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Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There is an eerie symmetry to the Toronto Maple Leafs drop-offs experienced last season and again this year.

They have come at roughly the same time. And they have been almost as severe.

From early January to mid-February in 2015, the free-falling Leafs recorded just two wins in 19 games (2-15-2) to drop into the NHL’s basement. By June, they were picking fourth overall, high enough to draft London Knights star Mitch Marner.

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

This year, after a 7-2 implosion in Chicago on Monday night, the Leafs are 4-11-2 in their past 17 games, and fading fast. If the draft lottery were held today, they would have the best chance of picking first overall (20 per cent) for the first time since taking Wendel Clark in the top spot in 1985.

The biggest difference between this year and last is that an incredible run of injuries have played a starring role. Between trading captain Dion Phaneuf away to Ottawa last week and the loss of up to eight players at a time to injuries, the Leafs have had a skeletal roster of late.

In Monday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Roman Polak had the most minutes among defencemen (24). Colin Greening, recently acquired from the Senators, had the most minutes among forwards (17), despite the fact he has spent most of the year in the American Hockey League with Binghamton.

That arrangement didn’t work out so well against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

“We weren’t in the game basically from the start,” coach Mike Babcock lamented, before later adding: “They were just better than us. Period.”

That could be the postgame tale for a while. The Maple Leafs are about to face a run of good teams, with games against the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and first-place Washington Capitals in the next two weeks. There is also the trade deadline looming on Feb. 29, when even more talent will be traded away.

So yes, things can get worse.

This isn’t new. Other teams have pulled their rosters apart midway through the year en route to a good draft pick. Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt the other day that he did as much last season, explaining that “if we were going to be bad, my attitude was, let’s be real bad.”

He then called Connor McDavid, the eventual No. 1 pick, “a pretty big prize for being really bad.”

What’s made the Leafs’ situation unique is the organization has steadfastly refused to recall its best players from the minors. The Marlies are currently the top team in the AHL, with only nine regulation losses in 51 games, and young players such as William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Rinat Valiev, Connor Brown, Nikita Soshnikov and Stuart Percy are better than some of those playing for the Leafs.

Brendan Leipsic showed as much on Saturday against Vancouver, when he was granted his first NHL game and promptly scored his first NHL goal (the winner, no less).

He hardly looked out of place. But he was promptly demoted before their next game.

That’s because Leafs management sees little point in sacrificing development in order to prop up a makeshift NHL roster that was never going to contend this year. Most of the recalls all season have been older non-prospects – Rich Clune, Mark Arcobello and Byron Froese – to the detriment of the NHL roster, and the benefit of Toronto’s lottery chances.

Is that tanking? In the strictest sense of the word, sure. But the Leafs were also only five points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 6 after 38 games, and before all the injuries. They’re still on pace for 73 points, five better than a year ago.

If that’s tanking, it’s Tanking Lite compared with what teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and Coyotes pulled off last season in failed attempts to get McDavid.

In fact, 73 points would be the best finish ever for a last-place NHL team. So if that was Leafs management’s sole intention with the season, they went about it in a curious way.

The way that their year has gone is, in many ways, the best possible outcome. There have been obvious improvements thanks to Babcock. The work ethic is there. And the Marlies have played like world-beaters.

Finishing 30th, thanks to injuries, trades and an insistence on protecting the kids, won’t be a black eye for anyone.

But it does leave the Leafs with their biggest hurdle still to come: beating the Edmonton Oilers in the draft lottery.

Good luck with that.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

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

Forwards

40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov

24 Holland – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau

26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 28 Boyes

38 Greening – 56 Froese – 25 Clune

Defence

2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly

51 Gardiner – 46 Polak

52 Marincin – 20 Corrado

Goaltenders

34 Reimer

45 Bernier

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards

65 Shaw – 19 Toews – 14 Panik

72 Panarin – 15 Anisimov – 88 Kane

11 Desjardins – 24 Danault – 86 Teravainen

53 Mashinter – 70 Rasmussen – 48 Hinostroza

Defence

2 Keith – 4 Hjlamarsson

57 van Riemsdyk – 7 Seabrook

43 Svedberg – 32 Rozsival

Goaltenders

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?

No.

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

Postgame Quotes: Feb. 13, 2016

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Saturday, 02.13.2016 / 11:00 PM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs had to say following a 5-2 win in Vancouver over the Canucks.

Mike Babcock

I think we’ve worked real hard on the trip. We could’ve had better success than we’ve had, but tonight we were rewarded. We scored a few goals and were able to keep it out, had good goaltending and we played real hard. Give the guys a lot of credit.

James Reimer

I think that’s got to be one of our best defensive games of the year. We’ve had some good games this year, but as far as shutting them down, they only had a couple chances and they were fortunate enough to bury on a few. But I thought our guys played one of the best games I’ve seen them play.

Brendan Leipsic

On his NHL debut:

It feels amazing. You work this hard all of your life to get to this point, it was a pretty cool experience.

On his first goal:

We were just in on the forecheck and Gards (Jake Gardiner) snapped one on net. For whatever reason it popped up in the air and nobody knew where it was. I just got an eye on it and was lucky to bat it out of the air.

Source: Postgame Quotes: Feb. 13, 2016

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

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Saturday at Rogers Arena:

Absence of regulars didn’t matter to their replacements.

Playing once again without injured veterans James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul – as well as Josh Leivo, who’d scored two goals in the two games prior to Saturday night’s tilt against the Canucks, but was hurt Thursday against Edmonton – the Leafs recalled forwards Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin from the American League Saturday. But it was another former Marlie in Mark Arcobello who stepped up in their absence, scoring his first two goals as a Leaf just 17 seconds apart (and 90 seconds after Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin opened the scoring) early in the second period. The 27-year-old Arcobello bounced between four NHL teams last season, but he did everything asked of him at the AHL level this year and now has his first points of the season in his 14th game with the Buds. Head coach Mike Babcock rewards players who take advantage of opportunity, and Arcobello has done enough on this Western Canadian road trip to get more of them in the near-future.

New face Leipsic has dream NHL debut.

The 21-year-old didn’t lead the team in ice time in his first game in hockey’s best league – in fact, he logged only 9:28 Saturday – but did have a couple solid scoring chances early on. And then, at the 3:54 mark of the third frame, he batted in a puck out of the air and past veteran netminder Ryan Miller for his first NHL goal. Leipsic also got the famous rookie treatment of skating on the ice all alone in the warmup, while his amused teammates looked on in the hallway to the dressing room. Leipsic has been one of the Marlies’ best players this year (14 goals and 34 points in 47 AHL games), and it’s safe to say (a) he’ll remember this game for the rest of his life, and (b) he’ll be getting another chance to show what he can do at the NHL level in the weeks and months ahead.

Jake Gardiner once again taking steps forward.

In the three games since losing former defensive partner Dion Phaneuf to a trade to the Senators, Gardiner’s game has grown in leaps and bounds on the offensive end: he had a goal against both Calgary and Edmonton, effortlessly moved the puck deep into Vancouver’s zone and toward Miller to help set up Arcobello’s second goal of the night, and grabbed his second assist of the night on Leipsic’s goal. The 25-year-old blueliner’s confidence is clearly on an upward trajectory, and Toronto’s offence is benefitting from it.

An all-around effort leads to first win of the road trip.

The Leafs hadn’t won in Vancouver since 2003, but despite surrendering the first goal of the game Saturday, Toronto out-shot the Canucks 31-13 through the first 40 minutes of play and made life much easier for netminder James Reimer, who picked up his 11th win of the season by turning aside all but two of the 19 total shots he saw. Babcock stresses that smart, sustained effort can make up for the absence of talent, and on this night, the Leafs in the lineup proved him right.

Savour the win, but not for too long.

The win over the Canucks snapped a three-game losing streak, but the Leafs can’t admire it for very long at all, because their next game is in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. When last the Buds and Hawks played – Jan. 15 at Air Canada Centre – Toronto was steamrolled 4-1 by a visiting team that got a hat trick from Patrick Kane. And although the Blackhawks have cooled down since then, it will take nothing less than a virtually mistake-proof effort from the Leafs to remain in the win column for the second consecutive game.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

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

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

The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

From Pension Puppets

The Marlies scored one less goal than the Binghamton Senators in their last game before the All-Star break, the kind of lazy good-team problems the Maple Leafs are striving to acquire.

For the Marlies, it’s tough at the top, where the challenge for the rest of the regular season is to stay there.

I feel like I’ve said that before.

A tale of two teams

The Marlies are the top team in the AHL. I could enumerate the ways they are the best: the goals for, the goal differential, this percentage, that measure, this stat, that calculation, but they all come out the same. The Marlies are an elite team that’s had a lot of luck and have won the overwhelming majority of their games so far.

So far.

They have two and a half more months to play.

Frölunda, Andreas Johnson‘s team, is also atop their league and has an amazing goal differential; they shoot the puck like crazy and have four real lines that can all play at a high level. They are elite, lucky, and they’ve won the overwhelming majority of their games. And among that elite team, Johnson, at 21, and Artturi Lehkonen at 20 are the young stars that are working every day to get to the NHL.

The rest of the team may have once dreamed of it, some of them have tried and found their home in Sweden instead, and for them the league they play in is their league; the games are a point unto themselves; the championship is the reward at the end of the season, and leaving is not the mark of success.

Frölunda are showing the signs of a sluggish desire to just get on with it, get to the playoffs, get this year over, win the cup and turn the calendar to next year so they can do it again. They’ve dropped a couple of stinkers lately—big losses, a couple of shutouts where they just skated around bored for 60 minutes. They’ve won a couple like that too.

For Johnson, this is his last year there. He is proving himself, and wants to win, but he has his eyes on a higher goal.

They have a month and a half to go before the playoffs.

The Marlies have a lot more than two guys who are yearning to escape. They have nearly a roster full. They are more than just William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, two guys who hope they will see the NHL this year and every year after.

There is Mark Arcobello, patiently scoring more and more and winning awards.

There is Nikita Soshnikov working on the bottom six and trying to prove what he can do, taking every chance to get on a better line and making the most of it.

There’s Connor Brown, doing a very good job of reminding everyone who he is with points in every game since he’s been back.

There is T.J. Brennan, ripping up the record books and rewriting them anew on this his fourth AHL team. On none of those has he been as dominate over three seasons as he has on the Marlies. He’s tasted the coffee in the NHL, but he’s never stuck, and it’s easy to just decide that’s it, he hasn’t got it, but if the 26-year-old defenceman leading the league in scoring isn’t up to it, are you sure all those kids are a lock?

There’s also Zach Hyman, who didn’t stick with the team that drafted him, nor did Brendan Leipsic or Scott Harrington. There’s a handful of Toronto draft picks in Josh Leivo, Viktor Loov, and Rinat Valiev. And all of them want out. They don’t want to ever again ride five hours home from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And they’re collectively playing pretty bad hockey lately.

The Marlies roared along for the last few games, winning while being outshot and putting on a terrible power play and giving up a league-leading number of shorthanded goals. They have been winning by betting big, risking big, and outscoring their opponents with contemptuous ease.

Lately, the defence has been falling to ruins, the goalies have been working like single mothers with two jobs, and still they win.

Or they did.

An afternoon at the Ricoh Coliseum

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, on the afternoon after that ride home from Grand Rapids, they didn’t outscore their problems. Not quite.

They played the division basement-dweller Binghamton Senators, and they were each as bad as the other. They took 8 penalties each, scored five regulation goals each. They each had a short-handed goal, and the Senators won it on a goal on a breakaway in overtime after one of the Marlies blew a skate on the play in his own end and fell down. A fitting end to a game that cast no glory on anyone.

The Marlies outshot the Senators—they aren’t so far gone, they couldn’t do that—37-29, giving Garret Sparks a save percentage of .793.

They gave up so many odd man rushes, turnovers, easy giveaways, and I guess it was buy one get one free day at Ricoh?

This isn’t a one off aberration. They’ve been drifting in this direction for weeks, and some of that is injuries pulling the better guys out of the lineup, and some of it is just the difficulty you have when the team is so good they score more goals than even the good teams most of the time.

Bob McGill the Marlies colour commentator was wondering how you tell these guys to tighten it up, when they usually win even when they play so loose? A good question. Ask Alain Vigneault. Maybe he knows. Not that the Marlies are the hollow-cored New York Rangers. They usually do outshoot their opposition not just out-goal them.

Getting the Marlies back on track may be a harder task than Frölunda has with their team of slightly bored overachievers, however.

It’s not a terrible problem to have, being so good you’re struggling to execute your system well night after night, but it is a problem. And it’s a hell of a skill to bring to a team that’s never had this dilemma before if you learn the trick of it.

A cautionary tale

This is what Nate MacKinnon said about Jonathan Drouin recently:

“Our junior team, we lost five games all year, we had the puck the whole game,” MacKinnon said. “We were playing offense for two years, we didn’t really play any ‘D.’ So that’s tough. I don’t know you can really expect lockdown ‘D’ when you first come into the league. You can always work on your ‘D’ but you can’t just become an offensive force.”

And he’s not wrong. But where do you start to learn that more complete game? Something you can use when you don’t have a team of above average players every night. Something you can use to get yourself into a position to succeed when your coach hasn’t got the means to put you there. Something that will carry you when your cap-strapped team downgrades your linemates or your rebuilding team hasn’t got the horses to win much.

It’s not junior hockey, he’s right about that too.

For MacKinnon it was the NHL. He very much did it the hard way. But the New Toronto Maple Leafs don’t do things that way, they tell us. Not unless they have to, like they will with Mitch Marner.

So it had better be the AHL, the league most guys are trying to leave. And it better be now before they start leaving one way and another.

Nice problems to have

Sheldon Keefe has some things to accomplish. He’s got to bring Nylander back into the lineup; he’s got Connor Brown chomping at the bit to play—and he was as guilty as any guy out there of sloppy defensive errors. He might have Josh Leivo—who had as many shots on goal on Saturday as he had shots of any kind in 4 games for the Leafs—and who made a lot of sloppy definsive errors.

Keefe’s also got Mark Arcobello and T.J. Brennan, who need to see a carrot on the end of the stick or they might stop carrying the goal-scoring burden for the team most nights. (Between the pair of them they have 19% of the Marlies goals. Add in Nylander and Leivo, and you get to 34%. The offence isn’t quite so spread out on this team as we tell ourselves.)

Keefe’s got to get them all to tighten up and play better than they need to. And he has to convince them it’s for their own good. Because it is.

So far, he’s been very good at doing that. Let’s see if he can keep doing it once the All-Star Break is over.

Source: The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

Connor Brown, David Kolomatis, and the Marlies welcomed the Utica Comets

From Pension Puppets

Guess who’s back? Brown, in action after missing most of the season with a broken foot. He showed the visiting Comets a real good time. Read about that, and meet the newest Marlie, Kolomatis.

Roster News

Before the game on Saturday, the Marlies made some roster moves. They’d sent Eric Baier, Éric Faille and Jack Rodewald back to the Orlando Solar Bears a few days before, and they called Faille back up on Saturday. There’s no word how much progress he made through a snow storm that rerouted flights and cancelled games in both the AHL and the NHL, but Faille is somewhere in transit.

The Marlies also announced that they had signed David Kolomatis to an AHL contract. Kolomatis is a 26-year-old American, right-shooting defenceman who has had a strong AHL career that’s taken some unusual turns. Twenty-five seems to be the year of great changes in a hockey career. You’re either going up or you move laterally.

Kolomatis, a former member of the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL, was drafted by the Kings and played for their AHL team, the Manchester Monarchs, along with Rich Clune and Andrew Campbell. He had extremely consistent results there for years, and maybe that’s the problem.

In his rookie year he put up similar points to the Monarch’s other top defencemen, Vyacheslav Voynov and Alec Martinez. The next year, Martinez was with the Kings, Voynov had shot up to almost double the points, and Kolomatis was just the same.

We all know how that turned out, Voynov is in the KHL, Martinez scored a storied goal that won a cup and Kolomatis, well, he’s much more interesting.

He signed on to the Washington Capitals organization for a year as a free agent, maybe looking for a better opportunity, and he was just as he always was with 7 goals and 30 points in the AHL. So he went to Finland last year. It’s not an uncommon thing for guys to do, particularly guys gifted with a listed height of 5’11”. But it’s not something that always works out.

Kolomatis struggled to score much in Finland, and he came back to America and took a job with the Manchester Monarchs again. Coming home in a way, but the Monarchs are not the King’s AHL club anymore, they are the ECHL club, and the level of play has been obviously below his ability; he’s scoring at twice his old AHL rate.

He will be, for the Marlies, insurance. Justin Holl, their only right-shot D, is out with an injury, so Kolomatis provides cover there, and fills a role that they are light on. He is a veteran AHL-level player who knows the game and has succeeded on one of the best teams in the league. The Leafs organization may be contemplating trading some of their defencemen, some prospects or both, and having a guy like Kolomatis, makes it all easier. Now, the Solar Bears may get to keep their captain, Baier, where they need him too.

Kolomatis is not going to excite anyone like the potential of Nikita Zaitsev has, but the team can’t function without guys like him.

The Games

Saturday, January 23

The Marlies with their amazing record of 32-8-2 are now the team every other team wants to knock off like David did Goliath:

Utica came, they saw, and they…got pretty easily beat even though they controlled the play more than most Marlies’ opponents.

The Marlies had chosen a lineup that put Kasperi Kapanen with Mark Arcobello and Zach Hyman as the top line, and they were very good. There’s been a lot of talk lately about Kapanen and how many points he has since the WJC, but to my eye, he’s been cooking since early December, and the WJC was of a piece with that, there is no cause and effect, no gold-medal bump, only a guy feeling good and showing it on the ice.

Rylan Schwartz, still up from the Solar Bears and playing on the fourth line, opened the scoring with his first AHL goal.

Arcobello added one on the power play, and Kapanen made it 3-1 before the second intermission.

Scoring effects had everyone in an iron grip in the third, and luckily for the Marlies, Garret Sparks was more on his game than he had been in the first two periods, where he’d got away with some sloppy puck handling.

The Comets made it 3-2, but Nikita Soshnikov got an empty net goal to seal the deal at 4-2, and that was the win. Not very pretty, but good enough.

Arcobello’s two point night moved him to fifth in the AHL in scoring and ahead of William Nylander. T.J. Brennan was still in contention for the lead, one point out of first place. Kapanen’s two points moved him up about 50 places in the points standings, and I will not be surprised if he finishes the year at least in the top 20.

The best news of the day, though, was that Connor Brown was expected to start on Sunday.

Sunday, January 24

Let’s just get the important part out of the way first:

So that’s Connor Brown with his first goal of the year on his second shift, and then David Kolomatis with his first goal in the AHL this year and as a Marlie and then Brown with another, and deep breath, and that was all before the first period was more than half over.

Next up T.J. Brennan got one and then made it two, which made him the AHL points leader, but wait there’s more!

Leipsic got a shorthanded goal that was lovely.

And with under two minutes to play and on their fifth try at the power play because face it, the Marlies were bored, Utica busted the shutout and after two periods the score was 6-1.

In less fun news, Stuart Percy was boarded hard in the first period and did not come out for the rest of the game. The perpetrator got five and a game, which is the best way to punish that kind of crap. No fines or suspensions, take them out of the game they’re in.

In between goal three and four, Utica pulled Richard Bachman for Joe Cannata, and that obviously did them no good.

Brown spent the afternoon with Findlay and Soshnikov and they were obviously delightful together. The top line of Arcobello, Kapanen and Hyman were very good too, but they just didn’t need to try much after Brown and the defencemen took care of racking up all those goals.

After two, Jeremy Morin was leading the team in shots on goal, as he did in the Saturday game, but again had no points to show for it. It will come. Keep shooting, and it will come.

Utica handed Arcobello a turnover in the third, and while he might have preferred a cherry one, he skated it up the ice and made it 7-1. The rest of the game was a lot calmer with fewer penalties, and the Comets went home with an empty slingshot and Goliath alive to fight another day.

The next game is Wednesday, January 27 at 11:00am in Grand Rapids. We know who we want to play guess who’s back with next, but patience is in order. Not before he’s ready.

Source: Connor Brown, David Kolomatis, and the Marlies welcomed the Utica Comets