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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

Toronto Maple Leafs at Chicago Blackhawks: Monday game preview

From The Star

UNITED CENTER

Puck drop: 8:30 p.m.

TV: TSN 4

Radio: TSN 1050

Key matchup: Leo Komarov vs. Patrick Kane.

A game after irritating the Sedin twins into frustration, Komarov and the rest of Toronto’s makeshift first line — which, for the past two games with Nazem Kadri on the shelf, has been centred by Peter Holland and rounded out by Michael Grabner — will take a step up in class and do its best to slow down Kane. The league’s leading scorer, Kane has 33 goals and 78 points, 15 points clear of his nearest challengers heading into Sunday’s action.

Need to know: The Leafs finish a four-game Western Conference road trip that has seen them travel without veteran forwards Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Matthias . . . Former Leaf Richard Panik joined Jonathan Toews and Andrew Sharp on the Blackhawks’ top line when Chicago lost Marian Hossa to a lower-body injury on Saturday . . . The Hawks have scored just four goals over the last 10 periods . . . The last time the Maple Leafs met the reigning Stanley Cup holders, they had won nine straight games before a 4-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre made it 10. That hot streak ended a few weeks ago after 12 consecutive victories. Since that high point, the Blackhawks are 4-5-1.

Up next: Thursday vs. New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m.

Source: Toronto Maple Leafs at Chicago Blackhawks: Monday game preview

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Saturday at Rogers Arena:

Absence of regulars didn’t matter to their replacements.

Playing once again without injured veterans James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul – as well as Josh Leivo, who’d scored two goals in the two games prior to Saturday night’s tilt against the Canucks, but was hurt Thursday against Edmonton – the Leafs recalled forwards Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin from the American League Saturday. But it was another former Marlie in Mark Arcobello who stepped up in their absence, scoring his first two goals as a Leaf just 17 seconds apart (and 90 seconds after Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin opened the scoring) early in the second period. The 27-year-old Arcobello bounced between four NHL teams last season, but he did everything asked of him at the AHL level this year and now has his first points of the season in his 14th game with the Buds. Head coach Mike Babcock rewards players who take advantage of opportunity, and Arcobello has done enough on this Western Canadian road trip to get more of them in the near-future.

New face Leipsic has dream NHL debut.

The 21-year-old didn’t lead the team in ice time in his first game in hockey’s best league – in fact, he logged only 9:28 Saturday – but did have a couple solid scoring chances early on. And then, at the 3:54 mark of the third frame, he batted in a puck out of the air and past veteran netminder Ryan Miller for his first NHL goal. Leipsic also got the famous rookie treatment of skating on the ice all alone in the warmup, while his amused teammates looked on in the hallway to the dressing room. Leipsic has been one of the Marlies’ best players this year (14 goals and 34 points in 47 AHL games), and it’s safe to say (a) he’ll remember this game for the rest of his life, and (b) he’ll be getting another chance to show what he can do at the NHL level in the weeks and months ahead.

Jake Gardiner once again taking steps forward.

In the three games since losing former defensive partner Dion Phaneuf to a trade to the Senators, Gardiner’s game has grown in leaps and bounds on the offensive end: he had a goal against both Calgary and Edmonton, effortlessly moved the puck deep into Vancouver’s zone and toward Miller to help set up Arcobello’s second goal of the night, and grabbed his second assist of the night on Leipsic’s goal. The 25-year-old blueliner’s confidence is clearly on an upward trajectory, and Toronto’s offence is benefitting from it.

An all-around effort leads to first win of the road trip.

The Leafs hadn’t won in Vancouver since 2003, but despite surrendering the first goal of the game Saturday, Toronto out-shot the Canucks 31-13 through the first 40 minutes of play and made life much easier for netminder James Reimer, who picked up his 11th win of the season by turning aside all but two of the 19 total shots he saw. Babcock stresses that smart, sustained effort can make up for the absence of talent, and on this night, the Leafs in the lineup proved him right.

Savour the win, but not for too long.

The win over the Canucks snapped a three-game losing streak, but the Leafs can’t admire it for very long at all, because their next game is in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. When last the Buds and Hawks played – Jan. 15 at Air Canada Centre – Toronto was steamrolled 4-1 by a visiting team that got a hat trick from Patrick Kane. And although the Blackhawks have cooled down since then, it will take nothing less than a virtually mistake-proof effort from the Leafs to remain in the win column for the second consecutive game.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday at Rexall Place:

Injury-depleted roster not an excuse in gritty Leafs effort.

Playing without injured veterans Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, Toronto was going to be in tough to produce enough offence to beat the high-octane Oilers. But after surrendering the first goal of the game to Edmonton phenom Connor McDavid early in the first period, the Buds answered back with a goal from Josh Leivo to make it 1-1, held the hosts to just three first-period shots on Jonathan Bernier and clawed back from a 3-1 deficit in the middle frame on Jake Gardiner’s second goal in as many games. McDavid scored his second of the night in the third period to put the game out of reach, but they were competitive for the grand majority of the 60 minutes.

Josh Leivo on a roll before leaving the game.

Leivo’s first-period goal – a near-identical copy of the one he scored against Calgary on Tuesday – was his second of the year at this level, his second in two games, and an indication he’s got an NHL-calibre shot. Unfortunately, he didn’t return after the first intermission after suffering an upper-body injury, but the 22-year-old is demonstrating he can provide the offence Toronto has desperately been seeking.

Another above-average night for Jake Gardiner.

Yes, his ill-timed pinch led to McDavid’s first goal, and yes, Gardiner gave away the puck on the same play that ended when he scored his fifth of the year, but Toronto doesn’t have many players who have his patience level and creativity with the puck. He’s still got to improve in some areas, but there are few, if any, Leafs blueliners who can do what Gardiner can on offence.

Mark Arcobello leads way in shots-on-net during season-high in minutes.

The Leafs’ two top forwards in terms of ice time Thursday were veterans Leo Komarov (19:13) and P-A Parenteau (18:17), but a close third was Arcobello, who logged a season-best 17:31 while leading Toronto in shots-on-net (seven). The 27-year-old is still looking for his first NHL point of the season after spending most of it with the AHL’s Marlies, but the coaching staff no doubt will be encouraged by his willingness to put the puck on net.

That McDavid kid is pretty good.

The No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL draft was the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie this year before a lengthy injury hurt those chances. But McDavid has been nothing short of spectacular since he returned to game action Feb. 2, and his two-goal, five-point performance Thursday against the Leafs is evidence he can still win that award in the 26 regular-season games the Oilers have remaining. After Thursday’s game, the 19-year-old has nine goals and 24 points in 19 games, and betting against him keeping up that point pace would be folly.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

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?

Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There will be no James van Riemsdyk in the lineup. No Tyler Bozak. No Shawn Matthias or Joffrey Lupul.

The goal-starved Toronto Maple Leafs – 27th in the NHL with 2.29 goals scored a game – are now without four of their nine highest-scoring forwards. Their injuries range from broken foot (van Riemsdyk) and concussion (Bozak) to whiplash (Matthias) and the inexplicable “middle-body injury”(Lupul).

So they head out on a four-game road trip through Western Canada and Chicago with a few American Hockey Leaguers in the lineup, and their coach again urging them to win ugly.

“It’s real clear how we have to play with our lineup,” Mike Babcock said before he boarded a plane bound for Calgary, where the Leafs play Tuesday. “We went through that this morning [on video].

“Obviously we’re more offensively challenged. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to win.”

Lately, the Leafs have been finding ways to lose. In their last 13 games, they have three wins (and only one in regulation), all but mathematically wiping out their playoff hopes.

Saturday’s loss to the struggling Ottawa Senators may have been Toronto’s worst of the season, especially given – as Babcock said Monday – it was over “in the first eight minutes.”

The Leafs have been in the NHL’s basement all year, but back in early January, it appeared they might claw their way higher. At that point, they were riding a streak of 15-8-5 and sat only five points out of a playoff spot. Now they’re 12 points back, missing much of their meagre offensive talent, and Babcock has resorted to praising Rich Clune whenever he can (“Clune’s been real good for us”).

Going into the game against the Flames, the Leafs playoff chances sat at 3 per cent (via hockeyviz.com). They had a better shot at getting the first overall draft pick – 8 per cent, or fourth-highest in the league. And the more they struggle to score, the more they’ll lose and the better that pick percentage will get.

None of this is a surprise. The Leafs were almost certainly going to be awful this year, and they knew it. It’s early February, and already the organization’s focus is firmly on next season and beyond. In recent days, for example, the Leafs have been heavily scouting two prospects in Finland (Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi) who are projected to be selected at the top of the draft.

A stop in Switzerland to shadow potential No. 1 pick Auston Matthews – the 18-year-old phenom who has a remarkable 24 goals in 31 Swiss league games – is also likely in order.

So the problem with all the injuries isn’t that the Maple Leafs will lose. They were already doing that in fine fashion. What’s troubling is that it’ll be more difficult to trade players such as Matthias or Bozak if they’re banged up.

Lupul? At 32 years old (going on 42) with two years left on a huge contract, he is unmovable.

JVR, meanwhile, is likely staying put, given he was turning into a legitimate star through the first 40 games (van Riemsdyk’s importance to the team is best measured by how brutal the Leafs’ offence has been without him).

All these losses open up considerable holes in an already thin lineup. At Monday’s practice, Babcock had crazy things going on, like Clune on the power play, but he also had Mark Arcobello in a prominent role for the first time in months. Josh Leivo was on the power play, and Brad Boyes was cemented in the lineup, albeit on the fourth line.

Perhaps those four get more minutes and show more than they have to date? Perhaps that shows, in Leivo’s case, that he can play in the NHL as a regular-season regular, or that, in the case of everyone else, there might be some low-end trade value there?

It’s tough searching for reasons to watch the Leafs right now, but that might be one.

Or you can tune in simply to see the latest source of Babcock’s exasperation. You might want popcorn.

“I’m dying for someone to score a goal,” Babcock said. “If you’ve scored in the past, you’re going to get an opportunity to do something.”

And even if you haven’t, step right up.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs

Marlies will try to bring their offence to the NHL

From The Star

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been struggling to score, managing two goals or fewer in 10 of their last 13 games. The Toronto Marlies lead the American Hockey League in goals.

So as the injury bug hits the Leafs again — the parent club will have to do without forwards Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Matthias — they’re going to see if minor-league success can translate to the NHL.

The Leafs recalled Mark Arcobello, Josh Leivo and Rich Clune on Monday. Arcobello leads the Marlies with 20 goals in 34 games.

“He shoots it in the net,” said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, whose team has struggled on offence since James van Riemsdyk was lost to a foot injury Jan. 9. “I haven’t seen it yet here but we talked about that. We expect all the new guys to be good.”

The injury news wasn’t good for Bozak, who took a hit to the head in Ottawa on Saturday and left the game to undergo part of the league’s mandated concussion protocol.

Babcock said Bozak didn’t partake in Monday’s practice because he “wasn’t feeling well.” Matthias, the coach said, was suffering from “whiplash,” while Lupul “doesn’t have an upper body injury, and he doesn’t have a lower body injury, so let’s call it a middle body injury.”

None of the injured players travelled with the club as it left Monday for Tuesday’s game in Calgary. Bozak and Matthias could rejoin the team at some point during the four-game road trip, depending on their respective recoveries.

Lupul, however, was placed on injured reserve Monday, meaning he will be sidelined for seven to 10 days.

Even with the additions of Arcobello, Leivo and Clune, the Leafs jetted off to Calgary with the bare minimum 12 forwards, with no extra bodies in the case of an injury. They could make a cap-friendly move Tuesday and call up a fourth player from the Marlies, who do not play again until Saturday.

Meanwhile, all three call-ups were thrust onto the Leafs’ power play Monday — at least for practice reps.

For Arcobello, lean times with the Leafs could mean a boom time for him. The key is to reproduce the scoring levels he has shown in the AHL.

“Every time you get an opportunity up here (NHL), it’s up to you … I’m dying for guys to score some goals,” Babcock said.

Arcobello, who tied an NHL record by playing with four different teams in 2014-15 (Edmonton, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Arizona), had 17 goals in 77 games last season. Nine of those goals came in the final 27 games with Arizona.

Those numbers attracted the Leafs, who signed him to a one-year deal in July. But Arcobello went goalless in 11 games this season before being sent to the Marlies. There, he and Leivo are among the top 10 in AHL scoring.

“I think there was … and I think there still is (opportunity),” Arcobello said. “I was given a good look (with the Leafs), I had a slow start for some reason, and now there’s another chance.”

Babcock characterized the jump from the AHL to the NHL by comparing defencemen in the two leagues. “They face regular defencemen in the AHL,” he said. “In the NHL . . . you’re facing trees.”

“I have to get out there and shoot more, I have to trust my abilities,” Arcobello said. “Getting sent down is a bit of a blow to your confidence, but coming up again should be a boost.”

Source: Marlies will try to bring their offence to the NHL

Leafs prepare for Western Conference swing

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Leafs prepare for Western Conference swing

Leafs 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

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…