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Old 06-07-2014, 02:33 PM   #1
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(Dynasty) - Toronto Maple Leafs - No Tee-Times Until June!

Toronto Maple Leafs - No Tee-Times Until June!

Notes: This game was started using 1.6.19, with original rosters. The idea of doing a dynasty-type story didn't occur to me until the team was in March 2014, so the action from October to March may be a bit lacking in detail.

The Announcement

On August 15, 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs braintrust announced that they had hired a new general manager-- one with a different outlook than the truculence-first, talent-second GMs who had come before. The vision that the new GM had was that young, talented players, with strong work ethic and character, could carry the team deep into the playoffs. The GM made it plain in his first press conference that he was interested in determined, coachable players who weren't afraid of hard work, bag skates, and infinite shooting drills.

Having come from a scouting/player development background, the GM was determined to use the Maple Leafs' excellent financial position to improve the coaching staff and bolster the scouting department. Internally, it was decided that highly diligent scouting, especially in the major European leagues, could uncover mid-round gold at the Entry Draft.

The Roster

Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer give the Maple Leafs a solid goaltending tandem. Bernier has the ability to be a solid starter for a playoff-bound team, and Reimer is an able backup. Bernier has excellent character attributes, and is quite skilled. Reimer's mental toughness and relatively low cap hit make him ideal as the #2. The combined cap-hit of $4.7 million for this young pair is a good deal in a salary-cap world. In the minors, Chris Gibson projects as a backup-calibre player, nothing more. As the club has two solid, mid-twenties goalkeepers, obtaining a hot prospect isn't a high priority, but it would be nice to grab a player with higher upside, should the opportunity present itself.

Veterans Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson lead the defence crew for Toronto. Phaneuf is team captain, and is the top D-man on the team. However, he is not signed beyond this season, and with a substantial $6.5 million cap-hit, if he demands more money, his future could be with another team. Franson is a skilled playmaker, but his defensive skill is average, at best. His long-term future could also rest with another team. The Maple Leafs are blessed with two talented young blueliners in Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner, who are both in the team's long-term plans. Carl Gunnarson is a useful piece of the puzzle, as his strong defensive skillset can be paired with either one of the offensive-minded youngsters. The final two defenders, Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser, project as bottom-pairing sort of players. Ranger, with his lack of determination and coachability, is a prime candidate to be traded. In the minors, Stuart Percy is the top defensive prospect not named "Reilly", and projects as a top-4 defender who could see powerplay time. Zach Yuen might also develop into a useful player, but has holes in his game that need to be addressed before he has a shot at the NHL. Beyond that, the cupboard is stocked with bottom-pair prospects who would have difficulty breaking into the team. Obtaining a couple of young D-men with good upside will be a major priority for the club.

The club is fortunate to have some very good top-six forwards. Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and Nazem Kadri are all under 25, and represent the core of the team going forward. Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and Dave Bolland round out the top-six, and provide some veteran leadership. Dave Bolland, especially, should be useful, as his defensive skill and determination make him an excellent penalty-killer. Lupul, who is quite injury-prone, might make useful trade bait further into the season, if he can be flipped for someone who spends less time off the ice. The bottom-six needs significant improvement, however. Mason Raymond (great contract) leads the way, with David Clarkson (awful, horrible, rage-inducing contract), Nik Kulemin (Mr. Mediocre-At-Everything), Jay McClement (useful as a PK guy), and a handful of 4th-line pluggers (Ashton, Bodie, Orr, Smith). Clarkson, Kulemin, Bodie, Orr, and Smith are all considered tradeable. Raymond and McClement are both useful, and Ashton might have enough skill to remain with the team. The outlook in the minors is bleak: mostly bottom-six pluggers, and even the players in the pro ranks with the most upside, Tyler Biggs and Josh Leivo, project to be (at most!) third-line/second-line swingmen. Frederik Gauthier, playing in the QMJHL, projects as a second-line center, so he's currently top forward prospect at the club, but is probably two years away for cracking the lineup. Improving the bottom-six and adding some forward prospects with offensive upside will be season-long goals for the club.


The club has the following major goals this season:
1) Remain in the playoff hunt.
2) Improve the bottom-six forward group.
3) Add a couple of young defenders with higher upside.
4) Add a couple of forward prospects with higher upside.

All of this, while sticking to the overall goal of only obtaining players with high determination and coachability.

To this end, the club made its first move:

Sept 2, 2013:

To Dallas:
Colton Orr
2014 7th Round Draft Pick (Anaheim)

To Toronto:
Antoine Roussel

Analysis: Orr can fight at a big-league level, but that's the only thing he can do. He does not have any NHL-calibre skills beyond using his fists. Roussel, on the other hand, can fight at a similar level, but also has enough skill (both offensively and defensively) that he can take a regular shift on the third line, if need be. Roussel is also younger, cheaper, and more coachable.

The club then made its second move:

Sept 26, 2013:

Toronto signs Gabriel Desjardins to an entry level contract. Desjardins has the potential to be an excellent defensive winger, and may play regularily for the club this season, but will start the year in the AHL.

Opening Day

The team began the 2013 season at the Bell Centre in Montreal. After the moves made in pre-season, the lineup was set:

Bernier(starting 65-70% of the time), Reimer (starting 30-35% of the time)


McClaren (backup)

van Riemsdyk-Bolland-Kadri

Bodie, Smith (backups)

With that being said, any good general knows that even the best battle plan only lasts until combat begins...
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Old 06-07-2014, 03:44 PM   #2
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Toronto Maple Leafs - No Tee-Times Until June!

October-December 2013: Injuries, Collapses, and the Farmboys

The season began with a slew of injuries, defensive collapses, and roster juggling. October saw Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, and Mason Raymond all spend time on the IR for substantial periods. November was even worse: Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, Paul Ranger, and Antoine Roussel found the trainer's table, while Joffrey Lupul returned from the IR only to be hurt again five days later. In December, Jonathan Bernier, Carter Ashton, and James van Riemsdyk all spent time watching from the director's box. This series of injuries to important members of the team led to several players being called up, sent down, and called back up again, while also severely hurting the team's ability to play sound defence. For a time, the team's Goals Against stat was in the NHL's gutter...

Against this backdrop of surgeon's knives, the team made several moves to address the problem. Gabriel Desjardin's stay in the AHL was quite limited, as he was recalled to the team (permanently, as it turned out) on October 16, to fill in for Joffrey Lupul. After Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri were both injured on November 7, Spencer Abbott and David Broll were both called up as replacements. Jamie Devane, Frazer McClaren, and Stuart Percy also saw time with the big club in November. The team was half-NHL, half-AHL. The farmboys had come up in droves.

Spencer Abbott turned out to be a revelation in his first month with the club, before cooling off. He contributed at nearly a point-per-game pace, as his speed and playmaking abilities helped to staunch some of the bleeding in the top-six. Gabriel Desjardins stepped into a third-line role and provided some much-needed defensive support for that line as Mason Raymond, David Clarkson, and even (gulp!) Antoine Roussel moved into the top-six, when things were at their worst.

Meanwhile, Paul Ranger's lack of dedication to training and poor skating ability combined to have the coaching staff pulling their proverbial hair out. This led to one of the best moves of 2013 for the Maple Leafs:

November 15, 2013

To Edmonton:
Paul Ranger
Tom Nilsson (Rights)
2014 7th Round Draft Pick (Toronto)

To Toronto:
Oscar Klefbom
Marc-Olivier Roy (Rights)

Analysis: This trade helped to satisfy two major needs for the Maple Leafs. Klefbom is a young, mobile d-man with excellent hockey sense and the ability to poke-check like it's no one's business. His upside as a top-four defender makes him a potential partner for Reilly or Gardiner for years to come. Adding the rights to Roy was the cherry on top. His playmaking and puckhandling skills, as well as his excellent hockey sense, make him the top offensive-minded forward in the minors for us. Having just turned 19 before the trade, Roy still needs another couple of years before jumping into the lineup, but it's nice to know that the Leafs have some top-six skill in the system.

Performance, Performance, Performance

With all the injuries sustained by the club, and the general turmoil created by trying to teach a half-dozen new players the team's system on the fly, it's no surprise that the team underperformed for the first three months. Losing so many top-six forwards for extended periods of time left the team relatively toothless, though the surprise of Spencer Abbott helped in that regard.

The arrival of Oscar Klefbom and the steady emergence of Morgan Reilly did help stabilize the blue line. Reilly started the season more slowly, but by December, had come into his own with a series of good performances. His dedication to training was paying off, as he was the fastest-developing player on the team. Some poor performances by veteran players underlined the problems Toronto faced in the first half, however. Cody Franson, despite putting up some good offensive numbers, was abysmal defensively. Several players, including David Clarkson, Nik Kulemin, Mason Raymond, and Carl Gunnarson, were all far below zero in terms of +/-.

Depite these problems, the team was tight to the .500 mark at the start of 2014. October's record was a surprising 6-4-2, while November saw a more pedestrian 5-6-2 record, and December continued the losing tradition with a 7-8-0 record. However, as of January 1, the team's record was 18-18-4, putting them within a couple of points of a playoff spot in the very tight Eastern Conference.

It was quickly becoming apparent that January would determine the outcome of the entire season. A string of bad performances, and the entire season-- and the careful plans of the GM-- would be lost.
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Old 06-07-2014, 06:16 PM   #3
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Toronto Maple Leafs - No Tee-Times Until June!

January-March 2014: Toughen Up, Lads!

January sees our intrepid heroes sitting at the .500 mark, and close to a playoff spot. However, another month of fewer wins than losses, and the playoffs will be a rather long ways away. However, January starts with fewer injuries to key players, with only Dion Phaneuf and Dave Bolland seeing time on the IR. Phaneuf's injury opens up a spot on the top powerplay pairing for Morgan Reilly, which he seizes with both hands.

The team has been performing better, but there are still some players who are causing a great deal of consternation. David Clarkson and Nik Kulemin are proving to both be more liability than asset. Clarkson, especially, with his massive $5.25 million/season contract, set to run through to 2020, is an absolute albatross. If he had the talent to back up that contract, the GM would be a happy man. However, his struggles are costing the team. The solution? Find a sucker. Errr... a trade partner. Yeah. That sounds better. Queue Chicago:

January 16, 2014

To Chicago:
David Clarkson
Leo Komarov (rights)
2015 4th Round Draft Pick (Toronto)

To Toronto:
Bryan Bickell

Analysis: The horrible contract is gone. Clarkson struggled with the expectation that such a large contract created. His stat line with Toronto would have been better suited to a player making a fraction of his salary. 49 GP, 8G, 5A, 13PTS, 78PIMS, -13. Losing the rights to Komarov wasn't a major loss: his contract in Russia does not have a termination clause, so he wouldn't have been able to return to Toronto until the 2015/2016 season. Bickell has a $4 million/season cap hit through 2016/2017, provides the same physical abilities as Clarkson, and has better offensive and mental ratings. He has the potential to step into a leadership role, should an assistant captain be needed in the next couple of years. Clarkson will be 36 when his contract expires; Bickell will be 31 when his contract expires, and at that point someone else can sign him for his declining years.

The combination of fewer injuries, solid development from the team's younger players, and better defensive solidity (not to mention half a month in a Clarkson-free zone!) led to a sterling 9-4-2 record in January, planting the Maple Leafs very firmly in a playoff position. Finally, the team was no longer on the outside, looking in.

February began with three straight losses, followed by a win in the final game before the Olympic break. The Olympics gave the GM and his team time to take stock and think about some potential moves before the trade deadline. Our friends in Chicago were again identified as potential trade partners. They have two players that the GM covets. Third-year center Marcus Kruger would provide an excellent second/third-line pivot, with exceptional (and almost league-leading!) faceoff ability, speed, determination, and defensive skill. In short, the ideal penalty killer for a young team. The second player is Mark McNeill, selected 18th overall in the 2011 Entry Draft. McNeill is nearly NHL-ready, and is another center with exceptional faceoff skills. He projects as a second-line center, and could challenge for a place on the team before the end of the season. Efforts to acquire the young pair would take place over two full weeks, with offers and counteroffers flying between Toronto and Chicago. Finally, at the height of the Olympics, a deal was struck.

February 16, 2014

To Chicago:
Nikolai Kulemin
David Broll
Petter Granberg
Josh Leivo (rights)
Viktor Loov (rights)
2016 3rd Round Draft Pick (Toronto)

To Toronto:
Marcus Kruger
Mark McNeill

Analysis: Mission accomplished. Not only did the GM get his two centermen, but he also managed to trade away an under-performing Nikolai Kulemin, who had racked up 20 PTS in 60 Games, with a mediocre -5 rating. Losing the rights to Josh Leivo was unfortunate, as he had the potential to become a solid third-line winger, with good all-round skill. However, the value of a center like the prospect McNeill, with great faceoff skills, outweighs what Leivo brought to the table.

Near the trade deadline, four transactions were made that would allow the Maple Leafs to reap the benefits of their aggressive international scouting.

February 24, 2014

To Buffalo:
T.J. Brennan
Sam Carrick
Matt Finn (rights)
2014 6th Round Draft Pick (Toronto)

To Toronto:
Tyler Bunz
2014 3rd Round Draft Pick (Buffalo)
2014 7th Round Draft Pick (Buffalo)


To Vancouver:
Kevin Marshall
2014 7th Round Draft Pick (Buffalo)

To Toronto:
Pascal Pelletier
2014 3rd Round Draft Pick (Vancouver)

February 25, 2014

To Minnesota:
Andrew MacWilliam
2014 5th Round Draft Pick (Toronto)

To Toronto:
2014 3rd Round Draft Pick (Minnesota)


To Nashville:
Brad Ross
Max Everson (rights)
2014 3rd Round Draft Pick (Toronto)

To Toronto:
2014 2nd Round Draft Pick (Nashville)

Analysis: These moves were made with the intention of picking up several upper-middle round picks at the draft. These teams were all near the bottom of the league when the trades were made, so the expectation is that those 3rd round picks will all be close to the start of the round, while the 2nd round pick will hopefully be in the 31st-36th overall range.

The Post-Olympic Push

The club finished up February with a 2-3-1 record. James van Riemsdyk returned from the IR on March 6, leaving the team injury-free. Blissfully, this lasted until March 28, when Jonathan Bernier went down with an injury, which might have explained why his recent play was underwhelming. James Reimer now has a chance to take the full-time starter's role, and given that he has a better GAA, better SV%, and tends to win the close games for us, he might just get to keep it.

Strong performances over the past few weeks have given the club a 10-5-0 record in March, and an overall record of 38-31-7, good for 83 points and 7th place in the conference, 4 points ahead of 9th place Pittsburgh (who have a game in-hand). April arrives with 6 games left to play-- three home, three away. This could be tight...
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