Thirteen thoughts: McClement, the frenzy, and goaltending

I’m not going to voice my opinion on the Jay McClement signing yet. McClement was signed to be a third line, defensive centre – much in the mould of Sami Pahlsson on Randy Carlyle’s cup winning Ducks. McClement should help with the leadership void and the penalty kill, but the fact the bottom half of our forward group is starting to look like an episode of hoarders.

“[McClement] might push Steck down,” said Brian Burke. “But I think that’s where Steck probably belongs in terms of minutes, playing in the four hole, but on the first penalty-killing unit. So both those guys will probably end up with third-line minutes. He’s strong on faceoffs and in the last minute of a game, if we’re protecting the lead, he’s going to see the ice”. To tell you the truth, if we’re signing Mikhail Grabovski to a 5.5 million dollar contract and he’s putting up 50-60 pts per year, that seems like the kind of two way guy you want playing heavy minutes. 

Burke seems fairly committed to McClement and Steckel as the teams bottom six centers. That leaves Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly, Matt Lombardi, and Joe Colborne auditioning for the #1 spot. I could see Lombardi finding his way on the wing (and Colborne for another year in the AHL) but Tim Connolly looks like he’s on his way out. He’s had a tough go (In Toronto and everywhere) but he’s a serviceable two-way player with one year left on his contract. I could see someone taking him.

The biggest thing I draw from this is I had always been looking forward to the day where we acquire a #1 center and Tyler Bozak drops back to the #3 spot where he’s suited. It seems fairly clear now that if we ever acquire that center, Bozak’s days as a Leaf are numbered. 

When the Leafs acquire a player, I like to talk to a fan of the team who he played on before. Here’s a text from Avs fan @desmondfrier on Jay McClement”

“You’ll love McClement. I wish the Avs would have signed him for that much. Very good penalty killer, lead the league in PK time twice. Good at faceoffs. Wore an A. He isn’t super gritty but he can skate well – when he scores (not often) it’s generally a rush or a 2 on 1. Do you want to go to the beach when you’re off work? I have a BBQ and wieners.”

#1 – The Leafs also signed Mike Kostka, a steadily improving defenseman who played with the Calder Cup Champion Admirals and will probably never make the big club. I already have issue with Kostka, not because he scored the fluky OT winner against the Marlies, but because of the ridiculous way he celebrated it. I get it – it’s an OT goal, you’re hyped. But that’s just embarassing:

#2 – In regards to a couple of players we’ve let go: I wouldn’t have minded to see Joey Crabb resigned. Joey Crabb was a hard-working and versatile player who had an awesome hockey name. One time after Joey Crabb scored the shorthander against Buffalo. I emailed my dad with the subject line “I’ve Got the Crabbs”. My mom received that email. She called me. At work. 

#3 – Some people were disappointed in a lack of activity free agent day. Not me. With Connolly, Lombardi, and Komisarek on the books, this off-season should be about clearing fat through trades and ensuring that there’s a spot for Nazem Kadri or Matt Frattin or Jerry D’Amigo or Joe Colborne to play for. My biggest concern was we’d (as others did) overpay for the likes of Brandon Prust or George Parros. JP Nikota said it best: “Good news for Leafs fans so far this offseason: no Schenn, no Gustavsson, no Armstrong. Addition by subtraction. 

#4 –  I was surprised to see Jonas Gustavsson picked up by the Red Wings, but mostly surprised at the two year, three million dollar contract he received. I’ve watched him quite closely over his career and can’t imagine investing 3M the Monster. I will admit to being sucked in by the Gustavsson hype early in his career, no more than this 2-0 save against guess who…Detroit. The reaction in the ACC is massive – especially considering this is from a pre-season game. I hope Gustavsson has more luck getting on track in Detroit.  

#5 – Speaking of a lack of luck, Colby Armstrong; who was overpaid from the start, has been bought out. Armstrong played 79 games for the Leafs and missed 76 due to injury (not including healthy scratches). I can’t help but wonder if he could have been traded for a late pick for a team looking for a voice in the room or even to reach the cap floor, but he’s gone now. Armstrong was a player Leafs fans wanted to get behind but injuries and inconsistency made him about as useful as Patrick Kane’s publicist.

The Habs took a flyer on Army on a one year, one million dollar deal that I doubt they’ll regret. Armstrong played his best hockey under new Habs coach Michel Therrien.

Justin Bourne made an interesting point: Colby Armstrong, a childhood Habs fan, is living a Canadiens fans dream.  Armstrong’s agitating nature on the ice and lack of success as a Leaf could make him a hated member of the Canadiens this year. Interesting narrative going forward.

#6 –  Montreal has also added Francois Bouillon and Brandon Prust. Buffalo has added Steve Ott and John Scott. Toronto has dumped Armstrong and seems to be making signings less based on toughness. Ottawa has dumped Konopka and Carkner. The Boston Bruins have bullied their way to being the top dogs in the Atlantic Division. It’s interesting: Buffalo and Montreal look like their tired of being pushed around by the Bruins (and teams of that ilk). Toronto and Ottawa look like they’re trying to outskate the Bruins. Should be a fun year for our division. 

@67sound had an interesting tweet: "Apparently the Sabres and Canadiens have decided to copy the Leafs’ model from ’09-’11. This makes me happy."

#7 – We were in the running for Justin Schultz and made a strong effort to sign him. Toronto had traded a conditional second rounder to Anaheim for early negotiations rights but he wanted to test free agency. We were in the mix the whole way through and lost out to Edmonton. Are you surprised? They’ve got a group of forwards who look ready to step into elite status and essentially no one on the blueline. It’s an ideal situation for him. Can’t fault the management team here. Toronto’s defensive prospects discouraged Schultz from coming here. It’s a good thing. 

#8 – There’s a lot of politics about the Justin Schultz “Decision” but unlike Lebron, this was created by hockey fans and media who are quite simply bored waiting on Parise and Suter. Not really his fault. The dumbest part of the entire ordeal were people complaining about Brian Burke marching in the Pride parade on free agent day. As if all the money we spend on our a management team can’t handle to grace Burke with a 30 MINUTE WALK to honor his late son.

Burke’s son, and You Can Play President Patrick Burke was quick to dispel this via twitter: “[Brian Burke] had his cell phone on and out repeatedly. Never missed a thing. Anyone not getting that doesn’t understand how cell phones work. Just so it’s clear – the parade started at 2. Free agency started at 12. At that point market/cost/interest was established”.  When I see Leafs fans complaining about this, I get a taste of how reasonable Canucks fans must have felt when their city was rioting.

DownGoesBrown, as usual, hit the nail on the head: “"I was going to sign in Toronto but Brian Burke honoured his son instead of taking my call right away so now I won’t.".

#9 – Toronto’s interest in Martin Brodeur was brief but encouraging for two reasons: 1. Burke and company are actually making an effort to shore up goaltending and 2. Martin Brodeur said he had discussions with Burke and Nonis and he “likes the direction the team is going in”. A solid endorsement from the best goalie of all time. 

#10 – Speaking of goaltending, it’s fairly significant that Jussi Ryynas agreed to resign in Toronto. With the Leafs openly looking for a veteran goalie, James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, and Mark Owuya in direct competition with him, he still wants to sign to fight for minor league minutes. Why? Two words: Francois Allaire.

It always bugged me that people blame Allaire for our goaltending struggles. I always roll my eyes when fans criticize a coaches “system” – as if they know much at all about coaching at a professional level. That is the case 10x with goalie coaches. The goalies struggles are their own. If you want to hear about Allaire’s effectiveness, don’t listen to Damien Cox. Listen to Ben Scrivens. 

#11 – The internet exploded when Randy Carlyle mentioned he was considering trying out JVR at centre. But the important thing is “trying out”. People are so desperate for a solution at 1C but we can’t even entertain the notion of a player who was a centre for the bulk of his life? Keep in mind, we’ve been told 100 times that JVR hasn’t flourished as we expected. What’s the harm in trying something different?

And yet again: this is another affirmation that does not speak well for Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly as Maple Leafs. 

#12 – In regards to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter: we weren’t getting them. Suter wanted to play in the Western Confernence, and if Parise didn’t want to go home, he would have stayed in Jersey. People criticize Burke for not acquiring either player but on a good day a GM has a 1/30 chance of acquiring a free agent.

Ryan Fancey brought up a pretty scary point though:  “Aren’t Suter and Kessel buddies? Funny how Kessel and Heatley’s contracts end in the same year.” Kessel in Minny after life as a Leaf doesn’t seem that unlikely. 

#13 – There’s been rumblings about a Leafs/Blues trade (nothing overly specific). A quick twitter poll of some Blues fans revealed some interesting information: one fan in particular mentioned that if we offered Reimer for Elliott they’d run away with it. He thinks Reimer can be a great NHL goalie and the concussion slowed him dramatically. Interestingly, he doesn’t see any of the Leafs forwards or D as an upgrade on what they have. According to him, any deal between the Leafs and the Blues starts and ends with James Reimer.

Have a drink for me this weekend, if you’re a Leafs fan you probably need it.

  • albertabeef

    On the topic of #1 Centre. Connolly will be playing wing on the third line unless he is dealt away. Lombardi will be playing wing on the fourth line if not dealt away. Colbourne will be centering one of the two top lines with the Marlies unless dealt away. Bozak will be centering the top line unless a “true” number 1 centre is acquired via trade. In that case he will either be going the other way in such a deal or consequently will be moved in a separate transaction to free up a roster spot. Burke has another problem to sort out. He has too many bottom six wingers now, many of whom do not possess the skill set necessary to fill such roles.

    The acquisition of JVR bumps Kules down to the third line where the Leafs already have, Connolly, Lombardi, Brown and Frattin. I have a hard time imagining Kulemin or Brown spending any time in the press box. It would also be financially irresponsible for Connolly and/or Lombardi to sit in the Press box. As for Frattin he is more suited to the style of play desirous for the bottom six grouping then any of the other five already mentioned, with the exception of Brown. Additionally, this scenario most certainly precludes Kadri from any opportunity outside of an injury or trade from making the club. Thus it appears that something must give in order to resolve the current situation. The question now is: What will Burke and the Brain Trust at MLSE do to?