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Phaneuf Has Been Burke’s Pillar

When Brian Burke traded for Dion Phaneuf on January 31, 2010, he risked very little.

What he gained was the pillar on which every other acquisition has been positioned.

The players who went to Calgary, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Nik Hagman were going to go somewhere. Ex-Leafs litter the NHL. Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn are the only holdovers from when Burke signed on three years ago Tuesday.

Ask Burke about the key moments in his time with the Leafs and he will start with January 31, 2010.

Phaneuf’s career had stalled in Calgary. Always a ...

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Missing One Of The Good Ones

About a year ago I climbed into a car driven by my friend Steve Dryden.

We drove to Buffalo to see Jim Kelley.

The man who met us was gaunt. He moved slowly. His voice faltered. His medical options were exhausted. At 61, he was dying.

We went to a restaurant he liked in Buffalo, a city he loved. We laughed.  We all kind of knew this was it.

Jim Kelley was a legendary sportswriter who spent most of his working life as the hockey guy for the Buffalo News. He filed a story ...

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Ulmerstandings: A Tale Of Two Trains…

Imagine two trains heading in opposite directions. The one heading north is Phil Kessel. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin is going the other way. You don’t really get the pace of the rise and fall until you see them together.

Saturday’s 7-1 Leafs win over the Caps provided that opportunity. Kessel was probably best player on the ice and notched a goal and an assist. Ovechkin was shut out and finished minus three. Ovechkin will drag a career high four-game goalless slump into tonight’s game with Phoenix. In that stretch he has finished ...

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Ulmerstandings: Slow Start For Some Former Leafs

Let me put it to you this way: if you used to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs you’re probably having a lousy season.

While the Leafs are enjoying a 10-6-2 campaign, things aren’t so great for the alumni.

The three teams employing the most former Leafs -Anaheim, Calgary and Carolina at three each – are a combined 19-23-7. They are numbers 25, 26 and 28 in the league.

Put poor Tomas Kaberle at the bottom of the heap. In 15 games with Carolina, Kaberle has just three assists and sits at -5.

Matt ...

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Several Topics On The Table At GM Meetings

What figured to be a fairly sleepy GM meeting on re-alignment and boarding has morphed into a session to address hot-button issues.

The meeting is being convened at a Toronto airport hotel.

Start with the conversation about goalie-crashing.

That Boston’s Milan Lucic avoided a suspension because director of player safety Brendan Shanahan said he accidentally ran over Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller has stirred ample controversy.

Leaf fans saw goalie James Reimer injured by a similar impact from the Canadiens Brian Gionta October 22. The Montreal forward wasn’t penalized and Reimer hasn’t played since. The ...

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Burke Feels Goalies Need To Be Protected

Brian Burke’s oft-blustery vibe hides a fundamental element of his nature.

At heart, he is conservative.

Take the NHL general manager’s meeting, convened Tuesday at a Toronto airport hotel.

There were two hot-button issues. One was the Milan Lucic hit on Buffalo’s Ryan Miller that drew no suspension from director of player safety Brendan Shanahan.

Burke understands the impact of losing your number one goalie. The Leafs were cruising along at 4-1-1 when James Reimer was hit by the Canadiens Brian Gionta. Since then they have gone 6-5-0 and the team’s goal against average has jumped ...

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To Absent Friends…

‘Let us lift our glasses And direct a toast That they may abide in our hearts Forever’

– The toast ‘To Absent Friends’

They are gone and yet never gone. Their legacy is a glimmer in the tears of the people who love them still.

The four men enshrined Tuesday in the Hockey Hal of Fame have earned their sport’s version of immortality. Likenesses of Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ed Belfour and Mark Howe will be hung in the Great Hall. There you will find evidence of their deeds until the shinny glass ...

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Beating The Odds

Ed Belfour. Never drafted.

Doug Gilmour. Drafted in the seventh round.

Is it still possible for a player to slip through the network of scouts and bird dogs, internet assessments and Central Scouting reports to beat the odds and land a spot in the NHL?

A glance at the Leafs roster says yes. So do some of the latest inductees for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

With James Reimer injured, the top three remaining goaltenders in the Leafs system weren’t selected in the NHL draft: Ben Scrivens, Jonas Gustavsson and Mark Owuya.

Tyler Bozak, holding ...

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All That Matters Is Winning

A dozen years ago I spoke to Craig Hartsburg, the coach of what was then called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The Ducks had gained a road win here in an exhibition of trap hockey that made your eyes bleed. I commended him on the win but said “you know, that game was unwatchable.”

Hartsburg presented his case beautifully.

“I don’t care.”

Would you?

What would you say if I told you I could wave a wand and guarantee the Leafs would qualify for the post season? The only caveat: they had to play a ...

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Gustavsson Needs More Time

Took a straw poll among ten or so media types at the MasterCard Centre on who would start in goal for the Leafs Thursday in St. Louis.

“Gustavsson?”

Mine was the only hand.

I am not surprised by the meagre confidence people both in and outside that cozy press box have in Jonas Gustavsson. Now in his third season with the Leafs, he hasn’t done a whole lot to justify faith. Gustavsson’s career goals against is a shoddy 3.10. His save percentage is equally crummy at .896.

He has won only 26 of the ...

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