Gameday Preview – Bright sides



As much as the Senators are hailed as a mirror image of the Flames currently, the Leafs may be a vision of things to come. Decimated by years of shoddy JFJ management, the NHL’s most profitable franchise is still trying to pick up the pieces. Brian Burke was airlifted in fresh off his success in Anaheim, but the rebuilding under him has been rather disjointed. The club sold off a bunch of assets the last couple of seasons, but haven’t shied away from spending money (because, let’s be fair, they have a lot of it to spend) and making apparently short-term bids to improve, with the Phil Kessel trade being exhibit #1.

The muddled strategy hasn’t worked out that well, current winning streak notwithstanding. The Leafs are sit 13th in the East with 40 points, have a -17 goal differential and are well on their way to handing the Boston Bruins yet another top-10 draft pick this coming june.

That said, it’s not all bad news for Leafs fans. There have been a few revelations emerge from the wreckage that may pace the woeful club back to competitiveness sometime in the near future.

Mikhail Grabovski – A player who was mostly disregarded as yet another failed Leafs project, Grabovski has arguably been the team’s best forward this season. His possession rates are top notch (+14.39/60), despite a just okay zone start (51.7%). He leads the team in goals (17) is second in points (34) and first in plus/minus (+6). His shot has increased to almost three per game this year as well.

Not coincidentally, Grabovski’s regular line mates Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur have been a long for the ride a bit, although they are also likely contributors to Grabovski’s dominance. The trio usually face other team’s middle rotation and have been making short work of them so far. Speaking of which…

Clarke MacArthur – Dropped by ATL after a arbitrator awarded him $2M and change, it wouldn’t surprise me if the 25-year old sends weekly emails to Thrashers management with nothing more than his stats line and a picture of him flipping them the bird. He leads the team in scoring and is mamber of the dominant Grabovski line, as mentioned.

MacArthur’s FU to ATL has also be aided by some luck this year as well. His SH% is a career high 17.9% (ignoring the 19 games he played in 2006-07). Still, he’s a steal at $1.1M.

James Reimer – We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here, sure, but the early returns on the 22-year old Reimer are pretty good. An ECHL ‘tender until this season, Reimer sported a .926 SV% in s26 games for the Marlies before being called up and winning 4 of 5 for the parent club.

For a team that has been wandering the wilderness for a long time in no small part due to terrible netminding, Reimer’s recent performance must seem like food to the starving for Leafs Nation. He hasn’t seen enough work for anyone to be certain of his real skill level, but the arrows are pointing in the right direction.