|Brian Burke wants to melt your icy heart with a warm island tune.
30 wins, 38 losses, 14 OTL, 74 points, 29th overall in the league
To compare Brian Burke's tenure as Maple Leafs' GM to a historical event, it was like the beginning of the crack epidemic in the ghettos of America. The biggest and most prestigious hockey team in the world brought in the fiery Brian Burke two years ago to reconstruct a largely woeful team with a fan base that was preparing to storm the gates of the Air Canada Centre and take a page out of the French Revolution. Burke promptly set out to create a cult of personality for himself while reshaping the team in his image. After finishing second to last in the league and making a couple of questionable decisions the Leafs are teetering on the edge as the success of Burke's mini-rebuild remains in question. This season will be the definitive year in whether or not Burke's plan will lead to success or the Leaf fans bring the guillotine to the ACC.
The first line this year will be an entire Burke creation. The Leafs ran head long into Murphy's law last season when they acquired sniper Phil Kessel for two first round picks and one second round pick. The 23-year old Kessel is already one of the most dynamic goal scorers possessing an extremely deadly shot and a keen offensive acumen that will see him as an elite player in this league sooner rather than later. However Kessel has faced health concerns though his career and has gained the label of being fragile. The Maple Leafs' offense will be built around Kessel as the Maple Leafs hope he can realize his destiny as one of the best goal scorers in the league. Tyler Bozak has been a pleasent surprise for the Maple Leafs. The 24-year old center was signed out of college as one of the top UFA prospects. Bozak impressed immediately scoring 27 points in his 37 game debut last year and will be centering the top line to open the season in Toronto. Bozak has excellent vision with the ability to distribute the puck to his teammates. It will be interesting to see how Bozak responds to the 82 game schedule and if he can continue his progression as a legit top six playmaker. The versatile Kris Versteeg will begin the year on Toronto's top line. The 24-year old was an impressive role player on the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks last year and the Maple Leafs think there's more potential offensive upside in him.
Clarke MacArthur signed with the Leafs after failing to come to terms with the Atlanta Thrashers. MacArthur will be a fixture on the Leafs second line providing respectable secondary scoring and a fair two-way game. MacArthur has often been criticized for his work ethic and intensity levels but he'll be in an optimal situation to produce in Toronto. Mikhail Grabovski is a German playmaking center who's found his way to anchoring the Leafs' second line. The 26-year old is adept at moving the puck and generating offense but lacks the polish to his game to fully capitalize on his innate talent. 24-year old Nikolai Kulemin has been something of an enigma having been unable to realize his offensive potential in the NHL. Kulemin possesses a decent work ethic and instincts in all three zones but has had difficulty finding consistency. This will be a key season for Kulemin as the clock on whether he'll can be more than a pseudo top sixer may be ticking down.
Colby Armstrong was the Leafs' biggest free agent acquisition getting a fat three million dollar deal. Armstrom is one of the better grinders in the league offering an extreme work ethic, sound two-way play, and the ability to get the other team off their game. Fredrik Sjostrom found his way to the Leafs in the blockbuster trade with Calgary from last year. The former 11th overall never really found himself in the NHL and has bounced around the league offering a sound defensive game. Sjostrom will be one of the key penalty killers for the Leafs. Unknown 26-year old Tim Brent will fill in as the Leafs' third line center. Brent doesn't excel at any one facet of the game but plays an adequate worry free game while being a something of a leader on the ice.
Rounding out the forwards group will be noted pugilist Colton Orr who will be getting regular shifts and knocking out opponent's teeth for the Leafs. On the opposite wing will be energy grinder Mike Brown who excels in the defensive zone and will also drop the gloves with anyone. Depth center Mike Zigomanis will center the fourth line but could be moved soon as he's already been placed on waivers once by the Leafs this off-season.
GM Brian Burke made one of the biggest trades in Leafs history in a seven player deal that saw the center piece premiere defenseman Dion Phaneuf arrive in Toronto. The 25-year old Phaneuf is a top defenseman in this league offering an elite offensive game with an impressive physical dimension. Phaneuf has had difficulties in recent years regaining the flair he entered the league with but the Leafs are placing a lot of hope that Phaneuf can regain his All-Star form. Phaneuf was named captain of the Leafs this off-season. Francois Beauchemin will be Phaneuf's defensive partner this year. The 30-year old Beauchemin is a minute eating defenseman who can play in all three zones while offering a bit of bite on the back end. Beauchemin is at his best when he plays a simple game but had difficulties rising to the expanded opportunity he received in Toronto last year.
Tomas Kaberle is one of the best offensive defensemen and powerplay quarterbacks in the world. The Czech defenseman excels in the offensive zone with creative vision and an unmatched playmaking skill. Kaberle has been one of the most consistent point producers from the back end no matter how poor the team around him is. Kaberle will be anchoring the second pairing and first powerplay unit. Playing with Kaberle will be 20-year old Luke Schenn who's developing into a premiere shutdown defenseman. The former fifth overall boasts decent skating for a man of his size and the intangibles necessary to lockdown a defensive zone. This year should be huge for Schenn in the course of his development as he is relied upon to be the de facto defensive defenseman and key penalty killer for the Leafs.
Mike Komisarek signed a huge contract two years ago as one of Burke's first big moves with the Leafs. Komisarek is a big physical defensive defenseman who thrives in a dirty game. Komisarek was the subject of much loathing by the Leafs' faithful last season as he had some hiccups and inconsistent play but he'll be a key defender on the Leafs' blue line. 23-year old Carl Gunnarsson has been a surprise for the Leafs developing into a decent depth player and puck moving defenseman. Gunnarsson will get the opportunity to generate offense playing consistently on Toronto's bottom pairing.
In net the Leafs were lucky to acquire former Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winning goaltender JS Giguere from the Ducks for spare parts last year. Giguere had fallen out of favor with his previous team and was largely forgotten by the hockey world after two rough seasons in Anaheim. However Giguere is one of the most venerable goaltenders in the league and possesses a wealth of experience while being in an optimal situation for him in Toronto. The big butterfly goaltender has already been named the Leafs' number one and will look to have a bounce back season this year. Backing him up will be much hyped Swedish netminder Jonas Gustavsson who hasn't found himself yet in the NHL. 'The Monster' was one of the most hyped European players when Burke signed him last year and the Leafs hope that he'll develop into their franchise netminder. It remains to be seen whether Gustavsson really has number one potential in this league but he'll be an adequate backup to Giguere this year.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of talent on this team. The Leafs have a decent defense and finally have some stability in net. However the question for the Leafs will be can their offense hold out and can this team that's been thrown together rather quickly gel to become a contendor? I personally don't think they can this year. Look for them to come in somewhere between 21st-26th in the league.
BVB's Projected Opening Night Lineup
Kris Versteeg - 23 G/32 A 55 P
Tyler Bozak - 17 G/43 A 60 P
Phil Kessel - 39 G/30 A 69 P
Clarke MacArthur - 18 G/22 A 40 P
Mikhail Grabovski - 15 G/29 A 44 P
Nikolai Kulemin - 17 G/22 A 39 P
Fredrik Sjostrom - 4 G/12 A 16 P
Tim Brent - 5 G/12 A 17 P
Colby Armstrong - 16 G/17 A 33 P
Colton Orr - 3 G/3 A 6 P
Mike Zigomanis - 1 G/2 A 3 P
Mike Brown - 2 G/1 A 3 P
Francois Beauchemin - 4 G/22 A 26 P
Dion Phaneuf - 14 G/29 A 43 P
Tomas Kaberle - 8 G/40 A 48 P
Luke Schenn - 7 G/19 A 26 P
Carl Gunnarsson - 5 G/18 A 23 P
Mike Komisarek - 3 G/12 A 15 P
JS Giguere - 23-23-6 | 2.87 GAA | .915 Sv%
Jonas Gustavsson - 12-15-3 | 2.96 GAA | .904 Sv%