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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 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

Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

From Pension Puppets

Christian Bonin |

The top-10 is… unchanged.

At the end of August, when our staff’s collective Top 25 Under 25 ranking began to wrap up, I chose to release my individual ranking and explain my reasoning.

With the All-Star Game come to a close, and February starting, I thought it would be prudent to update that ranking and justify the movement that has occurred.

In order to get a better understanding of how I ranked the players, here’s an updated version of the criteria I included in my August ranking:

My Criteria

There were several ways in which I approached the ranking, but due to the age and established nature of some of the players, it was a decidedly different approach than the one I take when evaluating a draft class or pool of non-NHL prospects.

Not all voters used the organization’s status as a criterion. I did. The Leafs rebuild factors into the value each player has to the organization moving forward. The present isn’t nearly as important as the future, and that gives huge value to a Mitch Marner or a William Nylander over an established Nazem Kadri. Future star power will make or break the end result of this Leafs rebuild, and Kadri may well factor into it as a key player (he already is), but he’s not a piece that changes a franchise.

I didn’t approach the ranking as one that was strictly a meritocracy. As evidenced through my non-ranking of Byron Froese, a player’s NHL status doesn’t guarantee him value. Byron Froese is replaceable. The Marlies roster this season includes several players who could play a fourth line role in the NHL.

The lottery tickets that the players I ranked near the bottom of the T25U25 represent hold more value than a Byron Froese does. The chance that Martins Dzierkals can be more than a replacement level NHLer holds considerable value to a team like the Leafs. Nothing plagues NHL franchises more than the idea that picks are expendable. If you draft for upside, you will find real value, not Byron Froese value.

Dzierkals’ footwork and skating ability, as well as the low kick to his release and his knack for getting it off in stride is a real, identifiable stylistic trait that translates well at the next level. And there’s a very good chance he never becomes an NHL player, but the value in acquiring players like him is worth more than any value Byron Froese holds to the Leafs, at least for a rebuilding team.

The top 11 players remain unchanged. The prospects within the group have progressed as expected, Jake Gardiner has blossomed (yes, he’s 26 but for continuity’s sake I re-included him in the ranking), and after faltering out of the gate Peter Holland and Nazem Kadri have returned to form. I nearly moved Jeremy Bracco back a spot in favour of Dmytro Timashov (who has risen more than anyone except Garret Sparks) but Bracco elevated his play after being snubbed by Team USA and he’s really beginning to find his game after leaving the NCAA for the OHL.

Sparks wasn’t ranked in August in part because I regarded Chris Gibson as the Marlies starter, which would have limited Sparks’ ability to get the starter’s load he needs to really progress. Both were narrowly left off of my August list, though Gibson was ranked 25th on the overall PPP ranking.

Travis Dermott also rose substantially thanks to some impressive play as one of the OHL’s best defensemen this year, though I still worry about his skating limiting his upside when he becomes a pro.

Rinat Valiyev also moves into the top 25 — his skating has held up more than I expected it too as an AHL rookie — and is joined by two players who weren’t available to be ranked in August in AHL scorer Jeremy Morin and Frank Corrado (who should play more than he does).

Stuart Percy and Frederik Gauthier have fallen the furthest, but not because they haven’t had good seasons. Gauthier has played really well defensively — as expected — and his results are the dividends. For Percy, it’s just a matter of timing. The clock is ticking and despite up-ticks in his offensive production, Percy’s window for establishing himself in the Leafs organization will come to a close before we know it. Mostly, for both Gauthier and Percy, the dip in their ranking speaks to some strong seasons and new faces.

Despite an excellent (surprisingly so) season from Andrew Nielsen, he remained unranked. Like with Dermott, I worry about how Nielsen’s skating will translate as a pro (his shot and physicality aren’t a problem). Still, his season has been extremely impressive and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down as the WHL’s highest-scoring defensemen. There’s a good chance, if he keeps it up, that he climbs into next summer’s ranking (though the Leafs could have 5+ picks in the first three rounds this summer that will factor into that discussion).

My February Ranking

Just missed: Andrew Nielsen, Zach Hyman, Jesper Lindgren, Nikita Korostelev.

Remember: Neither of these rankings are the overall, conglomerated PPP ranking but simply my personal list. Morgan Rielly finished first on the overall list.

Source: Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos

From Pension Puppets

The Leafs go into the All-Star break not quite last in the league. Last night they took their show on the road to Tampa and fell for Steven Stamkos all over again.

Any time a game is 1-0, it’s likely either team could have won it. I think that’s true about Toronto vs. Tampa last night.

The graph shows the ebb and flow of all situations play. The ebb tide went Tampa’s way hard for most of the first, but the rest of the game was the Leafs, catching up, coming even, taking control.

Through all that Jonathan Bernier had one of the best nights of his wildly up and down season, so that’s a huge positive for him. He looked as dialled in as Reimer on his best day.

The Leafs looked outclassed by a better team at first, and they were doing that thing where bad positioning and bad decisions led to bad penalties. And Steven Stamkos knows how to take advantage of a penalty kill that isn’t on 100%.

But a funny thing happened as the game came more and more into focus for the Leafs. They stopped taking so many penalties, passes connected, the offensive players got to play where they’re good, and the Leafs got their game back. It’s been gone for a while, and that was good to see.

The best part of the game though had to be Frank Corrado playing a smooth set of shifts, mostly with Dion Phaneuf. He played just over five minutes of 5-on-5, and was good for all of it.

Dion Phaneuf was excellent all night, maybe his best game in a while, and he also drew a couple of penalties instead of taking any.

Morgan Rielly led the team in individual shots (all shots, not shots on goal), and he came on more and more as the tide turned and the play moved to Tampa’s end of the ice.

Roman Polak had a very bad, no good night, but considering he was the only guy who showed up to play in Sunrise the night before, I’ll give him a pass.

Top forward was, as always, Nazem Kadri. He and Michael Grabner had lots of chances.

Not really a factor offensively was Nick Spaling’s line. They were matched up primarily against Stamkos and held the line to nearly even with him, so they got their job done, but Joffrey Lupul is not going to score much when he’s busy tying up guys in the neutral zone. He still managed two shots though, when he wasn’t busy elsewhere. So did Peter Holland.

The fourth line was solid all night, even in the first period when no one else was. Byron Froese, Rich Clune and Frank Corrado led the way in CF%.

One curious thing stands out: Tyler Bozak and P.-A. Parenteau each had two shots, and I think two and two are still four. But their Corsi For was 14 and 10 respectively. Who was shooting? It sure wasn’t Shawn Mathias. I guess the D were getting busy and taking care of things. I don’t think that’s a recipe for success.

Again though, Jonathan Bernier, 29 saves, was the player of the game. Unfortunately for him Andrei Vasilevskiy managed 30 and got his first career shutout.

Acha’s notes

– I attended the game last night. I had a side-angle view of the Leafs’ bench, so I spent a large portion of the night staring in fascination at Babcock to see how he coached. He always looked 100% intent and involved in the play, but did not always just stare at the puck-carrier. He looked all over the ice to see positioning. He also maintained the most professional demeanor I’ve ever seen on the bench, never actually showing emotion other than a calm interest in what was going on.

– Moments when Babcock looked up at the jumbotron: before the anthem to see the starting lineup, for replays of certain things, like penalties or saves, for the announcements of Amalie’s community activism things like “standing salute” and “community hero.”

– Moments when Babcock talked to players: He generally did not talk much to his players, except for during the one time-out called before the last minute of play. It was almost like he expected them to know his system already without a lot of talk. He occasionally leaned down and talked to a player after they did something “coachable” that he didn’t really like, but I felt that was rare.

– I had playoff series flashbacks to the Red Wings – Bolts because of Babcock’s coaching style and how the teams interacted with each other. Leafs’ backcheck was tough for Bolts to fight through. Had Bernier made the save on Stamkos during the power play, the game would’ve been very different. I felt that the teams were evenly matched (discounting the first, for the Leafs, and the third, for the Bolts). If Vasilevskiy’s parents hadn’t been in the stands watching him play in the NHL for the first time ever, I think the score would’ve been more like 3-1, Leafs.

– The two loud PINGS from Leafs’ pucks on Vasy’s crossbars made the Leafs-fan-filled audience groan.

– It was really hard to tell who was rooting for whom, mostly because the jerseys are so similar. But the arena was at around 90% capacity, and I’d say a good 40% were Leafs fans down for a visit.

– Pirates? What? Yesterday was the start of Tampa Bay’s pirate/music celebration, Gasparilla.

– During first intermission, I met a PPP reader wearing a Rielly jersey. It was fun to hang out with a Tampa Bay-area Leafs fan and reader of the site! Nice to meet you, Mr. Bertrand. (He got to listen to me school a guy in a Marlies sweater about what a “Solar Bear” is.)

Source: Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos

Maple Leafs shut out by Lightning in Tampa

From The Star

TAMPA, FLA.—The all-star break. If there’s one team that could us a break, it’s the Maple Leafs, because the on-ice breaks have been few and far between.

Tampa sniper Steve Stamkos scored in the first period on the power play and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stonewalled Toronto for his second career shutout. That combination was enough for the Tampa Bay Lightning to defeat the Leafs 1-0 Wednesday night, the final game before all-star festivities commence in Nashville this weekend.

But as the game wore on, the Leafs got into it. By the midway point of the third, the Leafs had a 24-22 shots advantage. But they’d also hit two posts and ran into a hot Vasilevskiy, who made point-blank saves in the third period on Tyler Bozak, Dion Phaneuf and Morgan Rielly in stopping all 30 shots faced.

Jonathan Bernier didn’t have much of a chance on the Stamkos goal and matched Vasilevskiy nearly save-for-save in stopping 28 of 29 shots.

The loss means the Leafs head into the all-star break 17-22-9 for 43 points and tied for last in the NHL (they sit 28th overall thanks to games in hand on both Edmonton and Buffalo.)

They’ve hit a massive skid, going 1-7-2 in which goal scoring has all but disappeared. They have 11 goals in those 10 games — the greatest goaltending in the world can’t win with that goal-scoring rate.

“That’s the tough part about being a goalie,” said Bernier. “You can’t control whether your team will score or not. You just have to make sure you’re doing your job.”

Bernier had a solid night in what might have felt like an audition with 13 scouts from around the league in attendance.

The game might have felt like a bit of an audition for two of the Maple Leafs: Bernier and Frank Corrado.

Bernier was getting his first start since Jan. 16, having watched James Reimer reclaim the No. 1 job.

“I’ve been in that situation a lot, so I just have to do the same thing I’ve been doing lately, even if I haven’t played that much in the past couple of weeks,” said Bernier.

“I feel good about my game lately.”

Corrado played his fifth game of the season in his first action since Jan. 9.

The two have gotten to know each other well with all the extra conditioning they’re called upon to do together.

“He’s been a hell of a guy,” Bernier said of Corrado. “He’s been positive. I’ve seen guys like that that don’t play a lot and it gets to them mentally. He’s been putting a smile on every day. He’s been a really good teammate.”

Corrado was happy to see some action with his father on the father-son trip.

“You have to be ready for when your number is called,” said Corrado. “Play your game and don’t change too much. I always like to be better. It’s exciting to get in a game, especially with my dad here.”

If any team has done a good job of drowning out the white noise around them, it’s the Lightning.

The constant talk of Stamkos’ impending free agency or what to do with suspended winger Jonathan Drouin has not diverted the team from their mission to get back to the kind of hockey that brought them to the Stanley Cup final last season.

“As soon as the guys walk into the room, it’s not something we talk about,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper. “This is a team sport but it’s a business. It was business for Ryan Callahan or Anton Stralman. Everyone at some point reaches that in their career. It’s not new.”

Stamkos avoided the media and declined pre-game interview requests.

Understandable, because so many in the Toronto media would ask him about his contract status — he’s a free agent July 1 and a contract extension is on the table — and wouldn’t it be nice to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

It’s the kind of pre-game distraction teams can do without.

“We can’t let outside stuff filter in,” said Cooper. “It’s definitely not an excuse if you’re not paying well and say: ‘Oh well, it’s contract negotiations.’ That’s nonsense. We’re pros . . . go out there and play.”

NOTES: With players scattering for the all-star break, Leafs coach Mike Babcock heads to Boston to see his son. “It’s going to be my father’s trip,” said Babcock . . . Forwards Brad Boyes and Josh Leivo were healthy scratches, as was defenceman Martin Marincin, who missed his first game since Jan. 9. Leivo has missed four of the last five games. Boyes has missed the last three games . . . The Leafs resume play Tuesday in Boston.

Source: Maple Leafs shut out by Lightning in Tampa

Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning

From Pension Puppets

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

What’s that Stamkos? Sorry, can’t hear through the 10 M / 8 year contract they made me bring.

MAPLE LEAFS (17-20-9) at LIGHTNING (26-18-4)




SBN: Raw ChargeMe

The Tampa Bay Lightning are not the toughest team to play against on this peninsular part of the United States, any more. Yesterday I talked about how nothing explains the Cats’ success. Today, at least, I can talk about what explains TBL’s lack of success lately, what hamstrung them during their early season slump.

The answer is as plain as a very tall person named Andrej Sustr in the middle of the ice: TBL’s bottom four D kind of suck. Travis Yost was good enough to write an article about the defensive situation, and created this chart to represent how each defenseman does when matched with each line’s center.

If you’ve ever watched Bolts twitter during a game, every now and again you’ll see a gif pop up of a concerned looking person yelling, “CAAAAAARLE!” And it’s usually because of his latest turnover or a failed pass to nowhere or just plain standing around in the neutral zone looking peaceful, like Ferdinand the Bull.

Yost says that Tampa Bay’s reliance on these bottom four are probably due to Sustr’s handedness, and I’m going to agree because Jon Cooper tends to favor pairing right and left shots (which is why Mark Barberio is now chugging away diligently with the Canadiens):

I do wonder if Tampa Bay thinks this is a two-pronged issue – the first being that talent on the second and third pairings hasn’t played up to expectations, the second being that ‘handedness’ is contributing to some of the defence’s struggles. Three of the four regulars (four of five if you count Nikita Nesterov) are left-handed shots, meaning at least one pairing is lefty with lefty. That means the other pairing features the lone right-handed shot in Andrej Sustr, a player who hasn’t developed as quickly as Tampa Bay anticipated. Acquiring a talented right-shot defender would hypothetically solve both of these issues.

Yep. We’ll see whether the Leafs can exploit those bottom four tonight, or whether Cooper will split up Hedman and Stralman again to help out the less-good D.

Of course, I am bringing this up so that nobody notices the enormous elephant in the room, which is the fact that a Russian guy named Nikita Kucherov is currently leading the team in points, and just pulled even to Stamkos in goals. What do you reckon some member of the media will ask Stamkos whether this is because of mental distractions (such as drama regarding his contract)?

Comparing the two teams:

Toronto Tampa Bay
Record 17-20-10 26-18-4
Division Rank 8th Atlantic 4th Atlantic
Conference 15th East 7th East
League 28th overall 12th overall
Top Scorer Leo Komarov 16G Nikita Kucherov 20G
Top Points Leo Komarov 31pts Nikita Kucherov 41pts
Goalie Jonathan Bernier .899sv% Andrei Vasilevskiy .906%


Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – Vladislav Namestnikov
Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
JT Brown – Veltteri Filppula – Ryan Callahan
Cedric Paquette – Brian Boyle – Jonathan Marchessault

Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Nikita Nesterov – Braydon Coburn
Jason GarrisonAndrej Sustr

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Ben Bishop

PP Units:
Ondrej Palat – Vladislav Namestnikov – Steven Stamkos – Valtteri Filppula – Anton Stralman; Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Ryan Callahan – Victor Hedman – Nikita Kucherov

Scratched: Jonathan Drouin (he mad)


Frank Corrado draws back into the lineup, and Michael Grabner (puck to face) sits, according to @HennyTweets

Shawn Matthias – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov – (Not sure who’s here yet)
Joffrey Lupul – Peter HollandNick Spaling
Daniel Winnik – Byron Froese – Rich Clune – Frank Corrado

Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak

Jonathan Bernier
James Reimer

Injured: James van Riemsdyk (foot), Stephane Robidas (lower body), Nathan Horton (LTIR), Michael Grabner (puck to face)
Scratched:  Brad BoyesJosh Leivo

PP units:

Matthias-Bozak-Parenteau-Rielly-Phaneuf, Lupul-Kadri-Holland-Komarov-Gardiner

Drama, Drama, Drama

Welcome to the one team with more drama this season than the Habs and Leafs combined.

Source: Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning

Game Journal: Game 48 – Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

4:15 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Brian Pochmara and Kyle Rehman. Tony Sericolo and Derek Amell will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in can watch on Sportsnet, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and by following the Leafs on Twitter.

Paul Hendrick and Joe Bowen tee up tonight’s game in Tampa Bay below.

4:00 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Lightning.

Toronto Maple Leafs


40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov

23 Matthias – 42 Bozak – 15 Parenteau

24 Holland – 16 Spaling – 19 Lupul

25 Clune – 56 Froese – 26 Winnik


51 Gardiner – 3 Phaneuf

2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly

20 Corrado – 46 Polak


45 Bernier

34 Reimer

Tampa Bay Lightning


18 Palat – 90 Namestnikov – 91 Stamkos

17 Killorn – 9 Johnson – 86 Kucherov

23 Brown – 51 Filppula – 24 Callahan

13 Paquette – 11 Boyle – 42 Marchessault


77 Hedman – 6 Stralman

89 Nesterov – 55 Coburn

5 Garrison – 62 Sustr


88 Vasilevskiy

30 Bishop

3:45 PM:
Frank Corrado draws into the lineup tonight. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game in Tampa Bay…

Leafs TV

On being ready for Wednesday’s game:

Yeah, that’s the way it goes, you’ve just got to be ready for when your number is called. Just play your game and don’t try to change too much. Bring what you can to the table.

On his performance in his four games this season:

I’d always like to be better but that’s just the way it is. I just try and play my game every single time, I don’t try to do too much, keep it simple. Obviously try and jump in the play when I can. It’s obviously exciting to get into a game here, especially with my dad here so I just want to use the energy and use it tonight.

Is it hard to not get caught up in needing to have a good game when you’re not playing regularly?

That’s every game, right? Especially when you’re not in a rhythm or a groove. I feel like when I’ve played a lot you’re not even thinking about it, you’re just playing and it’s second nature. When you get games sporadically you definitely want to make the most of them. I think the big one for me is to get a win in the lineup. We haven’t won with me in the lineup yet so that’s the big one for me. That’s the best feeling at the end of the day.

How did you feel with all those games off?

It’s always tough when you don’t know exactly but there’s nothing you can do. You practice hard, you work out in the gym, stay on the ice later and just be ready to go. Obviously we’re creatures of habit so my game day routine is still the same, nothing really changes, it’s just go out there and play your best.

Are you fielding lots of questions about your playing time?

Not as many as you’d think. There’s people that text every once and a while, friends from home, people I talk to, people I haven’t really spoken to in a long time but the support has been great. I’m pretty lucky, the fan support I had in Vancouver was unbelievable and I think in Toronto it has been the same. It’s nice to have people on your side and just hoping the best for you.

3:30 PM: Here’s what Nazem Kadri had to say ahead of Wednesday’s game…

Leafs TV

On Luongo as a difference maker on Tuesday:

I think early that was the difference, him [Luongo] making a few of those saves. I don’t really think we got outplayed to a drastic point. I think the game just got to a point where we just got a little too far behind. Certain goals that they scored, Luongo made some huge saves and it easily could have been a one-goal or tied hockey game and they ended up coming down to score minutes later. That has a big effect on the game.

Does last night show how fine a line it is for this team?

Certainly they deserved to win that game, we just weren’t good enough, plain and simple. I don’t think the score reflected how badly we got outplayed. I think we were still in that game up until that third period. Even when we were trailing 3-1, Joffrey had that great backdoor chance and Lu just made an unbelievable save. They ended up coming down and scoring just minutes after that. Same with their second goal too I believe. That’s the difference. Oftentimes the goaltender can have that effect but hopefully we don’t put ourselves in that position, we can get a couple of early ones tonight and keep it moving from there.

On the team at the All-Star break:

I think it’s a little bit of everything, to be honest. There are times when we’ll be playing some exceptional hockey and be thinking we’re moving in the right direction, which I think we are. There’s going to be growing pains, we knew that coming into the season, there’s going to be difficult times and this happens to be one of them. We’ve got to look at nobody else to get ourselves out of this other than ourselves. We’ve got to get back to playing how we play, we’ve done a lot of good things as well but we’ve got to cash in on opportunities and limit grade-A opportunities.

2:45 PM: Richard Clune spoke to the media on Wednesday in Tampa Bay. Here’s what he had to say…

Leafs TV

What goes into maximizing every shift in a night?

I think whether — it’s kind of my mentality is whether I get one shift or 20 shifts I’m out there to do the same thing. That’s just the way I am, that’s just the way I’m built.

Is providing time and space for linemates especially important on the road?

Yeah, I think any time you go into another team’s building you want to push them back into their own D zone and try to establish territory. I personally like going into other team’s buildings and getting after them. It’s just the way I play.

On Thornton trying to get him to fight late on Tuesday:

It is what it is, a fight is a fight. I’ve fought him before and I think he was — he’s a good guy, I don’t know him at all off the ice but I know he’s well-liked or whatever. He’s trying to do his thing. I think he was just getting frustrated with me finishing my checks so much and I can assure you that will actually probably have the opposite effect on me. If I notice people are getting upset I keep doing it.

How do you when the right time is to drop the gloves?

You just know.

Are there guidelines with coach over when or when not to fight?

Yeah, I mean, I think what goes on between me and the coaches stays that way. I think the first time I was called up I was a little bit reckless and this time around I’m trying to really show that I’m coachable and be a physical player without hurting the team penalty-wise.

What’s it like having your dad on the trip?

It’s great, we’ve grown really close over the years. He’s a good man. I’ve got two younger brothers too that we all looked up to him growing up. He drove us around to hockey, along with my mom. They had us in every sport so they’re amazing parents. We had a great upbringing and he’s a good guy.

Did your dad offer any advice after the game last night?

He just said keep getting in there, going to the net. I would like to chip in offensively as well as physically. That’s another step I need to take in my game. He’s the kind of guy I think growing up if I would have scored a goal or got an assist, it didn’t necessarily mean I played well. I think that’s why I’ve gotten to the places I’ve gotten is my father is honest with me and he’s pretty good at — I could get no goals or anything like that and he knew that I’d played hard and I played well. He’s a smart hockey man, he knows the game very well and he was happy with my game. Obviously the team lost so I’m never in a good mood, I’m not a nice person to be around after a loss but it was good. We rode on the plane together and it’s nice to have him here.

2:30 PM: Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say ahead of Wednesday’s game in Tampa Bay.

Leafs TV

Is there any validation in what you’re doing with this group when you hear the comments from opposing coaches?

Well, I know that, but Coop is a good man, he’s got a good team, we’ve played lots of good teams. I look forward to the day that when the other team is scared of us. That’s what I look forward to. It’s great that we can make it tight and work real hard and compete real hard but you’d like the other team to be fearful of a bunch of your guys and wave after wave they’re going to come at you. That’s what we’re growing into. It’s going to take us time. All you’ve got to do is look at the team we played last night, how much time it’s taken them to get to where they’re at and you go through a lot of the real good teams in the League and the development. So, it’s time, but in saying that your job is to maximize the group and I think when you do that on a nightly basis you feel real good about yourself. I felt last night we were set up great and then we did it to ourselves. I’m not taking anything away from Florida, they skated good, they moved good, but I felt our part of the game wasn’t done well enough long enough.

Is last night’s game an example of how fine the line is between wins and losses?

I really thought so. Even when it was 2-1 — and we gave up two bad penalty kill goals, things we had talked about in the meeting and we let happen so you can’t do that. The other thing I’d say to you is it’s 2-1, we’re right there, we’re all over them, we’ve had two good shifts in a row, we turn the puck over and it’s in our net. What I don’t like is we ask our goalie to do his job and then last night we hung our goalie out to dry by having backside tap-in goals. That’s not his job, that’s our job. We have to do a better job there.

Did you like Clune showing restraint and not fighting Thornton late?

I thought Clune did a real good job for us and he’s been one of our best forwards here of late. He’s played with great energy and looked after our guys. To me, you can be a factor sitting in the box, there’s no question about it but you can be a factor when you’re on the other team’s D and getting some skin out there. I thought he did a good job for us.

Do you give your guys guidelines on when to fight and when not to fight?

Well, that’s a real good question. Who’s next?

What are your plans this All-Star break?

My kid’s playing in Boston twice so I’m going to spend a day in Tampa and then go watch him play in Boston. It’s going to be my Father’s Trip coming up.

2:15 PM: The Maple Leafs wrap up a Florida back-to-back tonight when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning .

The Leafs are coming off a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. Nazem Kadri had the lone goal for the Maple Leafs in the loss, while James Reimer made 22 stops for the Leafs. Jonathan Bernier will make his first start since Jan. 16 in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning last played on Saturday and lost to the Panthers by a 5-2 score. Victor Hedman and JT Brown scored for the Lightning. Ben Bishop stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced in two periods on Saturday before being replaced by Andrei Vasilevskiy in the third. He stopped all four shots he faced. Vasilevskiy will face the Leafs on Wednesday.

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

Source: Game Journal: Game 48 – Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Leafs’ Frank Corrado excited to crack lineup for game against Lightning

From The Star

TAMPA, FLA.—Frank Corrado says he’s ready to get back in the Maple Leafs lineup.

“When you get games sporadically, you definitely want to make the most of it,” said the defenceman, who has been sparingly used by the team. “The big one for me is to get a win in the lineup. We haven’t won with me in the lineup yet.”

Corrado, 22, has played just four games this season since he was picked up on waivers from Vancouver before the season began. He has one assist and is minus-3.

But he’ll play Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the only lineup change confirmed by coach Mike Babcock.

He hasn’t played since Jan. 9.

“It’s always tough when you don’t know exactly,” said Corrado. “You practise hard, you work out in the gym, you stay on the ice later, and you be ready to go. We’re creatures of habit, so game-day routine is the same.”


Jonathan Bernier (6-12-3, 3.13, .899) vs Andrei Vasilevskiy (7-4-0, 2.85, .906)

Bernier: “I feel good about my game lately. I have to make sure I prepare the same way and give a chance for my team to win.”


Michael Grabner will be a game-time decision after taking a puck to the face on Tuesday in Florida.

Nick Spaling is doubtful. The team may not want him competing in back-to-back games after coming back from a long layoff.

Source: Leafs’ Frank Corrado excited to crack lineup for game against Lightning

Leafs get a couple of lessons from Panthers

From The Star

SUNRISE, FLA.—If Maple Leafs fans can look anywhere for inspiration, they need look no further than the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers demolished the Leafs 5-1 on Tuesday night, the third win in a row for the former also-rans who are the talk of the first half of the season.

The Panthers were once the butt of hockey jokes — as the Leafs find themselves today — but they have built a strong young team, patiently, through the draft, as the Leafs hope they are doing now.

Nazem Kadri scored his 10th goal with a nice deke late in the opening period to put the Leafs up 1-0. But the Panthers simply outclassed the Leafs in every facet of the game the rest of the way.

Florida’s speed forced Toronto to take penalties, and the Panthers capitalized. They scored their first two goals on the power play and had a 3-1 lead by the end of the second period on goals by Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen. Reilly Smith and Alex Petrovic, with his first NHL goal, simply padded the lead in the third.

“They’re a good a team, a quick team,” Leafs goalie James Reimer said. “They have a lot of skilled players and they make a lot of quick plays.”

The Leafs are stuck at one win in their last 10 games (1-7-2) with one game to go before the all-star break.

“I know we have a lot of work to do,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “When you see the really good teams play and you see their talent base, you see where we’ve got to get to. We all understand that. That doesn’t make it any easier on game night.”

The Panthers, in many ways, are the template the Leafs are following in this rebuild. A team that spent years out of the playoffs and built through the draft with high-end draft picks. And now they are in first place in the Atlantic Division. But it all comes with painful reminder.

“How did they get here?” Babcock asked. “The problem with the template (is the) first-round picks. All high. In order to get that, you’ve got to earn that. There’s lots of wounds to earning that. It’s great to say it’s a template. Chicago did it, Pittsburgh did it, these guys are doing it. I don’t know how much fun that is, though.

“You’ve got to draft like crazy, you’ve got to develop like crazy, you’ve got to make good decisions. If you make enough good decisions, and you draft high enough, long enough, pretty soon you end up with a real good team.”

And there was pain, plenty of it, for hockey in south Florida, said GM Dale Tallon, whose reputation for doggedly scouting talent is similar to that of Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter.

“You can see light at the end of the tunnel,” Tallon said. “It’s starting to become fruitful and worthy, and you’re starting to feel excited about what our future holds.”

Tallon won a lottery, and got stud defenceman Aaron Ekblad first overall in 2014, a player 19 going on 25 and drawing comparisons to Shea Weber and Drew Doughty.

He lost a lottery in 2013 and defied the prognosticators in taking Barkov second overall — ahead of Jonathan Drouin, currently suspended and hoping to get out of Tampa, and Seth Jones, since traded by the team that drafted him.

Barkov, who signed a six-year extension on Tuesday, is a cornerstone centre drawing comparisons to Jonathan Toews.

“It certainly helps we won the lottery to get Ekblad,” said Tallon. “It certainly helps that we had the second pick (Barkov in 2013) and the third pick (Jonathan Huberdeau in 2011). No denying it. Before you can be really good, you’ve got to hit the skids, be down and out.

“That’s how it works. It’s painful. You make lemonade out of lemons. You make sure you draft well.”

The Panthers, who will go into the all-star break in first place in the Atlantic, feel as if they are on the cusp of something big.

“I hope so,” defenceman Erik Gudbranson said. “We needed the young guys to step up and take over this team and I think they’ve done that. Barkov, Ekblad, Huberdeau, Trocheck, they’ve taken the bull by the horns and run with it. You need that youthful jump in today’s NHL, to bring you to that next level.

“This is something that hopefully can go on a long time. It’s a fun team to be on.”

NOTES: The Maple Leafs scored first for just the 12th time this season. They are now 7-2-3 when scoring first coming into the game . . . The Leafs scratched forwards Brad Boyes and Josh Leivo and defenceman Frank Corrado . . . Both Dion Phaneuf and Peter Holland got into fights . . . Michael Grabner lost some teeth on a play and didn’t finish the game . . . Jonathan Bernier will start in goal Wednesday against Tampa.

Source: Leafs get a couple of lessons from Panthers