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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

Yea, Phaneuf sucks… Right.

I’m just going to leave this here.

While Phaneuf was in Toronto for this season, James Reimer had a save percentage of 0.9293. Not bad.

Since his departure, which accounts for only three games, James Reimer has a save percentage of 0.8215. That may not sound so bad after that whomping in Chicago, but that save percentage would put him 81st in the league this season. I didn’t even know that many goalies played this year.

I expect the latter number to increase before the end of the season, but it will probably hover around 0.84-0.85 from here on out, maybe less depending on who gets ships. Either way, it’s interesting how black and blue the Leafs starting goalie has been since Phaneuf left town.

While I’m drawing from a small sample size I think it’s safe to say Phaneuf had an impact while he was here.

Shut up haters.

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

Retro-loving Komarov looks for offence of first half: Feschuk

From The Star

For aficionados of hockey gear, there’s always something fresh coming through the pipeline. Manufacturers design it. Marketers hype it. Star players endorse it.

It can be magnetic stuff for the type of person who craves the latest and greatest. Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov is not that type of person.

For the past handful of years, for instance, he was famous for wearing an old model of skates. How old?

“Really old,” Komarov said. The skates were made by Graf, trimmed in white leather, released around 2006. Komarov liked them so much that, as the company launched new model after new model, he stockpiled a collection of his preferred ones. How many pairs?

“Many,” Komarov said. “The skate was really good. Nothing wrong with it. But it’s a business. They switch it up every year, trying to sell more. So that’s what happened. I stayed with those. And I kind of loved them.”

This is one of the many reasons hockey people love Komarov. Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs coach, calls Komarov “a zero maintenance” player. While ex-captain Dion Phaneuf burned through new skates at an amazing rate — Phaneuf said a while back that he broke in a new pair “every 10 days to two weeks” — Komarov usually kept his scratched-up, floppy-tongued pairs for most of two months. It only enhanced his reputation as a no-muss grinder that his skates were likely the cheapest in the NHL, clearance-rack specials in a league where footwear worth around $1,000 is now the norm.

But this season Komarov faced at least a couple of gear-related problems. For one, Lou Lamoriello, the incoming GM known for team rules that prioritize uniformity, frowns upon outliers who wear skates with white trim. No big deal. Komarov simply asked the equipment staff to paint the white parts of his skates black. Problem solved, mostly.

“The only thing — you hit the boards and (the black) comes off,” Komarov said one day this season, examining the paint peeling and flaking away to reveal white leather.

Another issue: By last month, Komarov was down to the final pair of size 8 1/2s in his collection of circa-2006 skates. So this month he began breaking in a new pair — late-model Grafs wrapped with all-black leather. As the Maple Leafs wound their way through a four-game Western Conference road trip that concludes Monday in Chicago, Komarov said he was still getting accustomed to the new boots.

“It’s probably never going to be the same,” he said the other day, a little forlornly.

Other things have changed in Komarov’s world of late. The quadrilingual Finn opened the season on an offensive tear. Through his opening 32 games he scored 15 goals, an unsustainable pace that saw him nearly double the eight goals he scored in 62 games the season before, a total that was then his career high for an NHL season. But in Komarov’s 22 most recent games — a stretch that has included his first trip to the all-star game — he has managed just three goals, the third coming on an empty net in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

“I need to do something out there. I’m not doing anything,” Komarov said last week. “I don’t know what happened. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Sometimes it’s bouncing in, sometimes it’s not.”

Saturday’s game, which saw the Leafs snap a three-game losing streak, saw Komarov doing plenty beyond producing points, most notably playing key minutes on a penalty kill that held the Canucks to two shots on goal in six minutes with the manpower edge. Komarov, playing on the first line alongside Peter Holland and Michael Grabner, also antagonized the normally stoic Henrik Sedin into targeting him with a gloves-on punch that drew a roughing penalty. And along with tapping in that empty-netter, Komarov also zinged a wrist shot that beat Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, only to hit the post.

“No luck, you know?” Komarov said after the game. “But it’s okay. Just need to keep working.”

Komarov’s relentlessness certainly sets an important standard for the procession of fresh-from-the-AHL prospects that have begun to populate the Toronto lineup. And it could also make him an attractive acquisition for a playoff-bound team between now and the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

“Anything can happen,” Komarov said.

If a player’s presence in any situation is ultimately fleeting, perhaps that’s why Komarov values the relative permanency of another piece of vintage gear in his locker. His jock strap, a Jofa model with a tattered waistband, is decidedly retro.

How old?

“It’s really, really old,” Komarov said.

He’s had it, he figures, since he was 15 or 16. At age 29, this particular plastic cup has been preserving his wellness for nearly half his life.

“Why wouldn’t I keep it?” he said. “It’s not broken yet, so it’s fine.”

Source: Retro-loving Komarov looks for offence of first half: Feschuk

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

Shorthanded Leafs defeated in Edmonton

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

EDMONTON – Connor McDavid continues to show why he has been labelled as a potential generational talent.

McDavid had two goals and three assists as the Edmonton Oilers came away with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday in a battle between the NHL’s two lowest-ranked teams.

“We needed this,” McDavid said. “There was a lot of pressure on us coming in, playing against a team that was desperate and missing a lot of guys. They played a great game in terms of structure and not giving up too much. But it was a big night for us to start off the homestand.”

Jordan Eberle scored three goals and added an assist for the Oilers (22-29-5), who snapped a three-game losing streak.

Along with a four-assist performance from Benoit Pouliot, the line combined for 13 points.

“I think the more we play together the better we will be,” Eberle said. “Tonight was obviously our best, we put up goals and whatnot. But it was the little plays that I really liked. Coming out of our end, cycling, I thought we did a better job of that. Chemistry is not something you get right away, you’ve got to grow it a bit.”

Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said sometimes all you can do is sit back and watch McDavid, the 19-year-old phenom.

“His performance did all the speaking,” he said. “You turn into a fan as a coach and as players and just admire what he and his linemates did.”

Josh Leivo and Jake Gardiner replied for the Maple Leafs (19-25-9), who have lost three in a row.

“I didn’t mind our game to tell you the truth,” said Toronto head coach Mike Babcock. “We threw the puck away on their fourth goal, which I didn’t like to see, there was no reason to do that. But we got ourselves in a good spot and in the end. We didn’t finish and they did.”

Edmonton scored on the first shot of the game 3:29 into the first period as Benoit Pouliot sent in McDavid on a breakaway and he deked around Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier to deposit his eighth goal of the season.

Toronto responded eight minutes into the first as Leivo picked the top corner to beat Oilers starter Cam Talbot. Leivo left the game later in the period with an upper-body injury.

Edmonton restored its lead six-and-a-half minutes into the middle frame as Eberle picked up a bouncing puck in front of the net and sent home his 16th of the year.

The Oilers made it 3-1 late in the second on a power play as McDavid spotted Eberle all alone at the side of the net and he potted his second of the game.

Toronto got one back with 15 seconds left in the middle frame as a Gardiner shot appeared to carom off a pair of Oilers before ending up behind Talbot.

McDavid salted the game away with six minutes left, scoring his second of the contest on a shot from the slot.

Eberle added an empty-net goal for his first career NHL hat trick after previously recording two-goal games 17 times.

Both teams return to action on Saturday as the Oilers play host to the Winnipeg Jets and the Leafs travel to Vancouver to face the Canucks.

Notes: Of the players acquired Tuesday in the nine-player trade that sent captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators, only forward Colin Greening was in the Leafs lineup. Milan Michalek (broken finger) and Jared Cowen (hips) did not dress.

Source: Shorthanded Leafs defeated in Edmonton

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?

Leafs Look To The Future With Nine Player Trade

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs sent shock waves through the NHL Tuesday when they announced a multi-player deal with the Senators that sent defenceman Dion Phaneuf, blueliner Cody Donaghey, and forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert to Ottawa in exchange for forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg, d-man Jared Cowen and a second-round draft pick in 2017. For Toronto, the deal gives the organization more salary cap flexibility with which to manoeuvre in the seasons to come, and for their now-former captain, the move represents a fresh start in a passionate hockey market.

“The length of Dion’s contract, and the amount of cap space that is there, where that would put us at a given time…this gives us the opportunity to do things,” said Lamoriello, referring to the five years and $35 million remaining on Phaneuf’s contract after this season. “But it also gives us the opportunity, when some of our younger players are coming at the end of their entry level contracts who we have expectations for, to sign them. So this was a transaction that certainly wasn’t for today. And Dion is going to leave a hole in our lineup, there’s no question.”

In some respects, it was difficult for the Leafs to part ways with Phaneuf, who was acquired from Calgary Jan. 31, 2010 and quickly became one of the team’s go-to leaders on the ice and in the dressing room. But the opportunity to continue Toronto’s rebuild meant saying goodbye to the 30-year-old, who handled the news with his trademark professionalism.

“I spoke to Dion as soon as the trade call was finished…and explained to him what transpired,” Lamoriello said. “He was as classy as anyone could possibly be. At a time like that, you put yourself in that person’s position and you know that they’re listening and you question what they’re hearing, but he responded in an extremely positive way. He understands what we’re doing here, he’s been a part of that throughout the year, and I just expressed to him how much I appreciate what he’s brought to the things we’ve tried to change and how supportive he’s been. I just can’t say enough about him.”

Phaneuf is the lone member of the current Leafs roster to move to the Sens in this transaction, but in return, the Buds receive two players (Michalek and Cowen) who can step into the lineup when healthy, and a prospect in the 20-year-old Lindberg whom Toronto targeted early in trade talks with Ottawa GM Bryan Murray. Combined with the second-round draft pick, the Leafs’ haul in the trade – and the fact the team isn’t assuming any portion of Phaneuf’s contract – is one that’s impressed fans, media and everyone with the organization.

Lindberg, drafted by Ottawa in the fourth round (102nd overall) in 2013, has five goals and 22 points in 34 American Hockey League games with Binghamton this year. And the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder – who will join the AHL’s Marlies and add to a group of prospects that is the envy of many NHL teams – was rated by Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter to be a prospect very much worth acquiring.

“We have an outstanding scouting staff with Mark Hunter and his group, and Mark had him very high on his list,” Lamoriello said. “We felt very comfortable that, when we had to select players (to) put this type of a transaction together, that he was the one individual prospect that we targeted. And he became part of the deal. He’s a size-and-strength forward, and he’ll be given every opportunity.”

In the 31-year-old Michalek and the 25-year-old Cowen, the Leafs now respectively have a top-six forward and a rugged blueliner who both are under contract through next season. And while the work now continues to retool the team under head coach Mike Babcock, Phaneuf’s level-headedness, work ethic and service to the city’s community and charities don’t go unappreciated by those who know him best.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with Dion from Day One,” Lamoriello said. “He’s been a great leader, he’s handled every situation that’s been asked of him, and he’s going to be missed.”

Source: Leafs Look To The Future With Nine Player Trade