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Game Journal: Game 55 – Maple Leafs vs. Blackhawks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

5:00 PM: Paul Hendrick gets you set for tonight’s game with his Maple Leafs Game Preview.

3:40 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Tim Peel and Brad Watson. Vaughan Rody and Greg Devorski will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in to the game can watch on TSN 4, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

3:35 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks.

Toronto Maple Leafs


40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov

24 Holland – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau

26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 28 Boyes

38 Greening – 56 Froese – 25 Clune


2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly

51 Gardiner – 46 Polak

52 Marincin – 20 Corrado


34 Reimer

45 Bernier

Chicago Blackhawks


65 Shaw – 19 Toews – 14 Panik

72 Panarin – 15 Anisimov – 88 Kane

11 Desjardins – 24 Danault – 86 Teravainen

53 Mashinter – 70 Rasmussen – 48 Hinostroza


2 Keith – 4 Hjlamarsson

57 van Riemsdyk – 7 Seabrook

43 Svedberg – 32 Rozsival


33 Darling

50 Crawford

3:30 PM: James Reimer gets the start on Monday in Chicago. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

Leafs TV

On the Blackhawks:

They’re a good squad, obviously they’ve got a lot of talent and I think it’s just a case where you play them honest. I think in here the way we’ve been playing the last couple of games, we’ve been playing real solid, real honest hockey. We just need another game like that. They’re a good team over there and we need to be at our best.

What do you remember about Richard Panik?

Real good player, a real good player. He’s a good friend of mine too and so obviously it was sad to him get traded. At the same time you’re happy for him and you want the best for him. He’s got a ton of skill, he’s got a great shot so you’ve just got to be aware of him when he’s out there.

Is there an emphasis on peripheral vision for you tonight against a player like Kane?

Yeah, you always have to be aware of who is out there and what they’re capable of. At the end of the day though, you’re playing against the puck. You always want to let it tell you what it wants you to do and so in any case with skilled players, you’ve got to be sharp and focused and be on your toes.

What’s it like to face 19 shots in Vancouver when you normally see double that?

It’s different, it’s just a different game. You’ve got to make sure you’re always ready. When your team is playing that well you just want to make sure that when they do get their chance that you’re good to go. It’s just a matter of staying in it and watching your team do their thing.

On Leipsic’s deut:

It’s awesome, obviously you’re homers in that sense, you always want the best for people coming out of your province or where you’re from. Any time there’s a Manitoban in the League you’re excited about it and when he’s on your team you’re even more pumped. I hope he can keep it going here and keep his bat ready and hot.

Did you know him at all before he got here?

No, not really. Obviously I knew him when he came to our team and skated with him this summer a little bit in Toronto but I never knew him before that, no.

3:15 PM: Colin Greening gets set for his third game in a Leafs sweater on Monday. Here’s what he had to say following the morning skate…

Leafs TV

Is being a physical player important to your success right now?

I think so, especially when you’re on the forecheck. If you look at the game now it’s very fast-moving and in order to keep the puck in the corner and not allow the defensive team to break out quickly you have to stop the puck and a lot of times it’s being physical on the forecheck. That’s a big thing and part of my game is making sure I’m on the forecheck and finishing my hits.

On the team effort to limit Vancouver in the offensive zone:

When you think about it, especially when you think about the Sedins, you have to make sure you can hem the puck in their zone. If they don’t have the puck that bodes well for the team. They have a lot of firepower in Vancouver and it’s going to be the same thing for Chicago. It’s going to be a good challenge tonight but we’re excited.

What’s the fine line with putting pucks in the net on the power play given the chances?

Given that I’ve only been here for two games I don’t really know the difference, I know that I can only speak for my unit. I think that Arcobello and P-A and Morgan and Froese and Boyes have been moving the puck really well. I think we’ve been reading off each other pretty well. We haven’t been holding on to it, getting a lot of shots. I think that’s important too because once you get shots on net it spreads out the PK a little bit. I guess from the limited time I’ve been here that’s what I’ve seen.

3:00 PM: Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner has four points in three games on this road trip. Here’s what he had to say ahead of Monday’s game in Chicago…

Leafs TV

On his recent offensive output:

I’m not sure, some of the points were a little lucky but I feel pretty confident on the ice now, moving the puck well. It’s kind of weird how that happens, sometimes you lose it for a few games and get it back and I think that’s kind of what happened.

On the keys to jumping into the rush:

Yeah, you’ve just got to pick your spots. A guy like Kane, Panarin, Toews, guys like that, sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit more cautious and if it’s a riskier play, choose your spots.

On duplicating the effort in Vancouver to earn a win tonight:

Yeah, for sure. Just the way our whole team has been played the last three games has been pretty cool, especially with the guys out of the lineup and younger guys stepping up. It has been good for our group.

What’s the key to turning around the power play?

I think we had probably 10 or 12 chances [against Vancouver] and nothing went in. The goalie has been playing well for the other team, I guess. We just haven’t been getting many bounces. We’re happy with the production we’ve had and just hopefully we can get some goals here.

What are you seeing as you finish off that goal in Edmonton?

I don’t know if I ended up hitting that in the end there, I couldn’t really tell because I hit the post with it too. I just saw it going in and thought I’d give it a chance.

2:45 PM: Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say following Monday’s morning skate…

Leafs TV

On discipline as a key vs. Chicago:

We’re going to need it obviously. Last time we played them we took six minors, they got two on the power play, but really they got three when the guy just got out. We’ve got to figure that out and we’ve got to play real well. They’ve got a lot of skill in their lineup, they’re a fun team to play against because you find out what the standard is and you’ve got to play well without the puck. It should be a lot of fun for us tonight.

How is Grabner?

Good, he’s playing tonight.

Is Kadri back?

Don’t know, we’ll see tonight.

Was it all hands on deck to keep Vancouver below 20 shots?

I thought we played well and we executed in our own zone so we got to roll around in their zone. That’s what the game is supposed to be about, it’s supposed to be about offence, it’s more fun that way. I thought we were prepared and we executed and we have to do the same here tonight.

Did Leipsic respond the way you like from a player in his first game?

As much as you watch him in the American League — and I watch those guys on TV quite a bit — you don’t know until they get here. Can they handle the pace? Do they have skill? Are they going to be afraid? You don’t really know those things. I thought he was real good in the game he got to play.

Do you get excited or nervous for guys playing their first game?

I get excited for them. The kid scored, I saw it on the replay when I was watching the game. First they made him go out for warmup by himself, which I thought was kind of cool. The second thing is you score and your Mom and Dad and Billets are there so that’s pretty special. The whole thing has to be a real good experience. You work hard to get here and now once you get here and get a taste, you know how hard you have to work to keep staying here and ideally you get here and stay here a long time.

What did Panik lack to make the team?

I don’t think he lacked anything. I think he’s a big guy who skates real good, he’s heavy and is playing well right now for these guys. He played well for us with the Marlies and obviously when he was with the Marlies they decided they wanted to try something else so that’s what they did.

What has the consistent effort of Hunwick meant to the team this season?

I think when you look at guys and good pros who do it right every day it has been a positive thing for us. Obviously him and Polie have been excellent that way, Leo, Grabner. When you look at those guys they play hard every day and they do it right and they’ve been good support for our young people.

How challenging has this trip been with the length and all the injuries and changes?

I don’t know, it’s been a good trip. I got to see one daughter in Calgary, one in Vancouver. To me it doesn’t much matter, we play games and you’ve got to get ready for those games. I think the trip has been spread out, we haven’t had to play back-to-back. We had a travel day yesterday and an off-day, we should be fresh for tonight, there’s no reason — we’ve got an off-day when we get home. Let’s just play.

Is Morin in tonight?


What has been the process been like in Toronto thus far?

Well, I didn’t say I was looking forward to the pain so let’s get that straight. I was looking forward to the challenge and it’s been exactly what you expected. I think the thing that has been real good is Lou and Shanny have been real patient and we all know what the plan is on game day, you expect to win, you expect to prepare to win and you expect to win. The rest of the days you follow your plan and what your plan is and do it long term. All you’ve got to do is look at the Hawks. To build up a 10-year run, you went through some tough times for a long time to get the skillset where you need it. That’s what we have to do right now. We’re in the process of doing it.

2:30 PM: The Maple Leafs wrap up their four-game road trip on Monday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

The Leafs are coming off of a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. Brendan Leipsic had his first NHL goal and Mark Arcobello scored his first two goals as a Leaf while Brad Boyes and Leo Komarov added solo tallies. James Reimer stopped 17 shots to earn the victory. He starts again in Chicago.

The Blackhawks last played on Saturday night and took a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Brent Seabrook had both goals for Chicago while Corey Crawford made 41 saves in the loss. Scott Darling is slated to get the start in goal against Toronto.

Stay tuned for updates from Coach Babcock, the Leafs, projected lineups and more.

Source: Game Journal: Game 55 – Maple Leafs vs. Blackhawks

Leafs' Cheap UFA Gambit Already Paying Off

From Pension Puppets

What the market will pay for the Leafs’ expiring free agents is tough to gauge, but they’re a win for the Leafs regardless.

For many years, we here at PPP called for the Leafs to identify undervalued UFAs and sign them to cheap, short-term deals. We reasoned that if the player rebounded, he would either be re-signed as a useful player or dealt for assets at the trade deadline. If the player failed to produce the results desired, the team wouldn’t have wasted much in the way of money or long-term cap space, and in the meantime, would have sheltered prospects.

Instead, because the Leafs fixated for so many years on more expensive “blue-collar” players such as Mike Komisarek, David Clarkson and Dave Bolland, the team wound up spending extra money on an area of market inefficiency. While the Leafs slowly figured out that they could pay 3rd and 4th line players peanuts every year, other teams noticed as well, and started to pay less and less for their own bottom-six and bottom-pairing talent.

With the market bottoming out for short-term UFA help, there has been some consternation that the Leafs’ “pump’n dump” contracts won’t yield much of anything at the deadline, which is to say that most teams have a bunch of cheap, short-term contracts they can use to plug holes in their lineup already. The fact that a number of well-known NHL veterans have hit the waiver wire recently and gone unclaimed seems to add further credence to the idea that what the Leafs currently have on offer isn’t worth beans on the trade block.

Here’s the thing though: that’s fine. The Leafs’ cheap, short-term UFA deals are already paying dividends.

Even if the team gets nothing for any of the players signed/acquired this summer, they will have already had the benefit of three advantages: 1) the team got to take a chance on their bouncing back at next to no cost, 2) they didn’t plug up their cap situation with bad, long-term deals that will impede the Leafs’ ability to re-sign the likes of Mitch Marner or William Nylander, and 3) they got to keep prospects in their farm system for longer, instead of leaning heavily on young players in a hopeless losing season.

But what about their trade value, though?

Within the context that these pump’n dump deals are already a success, it doesn’t make too much sense to worry about the returns that these players yield for the Leafs – anything, absolutely anything they get in return is gravy. Having said that, it’s all but guaranteed that the Leafs will be able to get a pick or two out of the mix.

Certain contracts, like those of Roman Polak or Tyler Bozak each stand a realistic chance of netting the Leafs a tidy return before the trade deadline, so it’s not as though the Leafs are unable to acquire more assets without their pump’n dump deals, but let’s look at the list of players signed/acquired in this past off-season who are on the trading block:

Player Cap hit
Michael Grabner $3,000,000
Shawn Matthias $2,300,000
Daniel Winnik $2,250,000
Nick Spaling $2,200,000
P.A. Parenteau $1,500,000
Mark Arcobello $1,100,000
Brad Boyes $700,000
Rich Clune $575,000
Matt Hunwick $1,200,000
Martin Marincin $700,000
Frank Corrado $632,500

There are a few players on the above list that don’t strictly meet the pump’n dump criteria, but I thought I would include them for the sake of discussion. Grabner, for instance, cost the Leafs 5 middling prospects to acquire (don’t trade young goaltenders!), Spaling came over in the Kessel deal, Marcin cost Brad Ross and the 107th pick (not to mention the fact that Marincin is still young), and while Corrado was a waiver wire pickup, he is still young enough to have some limited upside. Nevertheless, the Leafs would probably love to flip and and all of them (with the possible exceptions of Marincin and Corrado) for other assets, particularly draft picks.

The most likely to go are Parenteau, Arcobello, Boyes, and to a lesser extent Matthias, since all of their contracts are quite reasonable given their production. Hunwick also stands a decent chance of being moved, since his usage has quite outstripped his income, even if it has also exceeded his abilities. For any of these players, the Leafs might expect in return draft picks in the later rounds or maybe even just a body back in exchange that has a lower cap hit – the Leafs are going to have to manage their cap carefully so as not to go over and be penalized for next season.

Several of the other players look less likely to be traded, though the reasons vary. Corrado and Marincin, for example, are still young and have looked good in their limited showing with the Leafs so far, and so one would think that the Leafs would hang on to them for next season. Meanwhile, Grabner, Winnik, and Matthias all have box score numbers that make their cap hits more difficult to rationalize, especially given that they’ve played on a weak offensive team all year and have been handed plenty of opportunity to score. Clune and Spaling, on the other hand, cost virtually nothing but also add very little in the way of scoring help that most teams will be looking for at the deadline.

As for concerns about the NHL’s waiver wire setting the tone of the market, it’s true that it does, but not in the way you would think. Yes, there have been veterans let go, and it is true that they have gone unclaimed. But rather than indicate that teams don’t need help, it instead signals that teams are looking for greater cap efficiency from their bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defencemen, and several of the Leafs’ players mentioned above have that in spades.

Brandon Prust and Mason Raymond? They both cost too much for playoff teams to bother claiming them. Same for Sam Gagner. Scott Gomez doesn’t cost much, but then, he’s old as dust anyway. None of Parenteau, Arcobello, Boyes, or Hunwick are prohibitively expensive or old, and so it is possible that a market exists for their services. These waiver wire snubs don’t mean that playoff teams aren’t looking for rental help, it’s just that the help has to be cheaper.

With the sudden “injuries” to Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak and the trading of Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs have the perfect opportunity to showcase their inexpensive wares, and other teams have undoubtedly taken notice. It’s a matter of time before the Leafs begin converting them into later-round picks that will only help the rebuild.

Source: Leafs' Cheap UFA Gambit Already Paying Off

Leafs Win In Vancouver

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

VANCOUVER _ Mark Arcobello scored his first two goals of the season 17 seconds apart and Brendan Leipsic added his first NHL goal in his first game as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Saturday night.

James Reimer made 17 stops and Jake Gardiner added two assists for Toronto (20-25-9), which entered play last in the overall standings and won in regulation for just the second time since Jan. 6. Brad Boyes and Leo Komarov added empty netters.

The Maple Leafs, who came in on a three-game slide and were just 3-10-2 over their last 15, stunned the hockey world by trading captain Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa earlier this week, and iced an injury-depleted lineup that included a number of youngsters and minor leaguers.

Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for Vancouver (22-21-12), which had won two in a row to get back in the Western Conference playoff race after dropping four straight. Ryan Miller made 33 saves.

Up 2-1 after two periods and leading 31-13 on the shot clock, Toronto stretched its advantage to two at 3:54 of the third. Leipsic, an emergency injury callup from the AHL, batted the puck home in front of a helpless Miller after Rich Clune‘s initial shot bounced high off a Vancouver defender.

Baertschi buried a rebound with 1:47 left in regulation for his 11th, but Boyes, with his sixth, and Komarov, with his 18th, scored into empty nets as Toronto collected its first win in Vancouver since November 2003 to snap a seven-game losing streak.

Leafs fans decked out in blue and white chanted “Go Leafs Go” as the final seconds wound down before the Toronto players spilled over the boards to celebrate a complete victory.

After a scoreless first where Toronto held a 16-7 edge in shots, the Canucks grabbed the lead 3:18 into the second. Jannik Hansen stole the puck behind the Leafs net and fed it in front to Sedin, who buried his 22nd of the season and first in seven games.

Arcobello, who was pointless in 13 games before Saturday, got that one back 1:09 later when he jumped on a Canucks turnover and ripped a shot past Miller.

In the third game of his most recent callup, Arcobello then gave his team the lead just 17 seconds later when Gardiner drove past Radim Vrbata and Arcobello shovelled the loose puck past Miller.

Toronto had been outscored 15-6 in its last three games, and nearly went up 3-1 on an extended 5-on-3 power play, but Morgan Rielly saw one shot hit the post before Miller snagged another with his glove.

Reimer didn’t have a lot to do at the other end until Emerson Etem tested him with a one timer from the slot and Bo Horvat tried to beat him upstairs on a wraparound.

The period was accented by a tussle between a clearly frustrated Henrik Sedin and Komarov that had the Vancouver captain taking swings at the Leafs forward.

The Canucks, who have now failed to win three in a row six times this season, donned black throwback jerseys that featured the “flying skate” logo the club abandoned after the 1996-97 season as part of 20th anniversary celebrations for Rogers Arena.

Notes: The Canucks announced Friday that defenceman Alexander Edler and forward Brandon Sutter will miss at least six weeks each after suffering injuries in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Colorado. Edler was hurt blocking a shot with his foot, while Sutter broke his jaw after taking a puck to the face. … Leafs centre Nazem Kadri sat out for a second night in a row with a lower-body injury. … Henrik Sedin played his 1,141th game for the Canucks to pass team president Trevor Linden for the all-time record.

Source: Leafs Win In Vancouver

Leafs’ fill-ins fill Vancouver net: Feschuk

From The Star

VANCOUVER—In the handful of days since the Maple Leafs traded captain Dion Phaneuf, head coach Mike Babcock has been putting a positive spin on a less-than-optimal situation.

For an intensely competitive coach who likes nothing more than to celebrate a nightly victory, Toronto’s roster is nightmarishly short on established difference makers. But Babcock has used the state of affairs as motivational fodder.

“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Babcock has said.

And in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Canucks, he wasn’t kidding. In the first period alone the Maple Leafs’ pair of power-play opportunities were handed over to a list of names a fan wouldn’t automatically associate with man-advantage situations. Brendan Leipsic, 21, was making his NHL debut as an emergency call-up — he got nearly two minutes of power-play run. Colin Greening and Mark Arcobello have spent most of the season in the AHL; they were both featured prominently.

Babcock was effectively saying, “Here’s your NHL moment — seize it.”

Leipsic certainly did. Along with logging those power-play minutes, he scored his first NHL goal, batting what turned out to be the third-period winner into the net with a waist-high swat from the slot.

Arcobello seized the opportunity, too, potting a pair of second-period goals in a span of 17 seconds to help the Maple Leafs snap a three-game losing streak. On a night when the visitors put on a possession-game clinic, doubling the shots-on-goal total of the playoff-hopeful Canucks, 38-19, Leafs veterans Leo Komarov and Brad Boyes scored empty-netters to pad the total.

“That’s a case study in what we’re capable of,” said Rich Clune, another Leaf better known for his work with the Marlies this year, who assisted on Leipsic’s goal. “Getting a win on the road against a highly skilled team like Vancouver — I think we frustrated them, especially early on. I think our work ethic is our key.”

Indeed, for all the minor-leaguers on their bench on Saturday, the Maple Leafs roundly outplayed the Canucks for most of the evening. On the Canucks’ three cracks on the power play, the diligent work of the visitors limited the home team to a combined two shots. Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for the Canucks. But Leipsic’s goal turned out to be the difference.

“Lucky to get a stick on it,” said Leipsic, a 21-year-old Winnipegger acquired a year ago in the trade that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville.

Clune, who played on Leipsic’s line on Saturday, gave it more credit.

“The hand-eye coordination, you can’t fake that,” Clune said. “That’s a legit goal. I’m so proud of him.”

Babcock described the five-foot-nine Leipsic as “a greasy little guy who’s got real good skill level, tenacity about him.” Clune, who played with Leipsic last season in Milwaukee, said Leipsic has been largely overlooked by Leafs Nation because he plays on a team with higher-profile assets like William Nylander and Connor Brown.

“William Nylander’s the number one guy, rightfully so. But (Leipsic) is a legit prospect behind him,” Clune said. “Maybe it’s even been better for him to fly under the radar. Maybe some people don’t see him coming.”

Leipsic, who didn’t get the benefit of a Friday practice given the emergency call-up that saw him arrive in Vancouver Friday night, became the first Leaf to score in his NHL debut since Nikolai Kulemin did it in the 2008-09 season opener in Detroit.

While the Maple Leafs are in full rebuilding mode, the Canucks, still led by the 35-year-old Sedin twins, are firmly entrenched in a playoff race, coming into Saturday’s game three points out of a Western wild-card spot and likely Canada’s best hope for a representative in the Stanley Cup tournament. So Saturday was an untimely moment for a flat performance, to be sure.

But the Leafs, though they came into the contest in sole possession of the NHL basement and hobbled by injuries that kept the likes of Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk out of the lineup, deserved the win. If they played what looked like desperate hockey, perhaps it was because Babcock has acknowledged that, for most of the roster, Toronto-based employment is a tenuous thing with the Feb. 29 trade deadline looming.

With plenty of uncertainty in the air, perhaps Arcobello was in his element. The 27-year-old alumnus of Yale University is a burgeoning journeyman; he has played for five different NHL franchises in his most recent two seasons.

“This is a hard league to play in,” Arcobello said. “When you get an open door, you’ve got to take advantage of it . . . You never know when you’re going to get a chance again.”

It was back in the Brian Burke era that the Maple Leafs’ farm team adopted a marketing slogan: “Every Game is a Tryout.” Such is the state of Leafland that the catchphrase suddenly applies on the NHL team, too.

Source: Leafs’ fill-ins fill Vancouver net: Feschuk

Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

Dion Phaneuf’s tenure with the Ottawa Senators began in Detroit on Wednesday night. On the second defence pair with youngster Cody Ceci, the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain had a different jersey, with a different number (2) and no letter on his chest.

After 423 games as a Leaf – the Senators’ most bitter rival – it was an odd visual.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Sens: A look at his hockey career in numbers (CP Video)

And the Phaneuf trade is only the beginning. More Leafs are likely to follow him out the door, with the majority of roster spots up for grabs in the 18 days left before the NHL’s trade deadline.

It’s expected Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello will be one of the NHL’s busiest executives the rest of the way. He has nine pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on the current roster, and it makes no sense to hold onto any of them if prospects and/or draft picks can be had in return.

The Leafs have also discussed moving winger Dan Winnik and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who both have one year on their deals beyond this season, in talks with other teams.

Add in the veterans left from the former management’s core – Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak – and the three hefty contracts the Leafs just added from Ottawa on Tuesday and that is 16 players off the current 27-man roster (including injured reserve) who are undeniably available.

That’s a lot of trade calls.

Realistically, how many will be traded? And what can Toronto expect to get?

The unrestricted free agents

There are two groups of rental players the Leafs have to offer teams. The first – namely P.A. Parenteau and goaltender James Reimer – are players that have had good seasons and will be easy to move for something of value.

Reimer is a special case in that he is the only pending UFA who the team is still trying to re-sign. But he could be a valuable short-term option for a team such as Nashville, which is on the postseason bubble and having issues in goal. At the very least, Parenteau and Reimer should be able to garner second-round picks or solid prospects if they’re moved.

The second group comprises players with more limited value. Defenceman Roman Polak could be an exception given how many teams want big, physical-depth defencemen, but even then it’s hard to imagine he’d fetch much more than a third-round pick.

The Leafs other pending UFAs – Michael Grabner, Shawn Matthias, Nick Spaling, Mark Arcobello, Brad Boyes, Rich Clune – have had marginal production this year (or spent time in the minors) so they’ll be a tougher sell.

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the Leafs somehow found takers for players such as Olli Jokinen (sixth-round pick from St. Louis) and Korbinian Holzer (fifth-round pick from Anaheim) at last year’s deadline. Anything is possible. Especially if Toronto takes back bad money in a deal, as they did in accepting Eric Brewer in the Holzer trade.

The trade bait and vets with big contracts

After moving Phaneuf, the Leafs don’t have many “big” contracts left. Lupul is the team’s highest-paid player at $5.25-million a season, followed by James van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Bernier in the $4.2-million range. The only player on the team signed beyond 2017-18 is defenceman Jake Gardiner, who is 25 years old.

It’s difficult to imagine they could find a taker for Lupul, as he has only 14 points in 46 games and is again on injured reserve. Bozak and Bernier, however, should have some value and could possibly be moved for second- or third-round picks simply to shed more salary.

The Leafs moved Winnik to Pittsburgh before last year’s deadline for a second- and fourth-rounder, which isn’t going to happen again given the season he’s had. A mid-round pick would be a reasonable return this time. It’s also possible the Leafs move Ottawa transplants Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Jared Cowen, who all have one year left on their deals. Cowen, in particular, could be intriguing for a contending team, as he can be bought out at a low cost in the summer in a transaction that will grant extra cap space in 2016-17.

Who is safe?

It’s unlikely the Leafs trade van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly or Gardiner, who will form the nucleus of a roster that is going to get even younger with an influx of a half-dozen or so players from the AHL’s Marlies next season.

Everyone else is an option.

That said, someone has to play with the kids next season. The Leafs have to be careful not to go too scorched-earth by putting young players in over their heads – the way Edmonton did – and ending up mired in the NHL’s basement for several more years.

They’ll get a close-up view of that on Thursday against the Oilers, with something of note on the line: The losing team will claim last place in the NHL standings.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There will be no James van Riemsdyk in the lineup. No Tyler Bozak. No Shawn Matthias or Joffrey Lupul.

The goal-starved Toronto Maple Leafs – 27th in the NHL with 2.29 goals scored a game – are now without four of their nine highest-scoring forwards. Their injuries range from broken foot (van Riemsdyk) and concussion (Bozak) to whiplash (Matthias) and the inexplicable “middle-body injury”(Lupul).

So they head out on a four-game road trip through Western Canada and Chicago with a few American Hockey Leaguers in the lineup, and their coach again urging them to win ugly.

“It’s real clear how we have to play with our lineup,” Mike Babcock said before he boarded a plane bound for Calgary, where the Leafs play Tuesday. “We went through that this morning [on video].

“Obviously we’re more offensively challenged. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to win.”

Lately, the Leafs have been finding ways to lose. In their last 13 games, they have three wins (and only one in regulation), all but mathematically wiping out their playoff hopes.

Saturday’s loss to the struggling Ottawa Senators may have been Toronto’s worst of the season, especially given – as Babcock said Monday – it was over “in the first eight minutes.”

The Leafs have been in the NHL’s basement all year, but back in early January, it appeared they might claw their way higher. At that point, they were riding a streak of 15-8-5 and sat only five points out of a playoff spot. Now they’re 12 points back, missing much of their meagre offensive talent, and Babcock has resorted to praising Rich Clune whenever he can (“Clune’s been real good for us”).

Going into the game against the Flames, the Leafs playoff chances sat at 3 per cent (via They had a better shot at getting the first overall draft pick – 8 per cent, or fourth-highest in the league. And the more they struggle to score, the more they’ll lose and the better that pick percentage will get.

None of this is a surprise. The Leafs were almost certainly going to be awful this year, and they knew it. It’s early February, and already the organization’s focus is firmly on next season and beyond. In recent days, for example, the Leafs have been heavily scouting two prospects in Finland (Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi) who are projected to be selected at the top of the draft.

A stop in Switzerland to shadow potential No. 1 pick Auston Matthews – the 18-year-old phenom who has a remarkable 24 goals in 31 Swiss league games – is also likely in order.

So the problem with all the injuries isn’t that the Maple Leafs will lose. They were already doing that in fine fashion. What’s troubling is that it’ll be more difficult to trade players such as Matthias or Bozak if they’re banged up.

Lupul? At 32 years old (going on 42) with two years left on a huge contract, he is unmovable.

JVR, meanwhile, is likely staying put, given he was turning into a legitimate star through the first 40 games (van Riemsdyk’s importance to the team is best measured by how brutal the Leafs’ offence has been without him).

All these losses open up considerable holes in an already thin lineup. At Monday’s practice, Babcock had crazy things going on, like Clune on the power play, but he also had Mark Arcobello in a prominent role for the first time in months. Josh Leivo was on the power play, and Brad Boyes was cemented in the lineup, albeit on the fourth line.

Perhaps those four get more minutes and show more than they have to date? Perhaps that shows, in Leivo’s case, that he can play in the NHL as a regular-season regular, or that, in the case of everyone else, there might be some low-end trade value there?

It’s tough searching for reasons to watch the Leafs right now, but that might be one.

Or you can tune in simply to see the latest source of Babcock’s exasperation. You might want popcorn.

“I’m dying for someone to score a goal,” Babcock said. “If you’ve scored in the past, you’re going to get an opportunity to do something.”

And even if you haven’t, step right up.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs

Leafs get ready to rearrange the roster

From The Star

Ever tight lipped, Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello at least acknowledges now is the time that he, the team’s pro scouting staff and the rest of the front office staff earn their keep.

The trade deadline is three weeks away — 3 p.m. on Feb. 29. By then, this particular group of Maple Leafs could be vastly different than the one that heads west this week for a four-game trip through Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Chicago.

The prices have been set. Calls are being made. The other shoe could drop at any time.

“You never know,” Lamoriello said. “In your mind you have something you’d like to see transpire. Then you just have to see where it goes from there. If there was anything imminent, it would be done. That’s the best way to approach it. It’s no different for anybody. It just depends on the guys somebody is looking for.”

The Leafs certainly hope they have what other teams are looking for. The roster seems designed to be dismantled, with seven pending unrestricted free agents.

Need a goalie? Try James Reimer. How about a hard-nosed, penalty-killing defenceman? Roman Polak. Some offensive help? P.A. Parenteau. Depth forwards? Shawn Matthias, Michael Grabner, Brad Boyes and Nick Spaling.

The Leafs have 48 professionals under contract — two under the limit — and enough salary-cap space to add contracts valued at an average of $10 million annually for the rest of the season. So Lamoriello is in prime position to take on a bad contract if there is something else — a prospect, a draft pick — in it for him.

“The whole key is how do you get better,” Lamoriello said. “How quick do you get better? Things evolve, and that usually makes decisions for you. It depends on what can or cannot happen. Then you have to make a judgment call whether that’s the right decision for what you have to do.”

The Leafs made six trades heading into the trade deadline last season. Only one was close to big: Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli for Olli Jokinen (later traded), a solid prospect in Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick (later traded).

The rest were depth players in trades designed for the Leafs to take on salary while being rewarded with mid-to-low level picks or cap relief

The players traded away: Jokinen, Korbinian Holzer, David Clarkson, Daniel Winnik and Spencer Abbott. Those coming in: T.J. Brennan, Zach Sill, Joakim Lindstrom, Eric Brewer, and Nathan Horton (with salary-cap relief because of his injury). Only Brennan remains, with the Marlies. Not exactly game changers.

But Toronto also acquired Anaheim’s fifth-round pick this summer, St. Louis’s sixth-rounder this summer, and Pittsburgh’s fourth-rounder last summer and second-rounder this summer. Again, not really game-changing. But volume matters. The Leafs could pick 11 times at the June draft.

The players whose names are sure to come up in trade speculation over the next few weeks are braced for it.

“I’ve been down that road before,” Parenteau said. “I know it’s part of the game. It’s tougher now, I have a family. You think about that. My little one is in school. I try to block it, and take it game by game and try to do my best.”

Parenteau signed with the Leafs over the summer in large part because of his relationship with Mike Babcock. He played for the Leafs head coach when they were in the AHL. He likes the direction he sees the Leafs going in and doesn’t want to leave.

“I have a great feeling,” Parenteau said. “I think it’s going to be a great team for a long time with what Mike’s building, and Lou. I think the guys appreciate me so far. It’s been a good fit. I’d like stay here.

“There are a lot of good kids coming up. They’re going to have a good team for a long time.”

Source: Leafs get ready to rearrange the roster

Leafs barely visible while digging early hole against Ottawa

From The Star

OTTAWA—By 7:38 of the first period, the Maple Leafs were down three goals and coach Mike Babcock had replaced James Reimer with Jonathan Bernier.

Now, if he could only have replaced the rest of the team.

That, perhaps, is a harsh assessment of the Maple Leafs’ effort Saturday night, a 6-1 loss to their provincial rival. But not by much.

“It was the most embarrassing game of the year,” said forward P.A. Parenteau, the Leafs’ lone scorer.

“The bottom line is we got beat and we got beat bad,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “We got beat in every aspect of the game by a team that played harder than us.”

The Leafs’ forwards and defencemen left their goalies to their own devices, dug a hole and never got out. It was Toronto’s worst lost since falling 7-0 to the Sharks in San Jose on Jan. 9. And it was the sixth time this season the Leafs lost by at least four goals.

“It was probably one of our worst efforts of the year,” Parenteau said. “Worse than San Jose. We were never in it. The effort in general, it wasn’t there.”

Now, depending on your view, the glass is either half empty or half full. The many Leaf fans in attendance at the Canadian Tire Centre were boisterous in their early cheering for Toronto because beating Ottawa in Ottawa is always fun. But by the end, they were chanting “Let’s Go, Blue Jays.”

“We’re in a building with tons of Toronto fans. They paid to see us play and the didn’t get to see us play,” head coach Mike Babcock said. “This is unacceptable. I usually tell people: ‘We compete hard and the game is tight.’ That wasn’t the case.

“It was really disappointing. We had a day-and-a-half to prepare. No excuses. I thought our team was playing better, getting confidence. I thought we were going to play great. I really did. I thought we were prepared. We deserve to feel the way we feel right now.”

No one associated with Toronto would ever advocate losing to the Senators, who believe they can rejoin the playoff race if they can just string a few wins together. This might help kick-start that.

For Toronto, at least in the grand scheme of things, a loss is better. A finish at the bottom of the standings — and the fire-sale trades sure to come between now and then — will go further to actually replacing these players with better ones. These ones usually try hard, bless them, but they just aren’t good enough.

After two wins in a row, the Leafs were in danger of pulling out of a massive tie for last overall in the NHL. The Sabres picked up a point Saturday night, leaving five teams (with a couple of Western games still going on) in last with 47 points. The race to the bottom, it would appear, is on.

The Senators, reeling with losses in 11 of their last 16, came out flying in the first period. The first half-dozen or so shifts featured 2-on-1s or breakaways as the Leafs left Reimer high and dry.

“Your job (as a goalie) is last line of defence, whether there’s five guys in front of you or no guys in front of you,” Reimer said. “It’s my job to find a way to stop it. The guys are trying. Working their butts off. Sometimes you make mistakes. That’s what your goalie is for.”

Curtis Lazar led the Senators’ attack with two goals, and Erik Karlsson — under fire of late in Ottawa — had four assists. Mark Stone, Zach Smith, Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan also scored for Ottawa. The Leafs’ power play, which came into the game on a 1-for-33 funk, went 0-for-4.

It was clear before the game that GM Lou Lamoriello has already begun to tinker with the lineup, gearing it more toward trades than wins. The team sent forward Rich Clune back to the Marlies on Saturday.

Clune had been playing well, praised regularly by Babcock.

“Business,” Babcock said. “I’m not going there.”

The move meant the Leafs had only 12 forwards, and Brad Boyes got back into the lineup after five straight games as a healthy scratch.

That’s the difference between the coach’s role and that of the general manager. Babcock wants to win. Lamoriello wants to build a winner.

And Lamoriello needs Boyes playing, being showcased, if you will, as the Leafs head toward the trade deadline. Boyes is one of the team’s many pending unrestricted free agents, and having him sit game after game does nothing for his trade value.

“I’m not looking at it like that at all,” Boyes said. “It’s been a while since I played. I’m really looking at playing, having fun, just help out.”

Leafs centre Tyler Bozak was hit in the head in the first period, left the game and did not return.

“The doctor made the decision,” Babcock said. “I wanted him to stay and play on the power play. But that’s why they have other people making the decision, not the coach.”

NOTES: Leafs defenceman Frank Corrado got into his fourth game in a row after having been a healthy scratch most of the season . . . Martin Marincin was the only healthy scratch . . . The Leafs will practise at home Monday, then resume the road trip Tuesday in Calgary.

Source: Leafs barely visible while digging early hole against Ottawa

Game Journal: Game 51 – Maple Leafs vs. Senators

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

3:45 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Tom Kowal and Dan O’Rourke. Scott Driscoll and Brian Murphy will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in can watch on Hockey Night in Canada, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

Get set for game time with Joe Bowen and Paul Hendrick who check in from Ottawa.

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3:30 PM:
Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Senators.

Toronto Maple Leafs

24 Holland – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov
40 Grabner – 42 Bozak – 15 Parenteau
23 Matthias – 16 Spaling – 26 Winnik
19 Lupul – 56 Froese – 28 Boyes

2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly
3 Phaneuf – 20 Corrado
51 Gardiner – 46 Polak

34 Reimer
45 Bernier

Ottawa Senators

68 Hoffman – 93 Zibanejad – 6 Ryan
15 Smith – 44 Pageau – 61 Stone
10 Prince – 27 Lazar – 90 Chiasson
43 Dzingel – 13 Paul – 25 Neil

3 Methot – 65 Karlsson
74 Borowiecki – 5 Ceci
46 Wiercioch – 45 Wideman

41 Anderson
30 Hammond

3:20 PM: James Reimer gets the start in goal for the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. In 18 career games vs. the Senators, Reimer is 11-3-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. He has three shutouts in that span. He has won his last two games and has points in five of his last six starts.

Leafs TV

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3:15 PM:
Brad Boyes returns to the Leafs lineup on Saturday night. Here’s what he had to say prior to facing the Senators…

On the gap between games:

It’s been a break for sure, but a lot of guys have gone through it. It’s new for me — I’ve been out a game or two here or there but not a stretch like this. To get back into it I’ve just got to make sure I get back and ready to play. Physically I’ve done a lot of stuff off-ice. A lot of work afterwards, skating and stuff. Just mentally making sure that I’m doing simple things, getting the feel of the puck back and all those things under pressure.

Is this a mental challenge even though you’ve played 800 games?

Things are different though, all those games are all different situations. Again, this is a different situation for me. It’s just getting that mindset right, getting to the point that I’m playing the game, get out there, feel the puck but don’t think too much. That’s what I’m going to try to focus on.

On fellow Mississauga native Nick Paul making his debut for the Senators tonight:

I was in Dallas and I was playing for San Jose, just that one game. It was far from here. It was two teams that aren’t huge market teams, it was different. For him, playing against his hometown team, that’s exciting. He’s going to be thrilled I’m sure. Again, it comes down to keeping emotions in-check. It’s going to get too high, you can’t do it that way, you can’t get too low. You’ve got to try to keep it even-keel, which isn’t an easy task. I’m sure he’s thrilled and he’s going to have so many texts and calls from outside people that he’s going to be ready to go for sure.

Do you try to use sitting for a stretch as motivation?

Sure, and that’s kind of the way I’ve been taking it since I’ve been out. I’m not happy but I’m not going to use that against myself. I’m not going to sit there and mope and not get better or not prepare myself for when it does happen because things change — guys get hurt, get back in the lineup, whatever it is, things will turn around. For me it was making sure I’m ready. If I’m not in, making sure I’m ready for the next one.

Is that ability to stay focused and prepare a byproduct of experience?

To a degree, I think sometimes it can — again, it’s different, I’ve never been out for this amount of time. Some experience comes in, maybe maturity comes into it, but it’s a different scenario. Looking at what I’ve got to do tonight, it’s not what’s happened in the past five games, whatever it is I haven’t played. It’s what am I going to do tonight.

3:00 PM: Frank Corrado will suit up for the Leafs once again on Saturday night. Here’s what he had to say ahead of tonight’s game…

What has the opportunity to play regularly meant to your confidence and consistency?

As a young player you have to show you’re consistent and that’s every day. Having a high intensity level every day and working hard in practice and in the gym. Obviously it’s a process but it’s something that never stops.

On the importance of keeping things simple:

Keep things simple, play your game. Obviously I jump in the rush when I can and make things happen with the puck but my whole goal is to just keep things simple, play my game and see what happens.

Is taking a puck more painful than it looks or less painful?

It’s just about as painful as it looks. It’s not too bad, it’s getting better.

What’s it like going into your first Leafs vs. Senators game after growing up a Leafs fan?

It’s pretty cool. It’s one of those things I grew up watching, especially with the playoff series, that’s what made it a big deal was all those playoff series. It’s pretty cool to be part of it as a player, it’s not something you think you’re going to be a part of. You remember some of the guys like Alfredsson, Yashin, guys that you kind of hated growing up. It’s pretty cool to be playing against Ottawa.

2:45 PM: Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say ahead of Saturday night’s tilt in Ottawa…

On building off recent games for a good showing in Ottawa:

Well obviously I think prior to that [recent run of games] we were playing good too, it’s just you want to find a way to get points each and every night. The priority for us, we have to be more disciplined. In the last five games we’ve taken too many penalties, whether shooting it over the glass is a lack of discipline, too many men on the ice penalties gliding to the bench on a long change, we can’t be in the penalty box against their power play so that’s critical. And then obviously starting on time on the road is as well.

What does Brad Boyes have to do tonight coming back into the lineup?

Just do what you do. Make sure you’re getting for feet going, make sure you’re involved offensively, take care of the puck.

What went into the decision to send Clune to the Marlies?

I’m not going there… Rich played great, Rich played real good. Business.

Is taking away Karlsson’s speed through the middle a key to success?

Obviously on the right side they’ve got as active a back end as anybody with Ceci and Wideman, the three of them. Obviously Karl sets the tone, he’s a real gifted, gifted offensive player if you give him time and space and get moving, he’s going to get you in trouble. We’ve got to look after that.

How do you think Corrado is looking in this stretch?

I thought he played real well. I think he skates good, I think he’s up on his gap, he makes good plays. He’s light and not strong enough so those are things we’ve been working with ever since he arrived so he’s getting heavier and getting stronger and it looks to me like he has an opportunity to be a good player. He’s just got to continue to work off-ice on his strength. The more he plays now the more confidence he’s getting, he’ll be a good player for us.

Do you think you’ll work Bernier into one of these five road games?

I never spent a whole lot of time thinking about that, I just know Reims is starting today.

What does the long stretch on the road mean to the team?

Well six of seven [on the road] is what we talked about. Six of seven, you’ve got to get on a road run and have some fun, enjoy it. For me it’s great, we’re going to Western Canada, I’m from there. Should be fun. The weather will be cold, it’ll be hockey weather, let’s get after it.

2:30 PM: The Maple Leafs make their first trip to Ottawa tonight when they take on the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.

The Leafs enter Saturday’s game on a two-game win streak after defeating the New Jersey Devils by a 3-2 score at Air Canada Centre on Thursday. Toronto got goals from Shawn Matthias, Tyler Bozak and a shootout winner from P-A Parenteau en route to the victory. James Reimer made 32 saves for the Maple Leafs in the win and was not beaten in the shootout. He starts in Ottawa on Saturday.

The Senators are coming off of a 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Ottawa on Thursday night. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone scored for the Senators in the loss while Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond combined to make 21 stops on 28 shots. Anderson gets the nod in goal for the Senators against the Maple Leafs.

Stay tuned for comments from Coach Babcock, the Leafs, projected lineups and more.

Source: Game Journal: Game 51 – Maple Leafs vs. Senators

Second-half preview: 30 storylines to watch

From Hockey News

Once the all-star break is over, the race to the NHL post-season really begins and every fanbase has something to keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches and playoff races kick into high gear.

Teams on the bubble will have to decide whether they’re buyers or sellers at the deadline, some clubs near the bottom of the standings will start selling off parts in hopes of landing the first-overall pick and a shot at 2017 top prospect Auston Matthews and some teams will stand pat with hopes that only minor moves will be necessary to take home the Stanley Cup.

We’ve already seen coaching changes and major trades, and there are some big name players who remain without contracts for next season as the Feb. 29 deadline approaches. That means they could be hot commodities on the UFA rental market. But the deadline isn’t the only major storyline. Here are 30 things to keep your eye on following the break:

ANAHEIM DUCKS: Can Ryan Getzlaf finally get going as the Ducks push for a wild-card spot or attempt to take over either the Arizona Coyotes or San Jose Sharks for a divisional berth in the playoffs? The Ducks have to find a way to get their offense clicking and Getzlaf turning his season around would have an immediate impact.

Anaheim could also be a buyer come trade deadline. If they get into the post-season, the Ducks could be a sneaky contender out of the Western Conference. Jonathan Drouin’s name has been mentioned in connection with Anaheim, and colleague Matt Larkin sees the Ducks as a potential fit for Andrew Ladd. That would be a nice fit and one that could make Anaheim a great sleeper pick.

ARIZONA COYOTES: One of the most surprising stories has been the Coyotes, and they need to keep playing at least .500 hockey down the stretch if they want to maintain their post-season position. The play of Max Domi has been inspiring, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been the best player on the ice on a near nightly basis for Arizona. He might not win the Norris Trophy, but he’s certainly played his way into the discussion.

It’ll be worth paying attention to the goaltending situation in Arizona down the stretch. Rookie Louis Domingue has been quite the story in the absence of starter Mike Smith. Will coach Dave Tippett go with the veteran when he returns or does Domingue’s status as the hot hand earn him starting duties?

BOSTON BRUINS: The Bruins had a mediocre offense in 2014-15, but they’re third in scoring in the NHL this season. Few would have expected that, but a big part of that turnaround has been the Bruins’ incredible play with the man advantage. Boston has had the second-fewest power play attempts with 135, yet they’ve scored the third-most goals with 35. That helps.

What could hurt Boston, though, is their blueline. Trading Dougie Hamilton in the off-season hurt, but Hamilton wanted out and there wasn’t much Boston could do. The trade deadline might be a good time for the Bruins to look at what they’re willing to give up to bring in some help on the backend.

BUFFALO SABRES: The future looks bright and the expectations weren’t that Buffalo would be challenging for a Stanley Cup this season. This season was about showing a glimmer of hope, and the Sabres have succeeded in that sense. Going forward, the Sabres will have to decide what to do with a few unrestricted free agents. Most notable is Jamie McGinn, who has had a respectable season in Buffalo.

The real story is Jack Eichel, though. He’s second in rookie scoring behind Artemi Panarin and those in the camp that Panarin has an edge on the rest of the rookie field because of his age and KHL experience may lean towards Eichel as the Calder Trophy winner. That would be a nice feather in Eichel’s cap and a nice highlight at the beginning of what looks like a promising career.

CALGARY FLAMES: The big story surrounding the Flames could have been how Karri Ramo has gone from being demoted to the AHL to Calgary’s starter. Some also would have considered Jiri Hudler’s potential as trade bait at the deadline as something to watch. Even the contract statuses Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau would have been great talking points down the stretch for the Flames. That all changed when Dennis Wideman was suspended indefinitely for making contact with linesman Don Henderson.

No one knows yet what Wideman’s fate will be, but the league announced he will have a hearing with NHL Hockey Operations Feb. 2. Had Wideman been handed a game misconduct, he could have been facing an automatic 10-game suspension. It’ll be up to the league to decide what punishment, if any, Wideman will face.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: In their final game before the all-star break, the Hurricanes beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 5-0. Saying Carolina beat Chicago, though, is a massive understatement. The game wasn’t even close and it looked like the Hurricanes, not the Blackhawks, should have been the favorite heading into the game.

In their past 10 games, the Hurricanes are 7-2-1 and entered the break on a two-game win streak. They still sitting outside a playoff spot, though, and that leaves a number of questions. Does GM Ron Francis make a decision with regards to Eric Staal? Does Cam Ward or Eddie Lack lead the playoff push? The Hurricanes have eight roster players set to become unrestricted free agents. They’ll be a team to watch come deadline day.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: The Blackhawks are coming off of a 12-game win streak in January and sit atop the Central Division. That’s been helped along by the play of Patrick Kane, who has to be the odds-on favorite to be named league MVP, as well as the emergence of rookie Artemi Panarin as a second-line scoring threat. All seems good in Chicago, except for one thing: Kane and Panarin have accounted for almost all the Blackhawks’ offense.

Chicago’s championships in the past have been won on the backs of depth scoring. Right now, the Blackhawks appear to be a one-line team more than ever before. Chicago GM Stan Bowman hasn’t been afraid to make deadline deals before, so he might be shopping around as the Blackhawks attempt to defend their championship.

COLORADO AVALANCHE: No matter what advanced statistics say, the Avalanche just won’t go away. Colorado has been able to stay afloat in a tough Central Division and currently hold down the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Getting deep into the post-season will likely require the Avalanche to go out and get some more talent on the backend, though.

Dealing away draft picks or prospects could help the Avalanche land some talent at the deadline, but does GM Joe Sakic want to sell his future for a shot at success now? He’ll have to decide before deadline day. If he goes for it and Colorado falls from their post-season position, he could have big regrets.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: The season started out horribly and injuries derailed the rest. The Blue Jackets are so injury-riddled, in fact, that even coach John Tortorella missed two games before the all-star break with broken ribs. When’s the last time you can recall that happening?

Really, all the Blue Jackets should be hoping for is signs of a team that is starting to gel. Well, that and a prolonged period of good health for Sergei Bobrovsky. The goaltender’s past few seasons have been marred by groin injuries. It was sad to see him go down not once but twice this season when he was in the midst of really turning his campaign around. And, hey, if Columbus finishes last, maybe they land Auston Matthews. That wouldn’t be a terrible consolation prize.

DALLAS STARS: Few playoffs teams needed the break as badly as the Stars. Dallas came firing out of the gate and have looked like an offensive juggernaut all season, but the defensive issues continue to plague the Stars. Dallas is first in goals for with a whopping 162, but 18th in goals against having allowed 133.

Stars GM Jim Nill has done some great work in assembling a high-flying team that is incredibly fun to watch, but run-and-gun might not be the soundest strategy come playoff time. If Nill can find a way to acquire a solid defenseman, that could vastly improve Dallas’ chances in the post-season. That’s much, much easier said than done.

DETROIT RED WINGS: The hype surrounding Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel was off the charts entering the season, but it’s Dylan Larkin who has been one of the most impressive freshmen this season. If the season ended today, it might actually be a three-way race between Eichel, Larkin and Artemi Panarin, and it’s anybodies guess who would take home the hardware.

The Red Wings appear on their way to — surprise, surprise — yet another playoff berth. But even with the playoff streak, success in the post-season hasn’t been easy to come by. If Detroit wants to make a run in the playoffs, GM Ken Holland may want to look for offensive help. Getting a defenseman won’t hurt either, because goaltender Petr Mrazek can only do so much.

EDMONTON OILERS: Connor McDavid’s return is going to be the story of the second half of this season, and there’s no doubt about that. Before going down with a broken clavicle, McDavid five goals and 12 points in 13 games. He was starting to heat up and looked comfortable in the NHL, but the injury put a damper on everything. He’s taking contact in AHL Bakersfield and should be ready for the first game back post-break. Can he get back on track?

Fans should also watch Edmonton’s standing in the league, though. If they slip to 30th, they’ll have the best shot at landing Auston Matthews. If they get the first-overall pick, it would be the fifth time in seven seasons that Edmonton has had the top selection.

FLORIDA PANTHERS: Possibly the most lovable team in the league this season, the Panthers, led by Jaromir Jagr and, for some reason, a hoodie with Kevin Spacey’s face floating in space, are sitting atop the Atlantic Division by five points. But while Florida may look the part of a Stanley Cup contender in the standings, this isn’t a team that can afford to rest easy at the deadline.

The Panthers could use some offensive help, and Andrew Ladd’s name has been thrown around because he has connections to GM Dale Tallon from their time in Chicago. If Tallon pursues Ladd, who goes the other way? And after he has been forced to sit out the past three games, something might be in the works involving Panthers winger Brandon Pirri.

LOS ANGELES KINGS: Remember the concern about the Kings when they missed the post-season in 2014-15? Well, Los Angeles hopes you had fun while that lasted. The Kings look every bit the bruising, skillful, hope-we-don’t-play-them team they were during their past two Stanley Cup runs. The Kings are the class of the Pacific Division and the odds-on favorites to emerge from the division in the post-season.

It seems like Kings GM Dean Lombardi might be done dealing, too. He acquired Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn from Philadelphia, and Lombardi has less than $3 million to work with at the deadline. There may be an addition or two coming, but it likely won’t be major.

The Kings could very well unseat the Blackhawks as the modern-day dynasty with three Stanley Cup wins in five years to Chicago’s six.

MINNESOTA WILD: The Wild aren’t surprising anyone this season after 2014-15’s magical run to the playoffs. If Minnesota makes the post-season, it will be on the backs of their blueliners and the two-way effort that has made them one of the stingiest teams in the league.

It will be interesting to see what GM Chuck Fletcher does at the trade deadline or earlier, though. He was reportedly very interested in Ryan Johansen before a trade sent him to Nashville, and there have been rumblings of the Wild’s interest in Jonathan Drouin. That shows an interest in acquiring some scoring. Minnesota has defensive depth to spare, but who’s the odd man out?

MONTREAL CANADIENS: When does Carey Price return and how does he perform once he’s back? Those are the two biggest questions facing the Canadiens and it’s not even close. Price was in the midst of yet another MVP-type performance when he went down and his lower-body injury has plagued the Canadiens all season.

That said, even with Price healthy, the Canadiens need to do something in the interim to make sure the onus isn’t solely on Price should they make the playoffs. Does that mean gambling to acquire a big name forward? Maybe. GM Marc Bergevin has shown a proclivity for being a savvy deadline dealer. He could very well pull something off again this season.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: Ryan Johansen has been hot in Nashville and the pairing of Roman Josi and Shea Weber might be the best defensive unit in the NHL. If the Predators are post-season bound, it appears it will be as a wild-card entrant, but they could be a sneaky team come playoff time.

The real concern for Nashville, though, is goaltender Pekka Rinne. Once considered one of the best in the league, he’s looked nothing more than average this season. Good games have been few and far between for Rinne. He needs to turn it around somehow before the post-season starts because as good as Carter Hutton has looked at times, the Predators shouldn’t be relying on him in the playoffs.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Who had the Devils on the cusp of a wild-card berth at the all-star break? For that reason alone, rookie NHL bench boss John Hynes deserves serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award. Overall, though, the Devils are in a strange position.

They could very well make the playoffs, but the team, as currently constructed, might be better off being broken up for parts. There are seven players set to become unrestricted free agents at season’s end and most of them will likely be seeking raises. There’s potential for a nice return on some of the UFAs-to-be, too, like Lee Stempniak, who is on pace for a near 60-point season. His previous career-high was 48. Ray Shero is going to have a tough time in his first trade deadline as Devils GM.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Travis Hamonic asking out of New York was one of the most shocking pieces of news of the early season, but both the Islanders and Hamonic have handled the situation incredibly well. Matter of fact, the way Hamonic has played in what is likely his final season as an Islander has probably upped his trade value.

Don’t expect him to be moved at the deadline, though. Johnny Boychuk is injured, which means the Islanders need big minutes from Hamonic during the playoff push. New York doesn’t risk losing him for nothing. The same can’t be said for Kyle Okposo, though, who is an unrestricted free agent next season. He could be a trade chip at the deadline.

NEW YORK RANGERS: The Rangers’ window of opportunity to take home a Stanley Cup with Henrik Lundqvist in goal is closing, but it’s hard to see what first-year GM Jeff Gorton can really do to shake up his roster heading into the playoffs. Keith Yandle, acquired at last season’s deadline, is an option to be moved out of town. He’ll draw interest, but the return likely won’t be close to what the Rangers gave up to acquire him.

Fear the slide, though. There are more than a few teams nipping at the Rangers’ heels. Carolina, New Jersey and Pittsburgh are all climbing the standings, and if New York falls into a wild-card spot, they could have to deal with edging out Boston, Detroit, Montreal or Tampa Bay for one of two spots.

OTTAWA SENATORS: It’s only a three-point difference between the Senators and Penguins for the final wild-card spot, but Pittsburgh has two games in hand. That doesn’t bode well for Ottawa, nor does the fact they enter the break 4-6-0 in their past 10 games.

Playoffs or not, though, Erik Karlsson’s minutes are the real story. He has played nearly a half-minute more per game than workhorse defenseman Ryan Suter, and Karlsson has almost a full minute more per game than Drew Doughty, who sits third in average ice time at 28:01 per game. As Karlsson’s ice time continues to climb, he threatens to reach the 30-minutes per game average. That would make him the first player to do so since Chris Pronger in 1999-00.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Jakub Voracek’s season has been disappointing after a breakout season in 2014-15, but there are bright spots for the rest of the Flyers. Captain Claude Giroux is still playing like one of the best two-way centers in the league, Wayne Simmonds continues to be an offensive threat and could come close to 30 goals this season and goaltenders Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth have been a good duo. But, above all, Shayne Gostisbehere is one of the most fun stories of the season.

Gostisbehere has eight goals, 22 points and three overtime game-winners in 29 games. His scoring pace is up there with the Larkins and Eichels of the rookie class, and he could be a sleeper pick for the Calder Trophy. He entered the all-star break on a four-game point streak, over which time he has scored one goal and six points.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: It sure doesn’t look like anything is wrong with Sidney Crosby anymore. In his past seven games, Crosby has five goals and 10 points. After struggling to begin the season, he’s now up to 17 goals and 41 points on the year and is a near point-per-game player. Realistically, he could end the season with 80 or more points. While we watch Crosby work, though, also keep an eye on Phil Kessel.

It seemed like Kessel wasn’t fitting in with Pittsburgh, but he had three goals in three games heading into the break and is on pace to come close to 30 goals this season. He was expected to reach that mark at the very least, and it’s still in his sights.

SAN JOSE SHARKS: Early season trade rumors had Patrick Marleau asking his way out of San Jose, but those seem to have died down to the point they’ve almost been forgotten. The Sharks, led by Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, are right in the thick of the Pacific Division post-season race.

Martin Jones hasn’t looked out of place in his first season as a full-time starting netminder, and he seems like a good fit in San Jose. If he can catch fire in the playoffs, we might be looking at a Sharks team that gets through the first round and plays for the Pacific title.

ST. LOUIS BLUES: It’s taken the entire season, but the Blues are almost entirely healthy. Jaden Schwartz is working his way back, Jake Allen could be back in a matter of weeks and no other major pieces — fingers crossed — are on the shelf. St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock might finally get a real look at what he has to work with come playoffs. That’ll be important, too, because it’s likely that Hitchcock’s future rides on the playoffs.

The Blues have been ousted from the playoffs in the first round for three straight years and Hitchcock’s job was interviewed for by Mike Babcock in the off-season. Babcock went to Toronto and Hitchcock got a one-year deal. Without a deep run, Hitchcock could be out the door at season’s end.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Things have been quiet in Tampa Bay. Nothing to see here. Well, nothing interesting, unless you deem one of the generation’s best goal scorers potentially leaving via free agency and an up-and-coming third-overall pick demanding a trade worth talking about. But who cares about that, right?

The most talked about thing surrounding the Lightning for the next few months is going to be Steven Stamkos’ free agent status, with Jonathan Drouin’s trade demand a close second. Drouin could be resolved by the end of February, but don’t expect Stamkos’ situation to have a conclusion until nearly July.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: It sounds terrible, but this season has gone just about as well for the Maple Leafs as they could have hoped. Heading into the trade deadline with eight unrestricted free agents, and most of those are playing well enough to draw at least a decent return.

James Reimer is the best bet for a big return Toronto has, but it’s hard to say if the Maple Leafs will be all right with removing Jonathan Bernier’s safety net. After that, each of P-A Parenteau, Michael Grabner and Brad Boyes could be worth a look from teams looking to stock up for the playoffs. This could all end with the Maple Leafs landing Auston Matthews, too.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: What do you do if you’re Vancouver? Two points out of a playoff spot with an aging roster and a window that is only barely open, if open at all. The Sedin twins aren’t getting any younger and they’re not likely to be traded out of Vancouver anytime soon, so GM Jim Benning has to build around them while also planning for the future.

It’s hard to see Benning selling the farm to try and make any deep runs. If anything, he’ll stand pat, hope the Canucks have enough to make it into the post-season and continue to build through the draft with the hope that the Canucks are back to a top-tier competitor before the Sedins are too old to continue providing top-line contributions.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS: The Mike Richards reclamation project was a smart move by the Capitals, and the risk there greatly outweighed the reward. The Capitals have their issues, sure, but you’d be hard-pressed to think of any team that could realistically not only hang with but defeat Washington in a seven-game series.

Braden Holtby got a big-money deal in the off-season and he’s earned every single cent of that contract. Alex Ovechkin continues to be one of the greatest goal scorers to ever put on a pair of skates. Evgeny Kuznetsov is emerging as a star before he’s even near his prime. Things are good in Washington, but Barry Trotz has never made it to the third round of the post-season. This looks like it could be his year, though.

WINNIPEG JETS: The Jets season isn’t done quite yet, but there’s a better chance of Winnipeg missing the post-season than there is of them pulling of an incredible run to earn a wild-card or divisional berth. With that knowledge, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has to make some extremely tough choices, and that starts with captain Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

Cheveldayoff will likely need to part ways with one or the other. He’ll have to gauge the likelihood of either player re-signing in Winnipeg and go from there. If he doesn’t have a new deal for either before the deadline, though, Cheveldayoff risks losing one or both for nothing in the off-season.

Source: Second-half preview: 30 storylines to watch