Monday, October 4, 2010

Oh My God Look How Much Better We Are

Whether we win or lose our first game of the regular season, I promise you one thing; we will not go 0-7-1 in our first 8 this year. We are much better then that, and much better then the roster that started things off so dreadfully poor last year, essentially destroying the season before it had a chance to begin. A simple comparison of line-ups, from last year's season-opener against the Canadians, to the starting-roster of our last pre-season game, shows a marked improvement in skill and potential.

Only seven players from that line-up on October 1st, 2009 also appeared in our closing pre-season game Oct. 2nd, 2010, the final tune-up before the big show with what is expected to be the opening-night roster. Those seven surviving players are:

Francois Beauchemin
Mikhail Grabovski
Tomas Kaberle
Mike Komisarek
Colton Orr
Luke Schenn
Jonas Gustavsson

Beauchemin and Komisarek should be settled and more confident to start this season. Schenn is bigger and stronger, more mature, and meaner. Kaberle is entering a contract year and may have something to prove. Grabbo cut his hair but still looks as cocky and confident as ever. Gustavsson is a year older and wiser and should be less distracted. And Colton Orr is Colton Orr.

Now let's look at players that were in our line-up on opening night last season who won't be this time around:

Jason Blake - now in Anaheim
Garnet Exelby - flunked his try-out with the Rangers
Niklas Hagman - Calgary
John Mitchell - press box
Alexei Ponikarovsky - signed with L.A. Kings
Wayne Primeau - available to anyone
Jay Rosehill - Marlies
Matt Stajan - Calgary
Viktor Stalberg - Chicago
Lee Stempniak - Phoenix
Rickard Wallin - Who knows, who cares.
Ian White - Calgary
Vesa Toskala - never seen or heard from again, hopefully

Now look at what we've replaced those 13 players with from our last pre-season tilt:

Colby Armstrong
Tyler Bozak
Tim "Legend" Brent
Mike Brown
Carl Gunnarsson
Phil Kessel
Nikolai Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur
Dion Phaneuf
Fredrik Sjostrom
Kris Versteeg
Mike Zigomanis
J.S. Giguere

This is an entirely positive overhaul. First let's compare the two defenders:

Phaneuf and Gunnarsson replace XLB and White. I like Ian White, but this is not a fair contest.

Next, the skill-forwards: Bozak, Kessel, Versteeg, Kulemin vs. Stajan, Blake, Poni, and Hagman. Again, this is so lopsided it makes my stomach hurt. Kulemin was a healthy scratch last year on opening night, and 4 times in the first 8 games. This year, he comes to camp much improved and ready to be an important contributor that shores up a dangerous looking offence.

Now let's look at three of our bottom-six newcomers: Armstrong, Brown, and MacArthur the assist ninja, vs. Primeau, Rosehill, and Stempniak the useless ninja. Again, it's no-contest. The guys we've added to the line-up are serious upgrades over last year's starters.

And then, the grunts of the team: Brent, Sjostrom, Zigomanis, vs. Mitchell, Wallin, and Stalberg. I think the Legend of Brent has superseded Mitchell in terms of fan-confidence and he deserves a shot. Couldn't do much worse. Meanwhile, Sjostrom is a massive upgrade over Wallin both in a checking role and on the penalty kill. And lastly, and maybe a bit peculiar, is Zigomanis and Stalberg. What is interesting about this comparison is that Stalberg was last year's pre-season hero and the most exciting rookie to come out of camp, and the only one out of himself, Kadri, Hanson, and Bozak, to be given a shot with the club right from game one. This year, a different situation as Zigomanis is perhaps a surprise inclusion to start the year with the big club, while the impressive camps from Hanson and Caputi have not secured either a spot. Maybe the best thing about our new-look line-up is that, finally, the cupboard is no longer bare. Re-enforcements are hungry and ready to go.

Finally, the goaltenders: J.S. Giguere vs. Vesa Toskala

Hahahahahahahahaha... dear God, it was so horrible...

I really think if our current line-up faced off against last year's opening-night line-up, the final score would be 10-0, with Toskala pulled at the 10-minute mark of the 1st after giving up seven. This team just seems so much better in so many ways, from the top of the line-up to the bottom. My hats off to Mr. Burke, for giving us an incredible six-pack on defence, and for shoring up every other weak area in the line-up. I know, I've been drinking a lot of Kool-aid - and also NyQuil - and there's still a long way to go before we are serious Cup-contenders. But as opening night approaches, we can at least look forward to a team that is destined to compete, and not struggle, for 82 games.

And then, beyond...


kidkawartha said...

The general indeed. Someone else is already in mid-season form.

Curt S said...

Nice piece - I think we all knew the team was better but seeing it laid bare in this way makes me feel all warm and fuzzy

general borschevsky said...

Hey kidk and Curt!

Admittedly not my best effort but I wasn't really kidding about the NyQuil. Still, when I compare our starting line-up this year to last year's I'm stunned by how much better it looks, from one piece to the next.

seeing it laid bare in this way makes me feel all warm and fuzzy

That's what she said.

Unknown said...

Pretty weak blog. Pinholes last year's guys incorrectly (Stempniak and Stalberg as def grunts) to attempt an improvement glow. Doesn't work. Doesn't even work comparing White to Phaneuf, since White was the best all-around roster player at both sides of the D and played wing.

This year's product is a bit better, but it's comparable and certainly not a gamechange from last year.

As for predicting they won't go 0-7-1 ... anyone could have safely predicted that ... before they did go 0-7-1.

general borschevsky said...

Hey owl905! I think you're taking me too seriously. Did you see the part about NyQuil?

I didn't mean to imply that "grunt" meant defensive specialist. Just least valuable, as in spare parts or utility players. And I didn't include Stempniak in that group anyways. I compared him to MacArthur as a "bottom-six newcomer", which may also be inaccurate, since they're both NINJAS. That's all. And because I see them filling the same roles, so I think it's an okay comparison.

"Doesn't even work comparing White to Phaneuf"

I wasn't. I was comparing Phaneuf and Gunnarsson to White and Exelby. The first two guys are collectively way better then the second two.

"White was the best all-around roster player at both sides of the D and played wing"

I really liked Ian White and maybe I'm forgetting how good he was (56 games, 9 goals, 17 assists, 39 pims, plus 1, 2 pp goals, 1 game-winning goal, awesome mustache) but it's easy to look past his contribution when we now have Phaneuf, Kaberle, Komisarek, Beauchemin, Schenn, and Gunnarsson.

Mikey said...

I've been thinking recently about how much of my current optimism is self-delusion... I'd love to see what the stats have been like in the first 10 games of the past 10 seasons, and the starting lineups we had at the starts of those seasons. Just to see if I can remember how I felt at those moments, and contrast against now.

I like your articles, GB

general borschevsky said...

Cheers Mikey! If you follow this link: can work your way backwards by clicking "Previous Season" at the top. Click any date for any game and it will give you the scoring summary.

Mikey said...

Holy crap did that link take up my evening... I put some tables together, but then i started stepping backward through the seasons, remembering all of those playoff matchups from 92 onward. Its easy to forget how fantastic this team was not that long ago.

kidkawartha said...

I linked to this post on LeafsBeat, so if you get any haters, it's my fault. Nyquil or not, it's a great post. The perspective really is shocking.

general borschevsky said...

Cheers kidk! I saw the link at LeafsBeat. Pretty cool. I have you to thank for that? We got to get together again sometime then. I don't mind the increased scrutiny, but I guess I'll have to step up my game if I'm gonna have 250 Globe and Mail readers dropping by. Thanks for the good word.

kidkawartha said...

You've deserved the traffic for quite some time- ever since I found the PPP universe 2 years ago. As for catching up, you have an open invitation to come out, catch a Petes game and crash on my couch anytime.
Although I should try and set aside a little $ for a night in T.O. again soon. Always hard on the fixed income.

Greg said...

Getting rid of Vesa Toskala will be the biggest upgrade the Leafs ever make.

WillNeuman said...

hey general,
Good call and (through only two games), it seems accurate. Wasting space in the comments since I'm not even plugging my own blog (I don't have one), but I had a similar discussion about the Leafs (and Canadiens) with a cousin of mine who's a big Canadiens fan. My take on the Leafs (warning: long-winded and rambling):
Giggy and Monster are a good tandem. Not a true number one (unless Giggy returns to form or Monster defies all laws of logic and makes a HUGE step forward right away), but one when faulters the other is ther...e to step up.
The D: I still say Kaberle is one of the best at what he does (set up offensive plays) in the league and trying to trade him away is retarded. Phaneuf is capable and if he lives up to what he showed his first couple years so much the better. Komisarek, Beauchemin, and Schenn play a bit too much of the same game for my liking, granted, but if we could ever get a decent defensive system in play, I wouldn't turn any of them down (remember, Schenn is still developing and Beauchemin is still young himself). Gunnarsson is being rushed along too quickly 'cause they want to replace Kaberle, but that's still a solid six (not flashy, for sure, but solid).
The forwards: Orr, [interchangable centre], Brown is a good fourth line. The third line has POTENTIAL to come together as a good shut down line. The second line... questionable, but again, potential. Kessel-Bozak-Versteeg is looking MIGHTY promising (pre-season and two games). Not going to strike fear into anybody's hearts, but more than able to put up points (especially if Versteeg throws his slightly undersized frame around on the forecheck to open up space for Kessel and Bozak).
Anyway, that's my take. Hope springs eternal, etc, and all, but if the spirit of '93 (Damn Kerry Fraser) has taught us anything it's that, sometimes, a bunch of grinders and "lunch-pail" players can acieve more than anyone thinks they should. And that Pat Burns should be in the Hall Of Fame

general borschevsky said...

Thanks for the great comment WillNeuman! I like what I've seen from the Legend Brent so far. And I'm really liking Armstrong and Sjostrom. I think they're the best checking-line wingers we've had since Osborne and Berg.