Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Notes
By Tony Ambrogio (@SNTonyAmbrogio)
Here’s what we learned from the Toronto Maple Leafs charity golf tournament on Monday — rounded up into some Toronto Maple Leafs offseason notes:
- Brian Burke hates ESPN
- Nazem Kadri – facing a critical season ahead – is in the best shape of his career thanks to a former Maple Leaf.
- Joffrey Lupul is thinking about playing in Europe if there is a labour stoppage.
- James Reimer is THE man, according to the GM.
First things first: Brian Burke has little time or use for ESPN.
Of course the Toronto Maple Leafs President and General Manager said the same thing about Sports Illustrated when they criticized Captain Dion Phaneuf and called him the most overrated player in the NHL.
“I don’t think ESPN knows a single thing about hockey,” Burke told the media at the team’s annual charity golf tournament. “I think their hockey coverage stinks and I don’t think they know anything about Canada.”
What has Burke so fired up?
ESPN the Magazine ranked the Leafs last – 122nd out of 122 teams – in terms of the worst organization in pro sports in North America.
Not making the playoffs since 2004 (and being the the only NHL team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout) didn’t help.
That survey was based on a number of factors from ticket prices to team success to players and coaches.
Leafs fans probably don’t like it, but they can take comfort in the fact that the Phoenix Coyotes – the team with no ownership – finished 6th overall! Yes the same team that has been rumoured to be on the move for years was voted the 6th best franchise in North American pro sports.
Burke also used the golf tournament to say that the team he has now is what he will be going with once the season starts (whenever that may be).
“We’ve made a couple of changes we think are important. James van Riemsdyk and Jay McClement are worthy additions to our team and we’ll go from there.”
He also again sang the praises of James Reimer, his number one goalkeeper – for better or for worse.
“We believe in James,” Burke said. “We said from the get-go that if we get an opportunity to upgrade we will. But it’s not a frantic search for a goaltender. He’s a guy who started off great last year, got run from the side and struggled with injuries and confidence issues. We see no reason he can’t be the guy we think he can be.”
Despite rumours the Leafs are interested in Roberto Luongo – although Luongo seems more interested in Florida – Reimer wasn’t bothered by all the talk.
“Luckily where I was living (Morweena, Manitoba) I was kind of sheltered,” Reimer said Monday. “It’s something I can’t really control. I trust Brian and what he thinks he needs to do. He says he has faith in me and that’s fine with me.”
Funny what a difference a year can make. Last year at this time, Reimer was coming off an impressive half season with the Leafs and when he started the year 4-0-1, Leafs fans were talking playoffs.
Then Brian Gionta ran into him in a game October 22nd, and Reimer was never the same player.
“The beauty of going through adversity and having a crappy season, if you can call it that, was that you learn so much. It’s only a disaster if we don’t learn from it.”
Reimer was 14-14-4 last season with a .900 save percentage and a GAA of 3.10.
Nazem Kadri can’t wait to get on the ice for training camp. The 7th overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft has heard plenty of criticism since he joined the team.
They’ve included: He isn’t big enough, doesn’t play both ends of the ice, and he is far too selfish.
That’s why the 21 year old Kadri is so excited for the season: It will be a chance to prove his critics wrong.
“This is the best I’ve ever felt, I’m so excited,” Kadri told reporters.
That’s due in large part to former Leaf Gary Roberts, who has taken a number of young players under his wing in a demanding nutrition and fitness regime that has worked wonders for the likes of Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner.
Kadri hopes it will work for him as well.
“I feel a lot better than I have,” said Kadri. “My lower-body strength is where I have improved the most. I think I’m faster, especially the first couple of steps. That’s something I’ve improved on.”
And just think, Kadri got involved with Roberts thanks in part to a tweet the former NHL player sent out in mid-April.
“Think if @MapleLeafs @43_Kadri trained (with) me this summer Burke would let him on the big team?
Kadri saw the tweet and got in contact with Roberts. From working out to watching what he ate, Kadri had a busy and possibly life-changing summer.
“It was a pretty tough 10 weeks,” Kadri said, as he enters the final year of his 3-year entry level contract. The Leafs hope those 10 weeks will pay off for Kadri this season.
In past years Brian Burke has signed some well-known free agents: Colby Armstrong, Tim Connolly, and Mike Komisarek, just to name a few.
Let’s just say they haven’t worked out as well as Burke and Leafs fans had hoped.
So this off-season, Burke signed just one free-agent: Jay McClement, who played last season with the Colorado Avalanche.
McClement agreed to a two-year deal worth $1.5 million per season. He won’t be asked to score 40 goals or be the team’s long sought after number one centre.
Instead, McClement will be asked to help on the penalty kill, a problem for years in Toronto, and to be the guy to take key face-offs.
Last year, the 29 year-old ranked third in the league among forwards in short-handed ice time (3:06 per game), and was second on the Avs with 54 blocked shots.
“All of a sudden I’m a veteran, so I’m excited also to step in that role,” McClement told the National Post. “In Toronto, I’m one of the older guys. It’s a great opportunity for me to be a leader, a quiet leader. Being a part of that is being a good pro and doing the right things on and off the ice and kind of setting an example.”
McClement will wear # 11 this year. Why? Because the low-key McClement said it was available.
Joffrey Lupul already lost a season to a lockout and doesn’t want to lose another as he enters the final year of his deal with free agency looming.
But if there is a lockout, the Leafs forward who picked up 67 points in 66 games before he was injured, is looking at playing in Europe.
“I have made some calls and there are definitely some options to go play there,” said Lupul to reporters at the Leafs charity golf tournament. “I want to play in Toronto. But on the other hand I have missed one year of my career to a lockout already and it would be tough to sit out a second year.”
Lupul is in the final year of a deal that is to pay him $4.25 million this season.
“Sweden won’t be taking any guys unless it was for the whole year, but other leagues are open to it,” said Lupul.
Meantime, Captain Dion Phaneuf told reporters he hasn’t looked at playing overseas this year just in case.
“My focus is to prepare here, and get ready for the start of training camp. There are no other plans,” said Phaneuf. “I have not even thought of other options, that’s for sure.”