Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Craig Custance of the Sporting News,
A nice preseason means nothing when it comes to accumulating points for a possible return to the playoffs. But the speed in which Burke has closed the talent gap between Toronto and division rivals Ottawa, Buffalo, Boston and Montreal is astonishing.
Yes, the playoffs may still be a long shot, but we’re done trying to predict what Burke can’t do. He’s delivered on nearly everything else he set out to accomplish in Toronto. And he has done it in less than a year.
Adding young talent might be the one accomplishment that ultimately makes the biggest impact.
“All the young players have been contributors as the competition has gotten better and more difficult,” said Toronto’s senior vice president of hockey operations, Dave Nonis. “It bodes well for us long-term.”
from Damian Cox of the Spin at the Toronto Star,
Somehow, the Maple Leafs will make the playoffs.
There, I said it. Now it will almost certainly haunt me for the next seven months.
Maybe it’s just a change of pace after predicting non-playoff campaigns over and over in recent years.
But suggesting a Leaf playoff berth certainly isn’t about logic. There are gaping holes in this Toronto lineup that can’t be denied.
But you can bet on an improved sense of team identity to help Brian Burke’s Leafs, and let’s face it, the mediocrity of so many Eastern Conference teams leaves the door wide open for any club able to put together a 93-95 point season.
from Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun,
The lanky free agent signee may have moved a big step closer to being one of the most promising in the league with his 15-stop performance.
It took him two nights—20 minutes on Friday and 40 more last night—but Gustavsson recorded a backhanded shutout, was named the game’s first star and will have tongues all around Leafs Nation wagging this morning.
As irrational as the debates will get, there was some added spice when starter Vesa Toskala let in a softy late in the first period on a shot he should have stopped.
Gustavsson had some Swedish accompaniment in one of the last bids to make an impression on management with the regular-season now just four sleeps away.
“I hate to invoke fictitious anchor and Bill Bonds impersonator Ron Burgundy, whose, “Stay Classy” became a cliche faster than grandma saying that her pearls constituted “bling bling,” but the utter arrogance of the Leaf fans in attendance, and their ignorance of the fact that they were in enemy territory, was plain old stupid. The yuppified crowd (I guess they can’t quite afford platinum seats at the ACC) gathered in impromptu mobs amongst the concourse crowd after the game, reprising their, “Go Leafs Go” chants, saying, “See you in April!” (to go golfing along with Burke’s goon squad?), and some moron didn’t seem to realize that the Red Wings-Maple Leafs rivalry still burns hot enough in at least one Detroit fan’s heart…”
-George Malik of SnapShots. More from George…
from Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun,
After many rejected nicknames, the winner came to Christian Hanson in a flash after he and Ryan Bozak and Viktor Stalberg just completed another high-energy shift.
“The Frat Pack,” Hanson said proudly. “You know, like Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.
“We hadn’t come up with a good one yet. That’s your job (the media). Maybe we should hold a contest.”
Call them what you will—a Sun reader suggested Highway 86 in honour of their shared birth year—the Maple Leafs trio of NCAA grads has been one of the delights of camp for coach Ron Wilson.
from Tim Wharnsby of the Globe and Mail,
If the Toronto Maple Leafs’ in-house television station Leafs TV is in need of some off-season programming, it may want to follow around defenceman Garnet Exelby for a summer.
He’s part Marlin Perkins of the old Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom show and part competitor on The Amazing Race, the popular reality television series.
Since last season ended, the 28-year-old Exelby went bungee jumping in New Zealand and swam with bull sharks off the coast of Fiji, and he visited Sweden to work on his skating with an on-ice guru.
from Damian Cox of the Spin at the Toronto Star,
Kessel, says Chiarelli, demanded a trade and wouldn’t negotiate a contract, so that was that. Indications are that was indeed the situation, and Kessel’s statement that he “never once” demanded a trade was really just semantics. Whether his agent made the demand or whether his unwillingness to talk contract was a passive aggressive strategy, it really doesn’t matter now.
Clearly, Julien’s coaching style was part of the issue, and so the most fascinating part of Kessel’s career as a Leaf when it begins in two months or so will be how he and Ron Wilson are able to forge a working relationship. Wilson’s a demanding coach, and he can be caustic and pointed in his public and private remarks when he feels it is warranted. San Jose officials make no bones about the fact they believe Wilson’s riding of Patrick Marleau retarded Marleau’s development.
Understand this. While Wilson and Burke are friends from years back, Burke now has more personal prestige invested in Kessel being successful than in Wilson, a coach Burke didn’t hire. The Leaf GM will hope Wilson and Kessel get along very well, but it’s a great deal more difficult to find top six forwards than head coaches.
from Damian Cox of the Toronto Star,
Last winter, the Leafs were an outfit adrift without personality, a club that had scored a bunch of goals early in the season, was terrible defensively, wasn’t ornery to play against and, depending on the game, might fill out half or more of its lineup with skilled European-born and trained players.
Today, the Leafs are destined to be one of the NHL’s goonier teams, a club dominated by North American talent and muscle, a team that surely has a distinct personality sculpted entirely by Burke.
He has changed the roster, added front office personnel, lured one of the game’s top goalie coaches and revamped the pro and amateur scouting staffs. A club that not that long ago seemed unattractive to players with other choices has in rapid succession outbid stiff competition for Mike Komisarek, François Beauchemin, Colton Orr, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, netminder Jonas Gustavsson and, really, Kessel.
For each of these players there were at least three bidders and in some cases four times that many. But Burke got them all.
Suddenly, the Leafs are a destination, mostly because of Burke’s personal touch.
A Maple Leafs general manager probably hasn’t acted with this much bully power since Conn Smythe was running the franchise years ago.
-Kevin Allen of Mucking and Grinding at USA TODAY. More on Burke and the Kessel deal.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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