Friday, November 1, 2013
1. Nazem Kadri has his first extended shot at playing between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk and the early results are WOWOHWOW. The trio has combined for seven goals in three games and all of my dreams are coming true. After years of playing with Tyler Bozak and a string of AHL-quality wingers like Joey Crabb, Kessel must feel like he died and went to heaven now that he's playing with two skilled players. Kessel's goals per game have remained pretty steady since arriving in Toronto, but his assists per game spike dramatically once the Leafs acquired Joffrey Lupul. He's a great player with bums, and an elite player with quality linemates.
2. I honestly don't see a way Bozak reclaims his spot on the first line with the way Kadri has played so far (and all of this season and last, quite frankly). He's not good enough to play the 21 minutes a night, which is second (!) on the team next to Phaneuf. Bozak is best suited to a second or third line role, with extended minutes on the penalty kill. His offensive production has always been almost entirely dependent on Kessel, and the quicker Randy Carlyle realizes it, the better the Leafs will be going forward.
3. Decreasing his minutes, at both even strength and on the power play, is going to kill the little production the Leafs were getting from Bozak (on a per minute basis, Bozak was 64th in points among centres at even strength). That's going to make his contract look ugly in a hurry, but that is a sunk cost anyways. I don't know if there's a sucker in the league willing to take that albatross on even if Bozak was getting first-line minutes. In a couple years time Bozak's deal is destined to be bought out in true Leafs fashion. Hey, thanks for getting Kessel signed, see ya later.
4. If Kadri sticks on the first line and Bozak plays well in a role he's better suited for, the Leafs problem down the middle suddenly becomes much less concerning. Heading into the deadline, then, Nonis only really needs to shop for a defensive defenceman—because the Leafs are a disaster on the back end right now. Perhaps if Dallas can't get anything going someone like free-agent-to-be Stephane Robidas becomes available, and he's the type of minute-eating, shutdown defender the Leafs could really use.
5. After Tuesday's win over the Oilers, Navin Vaswani (who is a great Twitter follow, by the way) tweeted the following: James Reimer: .949 SV%. Jonathan Bernier: .930 SV%. #Sochi. It's not likely because the front runners—Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury—have been excellent, but it really shouldn't be that outlandish of a thought. Since 2010-11, Reimer and Bernier have produced identical .917 save percentages, better than Ryan Miller, Fleury, Jimmy Howard, and Jaroslav Halak, and are only a tick below Cam Ward, Jonathan Quick, Cam Ward, and Craig Anderson. They are both stonewalling the opposition this season under heavy barrage (only the Ottawa Senators allow more shots per game) and are the primary reason behind the Leafs' quick start.
6. I could feel confident in a Team Canada starting Carey Price in Sochi, but definitely not Fleury. Visions of his career .903 save percentage in the playoffs horrifically flashes before my eyes, pulsing to the silent beat of a red goal light. You have to go back all the way to 2009 to find a post-season where Fleury even broke the .900 SV% Toskala line. I'm not going to be fooled by his quick start, he's an average goalie, and a bad one come playoff time.
7. There are more question marks for Canada outside of the crease, too. Canada, already thin on the wings, is missing Rick Nash, Taylor Hall, and James Neal to injury. Who knows how they will be upon their return. And Claude Giroux, once a lock to make the team, has yet to score through 11 games and could be left at home. Good thing young guys like Logan Couture and Matt Duchene have started the year looking like beasts. Just throw a couple centres on the wing and the problem's solved.
8. Things could be worse, Steve Yzerman could be hearing about his goaltender being arrested on domestic violence charges, like Russia is with potential starting netminder Semyon Varlamov. Apparently, a Russian government official claims it's all part of an elaborate scheme to prevent Russia from winning the gold medal. Sure, buddy. Canada definitely isn't sabotaging your netminders so Russia is forced to start Ilya Bryzgalov. They are definitely not doing that. No, sir.
9. The Sabres made out well trading Tomas Vanek to the New York Islanders, especially if they can flip Matt Moulson at the deadline for more draft picks. The fact that there is a chance the 2014 first-round pick can turn into a 2015 first-round pick has got to be appealing for the Sabres as well. The Sabres are so bad they may as well do everything they possibly can to land Conor McDavid in 2015.
10. It's a bit of a curious move by the Islanders. Vanek is a definite upgrade over Moulson, but New York was already getting good production out of Moulson, so it seems kind of weird to dump one pretty good top-six player in a "going for it" deal. Sure, a lot of Moulson's production was derived from John Tavares, so with Tavares maybe Vanek becomes a 40-goal guy, but the difference between Moulson and Vanek doesn't seem worth the price paid. But when you've been awful for decades I guess you get drunk on any initial success (*checks mirrors, looks at drunk-on-Leafs face*).