Thank two ex-GMs for Saturday’s win
(pictured: Leo Komarov had his first NHL goal. Remember who drafted him?)
Dave Nonis may be the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. But Saturday’s 6-0 whitewash of the Montreal Canadiens exemplified the vision of the team that was held by Nonis’ predecessor, Brian Burke.
Upon his arrival to Toronto in November 2008, Burke pledged to solidify the franchise based on belligerence and truculence. It was arguably his most famous sound bit during his tenure. Yet the team never played to the intimidation level to which Burke had aspired.
Fast forward to Saturday at the Bell Centre, exactly one month to the day that Burke was given his walking papers in favor of Nonis. The Leafs played their most complete game of the season against their hated rivals the Habs, a team that had lost only 3 of its opening ten games in regulation. Toronto not only dominated on the scoresheet, but on the fight card.
With the game out of reach, the third period featured several melees with both teams combining for 94 minutes in penalties. Not backing down from the Canadiens’ charges, the Leafs showed the pugnacity and testosterone that Burke had always wanted. Mark Fraser, who Burke acquired at last year’s trade deadline from Anaheim, pounded Habs agitator Brandon Prust. Fellow blueliner Mike Kostka – a summer free agent signing – handled himself well against Brendan Gallagher.
Enforcer Colton Orr appeared to precipitate another free-for-all by targeting Tomas Plekanec. Montreal’s Rene Bourque’s attempt to defend his teammate was met with a prompt punch in the mouth from Orr. And the Leafs’ newest waiver claim, 6-foot-5 winger Frazer McLaren, easily got the better of Josh Gorges during the same stoppage.
Orr, Fraser, defenseman Dion Phaneuf and injured forward Mike Brown are all Burke acquisitions. Together with McLaren, they create a physical presence to which opposing teams would be advised to take notice.
The Leafs recent run of success isn’t solely based on the play of their pugilists. Goaltender James Reimer appears to have regained his form, earning a shutout in his first appearance in Montreal since a suffering a concussion from Brian Gionta in the same building. And while their record of 7-5-0 after a dozen games is on pace for a long-awaited playoff seeding, any post-season dreams will be dashed unless the team starts winning at Air Canada Centre, a feat they have achieved just once in five attempts heading into Monday’s matchup against Philadelphia.
If Burke had seen more performances like in last Saturday night’s game during his four-year run with the club, perhaps he’d still be in the general manager’s chair.
Did we mention that a second general manager deserves some credit for the Leafs’ victory?
Let’s go back to the 2006 NHL draft and review Toronto’s draft choices:
1. Jiri Tlusty – now with Carolina
2. Nikolai Kulemin – had one assist, drove to the net on Leafs’ first goal
3. James Reimer – made 37 saves and earned his 7th career shutout
4. Korbinian Holzer – scored Leafs’ fifth goal
5. Viktor Stalberg – now with Chicago
6. Tyler Reugsegger – now with Calgary (Abbotsford – AHL)
7. Leo Komarov – scored his first NHL goal, after Kulemin drove the net – see above.
It doesn’t take long to confirm – not deny – that this was a solid draft by none other than John Ferguson Jr. Say what you will about the quality of his work as a general manager, the man knew how to draft. The San Jose Sharks currently employ him as their director of pro scouting, a role not unlike the one held by his late father John Ferguson, who was a senior scout with the club and special consultant to the general manager.
For the record, Tlusty and Stalberg were eventually parlayed in subsequent trades for Kris Versteeg, who in turn was dealt to the Flyers for draft picks that turned out to be Stuart Percy and Josh Leivo. Percy is a top prospect for the Mississauga Steelheads, while Leivo is riding a 12-game point streak in the OHL with Kitchener, the longest streak active in the league.
If only more Leafs drafts besides 2006 were as successful.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tmlfansrob