A lot of people have been inquiring so I figured it was time to write a post.
I realize the most recent chapter in my attempt to learn how to skate came to a bit of an abrupt stop. The same can be said about my situation. Over the past little while…actually since late May…woah that’s a long time…my health hasn’t been up to par.
My leg was inflicted with multiple infections to which I couldn’t understand why they were happening or what could be done about it. I straddled along my daily life as best I could, though missing classes and social gatherings became a constant.
Eventually I had to deal with the fact I needed to institute some sort of lengthy rest/therapy period in order to set things right to at least get my day-to-day life in order. This is why I haven’t been able to risk going out for a skate at this time and messing with what has been a grueling process. Making my classes is just a higher priority, completing my work shifts is just too important, and that’s just the reality.
Thankfully, I’ve been starting to feel a lot better and the rest/altered physical activity has been a big part of it. I’m still not fully healed, however, though there’s good reason to be optimistic with my approach to recovery.
The hope is, God willing, to skate soon enough. I await anxiously.
Welcome to the opening of the Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-2017 season, otherwise known as Auston Matthews’ NHL liftoff. With a brand new logo and jersey in its centennial season, the Maple Leafs will finally introduce their new superstar in the making on Wednesday night when they visit the Ottawa Senators.
It feels like a rite of passage that to be a Leafs star, you have to torch the Senators. Phil Kessel did it. Mats Sundin did it. So it feels right that the start of the Matthews era takes a detour from the regular Leafs/Habs opening night to open against Ottawa.
This was the dream when the Brendan Shanahan led Maple Leafs ushered in what was to be a rebuild of the ages to finally set right one of the league’s storied franchises. By finishing 30th last season and winning the draft lottery, they got exactly what they were looking for in Matthews.
What sets him apart from prospects like William Nylander and Mitch Marner is that he’s already a great player. Matthews’ contribution with Zurich of the Swiss NLA was just another showing of the stardom he possesses, finishing 10th in scoring playing against men at the age of 18.
Now he has the task of leading a long disgruntled franchise back to the promised land. Mike Babcock says to expect him to start the season on the third line, but holding off on throwing all the minutes at him will be a challenge…
Alongside Matthews will be a plethora of young players in similar situations trying to establish their NHL careers. What was ranked as one of the top prospect crops in the league, first by ESPN, will get the chance to show its might as the Maple Leafs are electing to usher in a full frontal youth movement. It’s plausible that Matthews, Nylander, and Marner could all challenge for the Calder Trophy.
Seven of the players named to the opening day roster had not made their NHL debuts this time last year. Ten of the 23 players come into the season with less than 70 games of NHL experience. This may be a big factor in the Leafs choosing to go with role-defined line combos rather than a hierarchy of best-to-worst. Let’s take a look at the projected lines and their roles:
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
SHELTERED: Mike Babcock is the first Leafs coach to figure out how to properly utilize Tyler Bozak. Lots of offensive zone starts with sheltered minutes against the opposition’s weaker lines. As a result, Bozak posted 35 points in 57 games proving to the world he can exist without Phil Kessel. Expect more of the same this season, in which JVR and a young offensive talent like Marner can benefit in unison.
Milan Michalek – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
SHUTDOWN: Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov were the go-to guys for Babcock in the shutdown role. They can drive play and thwart opposition pressure by engaging in a cycling game. Adding Milan Michalek could be a nice compliment of that style but the jury is out on how much production he has left in the NHL.
William Nylander – Auston Matthews – Zach Hyman
ALL AROUND: Babcock has said Matthews will start the season on the third line. But how realistic is that when he quickly shows he deserves to be among the best players on the team? That’s exactly what he did at the World Cup with Team North America. It will be tough to keep these guys nailed down to minutes that don’t resemble top six usage.
Matt Martin – Peter Holland – Connor Brown
FOURTH LINE MIX: This may be the only line that actually sticks to the fourth line style. It’s the line that will offer a mix of skills with the high pace of Connor Brown, the grinding of Matt Martin, and the two-way balance of Peter Holland. It will also be used to rotate the likes of Seth Griffith and Josh Leivo, two prolific AHL scorers trying to translate their game to the NHL.
Extras: Seth Griffith, Josh Leivo (IR)
Morgan Rielly – Nikita Zaitsev
Martin Marincin – Matt Hunwick
Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick
Extras: Roman Polak, Frank Corrado
A LOT TO PROVE: The Maple Leafs defense core has the most question marks in the interim and the long term. The forwards may be unproven, but there is a stronger reason to believe a few years from now the unit will look more-or-less the same. That can’t be said about the defense, where the likes of Nikita Zaitsev, Martin Marincin, Connor Carrick, and Frank Corrado have a lot to prove in the NHL. Some come into the season with good track records in lower leagues, namely Zaitsev and Carrick, while Marincin and Corrado have had their ups and downs in the NHL. It’s hard to know what the Leafs will get from this group this season, but it will go a long way in making a decision on their future with the franchise. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner will be relied upon to do the heavy lifting on the ice, and Roman Polak is the veteran leadership presence.
SOLVED BUT UNSOLVED: When Lou Lamoriello acquired Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks this off-season, it was important for him and the Leafs to include a five-year contract. He may be locked in as their goaltender of the future, but a track record of 153 NHL games is not nearly enough to be convincing that he is undoubtedly the answer. After an injury riddled September and a struggle to make stops in the pre-season, Andersen finding his game will be critical to the Leafs moving forward in this rebuild. Jhonas Enroth is a solid add to be a formidable backup in the NHL.
WHERE WILL THEY FINISH?
At this point in the rebuild, the Leafs are not ready to compete. They will go as far as the youngsters can take them. As they find early success in the NHL, so will the team. As they struggle through growing pains, so will the team.
Either scenario is acceptable, since another high pick in the draft will pay dividends in the future or actually winning games can go a long way as a developing experience.
The contracts and money situation with the team, particularly the likes of Michalek, Colin Greening, and Jared Cowen coming off the books after this season, indicate the franchise is better suited to focus on icing a team with hopes of contention starting next season.
LEAFS AWARDS PREDICTIONS
Here are my predictions for the award winners, Leafs edition:
Norris – Best Defenseman: Morgan Rielly
His first three years in the NHL saw point totals of 27, 29, and 36. What some are pegging as a future Team Canada defenseman, Rielly is improving every year and is poised for a big season. Expect him to easily play the most minutes on the backend.
Calder – Rookie of the Year: Auston Matthews
Nylander and Marner may end up playing in more favourable roles for point scoring success, but Matthews is just too good to bet against. His game is mature enough to have an impact defensively, too. Matthews may not just be the best rookie on the Leafs, but a favourite to win the award league wide.
Selke – Best Defensive Forward: Leo Komarov
There shouldn’t be any doubts who will be counted on as the top shutdown forward. It’s likely Leo is the best option, too. The eye test and the advanced metrics agree that Komarov is a great defensive forward.
Rocket Richard – Goal Scoring Leader: Tyler Bozak
It came to everyone’s surprise how valuable Bozak can be offensively. In the sheltered role Babcock will use him, van Riemsdyk and Marner should provide a lot of firepower to help him tally some goals this season. With his faceoff prowess, expect Bozak to see a lot of powerplay time, too.
Art Ross – Scoring Leader: James van Riemsdyk
People sometimes forget JVR still plays in Toronto. He’s a legitimate first line player in the NHL. Before his season was cut short with a leg injury, van Riemsdyk was on pace to score 60 points on the worst offensive team in the league. With more sheltered minutes and Marner on his wing to start, watch for another big year from JVR.
Hart – Most Valuable Player: Nazem Kadri
I expect him to be the best player this year. Fresh off a six-year extension, Kadri will be counted upon as a “veteran” to get this team through its transition phase. He won’t be sheltered and will play the big minutes. We already know Babcock is a big believer in him.
You can follow the Maple Leafs season with me on Twitter.
When the Maple Leafs acquired Jonathan Bernier, he had just 62 games of NHL experience. Andrew Raycroft, 108 games. Vesa Toskala, 115 games. All three of them have presumably been failures with the Blue and White.
Today the Leafs took another shot at the can by acquiring another somewhat inexperienced goaltender in Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks with just 125 games of NHL experience as a 26 year old. In exchange, Anaheim received the 30th overall pick draft and a 2nd round pick in 2017.
Although what is essentially two second round picks isn’t a small price, it’s a fair ask from a team giving away a goaltender with NHL starter potential. In fact, quite a bit of his time in Anaheim was spent as one of the primary goalies. Andersen was never an actual backup with the Ducks, rather often saw time sharing the crease with John Gibson, even in the playoffs.
The bigger discussion in this deal is the confirmation trigger attached to complete the complete the trade. A contract extension with the Leafs, which Andersen signed shortly after. A five-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5M. Right away Toronto chose to go long term, and in doing so accrues a fairly significant risk.
Andersen hasn’t been spectacular in his career. What he has managed to do is consistently be an above average goaltender by posting save percentages like .923, .914, and .919 this past season. All formidable numbers and should be enough to make you believe he will be just fine, but the issue arises when there’s no way to predict how his production wears on through this contract.
You never know how goalies pan out, and age isn’t on Andersen’s side as he is likely to enter his 30’s when and if the Leafs are ready to be called a legitimate shot for Stanley’s silver. However, in no way is acquisition leaning towards the risk more than the gains. Rather, the line just isn’t clear enough for anybody to understand which way it will toll, but Andersen’s short history is one of success and he deserves to be treated based on that production.
What does this mean for Jonathan Bernier? Pretty much what we expected as the past season rolled to its end. The Leafs seem to be done thinking he has much left to provide for this organization. At $4M in his final year, it’s a steep cap hit to keep around for your backup, but I don’t see the Leafs doing anything drastic if they can’t find a trade partner to make a clean swap.
But today the Maple Leafs can say they have their goaltender. No matter what happens with the team, they can count on their goaltender to give them a fighting chance next year. He is signed for the future and as Lou Lamoriello says, “Needs to know he’s the number one goalie.”
The term is a little scary, but the player is someone you should bet on finding success in Toronto.
William Nylander lived up to the billing in the NHL.
After being in the AHL for presumably longer than expected, the Maple Leafs finally called up their most prized prospect for the latter part of the season. They made it clear at the time when he was being called up, he wasn’t going down. With a clean mind and assurance of consistent ice time, Nylander comfortably settled in and showed the NHL the potential many raved about.
In 22 games, the 19 year old Swede scored six goals and added seven assists. If those numbers were prorated to a full 82 game season, he would finish with 22 goals and 48 points. Excellent numbers for a rookie, which would put him fourth among NHL rookies this season. He also fared better than expected in the faceoff dot winning 49.1% of the draws, third best among Leafs centers.
Perhaps the most admirable part of his game was how much control he demanded when on the ice. It took him a few games to find his stride and evaluate the pace of the game, as it did in the AHL, but eventually Nylander came into his zone and started controlling the play in the manner you would expect from a prospect with front line potential. He wasn’t the type of player that was set up on the flank by someone else, rather, he was the one making the plays and having others play off him.
Especially slotting on the point for the power play, the plays often ran through him. His creative nature makes him more of a playmaker than a shooter, and the Leafs benefitted greatly from it. Just ask Colin Greening or Zach Hyman. They played roles focused on getting the puck to Nylander when playing with him, and it paid off as they found success scoring more goals than most would have expected.
Sure, some will say the Leafs were playing in meaningless games. But for a roster that was over matched on a nightly basis, the chances to produce weren’t plentiful. The game against Philadelphia last Thursday surely was of great meaning for the Flyers, and defending Nylander in the first period proved most difficult. He scored a goal and set up Greening on the breakaway. By the end of the night, Nylander fared well against his match up with Claude Giroux, getting over 55% of the shot attempts when they were on the ice.
Adjusting to the NHL as a young center is an extremely difficult task, as it was for Nylander on the defensive end. Despite his struggles, it was evident from the small sample that he can make it in the NHL playing in the middle of the ice, a notion that had been a concern when the Leafs drafted him 8th overall in 2014. Mike Babcock will constantly remind you of the work Nylander needs to put in on the defensive end, and all of it is true. But he’s shown a belonging in the league, one which makes him a lock for next season.
It’s been a great start to Nylander’s career in the NHL. It can only get better as the environment around him improves and becomes orientated towards winning hockey games. The playoffs he is about to experience in the AHL will also help him further mature as an athlete.
By falling three games short of earning rookie status this season, watch for Nylander to make a serious push for the Calder Trophy next season. Especially, yah know, if there is a *cough* Mr. Patrick Laine on his wing *cough.*
Dion Phaneuf always had the ability to lay out a huge hit. If you were an opposition player entering the zone with your head down, watch out. They didn’t come as often in Toronto as they did in Calgary for various reasons, but when they did come they hurt hard and left a huge thump.
The current Maple Leafs young guns are going to have to do just that when they face their former captain tonight.
Here are the top five Dion hits as a Maple Leaf:
5) Oshie goes down
Oshie had his head down. Paid for it:
4) Stepping into Hornqvist
I remember watching this live and feeling a thunderous vibration through the cores of my bones:
3) Bowen Lights Up!
Maybe the best part about this hit is the reaction from Joe Bowen. But the there had to be something to react to and it was big:
2) A soured up Sauer
Unfortunately for Mike Sauer, he didn’t play another NHL game after this. It wasn’t a dirty hit by any means, but Phaneuf once again preyed on a player looking down:
1) Da Costa is Eliminated
The helmet came off, the player went down, and the rival Senators were left embarrassed. Good thing Stephane Da Costa no longer plays for Ottawa and has to make friends with the guy that did this to him. The most memorable Dion hit:
Say what you want about Phaneuf’s tenure in Toronto, but we likely won’t see someone entertain us like this for a while.
Tonight the spectacle is at the Air Canada Centre where former Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf returns for the first time to face his old team since being traded to the Ottawa Senators in a nine player trade.
Towards the end of his Toronto tenure, the goals dried up for Phaneuf scoring just seven goals in the last three seasons. A stark difference from the first four seasons where he was able to tally an average of nine goals per season with the Leafs.
Ahead of tonight’s game, we take a look at some of his best goals as a Maple Leaf:
5) First as a Leaf
It took a while to come and it wasn’t pretty, but Phaneuf’s first goal with the Maple Leafs:
4) Classic Phaneuf Goal
A classic Phaneuf one-timer on the power play, the thing he’s done to make a living in the NHL. Does it against his now current team and smashes the goal camera for good measure:
3) Beating Miller
I’ve always said there weren’t many players in the league that could beat a goalie straight-on with a shot from the blue line. Phaneuf was one of those that could, and he did it Ryan Miller here:
2) Clutch against the Canes
The offensive pressure the Leafs were applying to the Hurricanes was relentless. Finally they broke through and it was Phaneuf with a clutch shot:
1) The Big One
Without a doubt the most memorable goal in Phaneuf’s tenure in Toronto. After making a costly pinch in game four that lead to a David Krejci OT goal, Dion made up for it with a huge goal in game six:
When people talk about the “core” of players the Maple Leafs are trying to put together in Toronto, the names you often hear revolve around the likes of Morgan Rielly, James van Riemsdyk, and Mitch Marner. Now as the Leafs usher in the young age, you’re seeing prospects like William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen enter the fold.
But the name that often gets overlooked is Jake Gardiner.
Yesterday’s tilt against Gardiner’s hometown Minnesota Wild was a great example of the type of impact he can have on a game. The Leafs put forth a valiant effort on the second half of a back-to-back against a team vying for a wild card spot in the Western conference.
Leading the charge was Gardiner, driving the play and scoring the only goal for Toronto. When he was on the ice at even strength, the Leafs had over 85% of the shot attempts (corsi) in 19 minutes of action, according to Naturalstattrick.com. Unreal.
This type of production from Gardiner has been a regular occurrence that’s fallen under the radar due to the many other storylines that surround the team. He’s produced a possession rating better than 60% in 19 games this season, and five of which saw him reach over 70% according to WarOnIce.com.
He stands atop the Toronto defenseman at a score adjusted rate of 56.92% of corsi-for attempts per 60 minutes at 5v5. Only Frankie Corrado is currently better than that, but he’s also played 40 less games.
Defensively he’s effective at suppressing the shot attempts against. In the last five years, Gardiner ranks among the top Leafs defenders with a 50.29 shot attempts (corsi) against rating per 60 minutes at even strength.
While he’s been playing well and establishing his role in the NHL, the Maple Leafs have recognized his value. Instead of another bridge deal, the Leafs went long term with Gardiner at a 4.05M cap hit that has three more years. Perfect for a defenseman that at the least locks into your second pairing, plays on your power play, and can carry the team when playing well.
Let’s not forget about the way he played in the 2013 playoff series against the Boston Bruins. Doubted by then head coach Randy Carlyle, Gardiner rose to the occasion and was clearly the best player for the Leafs not including James Reimer.
He may not be talked up well in the media, a lot of which is due to the remnants of the Carlyle era, but Gardiner’s game has become a consistent point of optimism for the Maple Leafs and they should move forward considering him as a player for the “dream” lineup.
And if the opportunity presents itself, Toronto may do well looking to expand Gardiner’s game, such as instituting a slap shot on the power play. We saw a beautiful howitzer last night, and there’s been more of that when Gardiner actually decides to shoot:
I’m just realizing it’s been more than a week since the last time I went skating. Finding the time to go out has been incredibly difficult. Not only has my schedule been a mess, but aligning it with my brother’s schedule, who I need to accompany me now that my friend is away at school, isn’t going well either.
And sure, I’ll throw it in there. Laziness has been a factor too.
A week ago, I did hit the ice for the sixth time. I wanted to post the video with the seventh day, but alas, here we are and the seventh day is yet to come.
(that shadow who’s head I keep skating over is my brother in flight)
HUGE Day Tomorrow
Everything changes tomorrow.
My wonderful prosthetic engineers have been working extremely hard over the next few weeks to reveal tomorrow what will be a brand new prosthetic leg for me.
The anticipation has been killing me.
Not only will the leg offer new upgrades technologically, but it will also be more aesthetically pleasing to me. For a person in my situation, a prosthetic is everything for me.
One of the engineers likened it to. “Buying a new car.” Good analogy, but it’s so much more than that.
I absolutely cannot wait and I don’t want to say anything more at this point.
However, a new leg means a whole set of new adjustments I’ll need to make. Will I be able to walk properly right after putting it on for the first time? Will other adjustments have to be made? Can I play ball hockey again this Sunday like I usually do?
I honestly don’t know what will happen tomorrow but regardless, it will be exhilarating as heck.
What have I been busy with? Well, rants for Sports Presentation class for one! Here’s a taste:
I was forced to take a few days off. Swatted with fevers and pains, the reality of putting my physical capabilities to test started wearing on me. A couple of falls shook my body, and I needed to have some rest.
But I was back on the ice Saturday evening. What became quickly apparent was I almost felt like I forgot what was learned the last few sessions. Getting on the ice Saturday was really challenging, even with the aid of the blue skating assistant.
Eventually I settled down and focused on building up strength to push forward on Day 4.
Knowing how I felt after the many days off in between, I made sure to hit the ice again the next day. That feeling of forgetfulness wasn’t there anymore, and I quickly made headway skating on my own without the assistant.
I made sure to keep along the boards in case I lost my balance, which I did many times. The second my prosthetic side would align in front of the center of my body, it would run on me. I don’t have the ability to resist and hold it back quick enough like I do on the natural side.
In saying that, a huge problem I found was the amount of pain my natural foot was going through burdened with an imbalance of weight. I’m not balancing my weight properly at this time, and the natural side is doing the brunt of the work and feeling the effects.
Below is a clip of the progress made on Day 5, where I pushed forward like the previous day but this time, without the skating assistant.
The first time I stepped onto the ice, I felt like I’d never be able to simply stand straight on the ice without falling or holding anything.
Now it feels like an afterthought. Very easy. Automatic.
Yesterday, my skating session involved so much more. Moving forward and actually taking steps, which I believe was a huge sign of tangible improvement.
The first couple of sessions were so much about psychological improvement, and now I’m establishing physical improvements.
Below is a video of the progress made on day three:
Not only was I able to hobble on the ice without assistance, I found a way to get up off the ice, too. I fell a couple of times, but both times I was able to get up under the resources of my own body parts. Although my legs felt quite a bit of pressure, I imagine they’ll get stronger as I get used to it.
What I’m noticing is my left foot is feeling quite sore during the skating sessions. This is because I’m not balancing weight properly. My left side is doing most of the work and my prosthetic side, the right leg, is just haggling along.
I have a meeting set up with my physiotherapist later this week. Hopefully I can get some tips on better weight balancing.