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Eight Maple Leafs set to take part in World Cup

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

While most people celebrated Labour Day Monday, the cream of the NHL’s crop assembled at training camps in Europe and North America to prepare for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. And, in an indication of the bright future of the organization, the Maple Leafs can boast of a slew of players – and their head coach – who have the honour of competing in the eight-team tournament that will be situated solely at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Eight Leafs will participate in the World Cup, and two of the franchise’s most prominent youngsters – defenceman Morgan Rielly and 2016 No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews, who’ll both skate for the Team North America 23-and-Under group – will remain teammates in the two-week tourney. The same goes for veteran Toronto winger Milan Michalek and returning blueliner Roman Polak, who’ll play for Team Czech Republic. Meanwhile, winger James van Riemsdyk will represent Team U.S.A.; winger Leo Komarov will play for Team Finland; first-year Leafs D-man Nikita Zaitsev will suit up for Team Russia; new Toronto goaltender Jhonas Enroth will represent Team Sweden; and bench boss Mike Babcock (along with Leafs video coach Andrew Brewer and equipment manager Brian Papineau) will guide Team Canada.

New Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen was scheduled to play for Team Europe (an amalgam of players from European teams not noted above) and boost to nine the number of Leafs in the tournament, but Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello announced Monday Andersen suffered an upper-body injury that will sideline him for 3-4 weeks and prevent him from playing in the World Cup. (Andersen is expected to be ready for the beginning of the 2016-17 NHL regular-season.)

In any case, Leafs fans will have at least one member of the organization to keep an eye on in each and every game of the World Cup, which will stage its first exhibition contests in a one-week period (Sept. 8-14). Those games are to be contested in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Helsinki, Prague, Gothenburg, St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C. – and all eight teams will play three warmup games apiece in that span before the preliminary round kicks off Sept. 17 at the ACC.

The tournament format features two groups – Group A (consisting of Canada, the United States, Team Europe and the Czechs) and Group B (comprised of Team Finland, the Russians, Team Sweden and Team North America) – and the two top teams in each of those groups will qualify for the semifinals that run from Sept. 24-25. In a new wrinkle to the World Cup (which last was played in 2004 in Toronto), the winners from those semifinals will square off in a best-of-three series taking place Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and, if necessary, Oct. 1.

For many Buds boosters, the tournament will be their first opportunity to see Matthews up close in competition in Toronto. The same can be said for Zaitsev, a 24-year-old who signed with the Leafs after seven seasons in the Russian-based Kontinental League. But the chance to have so many of the organization’s players gaining experience in high-pressure scenarios is the true benefit for the team. Whether it’s Rielly (a 22-year-old who’ll be entering his fourth NHL season this year), van Riemsdyk (who is coming off an injury that limited him to 40 games last season) Komarov (who posted career-bests in a number of offensive categories last year) or anyone else, all Leafs participating in the World Cup can come away from it as stronger competitors when Toronto’s regular season begins Oct. 12 in Ottawa.

And that’s something Leafs fans – no matter which country or team they support at the World Cup – should be excited for.

Source: Eight Maple Leafs set to take part in World Cup

Leafs aim to build on structure

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

After finishing a five-game road trip that took them through Western Canada last week, the Maple Leafs get to enjoy the comforts of Toronto and the full support of the Air Canada Centre crowd during a four-game homestand that begins Thursday against the New York Rangers. And although the road trip couldn’t be deemed a success and the Buds aren’t where they’d prefer to be in the standings, the mood in the dressing room remains upbeat as the players focus on building for the future.

“I think we’re trending in the right direction,” said centre Nazem Kadri. “Some games we have a hard time staying consistent, but that’s standard for a young team, having those growing pains. It’s adversity, and you can’t just lie down and quit. And that’s something I feel like we’ve really been good at this year. But it seems like we’ll have a few good games, we’ll string them together, then we’ll kind of just lay an egg in the third or fourth game.

“Our work ethic’s there, but we’ve got to stick to the structure, because that’s our safety valve, and that’s the way we’re going to have to win games.”

“We’re getting better,” added goaltender James Reimer. “Obviously, we’d all like to be winning a lot more games, but at the end of the day, you want to do things right. And I think for the majority of the year, that’s what we’ve done. You’re going to have off games and go through tough times here and there, but when you’re playing honest, you feel good about yourself.”

Now, don’t take that to mean the Leafs are in any way satisfied with the way things have gone this year. Players live to put themselves in the most competitive situations, and when the playoffs aren’t a possibility, it can wear on them. That’s certainly true of blueliner Morgan Rielly, who made it clear Toronto’s season – and, more recently, a blowout 7-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Monday – didn’t sit well with him.

“We’re not happy – we don’t want to be where we are, and we’re coming off a game against Chicago that we’re not happy with,” Rielly said. “You want to win games, you want to be in the mix, you don’t want to be at the bottom. Have we made moves forward (this season)? Yeah, probably, but as players, we want to win.”

After the Buds take on the Blueshirts Thursday, they face the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday, the Nashville Predators Tuesday and the Carolina Hurricanes next Thursday to close out the homestand. All four of those franchises have post-season aspirations, and the opportunity to play spoiler will be prominent in the Leafs’ minds.

“That’s something we can look forward to for sure,” Kadri said. “Teams are going to be desperate to get points, especially now with the playoff run, and points being so valuable. Anytime we can steal one or two is going to be helpful for us and from a confidence standpoint as well, just to keep building in the right direction.”

As Kadri noted, consistency – be it game-to-game, or even period-to-period – has been an issue for the Leafs this year. But in their first season under head coach Mike Babcock, Toronto’s players have recognized the growth they’ve experienced both as individuals and as a unit. It’s a relatively small consolation compared to a Stanley Cup championship, but it’s not something to be discounted, either.

“We’ve had times where we’ve had some pretty good stretches,” Rielly said. “We know we can play with teams in this league, we know that we can win games against good teams. It’s just a matter of doing it every night.”

“I feel like we’ve been more consistent than in the past,” added Reimer. “But we’re learning, we’re getting better. Maybe it’s a process we’re going through, but it’s a good process.”

Source: Leafs aim to build on structure

Rielly on consistency, the western road trip

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Wednesday, 02.17.2016 / 2:45 PM ET / News

By Chris Lund

Morgan Rielly spoke to the media on Wednesday following practice. Here’s what he had to say…

On the team’s slump:

I think last year we kind of experienced something like this and I think you can kind of draw from those experiences and learn how to deal with it and how not to deal with it — try to make it easier on yourself. This is not something that you want to go through year after year so we’ve got to find a way to handle it while we’re experiencing it, but it’s not something we want to get used to.

On Kadri saying that the consistency of the group needs to improve:

I’d agree with that, I think we’ve had some times where we’ve had pretty good stretches but when you take those nights off teams are going to make you pay whether it’s Ottawa, whether it’s Chicago. We’ve got to get that straightened out, we can’t be taking nights off against those teams. That’s just an issue we have to deal with as players and we have to be ready to play every night.

What did you take from the Western Canada swing that you’d like to see consistently?

I think we had times where we played well. That’s just the most important thing. We know we can play with teams in this League, we know we can win games against good teams. It’s just a matter of doing it every night. Travel can be hard but I think we battled and we have to continue to do that and be ready to play every night.

Source: Rielly on consistency, the western road trip

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

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?

Game Journal: Game 52 – Maple Leafs vs. Flames

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

6:30 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Gord Dwyer and Kendrick Nicholson. Steve Barton and Ryan Gibbons will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in can watch on Sportsnet Ontario, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

Paul Hendrick and Joe Bowen check in from Calgary to set the table for tonight’s game.

[embedded content]


6:00 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Flames.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards
40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov
24 Holland – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 32 Leivo
25 Clune – 56 Froese – 28 Boyes

Defence
2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly
51 Gardiner – 46 Polak
52 Marincin – 20 Corrado

Goaltenders
34 Reimer
45 Bernier

Calgary Flames

Forwards
13 Gaudreau – 23 Monahan – 24 Hudler
93 Bennett – 11 Backlund – 67 Frolik
79 Ferland – 16 Jooris – 19 Jones
52 Bollig – 18 Stajan – 17 Bouma

Defence
5 Giordano – 7 Brodie
4 Russell – 27 Hamilton
15 Smid – 29 Engelland

Goaltenders
1 Hiller
31 Ramo



5:45 PM:
James Reimer gets the start in Calgary tonight. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

Leafs TV
[embedded content]

On the trade:

Life goes on. It’s disappointing, obviously he’s a big part of our team and carried a lot of the weight for the franchise for the last couple of years so it’s tough to see him go, but it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to fill the void and get going. When anything — injuries happen or guys get traded, it gives opportunity for other people so now it’s our job to step up and do our part.

How challenging is this for the defence to regroup and keep things together?

Like I said, Dion is a big part of it but having said that, we have a plan that we can cycle anybody in there. The plan doesn’t change now that he’s gone. We all know what we have to do, we all know our assignments and our expectations and it’s our job to step up and make sure we keep each other accountable.

Is it tougher to focus and get ready for the game?

I don’t know, it’s maybe a little bit of both — not to give a politically correct answer, but it’s human nature. You lose a friend, it’s hard, it’s sad. But at the same time there’s a little different energy in the air of you’ve got something to prove. Obviously things are going to be happening this month and everybody to a man has something to prove about what they’re worth and what they can bring. This kind of brings it to the forefront of making you think that you’ve really got to show what you can do and prove to management that you can play. There’s a little bit of that — I don’t want to say excitement because that’s not the right word — but it’s just that oomph that you’ve got to do what you can do.

What can Calgary bring with their transition game?

They’re a skilled team and they’ve got a lot of speed. They can make plays if you give them time. Our plan is just to play well defensively, stick to the structure that’s giving us success for most of the year here and hopefully we can shut them down. They’ve got, like you said, some real skilled forwards and hopefully we can do our part.



5:30 PM:
Morgan Rielly speaks to the media ahead of tonight’s game in Calgary…

Leafs TV
[embedded content]

On the trade:

Yeah I think as a group we were pretty surprised by it. Whenever a trade like that happens you don’t really expect it. We, as a group — it’s tough but we’ve got to worry about this road trip. We’ve got to play tonight. We’ve got a couple more big games coming up. We’ve got to refocus and worry about what happens on the ice. He was a big part of this group and it hurts to lose him but we’ve got guys in this room that can increase their roles and really step up.

Who is going to be the guy who steps up in the interim?

It’s a group effort. I don’t think there’s going to be any one guy who takes Dion’s role. I think as a group we have to step up. We’re going to have to take on leadership roles and we’re also going to have to make up for his loss on the ice. He’s a big part of this team, one of the most vocal guys. There’s guys in here that are going to have to take leadership roles and step up. We’re capable of doing that but time will tell.

How has Phaneuf helped you in your growth?

Dion was one of those guys that really felt comfortable and I think he does that with the young guys really well. He taught us all a lot. Just watching him every day I think you learn a lot from his actions and I think that moving forward, we’ve all learned a lot from him that we can use. When you lose a guy like that there are guys in this room that are going to have to step up and take leadership roles like I said and I think we’re capable of doing that.

Does the business side shock you or is this part of the development process?

It’s just part of the business. As players you have to accept it, trades are going to happen. You might lose some friends to trades and whatnot but you’ve got to deal with it. It’s all part of the job. We have to move on, start worry about playing tonight. This is part of the game.



5:15 PM: Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say on Tuesday morning in Calgary…

Leafs TV
[embedded content]

On Tuesday’s trade:

Dion was our leader and a real good, good man. I’ve only had a short time to work with him besides Olympic experiences in the summers but a real good person, did it right every day, really tried to be a huge influence on our team. The problem for us is Dion is ready now to win and we’re not ready to win. It was a hard decision. I think it’s a good decision for Dion, not today, but tomorrow. And it’s a good decision for our club moving ahead and following the plan that we’ve had in place since it started.

On Cowen:

He was a player that had it going in the right direction, got hurt, hasn’t got it back. We feel we have a real good medical team, a real good medical science group. We’ll take a look at him obviously physically and do what we can to help him get his game back.

Is this a tough day for the players?

Absolutely it is. Dion is — someone’s got to step up now. Someone’s got to step up in the room and provide the leadership he provided and I can’t emphasize this enough, he did it right every single day. He did it right when he wasn’t at the rink, he did it right at the rink, he did right it in the weight room, he did it right with the coaches, he did it right with his teammates. That’s not easy to do. That’s what you need on good teams to have success. We’ve talked about that as a group already. It’s a hard, hard business at times. It’s an unbelievably great business but it’s a hard business.

On managing the last 31 games:

I don’t think like that. We’ve got a game tonight against Calgary and we plan on winning.

On the extra bodies coming into the lineup with the trade:

We’ve got a game tonight, we plan on winning and we’ll work that all out. When they show up, they show up. We’ll go from there.

Will any of them show up for tonight’s game?

No.

On DJ Smith’s connection to Lindberg:

He [Smith] better be right, eh? A little heat on him never hurt anybody… Hunts [Mark Hunter] knows him real good too — the second round pick and this kid as well, also getting us in a position as we improve as a team to be in a better cap situation.

On the captaincy:

Lou and I talked about that this morning, that [there won’t be a captain for the rest of the season] is what I said. We’ll have some more assistants and we’ll encourage guys to step up. We’re a work in progress as you know. We’ll go the course with the captaincy.

Will there be another full-time alternate captain?

Yeah, but you know what I’ll do? Bozak is injured and so on this trip we have Polie [Roman Polak] and Leo. They’re good men who do it right so Hunny [Matt Hunwick], the three of those guys do it right every day and they set a good example. Someone is going to have to be a little more vocal than they were in the past.

5:00 PM: The Maple Leafs are back at it on Tuesday night when they visit the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

The Leafs last played on Feb. 6 when they took a 6-1 loss at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. P-A Parenteau had the lone Leafs goal in the loss while James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier combined to stop 19 of 25 stops in the loss. Reimer will get the nod for the Leafs in Calgary.

The Flames are coming off of a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. Michael Frolik, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett scored for Calgary in the victory. Jonas Hiller stopped 34 of 35 shots in the win and will start against the Leafs on Tuesday.

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

Source: Game Journal: Game 52 – Maple Leafs vs. Flames

Leafs pull off the impossible, send Dion Phaneuf and his contract to Senators

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

When rumours swirled early Tuesday morning that the Toronto Maple Leafs were working to trade captain Dion Phaneuf, executives from other NHL teams were skeptical.

Phaneuf had been offered around the league going back nearly a year. Working against the Maple Leafs were his age (31 in April), his level of play and his contract, which has more than five years remaining at $7-million a season (all figures U.S.).

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

He also has a no-trade clause, which stipulated only 12 teams to which he could be traded.

One of those was the Ottawa Senators.

Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello pulled off what many in hockey believed impossible later Tuesday morning. He traded Phaneuf to Ottawa without having to retain any of his salary, meaning Toronto will be free and clear of the burden of his deal in the near future.

Lamoriello also received something of value for Phaneuf: 20-year-old Swedish prospect Tobias Lindberg, along with a second-round draft pick in 2017.

It was, like all things with the rebuilding Maple Leafs, a deal made with an eye on success two or three years down the line.

“This was a transaction we had no choice with,” Lamoriello said, alluding to Phaneuf’s albatross-like contract, the sixth-highest for a defenceman in the NHL this season. “This was in the best interest of what we’re trying to do here.”

“The problem for us with Dion is Dion is ready now to win, and we’re not ready to win,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock added. “It’s a good decision for our club, following the plan that we’ve had in place since [the season] started.”

The Leafs’ plan is substantially different from the Senators’ plan, which was what facilitated the deal. Ottawa was only four points out of a playoff spot when the trade was made, and had a glaring need for an experienced defenceman.

Toronto, meanwhile, is in the NHL’s basement and has been working the past 12 months to clear out the many terrible contracts signed by the former management regime.

To date, the Leafs have shuffled out three key veterans – David Clarkson, Phil Kessel and Phaneuf – to create eventual salary-cap savings of more than $19-million a season.

The savings are “eventual” because of what Toronto took back from the Senators on Tuesday. In addition to Lindberg and the draft pick, the Leafs received Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Colin Greening, three struggling players who collectively earn $8.8-million a season.

Their deals, however, all expire after next season – four years before Phaneuf’s.

What that means is that for 2017-18, when the Maple Leafs ought to be a young team on the upswing, they have only $23-million in salaries committed, giving them significant freedom to add talent via free agency or trades.

Perhaps even enough to sign a player such as Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay captain who is headed for free agency in the summer if he’s unable to sign a new deal with the Lightning.

The Leafs, fittingly, have vacancy both at the No. 1 centre spot and, after Tuesday, the captain’s role.

“This gives us the opportunity to do things,” Lamoriello said, cryptic as ever. “But it also gives us an opportunity when some of our younger players [such as Morgan Rielly and William Nylander] are coming [up for their next contracts] to be able to sign them.”

The trade is a good example of the complex economic and strategic concerns that now go into every transaction in the NHL these days. Teams have realized that salary-cap flexibility is as big a weapon as any when in a negotiation, and with Clarkson, Kessel and Phaneuf on the books, the Leafs would have had almost none for the foreseeable future.

While the league was getting younger and faster, the Leafs were anchored to aging, declining players, which was the biggest challenge facing president Brendan Shanahan when he was hired nearly two years ago to clean up the Leafs’ mess.

Getting out of onerous commitments and focusing on the franchise’s pool of draft picks and prospects were the organization’s top priorities this season, and this deal managed to accomplish both. (Ottawa also acquired depth players Matt Frattin, Cody Donaghey, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert in the trade, but none are expected to contribute at the NHL level.)

In the near term, moving Phaneuf leaves a hole in the Leafs lineup and in the leadership department, and Lamoriello said the team will not name a new captain in the final two months of the season. Phaneuf was popular with teammates, coaches and managers in Toronto – several of them lamented his abrupt exit on Tuesday as he headed for the airport – but his mobility was diminishing and his contract didn’t fit with what is coming next.

The Leafs’ attention will now turn to the trade deadline on Feb. 29, and exchanging more veterans for picks and prospects is part of the rebuild. They still have several bad contracts (such as Joffrey Lupul’s $5.25-million a year through 2017-18) to unload; it will take considerable magic to convince another team to absorb that money.

But this trade was the big one, given the term and the role Phaneuf had. It’s not only turning the page – it’s giving Lamoriello and company a blank one to work with.

“Dion is our leader and a real, real good man,” Babcock said. “Someone has to step up now. Someone has to step up in the room and provide the leadership he provided.”

“It certainly wasn’t easy,” Lamoriello said. “Unfortunately, this is part of business.”

Follow us on Twitter: @eduhatschek, @mirtle

Source: Leafs pull off the impossible, send Dion Phaneuf and his contract to Senators

Leafs prepare for Western Conference swing

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Once you become a Maple Leafs player, you almost instantly reach a recognition level among the public that takes some adjusting to. But even veteran Leafs are sometimes surprised at the power the Blue & White has in making you familiar to perfect strangers – and not just in Toronto, either.

Take goaltender James Reimer, for instance. The 27-year-old has become accustomed to Torontonians recognizing him in and around the city, but he was taken aback when, during a vacation that took him to one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions, he was spotted by people who knew exactly who he was.

“A couple years ago, we were on the second level at the Eiffel Tower, and someone came up and said hello,” Reimer said of a summer trip to Europe he and wife, April, embarked on. “I think they were people from Toronto, though, so I’m not sure if that really counts, but there you go.”

Oh, it counts, alright. The vast reach of and emotion behind Leafs Nation is always something to behold, and one night early in Reimer’s six-year NHL career, when the Buds were in Edmonton to take on the Oilers, still stands out as especially remarkable for him in that regard.

“The most surprising thing I’ve ever had, was, I think it was my second year, and my first game in Edmonton,” Reimer said. “We stepped on the ice, and the place erupted. And it was the only time in my career where the crowd noise has surprised me. I stepped on the ice and I was like, ‘Oh, Edmonton must be stepping on the ice at the same time,’ but there was no sight of them. They were just cheering for us, and it was loud. It was crazy; it was like a home game.”

Reimer and his teammates will be back in Edmonton on Thursday of this week as part of a four-game road trip that also includes stops in Calgary Tuesday, Vancouver Saturday and Chicago Monday. As always, Leafs jerseys will be seen in each of those cities, and after a less-than-ideal showing against the Ottawa Senators over the weekend, Toronto’s players are intent on giving all the team’s fans much more to cheer about.

“We didn’t love our start and we didn’t love our game in general,” Leafs centre Nazem Kadri said of Toronto’s 6-1 defeat at the hands of the Senators Saturday. “I feel like we didn’t execute the game plan, we didn’t give ourselves a good chance to win. So we talked about having a good response, and getting as many of the eight points as we can get on the road.”

“Right now, the biggest thing for us is that we bounce back and start playing our style again,” added defenseman Morgan Rielly. “We’ve got to get back to what makes us successful: that’s hard work, playing our style and being accountable. Practice today was about getting back into our routine, working hard and looking forward to playing tomorrow.”

The injury bug has bitten into the Leafs in recent days, and as a result, centre Tyler Bozak, winger Joffrey Lupul and forward Shawn Matthias won’t be making the trip out west. That’s opened up opportunities for forwards Josh Leivo, Mark Arcobello and Rich Clune – all of whom were recalled from the American League’s Marlies on Monday – and head coach Mike Babcock is hoping they (or anyone, at this stage in the season) takes advantage of it. His team’s ability to produce offence has taken a big hit beginning with the injury-related absence of winger James van Riemsdyk, and he’ll take help from anyone who can help the group regain their confidence with the puck.

“It’s real clear how we have to play with our lineup,” Babcock said after practice. “We were really rolling there when James was with us. Obviously, we’re more offensively-challenged (now), but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to win. Play well without the puck, check real hard and compete real hard, score on your power play, stay out of the penalty box. So there’s lots of good ways to go about it. I think there’s a real challenge for us, and we’re excited about doing it.”

And, no doubt, Leafs Nation out west, and everywhere else, will be excited to see them.

Source: Leafs prepare for Western Conference swing

Leafs Go The Distance For Win

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs


TORONTO —
P.A. Parenteau’s shootout goal lifted the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, giving coach Mike Babcock a reason to celebrate his 1,000th game.

James Reimer stopped Reid Boucher, Jacob Josefson and Lee Stempniak in the shootout. Peter Holland and Tyler Bozak missed for the Leafs.

David Schlemko’s disputed third-period goal had seemed destined to give the Devils a 2-1 win.

But Bozak beat Keith Kinkaid with a snap shot from the slot with 2:06 remaining to tie the game. His 10th of the season snapped a 15-game goal drought that dates back to Dec. 27.

The Leafs challenged the Schlemko goal, a shot though traffic from inside the blueline at 6:27, arguing that Reimer was interfered with as Jordin Tootoo, tangled up with defenceman Morgan Rielly, cruised past the net. But the goal stood.

Babcock, whose record stands at 546-307-19-128 is the 25th NHL coach to reach the 1,000-game mark.

He was the subject of a first-period video tribute to the sounds of “How You Like Me Now?” by The Heavy. The 52-year-old Babcock, likely steaming that his team had just given up the first goal, raised his hand in a brief acknowledgment from behind the bench.

Josefson also scored for New Jersey (26-20-6).

Shawn Matthias scored for Toronto (19-22-9).

The Devils, who defeated the visiting Rangers 3-2 Tuesday, arrived having have won five of their last six games. Toronto, despite winning 4-3 in overtime Tuesday in Boston, were mired in a 2-7-2 run.

It was a night of milestones for the Leafs, who outshot New Jersey 39-34.

In addition to Babcock’s 1,000th, captain Dion Phaneuf appeared in his 800th game, winger Joffrey Lupul his 700th and Nazem Kadri his 300th. And the Leafs used the occasion to mark the 40th anniversary of Darryl Sittler‘s 10-point night against the Boston Bruins.

Sittler said he congratulated Babcock on his big night before the game.

“I said ‘I’m sorry to steal your thunder, it’s your 1,000th game.’ I said ‘Just win it for us,” Sittler told reporters between periods.

On a night long on statistics but short on excellence, Devils rookie forward Joseph Blandisi stood out. The 21-year-old from nearby Markham, Ont., playing in his 13th NHL game, buzzed round the ice and assisted on the winning goal for his fourth point in five games.

Kadri delivered several enthusiastic bodychecks. Leafs defenceman Roman Polak did his part, erasing Josefson at the blueline.

Toronto outshot New Jersey early but the Devils went ahead on the power play at 4:16 when Josefson’s shot _ New Jersey’s third shot of the night _ handcuffed Reimer. Matthias, parked in front of goal, tied it up at 8:34 redirecting a nifty feed from Bozak just three seconds after Travis Zajac stepped out of the penalty box.

A short-handed New Jersey goal midway through the second was called off due to offside after Stephen Gionta beat Reimer on a two-on-one break.

The crowd of 18,947 roared when Devils defenceman Eric Gelinas fanned on a shot at the blueline in spectacular fashion, toppling onto the ice like a tot new to skates as the puck sailed past him into the New Jersey end.

Josefson ripped a shot off the post during a Devils power play late in the second period.

Reimer made his eighth start in the past 10 games. He came into the game with a save percentage of .932, second only to Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth (.933) among goalies with 20 games or more this season.

Devils backup Kinkaid started for Cory Schneider, who is nursing an undisclosed injury.

The Leafs spend the next two weeks on the road with games in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Chicago before playing five of their next six at home, starting Feb. 18 against the Rangers.

Source: Leafs Go The Distance For Win

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock reaches major NHL milestone

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

When Scotty Bowman first met Mike Babcock, he was the 37-year-old coach of the minor-league Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, right out of successful run as a junior coach.

The Detroit Red Wings had several prospects playing in Cincinnati – Jiri Fischer, Sean Avery – in 2000-01 and, as was his habit, Coach Bowman liked to check in on them by calling their coach.

Leafs coach Babcock wants to put ‘Canada’s team’ back on the map (CP Video)

Babcock impressed the legend right away.

“Confident,” Bowman said of his first impression. “Very confident. Mike was always on target. He was lively, interesting to speak to. He gave me good, in-depth reports on players.”

A little more than 15 years later, Babcock joined Bowman in an ultra-exclusive club. Babcock coached his 1,000th NHL game on Thursday night – as his Toronto Maple Leafs played the visiting New Jersey Devils – making him one of only 25 men to reach that milestone.

Bowman leads that group with an unthinkable 2,141 games, but he emphasized how special 1,000 games is. He was happy to see Arizona’s Dave Tippett get there earlier this week and knows others – such as John Tortorella in Columbus and Peter Laviolette in Nashville – are getting close.

It’s not an easy number to hit, Bowman explained, because just getting to the NHL can take decades.

Then you’re often hired by a struggling team – and have to survive.

“Some guys rocket right to the top,” Bowman said. “Mike didn’t. He’s been a lot of places.”

Babcock has been reflecting on that journey a lot this week, in the lead-up to hitting the 1,000 mark. At 22, he believed he would eventually be a professor at McGill University, after serving as the captain of its hockey team and loving campus life.

Then he spent one season in Whitley Bay, England – where he had 132 points in 36 games – as a player and assistant coach.

Babcock had no idea he had stumbled into his career, which started in earnest the next season as the head coach of the Red Deer College Kings. He was 25 and, more than anything, looking for a party.

“I just wanted to go to the Calgary Stampede and applying to the job at Red Deer College gave me a free way to the Stampede,” Babcock said. “I lost my way, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Babcock’s rise from there was slow and steady. He had some outstanding teams with Spokane in the WHL and won world junior gold in 1997. He also impressed a lot of people along the way with his work ethic and love of both teaching and hockey, something that Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill (now the GM of the Dallas Stars) noted during the Cincinnati days.

When Babcock took an underdog Anaheim team to within one game of the Stanley Cup in his first NHL season in 2003, it cemented his status as a rising star.

Babcock hits the 1,000-game mark with the second-highest win total (545 before Thursday night’s game) in NHL history. It’s fitting that Bowman, his early mentor, is the only man ahead of him (598) given their success together in Detroit. (Bowman was an adviser with the Red Wings in 2008 when they won the Stanley Cup.)

Bowman said what people don’t see of Babcock, given his sometimes stern persona in the media, is how positive he is. Even in losing skids and tough times – which the rebuilding Leafs are currently mired in – he has a remarkable ability to focus on what needs to be done.

Bowman believes that makes Babcock a perfect fit for Toronto.

“He’s such a good teacher,” Bowman said. “He likes it. I’ve never seen him really negative, which is hard to do when you’re coaching because you have a lot of days where you’re not happy with the last game. He’s able to pick himself up and keep going. I think this is probably the best situation for him. It’s a young group. The team’s got a lot of resources and is trying to establish itself. It’s got a long way to go.”

“He treats every day like it’s a chance to get better,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly explained. “That goes a long way with a coach. He takes no days off. He’s always going. We love that.”

Bowman and Babcock remain in touch, although the Leafs coach’s calls have been less frequent this year, given how laborious his task has been.

The pair, however, were able to catch up during Hall of Fame weekend in November. The Leafs had two wins in their first 14 games at that point, and Bowman had fun with his old friend’s new-found predicament.

“I said ‘Mike when you took the job with Toronto, I thought you were absolutely nuts,’” Bowman said. “‘That’s life and death, trying to resurrect a team like that, even with the contract. But this morning, when I looked out my [hotel] window, some guy was washing a window on the 55th floor. So maybe coaching the Leafs is not life and death?’

“He got a good kick out of it. I always find when I talk to him he’s always laughing. He’s a pretty happy guy.”

As for Babcock joining him in the 2,000-games-coached club, Bowman won’t bet against it.

“If he wants to,” Bowman said. “He’s a pretty healthy guy. And Mike doesn’t have many idle moments.”

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock reaches major NHL milestone