July 07, 2009

Who's on your blue line?

Brian Burke is spoiling us. Seriously.

After using the force to lure Mike Komisarek from the dark side, and acquiring cruncher Garnet Exelby, I figured the Francois Beauchemin ship had sailed past these parts.

Wrong. Wonderfully wrong.

Beauchemin has arrived. An already truculent defense core is now even more so. After valiantly enduring the John Ferguson Jr. era, Leafs fans are finally getting what they deserve from management: competence.

With 47 NHL-calibre defenseman now in tow, the rumour mill is a churning. Listen up: Tomas Kaberle isn't leaving town. Stop talking about him being traded, stop writing about him being traded, and stop tweeting about him being traded. It isn't happening. If it was, a deal would have been made by now. And don't bother bringing up Phil Kessel. That trade was based upon draft picks not yet selected; that dream, while certainly not mine, is dead.

Who, then, are the odd men out, you ask? Simple: Mike Van Ryn, and Jeff Finger.

Van Ryn, the ghost of Carlo Colaiacovo, obviously has a much easier contract to move; he'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Why keep him over Kaberle, who has two years left on his deal? Clearly the market for Tomas isn't what Burke thinks it should be, or he'd have dealt him by now. At this point, with the defense Burke's put together, I don't believe a top-six forward is a priority. Remember, it's not about scoring goals; it's about lowering the 293 goals the Leafs allowed last season. And I have no doubt that number is going to plummet.

Here's my six man rotation on defense, assuming the brittle Van Ryn will be traded:

Tomas Kaberle & Mike Komisarek
Luke Schenn & Francois Beauchemin
Garnet Exelby & Ian White

Finger and his $3.5 million dollar contract, along with Jonas Frogren and Anton Stralman, are the spare parts.

With four defensive defenseman making up the six, Kaberle would come in handy, especially on the power play. He could conceivably quarterback both units, for the entire two minutes.

There's also been some chatter as to having White play the wing, and Finger take a regular shift on defense. While I know it's ridiculous to sit a guy making $3.5 million, I think White's got a bright future on the Leafs, but only as a defenseman. He earned the trust of Wilson and co. last season with his solid play, and the admiration of us fans with his moustache.

According to Behind The Net, while playing five-on-five, White trailed only Luke Schenn in ice time per game (17:26 to 17:37). His 0.92 five-on-five Behind The Net rating was tops on the team by a healthy margin among regulars. And of all the regulars who played "defense" last season for Toronto, White's 2.74 GAON/60 (Goals Against On Ice, per 60 minutes) five-on-five rating was the lowest.

And this is the guy we should remove off the blue line? Fuhgeddaboudit!1

White's also young, and cheap. He takes priority over the Fingers, Van Ryns, Frogrens and Stralmans of the world.

Remember, last season, San Jose took Kyle McLaren and his $2.5 million cap hit and stuck him in the minors until they were able to trade him to Philadelphia. This is the reality of the new salary capped NHL. A reality Finger might have to accept.

A while back, I asked the ever-prescient Down Goes Brown for his thoughts on Jeff Finger, and, as usual, he hit the nail on the head:

"It's not that Finger is awful (he's not) or that he's overpaid (he is.) He's just not what the Leafs need. The focus in Toronto should be on finding young players and putting them in position to succeed. Signing a veteran minor-leaguer to a rich long-term contract to anchor the third defensive pairing isn't on that list.

"Finger isn't the disaster he's made out to be by some. He's just a bad fit - one that the Leafs will likely be stuck with for three more years."

I'm with DGB; just because we're stuck with Finger doesn't mean he should take precedence over Ian White, who was a more productive, versatile and useful defenseman for the Maple Leafs in 2008/2009.

Back to Beauchemin (this post is all over the fucking place); he's got people excited. Even Pension Plan Puppets' Chemmy, an advocate of "tank nation," is daring to dream:

"I'm going to say it just once, and probably deny it if you bring it up: PLAYOFFS!!!1"

Yes indeed, Jammies.

And Jonas Gustavsson is on the way officially a Maple Leaf.

It just keeps getting better.


wrap around curl said...

Yes Leafs Nation, there is a Burkie Claus....

kushnir said...

totally off topic, but....

raycroft to vancouver.... atleast he'll only play 10 games or so. but, does he lose all 10 and make Van miss the playoffs by 1 point?

on a brighter note, the leafs are going to RUN the habs over 8 times this year. they may not win, but theres no chance in hell a leafs/habs game will end without a smile in my face.

kushnir said...

oh ya, Hill is an all-star. Can we make some t-shirts please?

Hill > D.P.

jimmydoggit said...


furcifer said...

I want Kaberle to stay too but I'm still kind of bitter he never left for Carter.

kushnir said...

Line of the night:

(Courtesy of TSN after Mr. Prime Minister hit a jack)

"Proof even newborns have warning track power at Yankee Stadium"

Johnny G said...

Sorry buddy, I still think Kabbie is gone and thus the curse of the banner will be born!

(kidding on the last part, but I do think he is going).

As for the argument that he would be traded, it is possible but it is not a really good argument. Just because a good offer hasn't been made yet doesn't mean one isn't being worked on.

Daoust said...

kabby stays, no question, unless Burke gets a retarded offer for him. White and Van Ryn go.

I really like White, but he doesn’t fit any more. Finger seems like a more logical partner for Exelby than White, and he seems like more of a Burke player (more hits, more blocked shots than White; 2.1 hits per game vs 1.5; 2.4 blocked shots per game vs 1.6).

More importantly, Finger is likely untradeable, but White surely has value. Burke didn’t trade him at the deadline last year, but the Leafs D was different then. The addition of Komi, Beauch, and XLB make White expendable, so if Burke can package him with Van Ryn and get a 2nd line forward, he should/will.

Johnny G said...

Re: My previous comment,

That being said I will be quite happy to see Kabbie stay, I just meant that I have a gut feeling that he is gone. If I am wrong YAY, If I am right then I'll deal with it and look forward to what is coming back.

eyebleaf said...

@ Wrap: Christmas in July. Believe it.

@ Kush: I chose to ignore Raycroft to the Canucks, because that's a fucking joke. Vancouver will regret it. Raycrap is dead to me. As for Leafs/Habs games...I'm not sure I can wait three months. And, yes, we do need some Hill t-shirts: "Hill > Pedroia"

@ Jimmy: That's the spirit, my good man.

@ furcifer: Dude! Get over it. Not even Philly thought Carter would be a 40-goal man.

@ Johnny: If Kaberle, Doc and Bosh get traded in the next year or so, I'll believe in the curse, and do everything I can to reverse it. Also, I think you're right; now that a lot of the free agent dust has settled, and guys like Pronger have been dealt, perhaps a better offer for Kaberle may come Burke's way.

@ daoust: I think Burke has filled his quotient of Burke-type players. I believe that Burke was offered a deal for White last season, but refused, on the grounds that White played his ass off for the team, and played very well. I think Burke and Wilson are both high on him, and that's why I don't see him being moved. White's a better skater than Finger and, while his contract is certainly more movable, just like Van Ryn's, I think he's higher on the depth chart than Finger. There's a reason he made Team Canada's World Championship roster last season. But you do make an interesting point in regards to a package of White and Van Ryn.

@ Johnny: I think we'd all be happy to see Kaberle stay. I think we do all understand what he brings, it's just the thought of what Burke might be able to swing with him that has Leafs fans all high and shit. Burke said it best: it will take an offer that "blows the doors off" to move Kaberle. Let's see what happens.

daoust said...

you're right about kaberle/carter... if philly thought carter was going to be a stud, they wouldn't have been shopping him around the whole league.

and PS... DGB nailed it, "as per usual"? have you forgotten (or forgiven him for) his stance on Sundin???

eyebleaf said...

@ daoust: It drives me batty when people bring up the Carter/Kaberle deal.

I'll never forget DGB's constant Sundin bashing, but he's good people, so I've forgiven him. Plus, his post the day after Sundin returned was epic. He knew, and acknowledged, that it all went down rather beautifully.

Sundin: the greatest Leaf ever.

Can we still sign him, Burke? Pretty please?

daoust said...

i know, i've forgiven him too... just f-ing with you.

i'd love to sign mats to a 1-yr deal so he could retire a leaf. there, i said it. i don't care who knows.

eyebleaf said...

If this is the end of the line for Mats, I'm down for a one-day contract, so he can retire in Toronto, a Leaf, the way it should have always gone down in the first place.

kushnir said...

im hearing things about kabby going to LA for Frolov. posibly others in the trade (stajan? poni?)

eyebleaf said...

That's the first time I've heard LA, bro. Frolov is dynamic. I wish we'd keep Poni; talk about another guy with a bargain salary.

Twitter has rumours of Kaberle to St. Louis, with David Perron, and others, coming back.

Who knows what the fuck to believe.

"Dave Schultz" said...

With everything else Burke has built, I'll have a hard time watching Leafs if Kabby isn't there. You know this. But it needed repeating.

kushnir said...

ya i hear STL to, but ive heard like every young name being thrown around.

the weirdest thing is 8 days ago i was gearing up for another lottery run. but if burke can pull of something niiiice for kabby, and then pull off one other crazy trade (bringing in 2-3 top 6 guys in total), then this leafs team is ACTUALLY looking like a contender for the next 5 years.

contender, future, leafs? i just had to say that outloud to make sure i wasnt dreaming...

eyebleaf said...

@ Schultzy: You're preaching to the choir, honey. Kaberle for life. Cross-ice pass, like you won't believe.

@ Kush: It's the Summer of Burke, yo.

kushnir said...

Rickard Wallin....

Anonymous said...

So by keeping or wanting to keep Kaberle, you're into delaying the development of young players? Keep in mind the larger picture, although the team might be a better one with kaberle the cost would be that guys like Stralman and whoever else is in the minors will have to stay there or rot on the bench. By the time this team is a contender, Kaberle will be gone or worse than he is now and we'll have no younger versions developed to fill his role. You can't expect a young Dman with little to no experience to jump right in and take over from a guy like Kaberle when you are making a cup run.

looshV said...

Mickey Grabs > Montreal Canadiens


eyebleaf said...

@ Loosh: You mean, Jonas Gustavsson > Carey Price.

Oh God, yes.

miah said...

you people are dreaming...leafs? contender? You never seem to get that throwing money at free agents gets you nowhere. This goalie sensation will turn out to be a total joke and you'll be crying yourselves to sleep once again. what a loser franchise.

eyebleaf said...

Oh, I'm sorry miah, you're a Pens fan. So, clearly, you know nothing about free agency. All you know about putting a contender together is to TANK it up, year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year, and get lucky to draft once-in-a-generation guys like Crosby and Malkin. Yeah, well done. Throw in a bankrupt team, an ex-player who had to come in and save the game, a bullshit arena, a threatened move to Kansas City, and VOILA: Stanley Cup champions.


miah said...

HA! A Leaf fan talking down to a Pens fan about being a contender?! "Tank it up year after year..." sounds more like a biography of YOUR team than mine. Sure it was easy drafting Crosby and Malkin, but lets talk about great moments in Toronto Maple Leafs draft history! I'm sure there are a few...hmm...let me see..well, maybe not. If the best you can do is insult Mario b/c he bought the team, well, that's laughable. Seems to be doing a pretty good job. What's that? Your team and management is voted worst in the NHL and almost last in all of pro sports? Pens are #3. Let that sink in. Voila: Stanley Cup Champions.

eyebleaf said...

Tanking sounds more like the Leafs history than Pens history? Clearly you know nothing about hockey. Pittsburgh drafted, in 5 consecutive years, in the top five, smartypants: Fleury 1st overall, Staal 2nd overall, Crosby 1st overall, Malkin 2nd overall, and Whitney 5th overall. You know how that happens? When your team tanks.

Show me when the Leafs have done that? The only top five pick the Leafs have had is Luke Schenn. And they traded up to get him. If you hadn't noticed, the Leafs were busy being a competitive, self-respecting hockey team the late 90s, until the lockout.

I'm not insulting Mario b/c he bought the team. Mario is a fucking savior, but for you to come here and say the Leafs are a laughing stock after upgrading their defense and goaltending, well, again, it shows the depths of your knowledge. (Not too deep.)

And, yes, we really take those ESPN management ratings to heart. They really rule the day.

Once again: idiot.

miah said...

During the time frames you quoted (late 90's) the Pens short sighted ownership was too busy mortgaging the future for free agents (much like the leafs have been doing for as long as anyone can remember). You know what happened? They didn't "tank". They just sucked. Bad. And guess what? They drafted high. The lottery was kind to them, and they got good again. It isn't hard to draft good talent if you pick high, but it is hard to hang on to that talent for long enough to do something with it. Credit Ray Shero for doing a great job and keeping the core together, managing the salary cap and winning a championship. It seemed the Leafs had got the message, and perhaps they still do, but throwing ridiculous money at marginal players (Komisarek, Beauchemin, etc.) (Dont even get me started on Jeff Finger) and laying your hopes on the feet of an unproven goaltender is a recipe for disaster. He's started to gather some assets, but it seems that patience is going out the window and before you know it, Burke will make a trade deadline gaffe in an attempt to get this team into the playoffs. We'll see how it plays out. Better hope Gustavsson is the second coming of Lundqvist.

eyebleaf said...

First of all, thanks for your comments. I get a little heated, but above all else, love to talk hockey, and appreciate you coming by.

What to you was sucking, is to other fans tanking. That's just the way it is. And you're right, the lottery was kind to Pittsburgh. I def. give kudos to Shero for keeping the core (Fleury, Malkin and Crosby) together, and for bringing in other parts to make that Cup dream a reality for the team. It was impressive.

If, as you say, and I agree, the problem is mortgaging the future for free agents, then building through free agency is exactly what Burke and the Leafs should be doing. The Leafs have clout - huge market, and deep pockets. And free agents are younger than ever these days. Ten years ago, signing a 27-year-old d-man through free agency was not possible. Now it is, and Komisarek is a Leaf, with arguably his best seasons still in front of him. So, why not? Why not go and sign guys like Komi, and Beauchemin, who is a proven winner, and contributor to a Stanley Cup champion? I can't see how the Beauchemin deal can be scrutinized, really, on a team that allowed 293 goals last year.

As for Finger, hey, none of us really get that deal either. Shit happens. Cliff Fletcher's old, he fucked up, we'll let it slide.

And you're contradicting yourself by saying that the Leafs going after Gustavsson, "an unproven goaltender," is a bad move. He didn't cost the Leafs anything. Not a draft pick, not a prospect, not even a lot of money. The Leafs shelled out less than a million bucks to sign a goalie who put up absolutely stunning numbers in the Swedish Elite League. Take a look at his numbers if you haven't seen them; they are phenomenal. Burke has experience in this respect, because he signed Jonas Hiller from Europe a couple of years ago as well, and look how that kid turned out? There's almost zero risk in the Gustavsson signing - he's 24, this is his shot, let's see what he's got. And the reward is monumental. The Leafs might have just found a number one goalie for the next ten years. And he's not being thrown into the fire. By all accounts, Vesa Toskala is the number one, but when he struggles, and he probably will, Gustavsson will get his shot. He's also a different goalie than Toskala - much, much bigger. So, their styles contrast, which makes it even better, as we don't know what type of defense this Leafs team is going to play. Will they need Toskala's aggressive acrobatics, or a big goalie, Lundqvist style, like Gustavsson.

Burke was offered deals for Schenn, White, Kubina and Kaberle last year at the deadline. He publicly said that the team would have been in a position to make a playoff push last season, for the 8th spot, had me made the deal for Schenn. He didn't. He's not into making the trade deadline gaffes.

It's a new era in Toronto, my friend. The future is bright.

Junior said...

Epic post, m'lad. I have to admit I wasn't aware of the numbers re: White's defensive performance. My memory tells me he was one of the lesser lights defensively last year, but the numbers don't lie and there is a danger of relying too much on anecdotal recollections. White may have just been burned badly more frequently (but not per 60 min played) than his team-mates because he was out there a lot.

I do remember him playing like 40 minutes one night when everybody else on the D got hurt. That was sick.

And the future is bright indeed.

miah said...

I agree that the future could hold good things for the Leafs. I shouldn't have called them "a loser franchise". The fans are passionate and knowledgeable (and long suffering) but as a hockey fan it is beyond me how ANY organization can be as badly run as the Leafs, dump on their fans, and be continuously supported. Where is management's motivation to put a winning product on the ice when they could just roll an AHL team out there and reap huge profits regardless of the results? I think those days are behind them, but it deserves scrutiny at the least and a "wait and see" approach at the most.

The fans deserve better, hopefully they will get some results soon.

miah said...

Watching a game against the Pens, I was impressed w/ Jonas Frogren. Kid could be a gamer given enough time to develop. Upgrades on defense and goaltending are good starts, but who is going to put the puck in the net on this team? They lost Antropov and didn't replace him. Christian Hanson probably won't put up his numbers. Grabovski has skill, but doesn't have much help other than Jason Blake. Surprised they haven't made a push for Heatley. What do you think? Play the youngsters (ala Edmonton 07-08) and hope for the best?

eyebleaf said...

@ Junior: I thought White had a great season last year, but even I was a little shocked by his numbers. He was, arguably, our best defenseman, and that's saying a lot. He really upped his game, and that's one reason why I want him in the top-6. He earned that damn spot.

@ Miah: We're fans. We put up with bullshit, while hoping for the best. It's what we do. But, at the same time, all this is cyclical. The Leafs were strong in from 92 to 95. Two conference finals runs, a couple of first round exits. Then, a downturn, two or three seasons of no-playoff hockey. Quinn came along in 98, and the Leafs enjoyed tremendous success until the lockout. Another two conference finals appearances, and six straight seasons of playoff hockey; epic playoff hockey. Throw in a division title, and the best statistical regular season by any Leafs team, and times were good. The Leafs played as many playoff games in those years than Colorado and Detroit; they just couldn't bring home the prize. That's hockey; that's life. Post-lockout, we're suffering through another downturn, but now that Burke's in town, it seems we are on the rise again. You, as a Pens fan, can surely relate to the cyclical up and downs of a hockey team. I don't think Leafs fans of my generation (I'm 26) have it as bad as those who supported this team in the 70s and 80s did. We're alright.

As for your follow-up comment, Frogren did impress at times last season. I think he was still adjusting to the North American game. That said, he's 28 or 29, I think, hardly a rookie, and I just don't see any room for him on the blue line. I see him either returning to the Marlies, or maybe even back to Sweden.

And I think Burke was right to upgrade on D and in goal; that's where the Leafs suck the most. They allowed 293 goals last year; worst in the league. That number is downright frightening. And they actually were able to score 250 goals, good for 10th in the league, I believe. Impressive, considering they were a mish-mash of 2nd and 3rd liners. Antropov and Kubina are gone, but I have no problem promoting from within. As I wrote in the post, it's up to guys like Grabbo, Kulemin, Tlusty (point per game in the AHL last year), John Mitchell and Lee Stempniak to step up. Blake, Ponikarovsky and Hagman will deliver. If the Leafs score 230 goals next year, I think they'll be fine, because that 293 goals against is going to drop like nobody's business.

As for Heatley, fuck him. Not worth it, at that cap hit. Play the kids. We've got Kadri coming down the pipe as well.

Anonymous said...

Toskala may struggle this season, but I highly doubt it as he now has some NHL caliber defence in front of him. I also wouldn't say they are contenders yet either. playoffs seem likely but the lack of depth at forward (even if a couple of d get moved for top 6 forwards) will make the trip to the post season a short one

eyebleaf said...

So, Anon, what you're saying is: PLAYOFFS!!!!1