Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’

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If you are Canadian, I do not think anything in the sporting world tops the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. My friends and I do not say Merry Christmas to each other in December; we say it when the first puck is dropped in the round of 16. This first round had it all: a laughable sweep, line brawls, fat walrus accusations, Alex Ovechkin immediately flying overseas to play for Russia after another early exit (again), and of course, game sevens.

For most of us, our hockey teams run for Lord Stanley is over and we must accept, move on and pray that next year will be the year. There is another thing that you should be focusing on for the start of the 2013-14 season, and that is the future of your fantasy hockey teams. Chances are that you will not remember the second half Mats Zuccarello performances, but for your future fantasy purposes, you should. If you have been a fantasy GM for a while now, you know that it is the late round picks that will win you championships and even more importantly, ultimate chirping rights.

Eight teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, let’s take a look at what players could serve as a potential fantasy break out for the 2013-14 NHL season.

Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals: Johansson saw his productivity increase this year in the shortened season, posting 22 points in 34 games and +3 rating. He was essentially invisible for the first two months of the season, but let’s be serious, so were the Washington Capitals. Take a look at his March and April; the kid recorded 21 points in 25 games. He is only 22 years old and will now head into the prime years of his career.  He should be considered as a late round add to your roster for next year.

Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild:  Before the season began, I highly doubt anyone could name the starting six defensemen for the Wild. I do not even think Mike Yeo could. There was nothing sexy about Brodins stat line this year (11 points in 45 GP), but there are fantasy implications that need to be considered going forward for the 10th overall pick in the 2011 entry draft. For starters, he is only nineteen. Secondly, look at the box scores in the first round. If we forget about Ryan Suter for a moment, Brodin led the way in ice time and on the man advantage showing how much trust the Wild have in the youngster. If an NHL organization can trust the kid with that much workload, so should you.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: I make this pick because everyone has already heard of Vladimir Tarasenko and know that he is going to be a force. Schwartz posted 13 points in 45 GP this year, but really found his stride in the second half (10 pts in 29 GP). I am not expecting Schwartz to break out to begin the season next year, but once the annual injuries of Andy McDonald and Alex Steen occur, Schwartz could spring into a top six role and shine. Go check out Hockey’s Future, he’s got game.

Kyle Palmieri, Anaheim Ducks: He did not really play in January and had a lackluster March, but his February and April have me intrigued. When you are playing under Bruce Boudreau’s system, you are going to have chances to put up points in bundles. His fantasy status for next year will depend on whether or not he can crack the top six. If he can, draft him late in deep leagues and enjoy the return.

Raphael Diaz, Montreal Canadiens: Chances are you picked Diaz to start the season as he and Andrei Markov tore it up on the man advantage. I laughed when I saw him 100% owned in ESPN leagues, but hey, production is production. If he did not suffer a concussion, then I do not think we would be having this discussion. Diaz will head the 2nd unit for the Canadiens going forward, who seemed to re-kindle their power play success after last season. Diaz’s upside here will depend on whether or not Markov can stay healthy, which is always in question. Diaz should be a fifth or sixth d-man on your team next year with upside to be a potential top four.

Josh Bailey, New York Islanders: If we learned anything from the Penguins and Islanders series,  it is that the Isles might actually be for real for the first time since… Alexei Yashin? Was he relevant? Who knows. They will not be worth noting for long, as they have too many vital pieces that are just too old (Streit, Visnovsky, Nabokov). Bailey has always had the talent but has been known to have attitude issues. He is now 23 and headed into the prime of his career. The isles looked good this season, I expect that to continue for a season or two with Bailey providing the secondary scoring they so desperately need.

Zack Kassian, Vancouver Canucks: Kassian was a nice surprise to start the season, racking up five goals in seven games in January. As for the rest of the season, well, you would probably rather have Scott Gomez over him. The 13th overall pick in the 2009 entry draft has everything that the Canucks need: size, grit, skill and scoring potential. The Sedins need a player like Kassian to protect them, as we all know Jannik Hansen does not fit that profile. With Alex Burrows seemingly on the second line for good, a lackluster pool of prospects, and the need to get stronger, I see Kassian getting every possible chance to break out, which I believe he will. Draft him late and laugh at those who didn’t.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs: I should not have to tell this to any Maple Leafs fan, but for the rest of you I will be blunt: this guy is legit. He is patient, smart with the puck, breaks into the offensive zone with ease and finally won over Randy Carlyle. Wherever he is projected to go next year in the fantasy rankings will more than likely be low, and thus a gift for those who wait on him to take him late. For keeper leagues especially, get him.

That is it for now, enjoy the second round and always be alert for possible fantasy surprises, it is what makes all the difference.

By: Alex Rodgers – Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: http://www.NHL.com

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The combination of a condensed 48 game season and the modern-day three point game (caused by overtime) has resulted in a mad dash to the finish.  With roughly 8 games left for each NHL team, there have been only two teams to clinch a playoff berth and very few completely out of the picture.  A hot streak down the stretch can buy a ticket to the first round, but a cold streak in these final games can be devastating.  It’s time to break down the Eastern Conference, revealing the contenders, and exposing the pretenders.

Contenders

1)  Pittsburgh Penguins:

The Pittsburgh Penguins sit atop the conference, a lock for the playoffs, but not guaranteed any favourable position in the top eight.  A week ago at the trade deadline I would have said they were the most dangerous team in the league.  Sydney Crosby had returned to form as an MVP candidate and GM Ray Shero was wheeling and dealing for players like Jerome Iginla.  However, the team has recently suffered from the injury bug and many of their stars have been sidelined.  Crosby himself is recovering from a broken jaw, James Neal has been concussed, and Kris Letang has had an ailing lower body injury.  This team will always be a threat with a “second line centre” to fill the void like Evgeni Malkin and a veteran goalie tandem in Fleury and Vokoun.  They should have an easy match-up in the first round, but if they expect to go the distance it will depend largely on the return of their injured players.  A healthy lineup will surely be a dominant force and favourites for the cup.

2)  Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins might be the strongest, most well-rounded, opponent in the East.  Their GM, Peter Chiarelli, was definitely outdueled at the trade deadline by Ray Shero, but the team added experienced sniper Jaromir Jagr and has tremendous depth.  Tuukka Rask has played well enough to earn Vezina honours and backup Anton Kudobin has even looked steady behind the Boston defence.  Zdeno Chara on the back-end with his enormous frame and hockey stick can make life difficult on even the best forwards.  A key injury to watch is forward Patrice Bergeron, a top two-way centre, who is currently out with a concussion.  Bergeron has a history of concussions at the NHL level, he is crucial to the Bruins’ success, and there is no indication of a return anytime soon.  I think that this team has got what it takes to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, with or without Bergeron.  The East is lacking the balance of the West and the Pittsburgh Penguins are likely their main obstacle to the Finals.  If Pittsburgh cannot get over their current injury woes or play to their true potential, a team like Boston could walk all over them.

3)  Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens have had a bounce back year, placing 15th in the conference last year, and now hold the Northeast division lead.  The resurgence of Andrei Markov as a premiere blue liner is a pleasant surprise and teammate PK Subban is in the running for a Norris trophy.  Goaltender, Carey Price, has had some off nights throughout the year but he is an elite puckstopper that deserves credit as well.   First-year GM, Marc Bergevin, has done an excellent job turning around this franchise in a short time.  Notably, he added gritty role players like Brandon Prust, shed some extra baggage (as in Gomez), and drafted a young superstar in Alex Galchenyuk.  His initial moves as general manager in the NHL, while some obvious, have paid dividends and the team is heading in the right direction.  Everything seems to be clicking for this group and they impressively won their season series with the Boston Bruins 3-1.  They could do damage in the postseason and at least move past the opening round or two.  If Boston and Pittsburgh falter early on, Montreal has the team to step up and make a run for it.

Pretenders

1)  Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals were struggling all season, their offence wasn’t producing, and their goaltenders couldn’t stop a puck to save their life.  Now they are one of the hottest teams in the NHL with an 8-1-1 record in the last 10 games.  They went from a team that could get a very high draft pick to a division leader in the weak Southeast.  New coach Adam Oates received a lot of the blame for a slow start, but has since been praised for his work with Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals.  Alex Ovechkin has arisen from the dead and is actually competing with Steven Stamkos for the Art Ross trophy.  The team has the top ranked powerplay and is 7th in goals for, but they have polar opposite penalty kill and goals against stats.  I think this hot streak will be short-lived and might cool off before season’s end.  If they maintain their status in the division, they will benefit from their high-ranking in the standings, but will soon be defeated by a quality team such as Boston or Pittsburgh.

2)  Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had their best season in years, they may just break the longest playoff drought in the NHL.  In fact, I am going to make the bold statement as a Leaf fan that they will make the playoffs.  They are sitting in 5th place at the moment with plenty of breathing room on the fringe playoff teams.  Nazem Kadri is having a breakout season with 40 points in 40 games and James Reimer has asserted himself as the number one starter.  Coach Randy Carlyle has really had a positive affect on this youthful bunch, holding everyone accountable and evaluating players on their play and not their salary.  Mike Komisarek and Tim Connolly will suit up for the Toronto Marlies until their contracts are up or bought out.  The players that remain are devoted to the game plan and realize a playoff berth is at stake.  The Toronto Maple Leafs have become more defensively responsible, consistent in scoring, and most importantly tougher to face.  However, there will be a lot of growing pains and playoff experience is necessary before any real push can be made.

Sleeper

The New York Rangers are still a powerhouse, but their dismal season makes them my sleeper pick for the playoffs.  It is shocking that the top team in the Eastern Conference last year has regressed since the acquisition of power forward Rick Nash.  They will be a sneaky low seeded team, similar to Los Angeles, and could hit their stride at the right time.  The problem was that they tried to win it all with superstars and sacrificed the “foot soldiers” (a.k.a. Brandon Prust).  GM Glen Sather addressed the situation by trading sniper Marian Gaborik, and bringing in Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, and Derek Dorsett.  The 2011-12 Vezina trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist, is a difference maker and has the ability to steal games.  I wouldn’t worry too much about these guys, the season was fun, but the playoffs are for champions.

By: Andrew Smith – Lead Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: http://www.NHL.com

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In the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected London Knights centreman Nazem Kadri with their 7th overall pick.  The scouting report indicated a strong playmaker with the stick handling ability of Vincent Lecavalier.  In his draft year, he finished second in team scoring, after John Tavares, with 78 points in 56 games in the 2008-09 season.  It was expected that Kadri would be a key component of the post-Sundin rebuilding efforts in Toronto and the new Brian Burke regime.  He attended Leafs training camp and played 6 preseason games before the 2009-10 season, but was later sent back to London for more playing time.  As with most young and talented prospects, it is often the best decision to give them additional time to develop.

At this point, John Tavares had left for the NY Islanders in the NHL and Nazem Kadri would have an increased role with his hometown Knights.  In his second season, he tallied another 35 goals and 58 assists, improving on the previous year by 15 points.  He was even more dominant in the OHL playoffs averaging 2.25 points per game.  Leafs Nation was delighted with the progress of their top prospect; it was only a matter of time until he brought those numbers to the big club.  However, GM Brian Burke and Coach Ron Wilson were not satisfied with some aspects of his game, particularly his defensive responsibility.  Kadri once again attended training camp before the 2010-11 season, but was part of the last round of cuts.  He was then too old to return to the London Knight so he finally made the transition to the AHL and the Toronto farm team.  Nazem Kadri would continue to perfect his craft with the Toronto Marlies until he was called upon to replace injured players over the course of the Leafs season.  This season and the next with the “blue and white”, he shared time between the AHL and the NHL.  Nazem Kadri was given ample opportunity to prove himself as a professional hockey player, but he failed to make a significant impact and was often viewed as a defensive liability.  Whether you blame it on management or the player, first round picks do not always pan out and it was starting to look grim.

Desperate times called for desperate measures as Nazem Kadri hooked up with ex-Leaf and fitness guru Gary Roberts in the 2012 off-season.  Roberts has developed a reputable diet and training program for hockey players since his NHL retirement.  The poster boy for the program being Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning has always been in the running for the Maurice Richard (most goals in an NHL season) and Art Ross (most points in an NHL season) trophies.  Nazem Kadri was pushed to the limit under the new rigorous routines, claiming to have thrown up after the first few sessions.  It would be a long summer of hard work for the young player and it appeared as though Kadri was fully committed.   Would Gary Roberts be able to replicate the success he had with Stamkos and help Kadri live up to his true potential?

The NHL lockout put a damper on everyone’s spirits, Nazem included, delaying the start of the 2012-13 season.  Nazem Kadri was told to report to the Toronto Marlies in the AHL in the meantime, with hopes of pushing for a full-time job with the Leafs after the work stoppage.  Marlies Coach Dallas Eakins called him out in front of the media during the opening week of training camp, stating that Kadri’s conditioning was not at the level expected and his body fat percentage was amongst the highest in attendance.  This storyline gathered steam for several weeks throughout the hockey world; Nazem Kadri trained all summer with Gary Roberts and still was not in good shape.  It was also highly unusual that a coach would say that about one of his players to the public, when it is normally talk reserved for the dressing room.  Dallas Eakins has worked wonders with the Toronto farm team, leading them to the finals just last year; perhaps this was a tactic to spark Kadri to prove him wrong.  Despite all of the negative publicity, Nazem Kadri put up 8 goals and 18 assists through the first 27 games played (close to a point per game).

When the lockout ended in January 2013, there was a chance for a new beginning with the TML.  Assistant GM Dave Nonis took over once Brian Burke was fired, who then demoted centre Tim Connolly and traded another centre Matthew Lombardi.  The early moves made by the new general manager freed up roster space for emerging talent and would give Kadri the chance to be a full-time Leaf.  Coach Randy Carlyle would be behind the bench for a whole season, since Ron Wilson was let go late last year after a disastrous slide.  Carlyle is a completely different animal to Ron Wilson, with emphasis on team defence and accountability.  He has since had long discussions with Nazem Kadri about his overall game, instructing him when to make the “flashy” plays he was drafted for and when to play it smart.

In the first half of the 2013 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kadri has been nothing short of exceptional.  Coach Carlyle found Matt Frattin and newcomer Leo Komarov to be complementary line mates.  Frattin and Kadri had success together in the AHL during the lockout, whereas Komarov brought that extra toughness and physical edge.  This line benefited from playing against weaker defensive pairings, with other teams focusing on shutting down the Kessel and Grabovski lines.  The Toronto Maple Leafs could now roll three offensive lines that posed a threat to the opposition.  However, Matt Frattin was soon sidelined after 10 games of play with a flare-up in his MCL.  Nazem Kadri was off to the best start of his young NHL career, but he would have to persevere without his partner in crime.  Randy Carlyle had to adjust his line combinations in the next games, eventually placing Clarke MacArthur with Nazem Kadri.  The two have found remarkable chemistry together ever since and Kadri now leads the Leafs in points with 11 goals and 14 assists.  Although he is on that third line that sees considerably less ice time, he is outperforming consistent sniper Phil Kessel on a night in night out basis.

Leafs Nation were losing patience, even coming close to giving up on the kid, but now he is being looked at as the savior of the franchise.  He has finally matured into a grown man and his creativity with the puck has enhanced the game of those around him.  I can’t say enough great things about Nazem Kadri this season, but we have to keep in mind that it is only one season.  He has made some highlight reel plays and goals, been the most productive Leaf, but he still has a long way to go.  In my opinion, Nazem Kadri should be playing on the top line with Van Reimsdyk and Kessel by the end of the season.  We need to know what we have in this player, whether he can fill that void left by Mats Sundin.  We will never know what Kadri can become until he is matched up with the top defensive pairings and playing major minutes.  I expect he will be a dominant force, much better than Tyler Bozak, but it is still hard to say if he will be a superstar.

By: Andrew Smith – Lead Hockey Writer