Nick takes a little time out of the summer to go over third line signings, jersey number controversy and Ron Francis’ hiring as General Manager of the Seattle expansion franchise.
Nick, Cap’n and Pete assess the Detroit Red Wings hiring of Steve Yzerman as General Manager and Executive Vice President, as well as recap the trio of Game 7s in the First Round and preview the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Toronto Maple Leafs and their outlook for the summer.
There was no competition for the remaining playoff spots in the Atlantic Division this season as only three teams were truly in contention for the top spot through divisional seedings.
While the Tampa Bay Lightning sat atop the Atlantic Division standings for about 95-percent of the season, the Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins swapped 2nd and 3rd all season long until Boston started peaking in March.
Toronto finished the regular season 3rd in the Atlantic with a 49-26-7 record and 105 points on the season, lining up on the road for Games 1 and 2 of their First Round matchup with the Bruins.
It was the first postseason meeting between the two clubs since their 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup and epic collapse in Game 7 by Toronto. Like 2013, however, the Maple Leafs won Games 5 and 6 in the series, forcing a decisive Game 7 back at TD Garden.
This time, though, the Bruins cruised in the third period to a 7-4 victory and won the series, 4-3.
Head coach, Mike Babcock, faced criticism from Toronto media and fans alike for back-to-back years of First Round exits, while Lou Lamoriello fulfilled his three years as General Manager.
Lamoriello’s seven-year contract with the club intended on keeping him in the role of GM for three years, then as a senior advisor for the final four years. Instead, Lamoriello resigned from Toronto and joined his son with the New York Islanders (and was subsequently promoted as General Manager).
Since Brendan Shanahan took a front office job with the Maple Leafs, there’s been another name prime for the GM job. Kyle Dubas.
Hired as an assistant GM as a 28-year-old, the prolific analytics-driven evaluator became General Manager of the Leafs at 32 as his Toronto Marlies (AHL) won this year’s Calder Cup championship.
The old regime is almost completely new-school in the 6ix.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Dubas and his Maple Leafs scouting crew hold onto the 25th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft and it’s not entirely clear cut on who they’ll likely target. There’s no immediate need to fill with a teenager, the 2018 Draft is deeper than usual and Toronto could always trade the pick.
There’s no ties to a player like Erik Karlsson, but the Leafs seem prime to make some type of acquisition this summer via a trade in addition to sticking with the plan.
Pending free agents
Toronto has about $22.340 million in cap space heading into July with some big names to consider re-signing.
Tomas Plekanec, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore and James van Riemsdyk are all pending-UFAs as of July 1st– with van Riemsdyk as one of the hottest players not named “John Tavares” potentially hitting the open market.
Acquired around the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens, 35-year-old Tomas Plekanec is two games away from the 1,000th in his NHL career. He recorded two assists in 17 games down the stretch with the Leafs and had six goals and 20 assists (26 points) in 77 games with Toronto and Montreal this season.
Since he amassed 54 points in 2015-16, Plekanec has averaged 27 points over the last two seasons. That kind of production drop-off is to be expected at some point in the waning days of his NHL career, but still important to the depth scoring of any organization.
He brings intangibles to the locker room, like leadership and good chemistry with Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau that boosted Toronto’s playoff performance and helped extend the series with Boston to seven games.
The question is, can Dubas keep two 35-plus members on the roster, let along on the same line for another year or two (though nightly lineups are at Babcock’s discretion) and will Plekanec be allowed to regrow his goatee if he re-signs now that Lamoriello is gone?
Regardless, it’s been noted that Plekanec and his turtleneck have a desire to go back to Montreal, but if he truly wants to win a Cup before the end of his playing days…
Bozak, 32, is six games shy of his 600th career NHL game and had 11-32–43 totals in 81 games this season. One of Toronto’s more consistent point-producers, Bozak has only surpassed 20 goals once in his career (he scored 23 goals in 2014-15).
The veteran center has long been a playmaker, reaching 30-plus assists three times in his career– including the last two seasons.
He should get another look, but at what cost given some of the other big names potentially heading for the open waters of free agency from Toronto.
Komarov, 31, had 19 points this season. He’s never reached the 20 goal plateau in his career and– despite being a fan favorite
and Brad Marchand‘s man-crush— he shouldn’t expect a big contract from Dubas if he wishes to extend his stay in Ontario’s capital city.
Moore, 37, resurrected his career last season with Boston, notching 11-14–25 totals in all 82 games, but the fourth line center scored just six goals in 50 games with the Maple Leafs this season.
Three games shy of 900 in his career, his 12 points on the year this season doesn’t scream “extension” in a Leafs sweater, but might find work elsewhere as a bottom-6 forward in what could be his last chance at a Cup.
van Riemsdyk, 29, reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in his career since being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers 2nd overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He first scored 30 goals and 31 assists (61 points) with Toronto in 2013-14.
He had 33 assists last season and 36-18–54 totals this season.
Under Dubas, the Leafs are on their way to becoming the next Washington Capitals in prospect development. The Marlies just won the Calder Cup with a mixture of grizzled former NHLers in Colin Greening and young, developing, players that are intentionally overcooked at the AHL level for an easier transition to the NHL game.
Moving on from older pending-UFAs is bound to happen and it just might be this offseason’s plan.
In his second full season at the NHL level, pending-RFA William Nylander, 22, matched his rookie season point total (61) on the heels of 20 goals and 41 assists in 82 games this season. Sophomore year went swimmingly for the top-6 forward.
Now he’s a pending-RFA and will need a pay raise with Auston Matthews entering the final year of his entry-level deal.
It might seem easy for Toronto to crunch some numbers, keep van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Nylander and the rest of the gang together, but without a little proper planning for the future, the club could easily get themselves in some deep trouble.
32-year-old pending-UFA defender Roman Polak over came a leg injury, signed a PTO and landed a one-year renewal for his fourth season as a Maple Leaf in October. He had 4-7–11 totals in 75 games last season and improved to 2-10–12 totals in 54 games this season with Toronto. He even recorded his third career point in the playoffs (an assist).
But for the St. Louis Blues’s 160th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, it doesn’t seem like another year in a Leafs uniform is in the cards. Not when Travis Dermott was making waves as a potential top-6 defender next season in the playoffs and Polak was being blown past by Bruins forwards.
Connor Carrick— a 24-year-old, pending-RFA defenseman– had a career-year in goals (4), assists (8) and points (12) in 47 games this season. Why he’s not utilized more is perplexing. He was a healthy scratch for 32 games, injured for two more and did not play in the postseason.
Both Dermott and Carrick should see precedence over Polak next season– especially in today’s game and with Ron Hainsey already as an anchor veteran on the blueline at 37-years-old– but that all depends on whether Dubas makes an effort to bring Carrick back and mend whatever’s between Babcock’s viewpoint and Carrick’s play on the ice.
If the Leafs get older and more reliant on guys like Hainsey, Polak and Marleau, like they did this postseason, Babcock risks being viewed similar to Ken Hitchcock in his loss of being adaptable in an increasingly younger, faster and more skilled than ever league.
That’s not to discredit Babcock as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time, but rather to point out he’s got a challenge ahead of him and his staff– and Babcock likes challenges, because he usually excels at them.
There’s no need to disrupt something that’s working in net in the dynamic duo that is Andersen and McElhinney, but you can expect to see 24-year-old Garret Sparks get a few extra looks having led his team to the Calder Cup championship.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Of note, Toronto has $1.200 million in retained salary on the books (Phil Kessel) through the 2021-22 season.
Manic Monday gets started at its usual 7 p.m. starting time with two games (Los Angeles at the New York Rangers [SN/SN1/TVAS] and Carolina at Washington), followed half an hour later by Calgary at Toronto. Next up is Anaheim at Winnipeg at 8 p.m., trailed an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: San Jose at Colorado (NBCSN) and Florida at Arizona. All times eastern.
There’s not a single game this evening being contested between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, but Toronto could be right back in that discussion by the time the night closes with a victory tonight.
Although riding a two-game losing skid, the 24-22-3 Flames still find themselves in eighth-place in the Western Conference, which could improve to seventh with anything better than a regulation loss. Calgary has been led by its offense this season, which has scored 128 goals – tied for 14th-most in the league.
There’s a reason Mikael Backlund sweaters have been flying off the shelves in Southern Alberta these days, as his 33 points lead the Flames. That being said, Sean Monahan‘s 15 goals leads Backlund’s total by a tally.
Playing host this evening are the 21-14-9 Maple Leafs, who currently occupy ninth-place in the Eastern Conference. and similar to their opposition, simply getting to overtime will propel Toronto into seventh. Much of the reason for the Leafs‘ success has been their offense, which has managed 135 tallies in 44 games, the sixth-best scoring rate in the NHL.
In this edition of what has become the weekly Leafs update, Auston Matthews now shares the club points-lead with James van Riemsdyk, as both have been involved in 38 goals this season. That being said, the amazing rookie still has the team scoring title with his 22 tallies.
Last season, Toronto was home to the second-worst power play in the league. My, how the times have changed. Led by rookie William Nylander‘s 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs are now second-best, scoring on 24.1% of attempts. Veteran Nazem Kadri has also played a vital role in that success, burying nine pucks with the man-advantage.
The defensive special team has also been a big role in the Leafs‘ resurgence, refusing to yield a tally on 84.7% of opponent’s extra-man opportunities. The fourth-best penalty kill in the league has been led by Roman Polak, whose 22 shorthanded blocks not only lead the team, but ties for 17th-most in the league.
The Maple Leafs have already made their annual visit to the Saddledome, and it’s a trip they’d rather forget. Led by Chad Johnson‘s shutout, the Flames sent Toronto packing by beating them 3-0.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnson (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Toronto‘s Matthews (22 wins [tied for fourth-most in the league]).
Vegas has marked Toronto a -142 favorite, and it’s a hard pick to argue with. The Leafs have some superior special teams compared to Calgary‘s average efforts, not to mention Toronto‘s impeccable offense.
- J.F. Sauve (1960-) – Although undrafted, this center managed 290 games over seven seasons in the NHL, most of which in Quebec. He notched 203 points before retiring after the 1986-’87 season.
- Brendan Shanahan (1969-) – The second-overall pick in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, this left wing played 21 seasons – most of which in Detroit. It’s easy to say he earned his Hall of Fame inauguration in 2013, as he was an eight-time All Star, three-time Stanley Cup winner and the owner of the 2003 Clancy Trophy.
- Leo Komarov (1987-) – This center was drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, and that’s where he’s spent his entire career. Last season’s 19 goals and 36 points were career highs, and a goal tonight against Calgary would be his first birthday tally.
They needed overtime, but the Flyers emerged from Brooklyn with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The lone goal of the first period belonged to Nick Leddy with 6:35 remaining in the frame. His unassisted wrister gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
Alan Quine (Shane Prince and Dennis Seidenberg) doubled that lead 4:47 into the second period with a backhander, but Second Star of the Game Wayne Simmonds (Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas) pulled Philadelphia back within a tally with a wrister with 5:50 remaining in the period.
Once again, only one goal was struck in a period, but this one belonged to Ivan Provorov (Schenn and Simmonds) and the Flyers. Buried only 1:47 into the period, it proved to be the final goal of regulation to force three-on-three overtime.
Philly‘s victory was the third-straight for a visiting team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the roadies within three points of the hosts’ 52-34-16 record.
By: Nick Lanciani
Five years ago, the hockey world suffered collectively from several of the greatest tragedies in the history of the sport. In the warm months of 2011, the hockey world lost Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL) team over the course of one offseason.
In the summer of 2011, I personally was celebrating the success of my favorite NHL team’s Stanley Cup championship. I had grown up dreaming of one day seeing them raise the Cup, but none of that seems to matter when you remember that at the end of the day, every player of the game is human.
Hindsight is 20/20 and we could say that there were warning signs and better ways we could’ve helped players like Boogaard, Rypien and Belak, but the fact of the matter is that nothing can bring them back and we must move on, remembering them, and committing ourselves to doing more. We have to do more.
Enough is enough when it comes to senseless fighting in the NHL. It’s not the 1970s anymore.
But even I seem to battle with the existential question of whether fighting in the NHL should be allowed to continue. In some respects it sets apart the sport from any other (but it is after all, still a penalty). In others, I can see where it is deemed barbaric.
If the league were to follow a protocol similar to the OHL’s newly introduced rules on fighting, I do not think it would be all that bad for the marketability of the sport. Hockey, in its purest form, will always go on. And the NHL will always be the top league in the hockey world for talent and superstar work ethic, skill, coaching and leadership.
Especially at the Junior level, we all have to remember, the players are just kids.
When Marc Savard suffered an estimated six concussions in his Junior days alone, we should’ve realized when to step in and step up. Sadly, new studies and discoveries about the brain are too late to repair the shattered and fragmented careers of far too many Junior players who went on or did not go on to see the days of life in the NHL.
Likewise, it’s too late to undo what’s been done to those former NHLers now suffering from Alzheimers, dementia and other debilitating diseases caused, in part, by head trauma.
In the summer of 2011, I was riding the highs of victory, but the dark shadows cast by the losses of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak cemented the fruition of what my eyes only see when I look at any player on the ice— another human.
They’re not heroes in the sense that they are far above me as an individual or that they are superhuman, but every NHL player is ultimately just another human being with a right to a life after their career. They are heroes in the sense that they get to play a game for a living that I’m sure most of us could only dream of ever doing for a living.
They are heroes in every win and every loss, but not every win or loss should come in the form of winning a lawsuit for the loss of a life.
The dark days of 2011 were only blackened some more when the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash occurred.
How could such joys of watching a team win the Cup be mirrored with the lows of tragedy?
I remember watching Karlis Skrastins, Pavol Demitra and Ruslan Salei at one point or another in person or on TV. I had never seen Brad McCrimmon play, but I remember hearing about him and his short stint with the Boston Bruins from 1979-1982.
I think of every member of that team, their families and that entire organization every September 7th. I remember how a community came together to memorialize them all and mourn as one family. I remember that so much good has come from so much bad and horrible memories of the summer of 2011.
We owe it to every player to do more. To be more as they’ve been more. To be with them as they’ve been alongside others.
Our lives are short. We never know when the last time might be.
But there is always time for a first time for a better tomorrow. And I want to see us live it well.
It sickened me when I heard last year that cocaine abuse in the NHL was on the rise. Both the NHLPA and the NHL have to do more to help their players— their colleagues, their friends, their fellow humans.
It disgusts me that NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, continues to deny a link between CTE and head injuries. The emails that were leaked earlier this year show that Brendan Shanahan should really be commended for speaking out and starting the conversation for change.
Even the NFL is beginning to take things seriously as they give studying head injuries a second thought.
The league has to do more. I’m not interested in whether or not the league accepts blame or admits defeat at this point, but rather that they will commit themselves to doing more to protect their players and help them move forward with their lives after hockey. Let’s start talking about solutions instead of finger pointing and blaming.
Let’s always remember the good times we had with Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak.
And let us never forget the tremendous people of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the tremendous hockey players, coaches, trainers and more, that were killed five years ago today.
As we reflect, we move forward in their memory.
The Down the Frozen River crew continues to grow as they welcome Frank to the team and talk about recent college signings and Jimmy Vesey, as well as the NHL email dump and the wild card battle leading up to the final week of the NHL’s 2015-2016 regular season. Stay tuned next week for more guests on the show and NCAA Frozen Four coverage. As always, hear what the DTFR Crew has to say about the latest news and notes from the NHL, right here on the Down the Frozen River Podcast.
Join the conversation, make a suggestion, or ask a question for our next podcast using #AskDownTheFrozenRiver or #DTFRPodcast on Twitter and/or drop us a line on Facebook– your thoughts might make it on our show!