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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

Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

Dion Phaneuf’s tenure with the Ottawa Senators began in Detroit on Wednesday night. On the second defence pair with youngster Cody Ceci, the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain had a different jersey, with a different number (2) and no letter on his chest.

After 423 games as a Leaf – the Senators’ most bitter rival – it was an odd visual.

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

And the Phaneuf trade is only the beginning. More Leafs are likely to follow him out the door, with the majority of roster spots up for grabs in the 18 days left before the NHL’s trade deadline.

It’s expected Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello will be one of the NHL’s busiest executives the rest of the way. He has nine pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on the current roster, and it makes no sense to hold onto any of them if prospects and/or draft picks can be had in return.

The Leafs have also discussed moving winger Dan Winnik and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who both have one year on their deals beyond this season, in talks with other teams.

Add in the veterans left from the former management’s core – Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak – and the three hefty contracts the Leafs just added from Ottawa on Tuesday and that is 16 players off the current 27-man roster (including injured reserve) who are undeniably available.

That’s a lot of trade calls.

Realistically, how many will be traded? And what can Toronto expect to get?

The unrestricted free agents

There are two groups of rental players the Leafs have to offer teams. The first – namely P.A. Parenteau and goaltender James Reimer – are players that have had good seasons and will be easy to move for something of value.

Reimer is a special case in that he is the only pending UFA who the team is still trying to re-sign. But he could be a valuable short-term option for a team such as Nashville, which is on the postseason bubble and having issues in goal. At the very least, Parenteau and Reimer should be able to garner second-round picks or solid prospects if they’re moved.

The second group comprises players with more limited value. Defenceman Roman Polak could be an exception given how many teams want big, physical-depth defencemen, but even then it’s hard to imagine he’d fetch much more than a third-round pick.

The Leafs other pending UFAs – Michael Grabner, Shawn Matthias, Nick Spaling, Mark Arcobello, Brad Boyes, Rich Clune – have had marginal production this year (or spent time in the minors) so they’ll be a tougher sell.

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the Leafs somehow found takers for players such as Olli Jokinen (sixth-round pick from St. Louis) and Korbinian Holzer (fifth-round pick from Anaheim) at last year’s deadline. Anything is possible. Especially if Toronto takes back bad money in a deal, as they did in accepting Eric Brewer in the Holzer trade.

The trade bait and vets with big contracts

After moving Phaneuf, the Leafs don’t have many “big” contracts left. Lupul is the team’s highest-paid player at $5.25-million a season, followed by James van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Bernier in the $4.2-million range. The only player on the team signed beyond 2017-18 is defenceman Jake Gardiner, who is 25 years old.

It’s difficult to imagine they could find a taker for Lupul, as he has only 14 points in 46 games and is again on injured reserve. Bozak and Bernier, however, should have some value and could possibly be moved for second- or third-round picks simply to shed more salary.

The Leafs moved Winnik to Pittsburgh before last year’s deadline for a second- and fourth-rounder, which isn’t going to happen again given the season he’s had. A mid-round pick would be a reasonable return this time. It’s also possible the Leafs move Ottawa transplants Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Jared Cowen, who all have one year left on their deals. Cowen, in particular, could be intriguing for a contending team, as he can be bought out at a low cost in the summer in a transaction that will grant extra cap space in 2016-17.

Who is safe?

It’s unlikely the Leafs trade van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly or Gardiner, who will form the nucleus of a roster that is going to get even younger with an influx of a half-dozen or so players from the AHL’s Marlies next season.

Everyone else is an option.

That said, someone has to play with the kids next season. The Leafs have to be careful not to go too scorched-earth by putting young players in over their heads – the way Edmonton did – and ending up mired in the NHL’s basement for several more years.

They’ll get a close-up view of that on Thursday against the Oilers, with something of note on the line: The losing team will claim last place in the NHL standings.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

Leafs get ready to rearrange the roster

From The Star

Ever tight lipped, Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello at least acknowledges now is the time that he, the team’s pro scouting staff and the rest of the front office staff earn their keep.

The trade deadline is three weeks away — 3 p.m. on Feb. 29. By then, this particular group of Maple Leafs could be vastly different than the one that heads west this week for a four-game trip through Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Chicago.

The prices have been set. Calls are being made. The other shoe could drop at any time.

“You never know,” Lamoriello said. “In your mind you have something you’d like to see transpire. Then you just have to see where it goes from there. If there was anything imminent, it would be done. That’s the best way to approach it. It’s no different for anybody. It just depends on the guys somebody is looking for.”

The Leafs certainly hope they have what other teams are looking for. The roster seems designed to be dismantled, with seven pending unrestricted free agents.

Need a goalie? Try James Reimer. How about a hard-nosed, penalty-killing defenceman? Roman Polak. Some offensive help? P.A. Parenteau. Depth forwards? Shawn Matthias, Michael Grabner, Brad Boyes and Nick Spaling.

The Leafs have 48 professionals under contract — two under the limit — and enough salary-cap space to add contracts valued at an average of $10 million annually for the rest of the season. So Lamoriello is in prime position to take on a bad contract if there is something else — a prospect, a draft pick — in it for him.

“The whole key is how do you get better,” Lamoriello said. “How quick do you get better? Things evolve, and that usually makes decisions for you. It depends on what can or cannot happen. Then you have to make a judgment call whether that’s the right decision for what you have to do.”

The Leafs made six trades heading into the trade deadline last season. Only one was close to big: Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli for Olli Jokinen (later traded), a solid prospect in Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick (later traded).

The rest were depth players in trades designed for the Leafs to take on salary while being rewarded with mid-to-low level picks or cap relief

The players traded away: Jokinen, Korbinian Holzer, David Clarkson, Daniel Winnik and Spencer Abbott. Those coming in: T.J. Brennan, Zach Sill, Joakim Lindstrom, Eric Brewer, and Nathan Horton (with salary-cap relief because of his injury). Only Brennan remains, with the Marlies. Not exactly game changers.

But Toronto also acquired Anaheim’s fifth-round pick this summer, St. Louis’s sixth-rounder this summer, and Pittsburgh’s fourth-rounder last summer and second-rounder this summer. Again, not really game-changing. But volume matters. The Leafs could pick 11 times at the June draft.

The players whose names are sure to come up in trade speculation over the next few weeks are braced for it.

“I’ve been down that road before,” Parenteau said. “I know it’s part of the game. It’s tougher now, I have a family. You think about that. My little one is in school. I try to block it, and take it game by game and try to do my best.”

Parenteau signed with the Leafs over the summer in large part because of his relationship with Mike Babcock. He played for the Leafs head coach when they were in the AHL. He likes the direction he sees the Leafs going in and doesn’t want to leave.

“I have a great feeling,” Parenteau said. “I think it’s going to be a great team for a long time with what Mike’s building, and Lou. I think the guys appreciate me so far. It’s been a good fit. I’d like stay here.

“There are a lot of good kids coming up. They’re going to have a good team for a long time.”

Source: Leafs get ready to rearrange the roster

Leafs Fall Behind in Ottawa, Lose 6-1

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators needed desperately for something to go right. Pretty much everything did Saturday.

Curtis Lazar had the first two-goal game of his career and Erik Karlsson had four assists as the Ottawa Senators embarrassed the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1.

Lazar’s second goal of the night came at 2:27 of the third period and gave Ottawa a 6-0 lead. A little less than two minutes earlier Mark Stone had given them a 5-0 lead when he beat Jonathan Bernier high on the short side.

Zach Smith, Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan also scored for the Senators (24-23-6), who got a 26-save performance from Craig Anderson.

“It was good for us from start to finish,” said Anderson. “A full 60 minutes and it was great to see and a great atmosphere to do it in.”

P.A. Parenteau scored at 3:25 of the third to break the shutout and account for the only goal from the Maple Leafs (19-23-9). Bernier finished with 14 saves after taking over from starter James Reimer, who was beaten three times on eight shots and was pulled 7:38 into the game.

A quick start and some good fortune propelled the Senators to a first-period lead, but more importantly a much needed win as the they snapped a three-game losing streak and collected just their second victory in their past seven outings.

They had been outscored 13-7 in two losses since the All-Star break.

“It was a different mindset,” said Anderson. “I think we’ve had enough of the (losses) and we were sick and tired of it and our mindset tonight was a complete 180.”

Smith opened the scoring just 19 seconds into the game when he completed a two-on-one rush with Marc Methot.

Just over four minutes later Zibanejad scored on a two-on-one with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who took a pass from Erik Karlsson as he was leaving the penalty box following a minor penalty for boarding.

Ryan gave the Senators a 3-0 lead on a routine shot attempt from the face-off circle that completely eluded Reimer and ended his night.

“I don’t know how that squeaked in, but if I stop that maybe it’s a different game,” Reimer said. “I don’t think tonight was our best. Your job as the last line of defence is to stop the puck. The guys are trying and working their butts off and sometimes they make mistakes and that’s what your goalie is for. It’s too bad I couldn’t come up with a couple of big saves.”

“The third goal was a tough goal on (Reimer) but the reality is we left him hung out to dry and then Bernie came in and we did the same thing for Bernie,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock.

Bernier took over and made a huge stop on Kyle Turris, who was making his return to the Ottawa lineup after missing six games with a lower-body injury.

Bernier made the original stop off Karlsson but was unable to stop the rebound as Lazar gave the Senators a 4-0 lead seven minutes into the second period.

“It wasn’t good from anyone tonight,” said Jake Gardiner. “We left (Reimer) out to dry in the first period and then Bernier the rest of the night.

“It just wasn’t a good game overall. It was everyone’s fault. We weren’t ready to play.”

While it was a good win, Karlsson said they have to take it in stride.

“We can’t get too high when we win one game just like we can’t get too low when we lose one. For us it was about hitting that reset button.”

Ottawa will conclude its three-game home stand Monday when it hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs will play the second of a five-game road trip when they visit the Calgary Flames Tuesday.

Notes: Toronto forward Tyler Bozak left in the first period with an upper-body injury and did not return… Defenceman Jared Cowen and Forward Nick Paul were scratches for the Senators while defenceman Martin Marincin was a scratch for the Maple Leafs… Paul and forward Ryan Dzingel were both recalled Saturday from Binghamton of the AHL… Reimer entered the game tied for second in the league with a .932 save percentage.

Source: Leafs Fall Behind in Ottawa, Lose 6-1

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

Sens 6, Leafs 1: So, About That…

From Pension Puppets

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

An unfortunate day as Air Canada makes sure the Leafs’ luggage made it to Ottawa, but lost the team.

There will be no analysis of this game. Analysis dictates that there’s actually any play to break down. How do you break down a game where everyone sucks and is caught napping?

Still, the rules dictate we need a recap so here’s your recap:

1st Period:

-#tbt the 19 seconds in which the Leafs were actually really in this game.

-The Leafs allowed as many odd-man rushes as they did shots on goal.

-They might have made James Reimer cry human tears, which is bad.

-Bozak might be concussed, Sens fans outraged he dove.

Mark Stone took a skate to the face when he tripped Lupul, Sens fans outraged Lupul can’t control the laws of gravity or something.

1st PERIOD RECAP:

2nd Period:

-Another Sens goal. Starting to think the Leafs might not win this.

Shawn Matthias is going to the quiet room as well; bad night for Leafs trade bait.

-Chris Neil gets injured as I don’t even pretend that I care about Chris Neil’s well-being.

-Shawn Matthias comes back; night for trade bait improves.

2nd PERIOD RECAP:

3rd Period:

-Sens score two more goals; so much for that faint hope we’d have another Flu Game on our hands.

-LEAFS GOOOOOAL! P.A. PARENTEAU! Okay, scratch that; GREAT night for Leafs trade bait!

-The Leafs goal got more cheers than all six Senators goals; excuse you, but that should count for six goals, in my unbiased opinion.

-How am I only on my third beer at this point? I mean, really?!

-Sens fans chant “hey hey goodbye” in a meaningless regular season game between two teams that suck because they have a harder time letting go than a jilted ex.

3rd PERIOD RECAP:

GAME RECAP:

This game really sucked to watch, but I guess it helps the draft position if you’re into that kind of thing.

Source: Sens 6, Leafs 1: So, About That…

Lou Lamoriello’s experience valuable asset to rebuilding Leafs: Cox

From The Star

There will be a price at which keeping James Reimer makes sense.

The key for the Maple Leafs is to be disciplined, determine that price and stick to it.

Similarly, there will be a price at which it would make sense to part with forward Leo Komarov at the trade deadline.

The key, again, is for the Leafs to be disciplined and stick with that asking price.

The common ground between these two very different personnel decisions — and all the others the Leafs face over the next few months — is discipline.

You can give Reimer too much in salary and term just to avoid having him walk out the door, and in a different way you can accept too little in trade for Komarov just to add something in futures that goes with the rebuilding program.

Discipline. Not easy to have when emotions start running high.

Part of the reason Brendan Shanahan found Lou Lamoriello so appealing, while others found him to be a curious fit as general manager for the Toronto organization, is that Lamoriello is regarded as an executive who believes in structure and a team philosophy and never gets persuaded to do something in a moment of high emotion he wouldn’t otherwise do.

Since joining the club in August, the former New Jersey hockey czar has been almost invisible. Part of that is because Shanahan already was the front man for the organization and Mike Babcock the face of the hockey department when Lamoriello was hired. And part of it is because in a year in which there have been very few trades and transactions in the NHL, a lot of GMs have flown under the radar.

Internally, however, his presence has been very much felt, whether it’s clearing people off the team’s charter flights, bringing a cone of silence around ongoing talks over player contracts or plugging many of the leaks to the media that always made the Leafs a team around which there was oodles of juicy speculation.

Compare last year, with all the peculiar incidents and rampant rumours, to this year, in which the Leafs have become a much more businesslike operation with few distractions.

That’s just the way Lamoriello likes it.

Now, it’s time for the 73-year-old native of Rhode Island to step into the spotlight. The Leafs have some big decisions to make in the coming weeks, and while Shanahan likes a group approach in which many voices are heard, he didn’t hire Lamoriello to be part of the chorus. He hired the man who drafted him to lead the way and make sure the Leafs have the discipline to stick to the rebuilding project Shanahan began last season when he fired GM Dave Nonis, dismissed a large group of scouts, traded Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, drafted London Knight star Mitch Marner and hired Sheldon Keefe to coach the AHL’s Marlies.

Lamoriello, in turn, wasn’t ready to step back and be a senior consultant in New Jersey while new GM Ray Shero ran the team. He still wanted to be in the thick of the action, so much so he was willing to accept a position in which he reports to Shanahan, his former employee.

Now, he’s got work to do.

The decision on Reimer, for example, will be a fascinating one. The netminder is having a terrific season, and as an unrestricted free agent in July could leave the Leafs with nothing if he signs with another team. Calgary, with Brian Burke as president, looms as an interested suitor.

The easy answer is to pay Reimer whatever it takes to keep him and for as many years as he wants. But that would have major ramifications on the team’s cap picture for years to come for a goalie who has had lots of ups and downs. Lamoriello, who had his share of cap problems in New Jersey, will try to sign Reimer, but not at any cost.

With Komarov, Roman Polak, Shawn Matthias, P.A. Parenteau and other Leafs potentially available to teams prior to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, Lamoriello has to balance the value of those players as Leafs next season with their value in picks and/or prospects.

Komarov, in particular, has had a great season and has been the most consistent Leaf. You can expect the Leafs to set a high price — a first-round pick? — and to not lower that price when emotions start running high at the deadline just to make it appear like they are making things happen.

Beyond that, it’s going to take some cool heads around the Air Canada Centre in July if local lad Steven Stamkos ends up going all the way to unrestricted free agency. There is, like Reimer, a salary and a term that will make sense, even if Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment decides it is willing to pay a premium to land a marquee name at a time when television numbers are down and the ticket market has grown a little soft.

You can say the Leafs should pay anything to get Stamkos. But paying anything for one player could severely hinder their ability to grow a team that can, once it gets back into the Stanley Cup playoffs, sustain that level of competitiveness for years.

Lamoriello once signed Ilya Kovalchuk, a deal that helped his team get to a Cup final but also caused him major headaches. He knows what it’s like to have stars like Scott Niedermayer and Zach Parise and then lose them to other teams. He also had a knack for years in New Jersey of making players like Martin Brodeur understand the big picture and sometimes take a little less to allow the team to be stronger.

Dealing with Stamkos, if it comes to that, won’t make his knees buckle, and he’ll be able to say “no” if a bidding war does emerge and the numbers get too crazy, which is a massively important thing for any sports executive to be able to do.

There were those who said Lamoriello was past his prime in Jersey and needed to be replaced. You can bet he heard that, and while he’ll deny letting outside forces shape his actions, he’s a proud man who believes in certain principles and believes he can help make the Leafs a winner again.

He’s been a quiet, behind-the-scenes presence with the Leafs this season. He’s about to become much more prominent.

Damien Cox is a broadcaster with Rogers Sportsnet and a regular contributor to Hockey Night in Canada. He spent nearly 30 years covering a variety of sports for the Star, and his column appears here Saturdays. Follow him @DamoSpin.

Source: Lou Lamoriello’s experience valuable asset to rebuilding Leafs: Cox

Mike Babcock one of the winningest coaches of 1000 NHL games

From Pension Puppets

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

His 546th win came last night – and it’s a record not many have matched.

When Tyler Bozak scored to tie the game with just over two minutes to go, it put Mike Babcock’s next win within reach. When P.A. Parenteau and James Reimer performed in the shootout, he got it.

Two games in a row, now, the Toronto Maple Leafs have overcome a third period deficit in order to come away with a victory – the second time this season. And in the process, on the night of Babcock’s 1,000th NHL game coached – most with the Detroit Red Wings, but now with Toronto for the forseeable future – he recorded his 546th win.

It’s the second best wins total recorded by any coach in his first 1,000 NHL games. There’s only one guy who got more wins than Babcock through his first 1,000: Scotty Bowman, who beats him out with 598 victories.

True, some of Babcock’s wins have come virtue of overtime and shootout wins – Bowman accomplished his feat when ties were still a thing – but not many can make the claim to have had as much success as Babcock has.

Source: Mike Babcock one of the winningest coaches of 1000 NHL games

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

Struggling Michael Grabner, Leafs look to get some bite back in their game

From The Star

Most Maple Leafs had a relaxing time during the all-star break.

The welcome four-day break was spent either with family and friends, or off on a quick getaway to some warm weather, with some time in front of the TV watching the NHL all-star game.

Michael Grabner spent his break in a dentist’s chair.

“It’s alright. It’s how you feel when you get a puck to the face,” Grabner said Monday as the Leafs returned to practice before jetting off to Boston in advance of Tuesday’s game against the Bruins.

Grabner was referring to his face-meets-puck moment in last Tuesday’s game in Florida, where the vulcanized rubber came up near the Leafs blue line on a sharp angle and struck the personable Leafs winger directly in the mouth.

Grabner had zero time to react. He was in shock more than anything else at the moment and, after taking some freezing agents from the medical staff, he wanted to get back into the game.

When he got back to Toronto, though, his injury was much more severe than Grabner and the Leafs had hoped. Grabner let the rest of the world in on the damage, tweeting about “six root canals” that had to be performed to help repair the damage.

“Yup, six root canals . . . I broke five teeth and another one was loosened,” he said.

“I had some time there (during the break) so I got them done. When it happened, I wanted to go back into the game and play. I got some treatments, the doctors did a good job of freezing me up.”

Grabner, sporting a full face shield at practice Monday, will be back in the lineup Tuesday, playing on a line with Tyler Bozak and P.A. Parenteau.

Outside a swollen lip, a small but noticeable cut to his upper chin and some bruising around his nose, Grabner says he’s ready to go. He downplayed the incident, saying he had to rebound from the injury quickly so he could spend some of the break with family.

That followed the often-heard hockey player’s refrain — suffer in silence — but the pain was definitely there, and still is.

“It’s up there, definitely,” Grabner said when asked if the puck to the face was the most painful thing he’s experienced as a player.

“One of the more painful things I’ve had. I’m trying to get used to the (face shield) to tell you the truth, it fogs up. I haven’t had one on in a while.”

Playing on that second line with Bozak and Parenteau, Grabner will be called on to lift the Leafs out of a scoring slump that has seen the team win once in the last 10 games and score just 11 goals over that stretch.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock mentioned Monday that, in terms of scoring chances, Grabner and Morgan Rielly were the two highest-rated Leafs in the past two games.

But like many of his teammates, Grabner has cooled off offensively, especially during the team’s losing skid. After five goals and two assists in December — his best stretch as a Leaf so far — he posted just one goal and one assist in 12 games in January.

“Maybe some bad luck as a team, but not individually. You have to work through that (scoring slump),” Grabner said. “We’ve all been struggling a bit but you have to stick to it and a few of them (goals) will come.”

Babcock was equally introspective Monday. In speaking about his team’s lack of scoring, the coach didn’t shy from pointing a finger at his own coaching performance.

“If you want to motivate a team, get 23 motivated guys in the same room,” Babcock said. “We’re in a process where young guys are coming, so they’ll be in here in time, so every day is a tryout for everyone here. And you can evaluate the coach, too, and give him a pretty hard mark. We aren’t playing well.”

“The bottom line is we have to play harder,” Babcock added. “We’re a minus-8 on special teams the last bit, so there’s lots of room to improve.”

Source: Struggling Michael Grabner, Leafs look to get some bite back in their game