work with what we have in the minors.

Whatever Nonis decides to do he has earned my trust by taking our organization in the right direction, and attempting to add the necessary players to take us further into the post-season in the 2013-14 campaign.

It has been a long time since it has felt this good to be a Leaf fan. Go Leafs Go!

By Jason Sutcliffe

 Nonis was a busy man today, scooping up free agent David Clarkson and signing him to a seven-year deal worth 36.75 million, while also inking a five-year deal with Tyler Bozak for 21 million.

 Toronto fans seem to be conflicted and almost divided on their feelings about the deal, mostly because in order to make it happen we were forced to buy out fan favourite Mikhael Grabovski and also unload Clarke McArthur.

 As a big fan of Grabo’s work ethic and high-energy play, it saddens me to say that the move was the right one and was necessary for our team’s function. With the addition of Dave Bolland that meant that one of our centers had to go.

 So here is how that breaks down; Kadri is our second leading scorer so it wasn’t going to be him, McClement is a PK specialist and played a major part in us having one of the best PK’s in the league, so he stays, that leaves Grabo and Bozak.

 Bozak is our face-off specialist, and after the ability to sign him to a 4.2 million dollar a year contract that made him more affordable than Grabo. Also Bozak was more productive than Grabo last year and posted a much better plus/minus. So with our need to get deeper in the face-off circle it would have been counter productive to get rid of Bozak, for a player that does not meet our immediate needs and costs us 1.5 million a year more. So for these reasons Grabo had to be the one to go.

 People also feel as though we gave David Clarkson too much money. I agree but that is for the GM to deal with. I as a fan am more concerned with the product that is on the ice, and David Clarkson fits into Carlyle’s style of hockey perfectly. He scored 15 goals last year during the shortened season, not so impressive, but what about when I tell you that 6 were on the PP and 5 were game winning goals, now that sounds a little more impressive, No?

 Clarkson also lead the Devil’s in PIM’s and shots on Goal. He is a tough power forward who likes to put the puck on net. Now he is going to most likely be placed on the second line with Lupul and Kadri, how is that looking in your mind? Not to shabby, two solid power forwards and a fast, highly skilled center, that is the recipe for success.

 Nonis did not just go out and add big names for the sake of adding big names, he went out and got the pieces that we needed, the things we required. As Leaf fans we are used to being in a constant state of overhaul, while not anymore we now need to make small changes and address specific needs.

 In my opinion we are one solid stay at home defensemen and one more power forward away from being a contender. Our team is built to win play-off games, truthfully we should have done well in the play-offs this year but we had a very unfavourable draw in the first round. We had to play the team most like us and we should have won, that series was ours for the taking.

 I like where we are sitting right now. About three quarters of the way through the season last year I said there was no team in the Eastern Conference that we would have a hard time with except the Bruins (Pittsburgh included). Our strong forcheck, fast paced, hard-hitting style was built for the play-offs and after watching the Bruins dismantle a good part of their core, I feel even stronger that we could walk out of the East this year.

 We are stronger in the net with two solid goalies, and we are deeper in the front with what I think is two solid lines. Also, before the season starts we will make and addition to our back end that will have an immediate impact.

 Look out Eastern Conference our Leafs are coming and we are better than ever!

By Jason Sutcliffe

 Today was a good day for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and all of their faithful supporters. Our team took a step in the right direction and for the first time in a long time it feels like we are just a couple of pieces away from being a serious contender.

 The first order of business today was the NHL entry draft. Nonis and the rest of the Leafs front office seemed to play it safe drafting Frederik Gauthier, the 6’5”, 215 lbs center out of the QMJHL’s, Rimouski Oceanic in the first round, 21st overall.

 All scouting reports have the big center as a solid two-way player, who plays good positional hockey, and has no overwhelming talents, but a strong all around skill set. Nonis has no delusions about the young talent from Quebec, and has him touted as a decent second line or strong third line center.

 For most teams the draft was the only thing on the agenda today, but not for Nonis who managed to put together a deal with the Chicago Blackhawk’s for center Dave Bolland, and in return the Leafs would send Chicago their 52nd, 117th pick in this years draft and a 4th round pick in next years draft.

 Bolland who played his minor hockey in Toronto, is a huge acquisition for the Leafs. A proven winner Bolland has won major trophies at every level he has played at, winning a Midget Hockey Championship, Memorial Cup, World Junior Championship and 2 Stanley Cups, Bolland brings a winning mentality that can only benefit the team in both the change room and on the ice.

 Along with Bolland’s ability to win at all levels, he fills our need for a big, gritty center that can win face-offs. A major flaw that proved to be detrimental to our success against the Boston Bruins during this years playoffs.

 In my opinion the Leafs still need to add a solid stay at home defensemen who can penalty kill and who we can put on the ice to shut things down during the final minutes of a close game. We also need to make an attempt to add another big strong center that can win face-offs in all three zones, and has soft hands around the net.

 I expect that Nonis is going to be a busy man over the next few weeks as he works to add the last pieces of the puzzle.