Monday, August 30, 2010

Clarke MacArthur....First Liner?

In the words of Leaf GM Brian Burke, "We expect he will see significant time in the top six." The question posed, is MacArthur a legitimate top-six NHL forward or only on a team as challenged at the forward positions as the Leafs?

MacArthur is predominantly a left winger, but can play centre as well. Before his signing, the Leafs top two LW's are Kris Versteeg and Nikolai Kulemin with their top centres being Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski. Of these four I can easily see MacArthur supplanting Kulemin or Grabovski on a second line perhaps only for the fact that he's a good old Alberta boy slightly more in the mold of a Burke/Wilson type of player. In the event that Tyler Bozak fails to carry the mail as first line centre to Phil Kessel, I could even see MacArthur getting chance on the top line.

In his three junior seasons with Medecine Hat, Macarthur notched 75,75 and 74 points and then proceeded to average a point per game over two and a half AHL seasons. Obviously, there is some scoring talent in his overall make-up. His NHL scoring rate is about as consistent as you can find. Over portions of four big league seasons his points per game rates read; 0.37, 0.41, 0.44 and last year's 0.43. Prior to his trade to Atlanta he scored 0.43 Pts/GP with Buffalo and with the Thrasher, yep, 0.43.

At 25 years old with a prime opportunity on the horizon, MacArthur is quite capable of increasing his scoring rate with additional ice-time. This is most likely an opportunity he would not receive with at least two-thirds of the teams in the league that can put forth six forwards of higher calibre than Clarke MacArthur.

My prediction, he plays as much centre as left wing and produces somewhere in the neighbourhood of 18 to 20 goals and 45 to 50 points. Sadly, these are indeed top-six numbers on the Maple Leafs.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's true! The Leafs have one of the best defense corps in the NHL.

Believe it, it's true. With Tomas Kaberle unceremoniously back in the fold, there are very few teams in the NHL that can match the Buds defensive unit one though eight. Of course, this is the problem that "Master Genius" Brian Burke did not want to face. His goal was to turn the asset of Kaberle into a top flight forward, yet now his squad has a veritable cornucopia of NHL calibre defensemen and a black hole of top calibre forwards.

In truth however, the Leafs are blessed with a fine octet of defensemen. Their top four of Dion Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek are superior to most NHL teams. When their next four are included (Schenn, Gunnarsson, Lebda and Finger) there are even fewer teams that can compare. Shall we look?

Boston. Sure they have Chara, but Seidenburg, Boychuk and Hunwick do not match up with the Leafs 2 thru 4. The Bruins 5 thru 8 may include two rookies along with Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart, advantage Leafs.
Calgary's top four of Bouwmeester, Regehr, White and Giordano are fine, but they really drop off the table with Sarich, Staios, Adam Pardy and various minor leaguers.
Few teams (Toronto included) can compete with Chicago's top four of Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Hjalmarsson. Lucky for them they rarely use fifth thru eighth defenders as they only can muster Nick Boynton, Jordan Hendry and spare parts after the top four. Slight overall advantage to Chicago still merely on the strength of their top four.
Detroit's top four of Lidstrom, Kronwall, Rafalski and Brad Stuart is still one of the tops in the league, but after those guys, the depth of Ericsson, Salei, Derek Meech and Jakub Kindl cannot compare to Toronto's. Overall advantage, Leafs.

Los Angeles is top heavy with Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson but Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene Davis Drewiske and Peter Harrold are a definite drop off from the Leafs 3 thru 6.
Montreal sports a well-rounded defense group led by the oft-injured Markov, Gill, Gorges, Hamrlik, Spacek and up and coming Subban. The Habs 7 and 8 of O'Byrne and Alexandre Picard keep the Habs top eight defense ranked lower than Toronto's.
Nashville boasts Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and a glut of young d-men in Cody Franson, Ryan Parent, Jonathon Blum and Ryan Ellis. For now however, Toronto's eight has the advantage.
The Rangers are surprisingly strong on the back end with Marc Staal, Rozsival, Del Zotto and Girardi as well as Matt Gilroy, Steve Eminger and over-paid afterthought Wade Redden. Still not enough in my mind to surpass the Leaf group. With the addition of Sergei Gonchar and the emerging Erik Karlsson to go with Phillips, Kuba, Campoli and Carkner, Ottawa definitely has a nice defensive group. Not superior to Toronto's though.

Philadelphia possesses one of the top ranked defensive units in hockey with Pronger, Timonen, Carle and Coburn. Sean O'Donnell and Andrej Meszaros at fifth and sixth is more than adequate, but I would probably take Toronto's Lebda and Finger over Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis. Still, the Flyers along with Chicago are two of the few teams to challenge the Leafs overall back end.

San Jose falls short of Toronto even with Dan Boyle, Vlasic and Murray. Nic Wallin, Kent Huskins, Jason Demers and Jay Leach just dont measure up to Komisarek, Schenn, Gunnarsson and Lebda.

The last team that is close to matching Toronto on defense is Vancouver. Their top four of Ehrhoff, Edler, Hamhuis and Ballard are steady if unspectacular. Throw in Bieksa, Salo when healthy), O'Brien and Rome and you have a solid eight defensemen. Washington can put forth the offensive talents of Mike Green and John Carlson along with Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz and Karl Alzner. I would take Gunnarsson, Lebda and Finger over John Erskine, Tyler Sloan and Brian Fahey though.

So, as absurd as it may sound at first, upon deeper investigation it is true...Toronto has at worst one of the top five defensive units in the NHL along with Chicago, Philadelphia, Vancouver and Washington.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fantasy Time, The Second Year Players

It's never too early to start preparing for your hockey pool draft, so let's do it.
I rarely if ever will pick a rookie in a draft mainly due to the high unpredictability factor. A draft is usally won by getting good return on lower selections in the draft. The main reason I finished one point out of first in last year's draft was the fact I got Steve Stamkos in one of the later rounds.
So, which of last year's rookies are primed to have a breakout year in 2010/11. One way of trying to figure it out is to look at which rookies finished strongest last year. Below are the rookie Points per game leaders after the Olympic break last season.

What can we surmise from this list? The name Tyler was an extremely popular baby name twenty odd years ago, yes.
There are a lot of up and coming point producing defenseman on the horizon. From the familiar names Del Zotto and Myers to lesser knowns like Erik Karlsson and Jamie McBain, we may be entering a golden age of offensive d-men.

John Tavares really picked it up after the break. He had a nice start to the season with 21 points in 27 games but really tailed off into the Olympics with a stretch of 35 games in which he notched a mere 13 points. Does his point per game after the break mean he has turned the corner for good?
Buffalo's Tyler Ennis and Carolina's McBain may be sleepers for the upcoming season although the sample size is pretty small.
Toronto's Tyler Bozak will be leaned on for production this season, and he may be up to the challenge.

Of course we can't forget about Flyer Ville Leino who had a very mediocre regular season only to blossom in the playoffs. His 21 points in 19 games show that he should be far more productive than he showed with 11 points in 55 games.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More Den Treasures

Above is my copy of a 1957 hard-cover edition of The Hockey Handbook, by Lloyd Percival. This is the book that legendary Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov used as his "bible" during the beginnings of the rise of Russian hockey.

Here's two of my favourite Gretzky covers in my collection. The first is a kids magazine called Crackers which was put out by Scholastic Books in Canada in 1982. I actually received this in '82 as a subscription making this one of the very first pieces in my hockey collection. I have been to many collectable shows over the years, and have never seen another one of these magazines.
The next one is an Oilers game program from Gretzky's rookie season of 79/80, one of his first program covers ever. The game was against the Leafs on Jan. 26, 1980. Gretzky had 26 goals, 43 assists and 69 points through 46 games to that point in the season and sat fifth in league scoring. He was 22 points behind Marcel Dionne for the scoring lead.
From this point on The Great One notched 25 goals, 43 assists and 68 points in his last 33 games played. He pretty much exactly doubled his output in 13 less games.

And once again, the "piece de resistance" of the Den. The autographed stick of the 1962/63 Maple Leafs. This has been in our family since that time when my father received it as a gift.
Below are closeups of Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly. This was the last time my Leafs both finished first in the league and won the Cup. I don't see that happening again any time soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inside the Den

We are officially in the dog days of August, and training camps are still three weeks away. What better time to get back to the roots of Nitzy's Hockey Den, those roots being my actual hockey den. When I initially began this blog it was to showcase some of the finer nicks and nacks of my collection. I thought I'd share a few of the more recent additions to my basement shrine.

Above is the oldest hockey card I own, a 1933 O-Pee-Chee of Maple Leaf, Harold "Baldy" Cotton. I picked it up a few months ago, and now am on the hunt for a good deal from one of the rare issued sets in the 1920's.
My WHA collection grows with a pair of Toronto Toros programs, the first featuring Gordie Howe with the Houston Aeros. Below has a great cover shot of Czech defector Vaclav Nedomansky. I've also got four of the seven WHA league guides and programs from Quebec, Calgary, Edmonton and Chicago.

This program encompasses two of the main components of my collection, old time Leaf stuff and the long gone Western Hockey League. Red Kelly is pictured on the cover of a 1963 Vancouver Canucks program. The thing is, the Canucks weren't even playing, The Leafs played the New York Rangers in an exhibition at the still standing Vancouver Forum on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds. I'm pretty sure Red Kelly himself didn't even travel to Vancouver for this game as he was in Ottawa on duty as a Member of Parliament.

As if to illustrate that I have "Non- Toronto" related paraphenallia in the den, below is another Canucks Western League program from the heyday of the long defunct professional circuit.
More to come from the den before we get back into the teeth of hockey history or looking ahead to the upcoming season.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Most Playoff Games Each Decade

With a nod to good Friend of the Den, Joe Pelletier at I am going to expand on his twitter trivia question of the day. Apparently he was stumped (so was I) by one of his readers who asked which player played the most playoff games during the 1980s. The answer is a somewhat surprising Bobby Smith with 143, barely beating Duane Sutter at 141 and John Tonelli at 140.

This of course got me asking who led each decade in playoff games. Pretty much every decade has leader that may not be expected.

Brian Rafalski played 154 games, twenty more than John Madden and Scott Niedermayer. Top Red Wing, Nik Lidstrom sits fifth with 133 playoff games. Perhaps even more unexpected is the fact that Patrik Elias led the decade in playoff scoring with 106 points (in 119 games).

Another defenseman leads this decade as Larry Murphy suited up for 139 playoff matches in the 90s. Second and third are Mike Keane and Claude Lemieux with 135 and 132. Top point getter in the 90s is Mario Lemieux with 136 in only 78 games.

The aformentioned Bobby Smith scored 134 points in his 143 games, 140 behind point leader Wayne Gretzky.

Not Guy Lafleur or Bobby Clarke, but Jacques Lemaire led with 118 games played. More surprisingly is the fact that he tied Lafleur with 120 points.

Dick Duff tops the 1960s in playoff games with 97 total, three more than Jean-Guy Talbot, and eight more than Ralph Backstrom. Jean Beliveau played 87 and Bobby Hull 76, each tied for the decade lead with 83 points.

Predictably, the Canadiens dominated the 1950s as Doug Harvey played 102 games and Bernie Geoffrion 98. The top five is rounded out by Bert Olmstead, Tom Johnson and Floyd Curry. Geoffrion easily led the 50s in points with 96, 23 more than teammate Dickie Moore.

Defenseman Black Jack Stewart played the most playoff games in the 40s with 66. He was followed closely by Sid Abel and Wally Stanowski. Three Hall of Famers led the decade in points with Toe Blake at 55, Rocket Richard 50 and Ted Kennedy 42.

Once again, a defenseman leads a decade in playoff games as Red Horner logged 58. Fellow Leafs Busher Jackson and Hap Day are next at 54 and 47. Another `Friend of the Den` Marty Barry led the 30s in playoff points as he did in regular season points, equaling Charlie Conacher with 33.

It would seem that Bobby Smith was the only offense-first player to lead a decade in playoff games played. All other decades were topped by rear-guards or defensive forwards. These types of players obviously had much desired skill sets that garnered and produced a multitude of playoff hockey.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Marty Barry, most points in the 1930's

Who scored the most points in the NHL during the seaons 2000/01 through 09/10? Most good hockey fans would know it was Joe Thornton with 823 points in the decade. This would probably be the toughest decade to name the leader since the 1940's. The 90's were topped easily by Jaromir Jagr with 958 points, the 80's obviously belonged to Gretzky with a ridiculous 1842 points and the 70's were led by Phil Esposito with 1087. All are fairly easy to name, as are the leaders of the 50's and 60's.
Stan Mikita bests teammate Bobby Hull 827 to 786 during the 60's and Gordie Howe easily tops the 50's with 806 points.

This is where it starts getting difficult for even the most diehard hockey fans. The leading point scorer of the 1940's? Not Maurice Richard who even though he played only eight seasons of the decade, easily led in goals scored with 250.It was Chicago's Doug Bentley led the NHL in points during the 40's with 475 points. This brings us to the 1930's.

A few weeks ago in an entry about Alex Ovechkin, I noted that old timer Marty Barry had one of the greatest starts to a career ever. This was somewhat of a surprise to me, but really shouldn't have been as Barry was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1965. I received an email recently from Marty Barry's grand-daughter who had seen my blog, thanking me for shedding some light on her grandpa's scoring exploits. This prompted me to look a little deeper.

Low and behold, tied for most points in the 1930's are Marty Barry and Busher Jackson with 353 points. If you knew that Marty Barry led the NHL in scoring for an entire decade...give yourself a pat on the back. Marty Barry was consistent. He finished fourth in points twice, third once and second once in a six year period. He also missed only two games over ten consecutive years, won two Stanley Cups with Detroit, and a Lady Byng award.

Incidentally, the leader in points during the 1920's was Cy Denneny who's 243 just beats out Howie Morenz by two points.
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