Five (for Howling) Questions with Pension Plan Puppets about the Toronto Maple Leafs


In our continuing series talking to other SBNation blogs about their respective teams I talked to, okay emailed PPP and Chemmy from Pension Plan Puppets to talk about all things leafs. They're decent enough guys that think Hamilton smells like feet and have been great, so check them out! Both of them answered our questions below...

 

Last November Brian Burke, formerly of the Ducks, came in as the Maple Leafs new GM. What kinds of changes have you seen him make in the team and does his presence in the front office make you more optimistic for the near future?

PPP: Yes. At the very least, he has a very clear concept of the makeup of his ideal team and the style of play that he wants to see. Also, 9 of the top 20 prospects (according to Hockey's Future) were acquired by Burke. Things are trending up.

Chemmy: Aside from the obvious complete overhaul of the Leafs' back end, bringing in Beauchemin, Komisarek, Exelby and Gustavsson, Brian Burke has tried to ensure there's competition for jobs at the Leafs' camp this year.

How would you rate the Leafs off season this year? You seem to have made a lot of moves to get tougher, how will that play out when the season comes around? What about your draft? How long until Nazim Kadri is ready for the NHL?

PPP: The toughness was added mostly on the blueline and it should help because the Leafs were pillow soft last year especially around of the net. The draft, aside from Kadri, was about kids that'll be ready in 3-5 years to hit the NHL. Guys like Kenny Ryan, Jerry D'Amigo, and Eric Knodel are going the NCAA route while Barron Smith and Jamie Devane are projects. Kadri wants to play this year but more realistically he'll go back to London, dominate the OHL, put on about 15 pounds of muscle and he'll start next year on the team.

Chemmy: The Leafs have a long way to go but Rome wasn't built in a day. Burke created what should be a steady blue line and that steadiness should bolster the team's other efforts as well. If Toskala isn't a complete sieve this year that in conjunction with some defense should make it a lot tougher to take two points from Toronto.

Toronto actually drafts pretty well, just in the past the Leafs traded away assets like Steve Sullivan, Brad Boyes, Tuukka Rask, etc. Mikhail Stefanovich in the fourth round last year looks like a steal after his 76 points in 56 games in the QMJHL this season. Before he broke his femur Chris DiDomenico had 35 points in 15 playoff games in the QMJHL and had just finished playing on a line with John Tavares for Canada's gold medal winning WJHC team.

Toronto's 2007 1st rounder Jiri Tlusty, famous for showing the world his gizmo, had a slow start in the AHL last season before his dad flew over from the Czech Republic and told Jiri to just have fun while playing hockey. The next game Tlusty exploded and dominated opponents for the rest of the season ending up as one of the top scorers in the AHL as a 20 year old. In the middle of February Tlusty had a five goal game, you're going to hear about the work this kid can do with his hockey stick in the future.

This year's draft was no different. According to Brian Burke Kadri is a "mean little bastard" with high end offensive talents. He'll likely remain in the OHL this year to captain the London Knights as he bulks up to play in the NHL. He has NHL hands, speed and an NHL shot, he just needs to add about 20 pounds of muscle to play on Toronto's first line.

What happened with goaltender Justin Pogge? I know he kind of got squeezed out when you signed Jonas Gustavsson, but why didn't he work out better for you than he did?

 

PPP: I saw Pogge in one playoff game. He lost his cool, took dumb penalties, allowed five goals and generally managed to look small despite being 6'3". He was over confident, lazy, and had a brutal sense of self-entitlement. He might have improved under Francois Allaire's tutelage but apparently he didn't even deserve a year working with him.

Chemmy: Pogge put up below average numbers on Toronto's AHL affiliate and seemed to have a confidence problem. With Gustavsson coming in and the emergence of James Reimer Pogge was moved so he had a chance at getting some playing time I guess.

Personally I saw Pogge play a Marlies game where he let in seven goals. In the AHL. I think that about sums it up.

 

Who are your three favorites to have breakout seasons in 09-10? Predictions on their stats? 

PPP: I won't predict stats because I don't think that I could do it. Schenn will continue to be a beast defensively and hopefully get more chances to put up points.

Among the forwards I am going to go with two of Grabovski, Kulemin, and Tlusty. The first two had very good first full seasons in the NHL and should get more powerplay time while Tlusty was killing it in the AHL.

Chemmy: Luke Schenn, Jonas Gustavsson, Niklas Hagman. I think Schenn continues his excellent defending and starts to get chances in an offensive role, possibly chipping in four or five goals. Jonas Gustavsson wins the starting job in November ish and runs with it, and Niklas Hagman builds on his excellent season last year by staying healthy and potting 30.

Do the Maple Leafs make the playoffs!!!1 this year? If so how far do you see them going? If not, how much longer until the Leafs are a serious contender again?

PPP: It'll be close only because a lot of teams in the East, like Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo, have all managed to get worse. They'll definitely make it next year but in terms of being contenders I think that they'll have to aim for 2011-2012. That's when guys coming down the pipeline, like Chemmy mentioned, will have one, two or three years under their belt.

Chemmy:Apologies to eyebleaf, I don't think the Leafs go to the dance this year. That said Toronto's got a lot of new offense coming down the pipeline; Bozak, Hanson, Stalberg, Slaney, Tlusty, Kadri, Stefanovich, Dale Mitchell and Chris DiDomenico in addition to rookies who joined the team last year like John Mitchell, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.

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