Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meet the New Leafs

kris versteeg cup rap
You might be noticing a lot of new faces around Leaf-land these days. Gone are the good ol' days when Jason Blake took 60 foot wrist shots from the boards. The days when Matt Stajan paraded around as a number one centre (wait, he's still doing that in Calgary?) and Vesa Toskala decided playing NHL 09 was just as effective as practicing.

The season's a few weeks old, but it's never to late for an introduction (unless you've already seen that person around for months and it's too late to ask their name because they definitely introduced themselves and you should know it, but instead you were politely nodding your head and thinking about how you could really go for a cheeseburger and 15 minutes later they were still talking and what's their name?). In those cases you need someone else to facilitate the introduction.

Here's semi-frequent guest columnist Ted Rigby who, in the past, has kindly lent his knowledge of the world of moustaches and the frivolity of draft picks. I promise you dancing, drunkenness, and white-boy raps.

In this young season, things have been just as upside-down as usual for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With alternating streaks of wins and losses, it’s been parade planning and suicide pact-making in back-to-back weeks, but this year it's a different team (no Toskala), and that in itself is something to celebrate. Through the first few games, I’ve been getting to know some of the new Leafs and I’ve often found myself thinking, Why did Clarke MacArthur get dumped by the Thrashers? What exactly is residing on Mike Brown’s face? And who the fuck is Tim Brent?! So rather than living in bewilderment and a basic ignorance of reality (see: the Habs fan lifestyle), I did a little digging on just who are these new characters in the dramatic centre of the hockey universe known as Leafs Nation.

Kris Versteeg

The biggest name to join the Leafs this off-season, Lethbridge, Alberta’s Kris Versteeg, comes with the highest expectations and is most likely to make a big impact on the roster this season. On the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks, behind the big names of Toews and Kane, the contributions of Versteeg were often over-looked as he was pushed down to the 3rd line at times. This is despite the fact that he was a Calder Trophy finalist in 08-09 when he scored 53 points in 78 games. As far as character goes, Versteeg might be a little different. His off-ice exploits include rapping verses of Fergie for camera crews, and reprising his rap skills with a Patty Kane-inspired LMFAO remix at the Hawks Stanley Cup Parade. On the ice, he scores goals, skates hard all game and fits all the Brian Burke criteria: truculence, belligerence and pugnacity; with a willingness to drop the gloves, if the situation calls for it.

So far Steeger has been held to just two points, but should be good for quite a few more, if he can continue to play at his usual pace. Admittedly, he has looked a little lost in the early goings, but the Leafs don’t exactly have the same supporting cast as last year’s Stanley Cup champs, so it could take some getting used to, but at the same time, with more minutes, and an expanded role, it could be the perfect situation for a talented young player like Versteeg to show what he is really capable of.

Best Kris Versteeg Youtube Video: Versteeg’s Rally Rap Parade of Chicago Blackhawks

Colby Armstrong

Born November 23, 1982 in exciting Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Colby Armstrong has made his reputation on aggressive offensive attack and an eye for a blindside hit that would make Darcy Tucker cringe. But there is more to Armstrong than meets the eye. Growing up his mother was a figure skating teacher and Armstrong ended up in the toe picks from time to time. Embarrassing? Perhaps. But nothing compared to the fact that his favourite team growing up was the... Montreal Canadiens. Hey, nobody’s perfect! There is actually quite a funny series of videos on youtube featuring a younger Colby when he was on the Wilkes-Barre Penguins and living with Shane Endicott, and he seems like a pretty funny guy, my favourite quote was “Come back to my place. Pillow top mattress, flannel sheets: best bed in the league”. When asked, what other career he would be in if he wasn’t a hockey player he said that he had no other interests so maybe working at a gas station by his house... good thing the hockey career panned out.

On the ice, Colby has been best known for bone-crushing hits (some of the questionable nature) but his offense has actually been better than many would give him credit for. As a rookie on the Pittsburgh Penguins in 05-06, Armstrong scored 40 points in 47 games, a performance that was largely ignored because there was some other rookie on the team that year named Sidney Crosby (inventor of the Crosboner). So far, Colby has looked good in a Leafs uniform playing fast, aggressive hockey, and getting a player like him as a free agent is definitely a good call for a Leafs team, that is loosely defined as “re-building”.

Best Colby Armstrong Youtube Video: Crank That Colby Armstrong

Clarke MacArthur

Born April 6, 1985 in exciting... Lloydminster, Alberta... for serious? Yes, apparently there is something in the wheat in this small town straddling the Saskatchewan/Alberta border, because Clarke and Colby are both from the same hometown. Drafted 74th overall in 2003 by the Buffalo Sabres, MacArthur came up based on his speed and offensive ability, but playing on the lower lines in Buffalo, the offensive numbers were not quite the same as in junior. Earlier this year, MacArthur was dealt to the Thrashers for a 3rd and 4th round pick, followed soon after by the Thrashers walking away from the $2.4 contract awarded to Clarke in arbitration.

So far, as a Leaf, MacArthur has 8 points through 8 games, and has been relishing an expanded role on the top two lines, showcasing both his mind-bending speed and a good scoring touch. A break-out season appears very possible, and with any luck, the Leafs have finally given a great player the opportunity he needed.

Best Clarke MacArthur Youtube Video: Welcome to Toronto Clarke MacArthur

Mike Brown

Born June 24, 1985 in Northbrook, Illinois, a fair distance from Lloydminster, Mike Brown has become known to Leafs fans based on his interesting facial hair, somewhere between a Fu Manchu and 80s Gino Reda. Traded to the Leafs from the Anaheim Ducks for a 5th round pick in this year’s entry draft, Brown’s statistics have historically been focused around the PIM category, with 106 in his full season with Anaheim last year, but I’m sure totals closer to his 201 with the Manitoba Moose in 07-08 will be attainable if Colton Orr shares the wealth a little this season and lets Brown pick up the middle-weights. Fun fact: He’s one of 5 Jewish hockey players (others are Mike Cammalleri, Jeff Halpern, Eric Nystrom and Mathieu Schneider), I assume there’s more, but if it’s on Wikipedia, who am I to argue?! I’m already trying to get behind a movement for the nickname “The Hebrew Hammer”. Not exactly original, but it both makes sense, and is a vast improvement over the more obvious “Brownie”. Hockey players love just adding that “-ie” or “-er” to a last name, and considering it a nickname. Waste of good intimidation potential if you ask me, I mean, would you rather face Doug Gilmour (sounds like the dad from that show with the hot mom/daughter duo) or “Killer”?

Best Mike Brown Link: Mike Brown’s Mustache: Official Fact Thread

Brett Lebda

Born January 15th, 1982, Brett Lebda, much like Kris Versteeg, is coming from a talent-laden contender to the Leafs (wait, did I just imply the Leafs aren’t contenders?! Scratch that). But for the Buffalo Grove, Illinois native, he could be another diamond in the rough that will flourish in the rebuilding environment of the Leafs. Learning from the likes of Nik Lidstrom and Chris Chelios in Detroit has given him the background to contribute. When he was signed as a free-agent this past off-season, that was the theme Lebda was perpetuating as well, that he was looking for an opportunity to show what he can do. When you’re playing behind the aforementioned defense legend, as well as Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, and Brad Stuart you can’t expect to get many minutes, but Lebda was vocal to the fact that he is ready, willing and able to fill an expanded role on offense. His reputation has been made on slick puck-moving skills and setting up the rush, so don’t expect huge offensive numbers, but Lebda is yet another young player with upside that can really only impress on a team where expectations are minimal (despite 4 game win streaks setting the bandwagon in motion momentarily).

Best Brett Lebda Youtube Clip: Brett Lebda Interviewing Reporter

Ok, I never got to Tim Brent. But if you want to know who the fuck is Tim Brent, just click the link.

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