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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 leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There is an eerie symmetry to the Toronto Maple Leafs drop-offs experienced last season and again this year.

They have come at roughly the same time. And they have been almost as severe.

From early January to mid-February in 2015, the free-falling Leafs recorded just two wins in 19 games (2-15-2) to drop into the NHL’s basement. By June, they were picking fourth overall, high enough to draft London Knights star Mitch Marner.

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

This year, after a 7-2 implosion in Chicago on Monday night, the Leafs are 4-11-2 in their past 17 games, and fading fast. If the draft lottery were held today, they would have the best chance of picking first overall (20 per cent) for the first time since taking Wendel Clark in the top spot in 1985.

The biggest difference between this year and last is that an incredible run of injuries have played a starring role. Between trading captain Dion Phaneuf away to Ottawa last week and the loss of up to eight players at a time to injuries, the Leafs have had a skeletal roster of late.

In Monday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Roman Polak had the most minutes among defencemen (24). Colin Greening, recently acquired from the Senators, had the most minutes among forwards (17), despite the fact he has spent most of the year in the American Hockey League with Binghamton.

That arrangement didn’t work out so well against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

“We weren’t in the game basically from the start,” coach Mike Babcock lamented, before later adding: “They were just better than us. Period.”

That could be the postgame tale for a while. The Maple Leafs are about to face a run of good teams, with games against the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and first-place Washington Capitals in the next two weeks. There is also the trade deadline looming on Feb. 29, when even more talent will be traded away.

So yes, things can get worse.

This isn’t new. Other teams have pulled their rosters apart midway through the year en route to a good draft pick. Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt the other day that he did as much last season, explaining that “if we were going to be bad, my attitude was, let’s be real bad.”

He then called Connor McDavid, the eventual No. 1 pick, “a pretty big prize for being really bad.”

What’s made the Leafs’ situation unique is the organization has steadfastly refused to recall its best players from the minors. The Marlies are currently the top team in the AHL, with only nine regulation losses in 51 games, and young players such as William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Rinat Valiev, Connor Brown, Nikita Soshnikov and Stuart Percy are better than some of those playing for the Leafs.

Brendan Leipsic showed as much on Saturday against Vancouver, when he was granted his first NHL game and promptly scored his first NHL goal (the winner, no less).

He hardly looked out of place. But he was promptly demoted before their next game.

That’s because Leafs management sees little point in sacrificing development in order to prop up a makeshift NHL roster that was never going to contend this year. Most of the recalls all season have been older non-prospects – Rich Clune, Mark Arcobello and Byron Froese – to the detriment of the NHL roster, and the benefit of Toronto’s lottery chances.

Is that tanking? In the strictest sense of the word, sure. But the Leafs were also only five points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 6 after 38 games, and before all the injuries. They’re still on pace for 73 points, five better than a year ago.

If that’s tanking, it’s Tanking Lite compared with what teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and Coyotes pulled off last season in failed attempts to get McDavid.

In fact, 73 points would be the best finish ever for a last-place NHL team. So if that was Leafs management’s sole intention with the season, they went about it in a curious way.

The way that their year has gone is, in many ways, the best possible outcome. There have been obvious improvements thanks to Babcock. The work ethic is there. And the Marlies have played like world-beaters.

Finishing 30th, thanks to injuries, trades and an insistence on protecting the kids, won’t be a black eye for anyone.

But it does leave the Leafs with their biggest hurdle still to come: beating the Edmonton Oilers in the draft lottery.

Good luck with that.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

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?

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

40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov
24 Holland – 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

34 Reimer
45 Bernier

Calgary Flames

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

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

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?


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 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

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

Leafs Go The Distance For Win

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

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

NHL Fighting Majors At 15-Year Low

From Pension Puppets

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

At the All-Star break, the league is on pace to finish the season with the fewest fights per game in a long time, and the Leafs are leading the charge.

The NHL deserves criticism for a lot of its administrative decisions, from the way it handles sexual abuse allegations, to the way it goes about changing some of its rules. But I think the league deserves some credit for fostering a drop-off in fighting that has lead to fighting being at its lowest rate in over 15 years.

Over the last decade or so, the league has gradually increased the penalties for different types of fighting infractions. These days, players not only have to have jerseys tied, they have to have their helmets on, and additional match penalties are now assessed for a number of different reasons, including if a fighter injures or cuts another player. Really though, the larger and more important influence on the reduction of the role of fighting is simply the amount of speed and skill required to be an effective NHL player. Although this may appear to be an organic and perhaps even lucky development, the league’s attempts at putting more emphasis on skill seem to be having the effect of reducing fighting, and for that, they deserve some credit.

Although players are just as tall as ever, their weight has been dropping, a fact that suggests that teams are training and conditioning their players to be leaner and faster, as opposed to stronger and more able to beat people up. The goons are no doubt still out there, but the overall culture is changing, and the league as a whole deserves some credit for that.

As something of a traditionalist, I’ve never been one to demand the complete removal of fighting from the game at any level. Fights are certainly entertaining, and can add an interesting dimension to a game’s (or a playoff series’) narrative. But most fans can agree that goon fights eroded most of the excitement of fighting. They contributed nothing to the story of the game, and only interrupted the aspects of the game that are most entertaining, like scoring goals, or your team winning.

Entertainment value aside, what we have learned in recent years about the effects of repeated hits to the head and their connection to degenerative brain diseases should certainly give us pause when cheering on fights. Although the odd tussle is unlikely to have severe long-term effects on a person’s cognitive abilities and mental health, I would prefer not to see more cases like that of Wade Belak.

Leafs representative of a larger trend

This shift is perhaps more noticeable for Leafs’ fans, in that their team has gone from leading the league in fights to being fourth last in fighting majors. Some of the credit for that goes to a front office that has made a point of retaining hockey talent and letting go of on-ice boxers, but another important part of this is the influence of Mike Babcock. Whether or not Babcock has issued explicit orders about fighting, he certainly appears to be encouraging a different type of culture around fighting.

It was only two seasons ago that Randy Carlyle’s vision for the Leafs included having the most fighting majors in the league, and although Babcock certainly isn’t opposed to fighting, the drop-off has been remarkable, and it’s likely no coincidence that his former team the Detroit Red Wings are dead last in terms of fights.

The fact that the Leafs have fought 4 times in their last 6 games is interesting in that at first glance it would appear that the Leafs are starting to feel more truculent of late. On the other hand, considering that at least two of these fights were challenges issued rather emphatically by opponents, it seems more likely that the Leafs are simply seeing a certain amount of random variation in their extra-curricular activities.

Whether or not the Leafs’ recent spate of punch-ups is indicative of a trend that will continue after the All-Star break remains to be seen, and will likely hinge on who gets to play for the Buds after the trade deadline. Rich Clune, for instance, already has one fight for the Leafs and has come close on several other occasions, but may wind up playing more often at the Ricoh depending on which players leave at the deadline. Roman Polak is another potential deadline target, and also doesn’t mind the odd scrap, and so may influence things further.

Utlimately, I’m happy to see the Leafs focusing somewhat more on playing hockey, and that management seems to want to promote players with that same mindset. This team has enough to worry about just trying to find the back of their opponents’ nets.

Source: NHL Fighting Majors At 15-Year Low

Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos

From Pension Puppets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acha’s notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos