Nick and Pete recap the Ottawa Senators coaching hire, two extensions, the latest rumors and the 2019 Western Conference Final while teasing their 2019 Stanley Cup Final 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.
In your sporadic Trade Deadline countdown, we’re three weeks away from February 26. It may not seem like it strictly going off completed transactions, but head coaches and general managers around the league are already well into their plans for the final push of the regular season.
As for today’s action, there’s four games on the schedule this evening starting with two tilts (Anaheim at Toronto and Nashville at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Next up is the New York Rangers at Dallas (NHLN) at 8:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Tampa Bay at Edmonton. All times Eastern.
Maybe it’s just me, but the choice for today’s DtFR Game of the Day is obvious: we’re off to Ontario!
Sometimes, the energy a team needs to win can be found in its goaltender making some incredible saves.
Enter Exhibit “A,” as well as Exhibit “B”: the Atlantic Division’s third-best team, the 30-19-5 Toronto Maple Leafs. Behind the solid efforts of both of their goaltenders, the Leafs have won four of their last five games.
Let’s start with the most obvious example in tonight’s presumed starter, 25-15-4 G Frederik Andersen. Currently occupying fifth place in the league’s wins list, he’s started three of Toronto’s last five games and performed brilliantly, posting an impressive .946 save percentage and 1.68 GAA in those showings.
But it hasn’t just been Andersen. 5-4-0 G Curtis McElhinney has also been exemplary of late, posting a .985 save percentage and .5 GAA in his two starts since January 24, joining Andersen in splitting consecutive shutouts on January 31 (Andersen saved all 28 Islanders shots) and February 1 (McElhinney saved all 25 Rangers shots). Andersen’s shutout was his fourth of the season, the (t)fourth-most of any goaltender in the NHL this season.
As a result of Andersen and McElhinney’s play, Toronto has allowed a third-best 1.4 goals-per-game since January 24 even though it has yielded an average of 31.8 shots against per game – the 15th-worst mark in the NHL in that time.
But with no disrespect to Andersen, goaltending usually isn’t exactly the first thing thought of when discussing the Maple Leafs. Instead, the mind is typically drawn to Toronto’s explosive offense, and that corps has definitely been worthy of attention of late as well, as they’ve averaged a fifth-best 3.4 goals per game since January 24.
In total, four Leafs currently on the team are averaging at least a point per game (rookie D Justin Holl technically still qualifies with two goals in two games played, but he was sent back to the Marlies on Saturday), but the greatest of those lately has undoubtedly been C Nazem Kadri with his 3-3-6 totals in his last five tilts to improve his season numbers to 17-14-31.
He’s joined by F William Nylander (1-4-5), D Jake Gardiner (0-5-5) and D Morgan Rielly (0-1-1 in one game played) in his consistent offensive production. Kadri and Gardiner in particular have gelled well of late, as the defenseman has provided the secondary assist on the center’s last two goals.
25-18-10 Anaheim makes its annual trip to Ontario as the 11th-best team in the Western Conference, trailing Minnesota for the second wild card by only one point. The Ducks have posted a 3-1-1 record over their past five games (the last three of which have been in the midst of a five-game road trip), and they owe much of that success to… their offense?
That’s right, the usually defensive-minded Ducks are staying afloat with an offense that has averaged three goals per game since January 23, the (t)11th-best effort in the league in that time.
Of course, Anaheim’s success has to be linked to the blue line somehow, and we need look no further than D Cam Fowler. He’s posted an impressive seven assists (all but one of them secondary apples) in his last five games to lead the team in points over this run and elevate his season totals to 6-17-23.
Of course, assists aren’t assists without goalscorers, and that’s where F Rickard Rakell and C Adam Henrique come into play. They join Fowler in averaging at least a point per game with their respective 2-4-6 and 4-1-5 efforts since January 23.
I’ve been especially impressed with the chemistry between Fowler and Rakell of late. Fowler has had a hand in all six of Rakell’s points, and they show no sign of slowing down any time soon. The Maple Leafs will need to be on high alert when numbers 4 and 67 are both on the ice together, or else their shift might end with the puck behind Andersen.
As far as the Ducks’ defensive end, there’s usually no one more important to acknowledge than 18-14-5 G John Gibson, especially since his .922 season save percentage is (t)ninth-best in the league. However, he’s expected to miss his third-straight game with a lower body injury, meaning ex-Sabre 6-3-5 G Ryan Miller will get the nod against his former rivals.
Way back on the first day of November, the Maple Leafs made their annual trip to The Pond. With a two-point game from First Star F Patrick Marleau that included scoring the game-winning goal, Toronto beat the Ducks 3-1.
Of note in that matchup, Fowler was unavailable for the Ducks. His presence will be a major reason Anaheim has a better shot in this game, but I’m still leading towards Toronto’s offense outpacing the visiting Ducks’ attack to earn two points.
Only one club showed up to play in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, and unfortunately for the home fans at PNC Arena, it wasn’t their team as the Carolina Hurricanes lost 3-1 to the San Jose Sharks.
What should make this loss by the Hurricanes even more frustrating for Head Coach Bill Peters is that the Sharks, hailing from California, were playing this game at 10 a.m. Pacific time. If any team should have been playing this game half asleep, it should have been them – especially considering San Jose is in the midst of a five-game road trip.
Instead, San Jose took the lead only 4:06 into the game courtesy of a W Timo Meier (RW Joonas Donskoi and First Star of the Game D Brent Burns) snap shot. Though W Sebastian Aho (F Jordan Staal) was able to level the game with 2:02 remaining in the first period, it was the next tally that proved to be the most important of the match – and not only because it ended up being the game-winner.
Carolina would have certainly been happy taking a 1-1 tie into the first intermission, but Second Star C Chris Tierney (F Melker Karlsson and W Mikkel Boedker) had other plans. Karlsson set him up with a centering pass from the right corner, but it was Tierney’s patience that really created the score. With no red sweaters around him but G Cam Ward‘s only three feet away, Tierney faked to his forehand to pull the goaltender away from his post before returning to the backhand to beat Ward’s left skate. That marker set the score at 2-1 going into the break and took all the energy out of Carolina.
G Aaron Dell earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 23-of-26 (.885).
San Jose’s road victory is the first in the DtFR Game of the Day since Vegas’ January 30 win. That pulls the visitors in the series back within 23 points of the 64-38-15 hosts.