Friday, February 03, 2006

Revisiting The Leafs Owen Nolan Trade

After watching Brad Boyes play so well last night in the Boston Bruins 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens and wondering how the Leafs could have traded Boyes away, I figured it would be a good time to look at the big Owen Nolan trade again.

On March 5, 2003 the San Jose Sharks traded Owen Nolan to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Alyn McCauley Brad Boyes and a 1st round draft choice in 2003. As we all know the Leafs are in a contract dispute with Owen Nolan and declined to pay Nolan his $5.6M salary this year. Since Nolan injured himself while at home, the Leafs also decided they are not responsible for buying Nolan out for two thirds of his salary. This matter still has not been resolved.

At the time of the trade the Leafs felt they were getting the big power forward that could get them to the promised land of the Stanley Cup finals. In 2003 Nolan finished the regular season with a respectable 12 points in 14 games. In the playoffs Nolan chipped in an unsatisfactory 2 assists in 7 playoff games and that was it. In 2003-2004 Nolan contributed 48 points in 65 games and was not available for the playoffs. This was not the player the Leafs traded for.

Alyn McCauley finished out the 2003 with 10 points in 16 games. In 2003-2004 McCauley contributed 47 points in 82 games and a further 3 points in 11 playoff matches. On paper at least, the Sharks got pretty good value just by obtaining McCauley for Nolan.

Brad Boyes spent most of his time in the AHL prior to this season picking up 75 points in 80 games with the Providence Bruins last season. In March, 2004 The Bruins traded defenseman Jeff Jillson to Buffalo, which sent center Curtis Brown to San Jose, which sent forward Brad Boyes and defenseman Andy Delmore to Boston. This season the 23 year old has 38 points in 53 games with the Bruins and is now playing on the 1st line with Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm. Boyes certainly would look good now wearing the Blue and White of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The first round draft choice, 16th overall in 2003 was used by the San Jose Sharks to select 6'2" 233 lb power forward Steve Bernier. After four seasons of 30+ goals in the QMJHL with Moncton Wildcats, Bernier started this season with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL. This season Bernier picked up 42 points in 44 games with the Barons and in January, 2006 was promoted to the San Jose Sharks where he has now played 8 games and picked up 2 points. Shark fans are talking long term that Bernier could be the power forward that Nolan once was.

Sometimes the best trades are the trades that are not made.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Lightning Strikes Leafs

Tuesday night the Toronto Maple Leafs ended overtime tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-2 and eventually lost in the shoot-out. Ed Belfour put together his second consecutive excellent performance turning aside 35 shots during regulation and overtime, but, it wasn't enough. Darcy Tucker also played very well for the Leafs scoring a goal and assisting on another to extend his goal scoring streak to three games since returning from injury.

Bryan McCabe returned to action and played well for his first game back, but, the rust was evident. McCabe was unable to contain Ryan Craig in front of the net in the third period which resulted in Craig scoring to tie the game at 2-2.

The worst defensive play was far more painful to watch. The play started with Tomas Kaberle clearing the puck from behind the net with a limp pass. Kaberle obviously did not realize how little time was left in the period. Cory Sarich intercepted the pass, Alexei Ponikorovsky failed to cover and Brad Richards knocked it past Belfour with 0.6 seconds left in the first period, a period the Leafs otherwise dominated.

Kaberle did redeem himself somewhat with a second period power play goal with a nice shot from the point that Darcy Tucker was later credited with deflecting. Overall the defence including the kiddie corps (Staffan Kronvall, Andy Wozniewski, Jay Harrison) did play quite well, although Belfour's stellar goaltending did cover up some sins.

The Shoot Out went poorly for the Leafs as they were clearly outclassed by World Class snipers. Mats Sundin had the first shot and had a poor attempt resulting in a shot right into the abdomen of Sean Burke and an easy save for Burke. I figured Pat Quinn would start with Sundin out of respect, but, Sundin just is not that good of a sniper at this point. Next up was Vincent Lecavalier who did a masterful deke on Belfour culminating with a back hand to the top shelf. Ponikovsky then had his turn for the Leafs and shot a laser wrist shot to the crossbar on what was a very nice attempt. Brad Richards capped the game off for the Lightning with a similar attempt to Poni's, but, with success.

I'm curious as to why Kyle Wellwood wasn't shooting for the Leafs. He has a fantastic pair of hands, is very creative and must be tough to defend against as he is very unpredictable. Wellwood is slowly blossoming for the Leafs and at times is extremely entertaining to watch.

If nothing else, the shoot out showcased the masterful skills of Lecavalier and Richards, two who I will be cheering on in the Olympics and who will be involved in capturing the Gold Medal for Canada.

Bits and Bites....There is a good article on Oshawa Generals 15 year old future super-star John Tavares ...I attend many Generals games and truth is Tavares is a joy to watch, a very good sniper and a good playmaker who is living up to his press clippings.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Leafs End Losing Streak, First Win In 23 Days

All was well last night for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their 4-2 victory in Sunrise over the Florida Panthers. Ed Belfour kept his anger in check on his way to his best outing since January 6th when the Leafs lost 1-0 to Calgary Flames. Belfour stopped 33 shots and was the First Star last night. Mats Sundin also played well, chipping in 3 assists and was the Second Star. It was a game Leafs fans had been waiting a long time for, it was the first victory in 9 games for this team.

Once again Jason Allison played pretty good contributing two assists. To many Leafs fans it looks like Allison isn't doing that much. It's kind of like the Larry Murphy syndrome when Murphy came to the Leafs as a top offensive defenseman and was eventually booed out of town. Not that Allison is getting booed that much, but, he is not getting the respect he deserves. Leaf fans like players who are either fast or tough, if you're slow you've got to be tough and if you're not tough you have to be very fast. Allison is neither fast or tough, he is just a very smart player. He isn't blessed with speed, but, he finds the open man and is an exceptional playmaker. Although his lack of speed is a detriment in this new speedy NHL, his intelligence compensates. Sure Mats Sundin got three assists last night, but two of them were passes to Jason Allison who made the key pass for the goal. All trade talks involving Allison should be stopped as he is unofficially their number one center and officially their number one playmaking forward.

Alexander Khavanov was injured last night and may have a broken foot. Lately, almost every game a defenceman goes down and last night the Leafs played most of the game with five defencemen (Kaberle, Klee, Kronwall, Wozniewski, Harrison) and they played better than could be expected. Bryan McCabe is expected back for tonights game and should provide a much needed lift to this defence corps.

Last night, the Leafs continued to take foolish penalties, but, the Panthers were even worse earning 10 minor penalties over the Leafs 8 minors. The Leafs need to play with more composure if they plan on making the playoffs. The Panthers played flat foolish hockey last night and as glad as I was to see the Leafs win a game, I'm not sure if they won so much as Florida didn't try to win.

Tonight, the Leafs play in Tampa Bay against the Lightning and their 28th ranked power play. If the Leafs get their usual array of penalties tonight, the Lightning may not punish them at all with their weak power play. Hopefully, the Leafs can put together some good hockey tonight and win their second in a row.

I wonder if Pat Quinn will tap Ed Belfour to play tonight. I would give Mikael Tellqvist the start, he played alright on Saturday and at Belfour's age it is a risk to give him the start in back to back games. Besides, I think one of the reasons Belfour played well last night was because he was fuming on the bench on Saturday. I'd hate to see Belfour snap, but, his workload needs to be reduced and Tellqvist's increased.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Leafs Losing Streak Hits 8, Leafs Lose In Overtime

Another game, another loss, this time 4-3 in overtime against the rival Montreal Canadiens. For the first 50 minutes of the contest, the Leafs looked pretty good, especially our defense with 3 rookies manning the blueline. It was a night that was not to be as the Leafs could not hold their 2-1 lead and were down 3-2 late in the 3rd period before Ken Klee teed up a hard low slapshot to force overtime. As per usual, defensive miscues cost the Leafs the game in overtime while they were short handed due to a foolish Alexander Khavanov penalty on the follow through of a good play to stop Alex Kovalev on his drive to the net.

Darcy Tucker made his return to action after missing the six previous losses and played very well, scoring the Leafs first goal and was the best Leaf on the ice. Oshawa native Jay Harrison made his debut tonight and played well. On the post game shows, Don Cherry remarked that Harrison is a big, tough defenceman who played a great game and should have been called up by the Leafs a long time ago. Gary Green and Andy Frost echoed Grape's comments on After The Horn on Leafs TV. On a similar play to the one where Khavanov drew his foolish penalty, Harrison did his best to stop speedy Michael Ryder. Not only did Tellqvist make a nice save, but, Harrison didn't pull a Khavanov and hold his opponent after the play was made.

Jason Allison played a fair game and chipped in a couple of assists. Allison may as well be the number one centre on the Leafs as Lindros is still hurting and Mats Sundin is evolving more and more into a bit player. You rarely see Sundin leading a rush anymore.

Tie Domi and Wade Belak made some foolish comments in the past week. Domi said that Leafs fans were pointing the finger at everyone and anyone and the players didn't really care. Belak said that if the Leafs win a game or two the fans will forgive them and love them again. Well Tie, you played poor last night and I don't even know if Belak dressed last night, I certainly can't recall him being on the ice. Domi has a terrible set of hands and is rarely capable of completing a leading pass so that the receiver can get the pass at full steam. Sorry to say it, but, Tie is done. He's not the fighter he used to be, he skates well, but, there are lots of young guys who could be getting his ice time who skate as well or better and who could be improving into something more than what Domi will give them.

Andy Wozniewski went from playing alright early on to playing poorly late in the game. Wozniewski almost gave the game away with 30 seconds left in the 3rd period when he made a poor pass and the puck was laying in the Leafs slot unattended. I guess Pat Quinn didn't notice the giveaway though as he showed confidence in Wozniewski putting him on the ice to kill a penalty less than a minute into OT.

When I noticed Wozniewski coming onto the ice, I wondered what the heck Quinn was thinking. Of course at 1:04 of overtime Wozniewski was unable to check Saku Koivu from his spot to the left of the crease where he banged away at Tellqvist until the puck went into the net. I'm not sure if I should be upset with Wozniewski, upset with Quinn for having him on the ice at that time or upset with John Ferguson Jr. for masterminding this edition of the Leafs with the most porous defence in recent memory. Steve Simmon wrote a very good article on the failings of JFJ.

Next game is Monday night in Florida against the Panthers. There is a chance Bryan McCabe could be back for this one. If so, I hope JFJ understands that Wozniewski needs to go back to the Marlies for further seasoning. Even if McCabe doesn't come back, shuffling Wozniewski with Brendan Bell would be a good move. Tellqvist deserves the start Monday, let's see if Pat Quinn has the guts to do that.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Leafs Suffer 7th Straight Defeat

Diehard Leaf fans live and die with the success or failure of the Leafs. I've tried to be positive, but I just don't have it in me tonight. The Leafs were outplayed tonight by the Buffalo Sabres and deserved to lose 8-4. If it wasn't the poor defensive zone coverage then it was the foolish penalties that caused this loss.

Jason Allison woke up with the flu this morning and missed the morning skate, but, soldiered on tonight to earn his -3. The Sabres first goal oddly bounced in off Allison's skate. Although there were no Sabres in the slot or nearby, Allison figured he would skate through the crease for some strange reason. When the puck was centered to the front of the net by Sabre Jochen Hecht, Allison seemed to kick the puck in past Ed Belfour and that was enough to set Belfour off. Belfour even took a two minute minor for roughing and was pulled after the score was 4-1.

Buffalo's second goal was caused by poor defensive coverage by Andy Wozniewski. Wozniewski by the way was not on my list of potential callups. Wozniewski decided he would screen Belfour so that Derek Roy would have a tougher time, of course it deflected off Wozniewski's skate. Note to defensive zone coverage seal off the pass, keep the shooter to the outside and let the goaltender see the shooter and puck at all times. Sorry Andy, after your -4 you need more time with the Marlies, and John Ferguson Jr. you need to read my blog.

Even the positives were negative tonight, Alexander Steen scored two goals yet was -3 and Mats Sundin played a decent game chipping in 2 assists with some physical play and was -1.

Belfour was pulled when it got to 4-1. After the game Pat Quinn would not comment on who would start in net Saturday night against Montreal. Come on Pat, give Telly a chance, Steady Eddie hasn't been so steady lately physically or mentally it would seem.

Aki Berg hurt a rib and left after the second period and only played 4:25 tonight, but, of course was -1. We can't blame Berg for the loss tonight which is a positive for him as he is usually a prime suspect.

Well Fergy, your counterpart Rob Babcock got the axe today for the questionable moves he has made during his time running the Raptors into the ground. When I see all the foolish penalties the Leafs make, especially the crappy hooking penalties, I wonder if you actually understood the rule changes for this year. Or perhaps you just didn't have the ability to clean out the dressing room of all the pals of ownership. Either way you look at it, there were some errors in assessing their on-ice talent prior to this year. Whatever you do, don't compound it by trading away our youth.

Like all bitter Leaf fans, I'm waiting for something to happen, some sort of shakeup. Sure, they sell out the ACC every night and we watch the games like we're in some sort of Leaf cult, but, something's got to give. Do you think the fans were sending a message when they cheered when Ed Belfour got pulled? I sure do, if you do nothing else tomorrow Fergy, send Woz back to the Marlies, call up Jay Harrison and give Telly the start Saturday night and see if he can put some strong games together. If you need a second body to fill in for Colaicovo or Berg, trade a low draft pick for some defensive depth, we clearly have very little.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Breaking News....Jays Sign Reliever James Baldwin

Toronto Blue Jays today signed relief pitcher James Baldwin to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Baldwin was 0-2 last season with a 3.81 ERA in 28 relief appearances for the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. Baldwin started the year in Texas and was later claimed off waivers by Baltimore. Baldwin also spent time with AAA club Ottawa Lynx.

Rumour....Leafs Acquire Jamie Rivers

On Leafs Lunch today it was revealed that the Leafs have acquired Red Wings defenceman Jamie Rivers for future considerations.

Rivers is a 30 year old veteran of 404 games (Red Wings, Panthers, Bruins, Senators and Blues) in the NHL and should help the blue line. He is 6' 190 lbs.

This trade has not been confirmed. It's a shame that John Ferguson Junior wouldn't give Jay Harrison a shot. The only difference between Harrison and Rivers, the Red Wings 8th Defenceman is that Rivers has experience. Otherwise Harrison has the potential to be much better than Rivers. JFJ, tell Pat Quinn to go back to his hole, show some guts and call up the kids.