From The Star
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
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:
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.
From The Star
Puck drop: 8:30 p.m.
TV: TSN 4
Radio: TSN 1050
Key matchup: Leo Komarov vs. Patrick Kane.
A game after irritating the Sedin twins into frustration, Komarov and the rest of Toronto’s makeshift first line — which, for the past two games with Nazem Kadri on the shelf, has been centred by Peter Holland and rounded out by Michael Grabner — will take a step up in class and do its best to slow down Kane. The league’s leading scorer, Kane has 33 goals and 78 points, 15 points clear of his nearest challengers heading into Sunday’s action.
Need to know: The Leafs finish a four-game Western Conference road trip that has seen them travel without veteran forwards Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Matthias . . . Former Leaf Richard Panik joined Jonathan Toews and Andrew Sharp on the Blackhawks’ top line when Chicago lost Marian Hossa to a lower-body injury on Saturday . . . The Hawks have scored just four goals over the last 10 periods . . . The last time the Maple Leafs met the reigning Stanley Cup holders, they had won nine straight games before a 4-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre made it 10. That hot streak ended a few weeks ago after 12 consecutive victories. Since that high point, the Blackhawks are 4-5-1.
Up next: Thursday vs. New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m.
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
From Official Toronto Maple Leafs
Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Saturday at Rogers Arena:
Absence of regulars didn’t matter to their replacements.
Playing once again without injured veterans James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul – as well as Josh Leivo, who’d scored two goals in the two games prior to Saturday night’s tilt against the Canucks, but was hurt Thursday against Edmonton – the Leafs recalled forwards Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin from the American League Saturday. But it was another former Marlie in Mark Arcobello who stepped up in their absence, scoring his first two goals as a Leaf just 17 seconds apart (and 90 seconds after Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin opened the scoring) early in the second period. The 27-year-old Arcobello bounced between four NHL teams last season, but he did everything asked of him at the AHL level this year and now has his first points of the season in his 14th game with the Buds. Head coach Mike Babcock rewards players who take advantage of opportunity, and Arcobello has done enough on this Western Canadian road trip to get more of them in the near-future.
New face Leipsic has dream NHL debut.
The 21-year-old didn’t lead the team in ice time in his first game in hockey’s best league – in fact, he logged only 9:28 Saturday – but did have a couple solid scoring chances early on. And then, at the 3:54 mark of the third frame, he batted in a puck out of the air and past veteran netminder Ryan Miller for his first NHL goal. Leipsic also got the famous rookie treatment of skating on the ice all alone in the warmup, while his amused teammates looked on in the hallway to the dressing room. Leipsic has been one of the Marlies’ best players this year (14 goals and 34 points in 47 AHL games), and it’s safe to say (a) he’ll remember this game for the rest of his life, and (b) he’ll be getting another chance to show what he can do at the NHL level in the weeks and months ahead.
Jake Gardiner once again taking steps forward.
In the three games since losing former defensive partner Dion Phaneuf to a trade to the Senators, Gardiner’s game has grown in leaps and bounds on the offensive end: he had a goal against both Calgary and Edmonton, effortlessly moved the puck deep into Vancouver’s zone and toward Miller to help set up Arcobello’s second goal of the night, and grabbed his second assist of the night on Leipsic’s goal. The 25-year-old blueliner’s confidence is clearly on an upward trajectory, and Toronto’s offence is benefitting from it.
An all-around effort leads to first win of the road trip.
The Leafs hadn’t won in Vancouver since 2003, but despite surrendering the first goal of the game Saturday, Toronto out-shot the Canucks 31-13 through the first 40 minutes of play and made life much easier for netminder James Reimer, who picked up his 11th win of the season by turning aside all but two of the 19 total shots he saw. Babcock stresses that smart, sustained effort can make up for the absence of talent, and on this night, the Leafs in the lineup proved him right.
Savour the win, but not for too long.
The win over the Canucks snapped a three-game losing streak, but the Leafs can’t admire it for very long at all, because their next game is in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. When last the Buds and Hawks played – Jan. 15 at Air Canada Centre – Toronto was steamrolled 4-1 by a visiting team that got a hat trick from Patrick Kane. And although the Blackhawks have cooled down since then, it will take nothing less than a virtually mistake-proof effort from the Leafs to remain in the win column for the second consecutive game.
From The Star
VANCOUVER—In the handful of days since the Maple Leafs traded captain Dion Phaneuf, head coach Mike Babcock has been putting a positive spin on a less-than-optimal situation.
For an intensely competitive coach who likes nothing more than to celebrate a nightly victory, Toronto’s roster is nightmarishly short on established difference makers. But Babcock has used the state of affairs as motivational fodder.
“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Babcock has said.
And in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Canucks, he wasn’t kidding. In the first period alone the Maple Leafs’ pair of power-play opportunities were handed over to a list of names a fan wouldn’t automatically associate with man-advantage situations. Brendan Leipsic, 21, was making his NHL debut as an emergency call-up — he got nearly two minutes of power-play run. Colin Greening and Mark Arcobello have spent most of the season in the AHL; they were both featured prominently.
Babcock was effectively saying, “Here’s your NHL moment — seize it.”
Leipsic certainly did. Along with logging those power-play minutes, he scored his first NHL goal, batting what turned out to be the third-period winner into the net with a waist-high swat from the slot.
Arcobello seized the opportunity, too, potting a pair of second-period goals in a span of 17 seconds to help the Maple Leafs snap a three-game losing streak. On a night when the visitors put on a possession-game clinic, doubling the shots-on-goal total of the playoff-hopeful Canucks, 38-19, Leafs veterans Leo Komarov and Brad Boyes scored empty-netters to pad the total.
“That’s a case study in what we’re capable of,” said Rich Clune, another Leaf better known for his work with the Marlies this year, who assisted on Leipsic’s goal. “Getting a win on the road against a highly skilled team like Vancouver — I think we frustrated them, especially early on. I think our work ethic is our key.”
Indeed, for all the minor-leaguers on their bench on Saturday, the Maple Leafs roundly outplayed the Canucks for most of the evening. On the Canucks’ three cracks on the power play, the diligent work of the visitors limited the home team to a combined two shots. Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for the Canucks. But Leipsic’s goal turned out to be the difference.
“Lucky to get a stick on it,” said Leipsic, a 21-year-old Winnipegger acquired a year ago in the trade that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville.
Clune, who played on Leipsic’s line on Saturday, gave it more credit.
“The hand-eye coordination, you can’t fake that,” Clune said. “That’s a legit goal. I’m so proud of him.”
Babcock described the five-foot-nine Leipsic as “a greasy little guy who’s got real good skill level, tenacity about him.” Clune, who played with Leipsic last season in Milwaukee, said Leipsic has been largely overlooked by Leafs Nation because he plays on a team with higher-profile assets like William Nylander and Connor Brown.
“William Nylander’s the number one guy, rightfully so. But (Leipsic) is a legit prospect behind him,” Clune said. “Maybe it’s even been better for him to fly under the radar. Maybe some people don’t see him coming.”
Leipsic, who didn’t get the benefit of a Friday practice given the emergency call-up that saw him arrive in Vancouver Friday night, became the first Leaf to score in his NHL debut since Nikolai Kulemin did it in the 2008-09 season opener in Detroit.
While the Maple Leafs are in full rebuilding mode, the Canucks, still led by the 35-year-old Sedin twins, are firmly entrenched in a playoff race, coming into Saturday’s game three points out of a Western wild-card spot and likely Canada’s best hope for a representative in the Stanley Cup tournament. So Saturday was an untimely moment for a flat performance, to be sure.
But the Leafs, though they came into the contest in sole possession of the NHL basement and hobbled by injuries that kept the likes of Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk out of the lineup, deserved the win. If they played what looked like desperate hockey, perhaps it was because Babcock has acknowledged that, for most of the roster, Toronto-based employment is a tenuous thing with the Feb. 29 trade deadline looming.
With plenty of uncertainty in the air, perhaps Arcobello was in his element. The 27-year-old alumnus of Yale University is a burgeoning journeyman; he has played for five different NHL franchises in his most recent two seasons.
“This is a hard league to play in,” Arcobello said. “When you get an open door, you’ve got to take advantage of it . . . You never know when you’re going to get a chance again.”
It was back in the Brian Burke era that the Maple Leafs’ farm team adopted a marketing slogan: “Every Game is a Tryout.” Such is the state of Leafland that the catchphrase suddenly applies on the NHL team, too.
From Official Toronto Maple Leafs
Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday at Rexall Place:
Injury-depleted roster not an excuse in gritty Leafs effort.
Playing without injured veterans Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, Toronto was going to be in tough to produce enough offence to beat the high-octane Oilers. But after surrendering the first goal of the game to Edmonton phenom Connor McDavid early in the first period, the Buds answered back with a goal from Josh Leivo to make it 1-1, held the hosts to just three first-period shots on Jonathan Bernier and clawed back from a 3-1 deficit in the middle frame on Jake Gardiner’s second goal in as many games. McDavid scored his second of the night in the third period to put the game out of reach, but they were competitive for the grand majority of the 60 minutes.
Josh Leivo on a roll before leaving the game.
Leivo’s first-period goal – a near-identical copy of the one he scored against Calgary on Tuesday – was his second of the year at this level, his second in two games, and an indication he’s got an NHL-calibre shot. Unfortunately, he didn’t return after the first intermission after suffering an upper-body injury, but the 22-year-old is demonstrating he can provide the offence Toronto has desperately been seeking.
Another above-average night for Jake Gardiner.
Yes, his ill-timed pinch led to McDavid’s first goal, and yes, Gardiner gave away the puck on the same play that ended when he scored his fifth of the year, but Toronto doesn’t have many players who have his patience level and creativity with the puck. He’s still got to improve in some areas, but there are few, if any, Leafs blueliners who can do what Gardiner can on offence.
Mark Arcobello leads way in shots-on-net during season-high in minutes.
The Leafs’ two top forwards in terms of ice time Thursday were veterans Leo Komarov (19:13) and P-A Parenteau (18:17), but a close third was Arcobello, who logged a season-best 17:31 while leading Toronto in shots-on-net (seven). The 27-year-old is still looking for his first NHL point of the season after spending most of it with the AHL’s Marlies, but the coaching staff no doubt will be encouraged by his willingness to put the puck on net.
That McDavid kid is pretty good.
The No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL draft was the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie this year before a lengthy injury hurt those chances. But McDavid has been nothing short of spectacular since he returned to game action Feb. 2, and his two-goal, five-point performance Thursday against the Leafs is evidence he can still win that award in the 26 regular-season games the Oilers have remaining. After Thursday’s game, the 19-year-old has nine goals and 24 points in 19 games, and betting against him keeping up that point pace would be folly.
From Official Toronto Maple Leafs
5:50 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Gord Dwyer and Brian Pochmara. Ryan Gibbons and Vaughan Rody will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in to the game can watch on TSN 4, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and follow the Leafs on Twitter.
5:45 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Oilers.
Toronto Maple Leafs
40 Grabner – 24 Holland – 47 Komarov
38 Greening – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 32 Leivo
25 Clune – 56 Froese – 28 Boyes
2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly
51 Gardiner – 46 Polak
52 Marincin – 20 Corrado
4 Hall – 29 Draisaitl – 16 Purcell
67 Pouliot – 97 McDavid – 14 Eberle
26 Pakarinen – 55 Letestu – 10 Yakupov
44 Kassian – 23 Hendricks – 28 Korpikoski
2 Sekera – 5 Fayne
25 Nurse – 19 Schultz
88 Davidson – 62 Gryba
What are your thoughts on going up against Connor McDavid?
I better be ready to skate tonight, some of the highlights I’ve seen he just flies. He makes some great moves at full speed, some great passes and he sees the ice well. I’ve got to get my feet moving and make sure I’m on the defensive side of him most of the time.
Is there a curiosity in playing him?
It’s going to be fun. Obviously he was hurt for a while there but he’s been on a torrid pace before and after. He’s a great player, he’s come in with a lot of confidence and so it’s a good challenge tonight.
What stands out to you as a big challenge playing centre?
Just play a 200 foot game, continue the momentum I’m building in the offensive zone but be solid defensively. That’s how you earn [Babcock’s] trust and take some important faceoffs for him. Play all 200 feet.
On the shuffling of roles between players:
When you have three or four injuries and people coming in and out of the lineup, obviously it creates different opportunities for guys. Obviously I find myself on the top line tonight but I just have to take it and play with the confidence I’ve developed here and do my best to help this team win.
Do you get more comfortable as a winger or are you anxious to get back to the middle?
I’ve flip-flopped so much this year that I’m comfortable playing both positions at this point. It seems like every couple of games I witch back and forth so I’m just trying to find my centre game as quick as I can tonight.
Are you worried about being on a highlight reel when you play a player like McDavid?
You know he has that skill. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where he can use his speed to burn you. You don’t play the puck, play the man against him. It goes back to the basics you learn in minor hockey. If you start watching the puck on a guy like that he’s going to make you look foolish. I’m just going to go out and play my game and hopefully I don’t end up on the wrong side of one of those.
5:30 PM: Here’s what Matt Hunwick had to say following Thursday’s morning skate in Edmonton…
What are the biggest challenges going up against a guy like Connor McDavid?
I haven’t really seen him play too much, obviously I’ve heard a lot of things. I think his speed is one of his biggest assets and obviously he can make plays at top speed. We’ll have to have a good gap tonight and he’s just a dynamic player that we haven’t had the chance to see this year. It’ll obviously be a great challenge for us.
Have you seen any of his highlights?
I don’t watch too much but I’ve seen the one, I think it was against Columbus. That’s the only one I’ve seen. Obviously he’s a special player and an unbelievable play there.
Is there a curiosity as a veteran to play a guy like him?
Yeah, I mean I always like to see the newest guys and he’s a generational type of player is what they’re touting him. I think he has lived up to that billing so far in the short time he has been in the League. It would be better watching him play other teams but tonight we’ll have a firsthand chance to see what he’s all about.
5:20 PM: Jonathan Bernier is slated to get the start for the Maple Leafs in Edmonton tonight. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…
What do you know about McDavid?
Obviously he’s very skilled and I’ve seen some goals that he’s scored, he’s got very high skills and I think he makes everyone around him a lot better. We all know as a team we’ve got to be on top of him all night long. It doesn’t change when you play against a guy like Crosby or Ovechkin or all those top guys in the League. You’ve got to make sure you’re on top of them all night.
When you see the highlights are you amazed he’s a teenager?
Yeah, I mean the League has changed. You see a lot more guys now 18, 19 and they come up and they’re more ready than 22, 23 when I started. It’s changed a lot but he’s amazing.
On stopping McDavid’s famous deke:
Well it depends. In a game it all depends on how much time he’s got, if he’s got a guy on his back. When he scored those goals it’s because he was alone with the goalie and I think he had a bit more time to stop and go the other way. I’ve seen that goal and obviously I’ll be expecting it I guess if he comes in on a 1-on-1.
How are you feeling about your game?
I feel good. Like I mentioned, I think since I came back from the [American League] and I’ve just got to — whenever I get the call to go in I’ve just got to make sure I go in and make sure I’m ready and give a good chance to my team to get a good W tonight and move on that long road trip. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready right from the start.
Do you feel you need to step up with a shorthanded lineup tonight?
I just think I’ve got to do my job. Once you start trying to do too much, that’s when you’re getting caught. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing your part and hopefully the guys in front of you are doing their part.
On the lineup:
[Kadri is out] Everybody else that was in the game last game is going to play. Cowen is not going to play. When they did our scan of him or whatever our medical people do, they felt his hips were really tight. He’s not injured or nothing, he practiced today. We’re going to spend the next 10 days doing what we can to loosen his hips up so we can catch him being good when he starts.
What stands out about McDavid when you watch him on film?
He’s an elite player, he can really skate, great speed through the middle, good hockey sense. It looks like he’s going to develop into a real, real good player at the National Hockey League level. I’ve never seen him live so this will be my first chance. He’s a good kid, I met with him prior to the draft and he looks very exciting.
On injuries scrambling the lines:
I don’t think they’re scrambled, I think they’re beautiful, it’s just how you look at it. A new opportunity, an opportunity to get some momentum together. You do what you do. I never thought Holly would be our first line centre tonight but that’s just the way it goes. It’s an opportunity for everybody and the great thing about life is if you grab hold of something it’s amazing what you can do for yourself. Some guys that might not have thought they were playing yesterday are in. Play hard, play well and let’s find a way to get a win.
What would you like to see from Holland at centre?
I like him on the wing just because I think he’s more comfortable. The bottom line is when you play in the middle you’ve got to be real good down low or else you spend too much time down low in your own zone. If you’re good you spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. That’s going to be the challenge, the faceoff circle and playing well without the puck in your own zone so you can spend some time in offence.
How would you assess the team’s achievement in your system through 50 games?
I think a lot of guys are playing really well, it’s just their level of their capability. I think the big challenge for us as a group, and we knew that going in, is to keep improving our roster so that we can get to a spot that we can have a real good run. That’s our plan.
5:00 PM: The Leafs are continue their road trip on Thursday night when they visit the Edmonton Oilers.
The Leafs are coming off of a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. Peter Holland, Josh Leivo and Jake Gardiner recorded goals for the Maple Leafs while James Reimer stopped 18 shots in the loss. Jonathan Bernier will get the start in Edmonton. It’s his first start since Jan. 27 in Tampa Bay and first appearance since Feb. 6 in Ottawa.
The Oilers last played on Tuesday night and lost 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils. Jordan Eberle had the lone Edmonton goal while Cam Talbot stopped 24 shots in the loss. He will return to the crease against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
Stay tuned for comments from Coach Babcock and the Leafs, projected lineups and more.
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.
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.