Monday, July 13, 2009

Morrison Capitalizing on Opportunity

It wasn't long ago when Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund, and Brendan Morrison were the talk of the league. They were arguably the best line in hockey during the 2002-03 season as the trio not only set career highs, but collectively posted 119 goals and 133 assists for 252 points. Not bad for one line. But since the lockout and the Steve Moore incident, every single one of their careers began to go downhill with a heap of steam.

Today, Todd Bertuzzi is still searching for a team to sign with for the upcoming season, Markus Naslund has announced his retirement, and Brendan Morrison is signed up to play for his fourth team since the start of the 2007-08 season after finding his way through trades and waiver claims. It's difficult to imagine the 34 year olds career to start elevating once again at this stage.

The main critical assement of the trios abilities on and off the ice start and end with the Steve Moore incident. It took place on February 16th of 2004, and following the lockout, none could return to their previous dominance on the ice. Bertuzzi was shipped off to Florida, hoping for a change of scenery, but constant injury problems plagued his career in the Sunshine State. He was then dealt to the Red Wings for a cup run, in which he posted 3 goals in 16 games. Bertuzzi was considered washed out and past his prime. A free agency signing with Anaheim watched the veteran power forward hit a 40 point season, followed by a year with the Calgary Flames with a 15 goal and 44 point campaign.

Naslund's goal totals continued to drop on a year to year basis after the Moore incident. He fell out of the 40+ goal plateau, into a legitimate 30 goal man, but after only 2 years after the unfortunate occurance, Naslund watched his performance dip to a high of 25 goals and no more than 60 points. After one season into his two year deal with the Rangers, Naslund had enough and retired from the game in North America.

Brendan Morrison has found it difficult discovering any sort of chemistry with any team he's played for, including the Canucks, the very team he thrived under after that night on February 16th of 2004. Only once in the last four years has he broken the 20 goal plateau, and while he's known for his playmaking abilities, he's only mustered up 56 assists in his last 120 games. But many believe he still has a chance to be an effective second line player in the NHL. After being claimed on waivers by the Dallas Stars at the deadline, Morrison posted 6 goals and 3 assists in his final 19 games, nearly matching his 10 goal performance throughout his 62 games playing for Anaheim.

The Washington Capitals and their fans know it won't be the 2002-03 Morrison that will be showing up to play on their 2nd line, but they sure would be pleased if he could get a few more years out of his career by breaking out of his 4 year rut. Morrison still has the touch, it's just a matter of his lack of confidence over shadowing his talent.

Micheal A. Aldred


Friday, July 10, 2009

Hitler Hates Heatley Video

Too funny not to share.

Mike Aldred


Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Monster" Leafs, Ducks aren't "Finnished"

The Toronto Maple Leafs have come to terms on a 1 year $810,000 contract with swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. The 24 year old is considered the best goaltender outside of the NHL today and looks to prove that he is indeed one of the best goaltenders in the game period. He'll get his chance next season as he joins the Maple Leafs organization as their 1B position in net.

Last season, Gustavsson was far and away the best goaltender in the Swedish Elite League as he posted a 1.96 goals against average and a 0.932 save percentage in the regular season and set a shutout streak record during the playoffs. He's scheduled to become the immediate backup to Vesa Toskala but since it is Toskala's spot to lose, or perhaps Gustavsson's spot to gain, it's difficult to imagine Jonas not playing consecutive nights early in the season.

The Anaheim Ducks also added more veteran presence to the dressing room as long-time friend of Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, joins the fold. He signed a 1 year 3.25M dollar contract after spending 13 years in Montreal. It's unlikely the two will play on the same line, but their chemistry in World Hockey events could prove to be the fuel to fire for a great second line scoring tandem.

There are still plenty of options out there for teams in terms of free agent signings as Alex Tanguay, Derek Morris, Todd Bertuzzi, Dennis Seidenberg, Robert Lang, Christian Backman, and god forbid, Mats Sundin are atop the popular names on the market, not including Brendan Shanahan. And if teams want a little grit and more suspensions, the scoring dynamo that is Ryan Hollweg is still waiting by the phone.

Micheal A. Aldred


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Beauchemin in Kaberle out? Good On Senators

Brian Burke was at it again Monday as he signed UFA defenseman Francois Beauchemin to a 3 year 10M dollar contract. The 29 year old adds that much more to the defensive and physical fold the Leafs are currently building. Now if they could only get a stable goaltender in net, Toronto could be a dangerous team to play against next season.

Jonas Gustavsson is expected to make his decision on where he will sign tomorrow. The front runners are the Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, but with Marty Turco in net for Dallas, you'd have to wonder what would coax the "Monster" in signing on for a year to ride the pine behind Marty.

The Senators also took a splash into free agency on Monday by signing sniper forward Alex Kovalev to a 2 year 10M dollar contract. While it is not a discount of any kind, it's just that much more talent being stripped away from the newly renovated Montreal Canadiens. The decision not to retain past key players such as Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek, Saku Koivu and now Alex Kovalev will prove to either be the best decision Gainey has ever made, or by far the worst.

Also on the Senators front, it's believed that Eugene Melnyk and Brian Murray no longer give a shit about the Heatley fold. They'd like to part ways with the demanding forward, but also understand that making him wait around for a while isn't necessarily a bad thing either. Heatley needs an ego check because it's now as big as his old Ferrari.

The Chicago Blackhawks avoided any possible spills with defenseman Cam Barker by signing him to a 3 year contract today. The NHL concluded it's investigation on the Blackhawks qualifying offers to their RFAs and fearing it would lead to the players becoming UFAs, the Chicago front office jumped the gun and began negotiating deals left and right to lock them up. Maybe next time they'll remember to follow proper procedure instead of chasing down Marion "I'll-never-win-a-cup" Hossa.

Micheal A. Aldred


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Toskala Will Be The Comeback Kid

Vesa Toskala will rebound after his abysmal display of goaltending last season.

The Finnish goaltender was among fan favorites in Toronto during his first season with the Leafs. His flashy, acrobatic style of goaltending proved to be succesful, as he was arguably the Leafs’ most valuable player in the 2007-08 campaign — even ahead of Mats Sundin. Leafs fans were singing his praises, and hopes to attain the Stanley Cup Playoffs suddenly lifted. But when a goaltender, particularly one who relies on his acrobatics, succumbs to nagging groin and hip injuries, well, you get the product Leafs fans had to endure last season. So Toskala was shut down, and was forced to get surgery while Martin Gerber finished off the season — and surprisingly well, too.

So it begs the question: Will Toskala be back to form next season, or will he continue to struggle with injuries, thus rendering him virtually useless considering his style.

Well, opinions vary, and many Leafs fans seem to have forgotten just how good he was during his first season. Personally, I’m willing to bet Toskala will perform brilliantly next season, and will earn the tag of the comeback kid.

In fact, if you ask me, I think the Leafs could have very well been in the playoffs last season if it were not for Toskala’s struggles. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, however, as the team has now acquired another highly touted prospect in Nazim Kadri.

But let’s take into consideration Burke’s latest additions to the Leafs’ defense core. With Mike Komisarek and Garnet Exelby added to the mix, Toskala will have the best defensive coverage he’s ever been graced with in Toronto. The Leafs’ defense will no longer be soft and unmenacing in front of the net. Not anymore, baby. Not with Exelby, Komisarek and Schenn guarding the Leafs’ end of the ice. As soon as the opposition crosses the blueline, it’s going to be no holds barred, and for the first time in a long time, the Leafs will be injecting a fresh dosage of fear into their opposition. This means more hits, blocked shots and scrums infront of the net. If Toskala can find the game that made him an effective goaltender two season ago, Toronto will be capable of silencing many of its critics.

It’s also worth noting that, if Burke does manage to acquire Unrestricted Free Agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (who is starting to piss me off more than Sundin with his non-decision making), the Leafs won’t be forced to play Toskala the majority of the season due to not having a capable back-up goaltender. If Gustavsson proves to be valuable commodity to the team, then Toskala’s workload could be more suitable to his limits, and he wouldn’t be forced to play with a wonky groin.

Toskala is also a pending UFA next summer, so you can bet he’ll playing with a little more intensity to secure a role as a number one netminder in the NHL.

Thankfully, Toskala will get all the rest he requires this summer after being shut-down during the season. This will give him a chance to fully recover from his nagging groin and hip injuries and, hopefully, make a comeback as the Leafs’ MVP. It’s no secret, however, that groin injuries can often affect a player’s career long-term, so it’s currently uncertain where Toskala’s career will go from here.

If Toskala can find his game again, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if he propels the Leafs into the playoffs. They’d squeak in with the current team intact, of course, but it would still serve as quality experience for a rebuilding club such as the Maple Leafs.

Prediction: Toskala has his best season with the Leafs and will be considered team MVP.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Leafs' Darkhorse Next Season Will Be...

Jiri Tlusty.

Since the 20 year-old was drafted 13th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Leafs fans have had high hopes that Tlusty would be a diamond in the rough, and would eventually play a crucial role in the Leafs' top-six.

However, Tlusty has struggled somewhat at the NHL level, posting a disappointing 10 goals and 20 points in 72 games played. But, it's not as if Tlusty has been given ample opportunity to shine, as he has been forced to play bottom-line minutes throughout his tenure with Maple Leafs thus far. Considering the type of game he plays, which does not include a robust defensive style, it's no wonder he hasn't progressed.

As soon as Tlusty was sent down to the Toronto Marlies last season, he flourished under the increased ice-time and responsibility. In fact, he ended up producing 25 goals and 66 points in 66 games played. It's also worth mentioning that he scored 5 goals and 6 points in one of those games as well. Even taking a look at his stats in the 2007-08 season with the Marlies, the then 19 year-old posted 7 goals and 18 points in 14 games played. There's no denying that, when given sufficient ice-time to produce, the Czech native is capable of posting points.

The question now is whether he is capable of translating these stats to the NHL or not. Taking into consideration the Leafs are in the rebuilding phase, I'd say next season will finally determine Tlusty's future with the Buds. Head coach Ron Wilson is aware that he's coming off an impressive season with the Marlies, so you can bet he'll give Tlusty an opportunity to crack the Leafs' top-six come training camp. However, Tlusty may find the task a little more difficult this time around, as there are a fresh new crop of players competing for the same role. Perhaps this is exactly what is needed, however, as the Leafs can now strain the less competitive players from the competitive ones.

While Tlusty lacks your prototypical "Burke-type player" tag, he's still got the potential to become an effective second-line scoring forward in the NHL. He lacks the defensive game to make him a two-way forward, but his speed, playmaking and goal-scoring abilities could make him a valuable commodity to any team looking for an offensive-minded player. And if you think Burke won't hesitate to trade Tlusty based off his style, you're wrong. Sure, Burke loves the sandpaper, grit and toughness implemented to his line-up, but he also understands that offensive players are a necessity if any has aspirations to eventually win the Stanley Cup. After all, he was involved in the Mike Cammalleri sweepstakes on July 1st, was he not?

Personally, I think Tlusty will crack the Leafs' top-six from get-go, and will surprise many observers throughout the season.

Prediction: Tlusty produces 18 goals, 51 points next season.


Friday, July 3, 2009

New Priority: Target Barker, Versteeg

With news breaking about the Chicago Blackhawks possibly making a critical error in filing qualifying offers to Restricted Free Agents Cam Barker, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Aaron Johnson and Troy Brouwer, I can't help but think Brian Burke is salivating at the thought of acquiring two players who would strenghten the Leafs' core in an instant.

Those two players are Barker and Versteeg. The pair of twenty-three year-olds are coming off remarkable seasons with the Blackhawks. Barker had a career-year, scoring 6 goals, 34 assists and 40 points. The 6'3, 222 pound offensive defenseman is the kind of player the Leafs could potentially replace Tomas Kaberle with -- should Burke opt to trade him, of course.

Versteeg, who played his first full season in the NHL, performed at a surprising rate, notching 53 points and 22 goals. While he lacks size (5'10, 180 pounds), he is said to have defensive awareness in his own end, which will help him have a lenghty career in the NHL despite his smallish stature. His role in the NHL is yet to be determined, but there's no denying his potential -- 4 goals and 12 points in 17 playoff games, anyone?

Burke, who has close to 10 million dollars in cap space, has the flexibility to not only offer the duo contracts (should they be rendered Unrestricted Free Agents), but to also stay in the hunt for UFA goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who is believed to make his decision in the coming days.

While Dave Nonis informed the media today that the Leafs are done with signings until the dust settles, you can bet that claim will be withdrawled should the Blackhawks epic fail with their qualifying offers.

Of course, adding another defenseman in Barker would further crowd the Leafs' defense. But no worries, this is the kind of problem GM's pray for. Particularly those whose names start with Bryan and end with Murray.

If Barker joins the mix, then all indications point to the trading of Kaberle, who would presumably be shipped for a young scoring forward.

So let's recap the potential events should the Blackhawks fail to secure their RFA's:

1) Leafs acquire Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg

2) Kaberle traded for a young scoring forward (Phil Kessel?) and/or prospects


Leafs upgrade their defense to a god-like level and acquire forwards to start building the top-six. Epic.

This is probably a dream, of course, but it's fun to speculate. It is a possible scenario, though, so is it really that absurd?

Probably. But hey, at the end of the day it doesn't really matter because I'll still wake up every morning knowing that the Leafs are going to completely manhandle the Montreal Canadiens' Fellowship of the Midgets next season.