Maple Leafs rebuild gets a big boost from Marlies’ playoff success

Kasperi Kapanen (right) and Reece Scarlett  (Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

So the Toronto Marlies are off to the Eastern Conference final in the American League as the executives with the big team tap the tips of their fingers together, their plan falling perfectly into place. Mitch Marner and his London Knights made a mockery of the Ontario League playoffs, Auston Matthews is leading USA in scoring at the World Championship and defenseman Connor Carrick, acquired from the Washington Capitals for Daniel Winnik, scored a goal to take over the AHL’s playoff scoring lead.

To be sure there were smiles and backslaps all around when the Marlies defeated the Albany Devils 4-3 in a darn entertaining Game 7 to win the second-round series and earn the right to face the Hershey Bears, the child team of the Capitals.

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The Right Way: The Maple Leafs complete franchise makeover is going swimmingly so far

Ken Campbell
William Nylander. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

The Toronto Marlies are generally treated as the bastard child of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an afterthought in a hockey market where fans call into talk radio and wonder why their NHL team can’t just trade for P.K. Subban, like it’s that easy, or simply snap their fingers and sign Steven Stamkos and John Tavares when they become free agents. Toronto’s AHL franchise plays in a former horse palace, albeit a wonderfully refurbished one that makes for a great viewing experience, and despite being in the AHL’s biggest city and the Center of the Hockey Universe™ where they’re in first place and the NHL team is dead last, you can always get a ticket. Sometimes you might even have to pay for it. But there’s a lot of foot room for patrons since the arena is usually only about two-thirds full.

On this day in early February, however, the Marlies have the rule of the roost. The Maple Leafs are out of town on an extended road trip, so the Marlies take over the big club’s practice facility, a four-pad rink in the west end of the city. At one point during practice, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe breaks the team into two groups, with one traipsing over to one rink to work exclusively on skill development and the other staying behind to work on systems.

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London Knights sweep OHL championship; look unstoppable

From left: Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner (with Red Tilson Trophy) and Christian Dvorak of London (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Right now, the Brandon Wheat Kings and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are in control of their respective championships in the WHL and QMJHL, with 3-1 series leads over Seattle and Shawinigan. The Wheaties lost yesterday, the Huskies the day before.

The OHL’s London Knights, on the other hand, haven’t lost a hockey game since the first day of April.

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Let’s snuff out three preposterous Auston Matthews rumors before they spiral out of control

Matt Larkin
Matthews

The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the 2016 NHL draft lottery and will pick No. 1 overall for the first time since they nabbed Wendel Clark in 1985. This is good news for the sport, whether you love or hate the Leafs. It’s the equivalent of a high-profile player landing with the New York Knicks in basketball. When the Leafs choose what they hope is their next – and dare I say first – real superstar, fans can decide for themselves if that rookie is a hero or villain. It makes for a fascinating story either way.

Auston Matthews is the player most experts expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to draft June 24. He ranks No. 1 in THN’s Draft Preview, due out in the next couple weeks, and on virtually every other major publication’s prospect list. And yet, rumors have begun flying around social media predicting something other than the Leafs picking Matthews will happen June 24. That smoke is clickbait, and there’s no fire to accompany it. Let’s extinguish three of the more ridiculous theories circulating in the hockey media landscape at the moment. And, yes, I’m aware that merely discussing them makes this piece clickbait about clickbait. Apologies.

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Blackhawks bound for more playoff heartbreak until they can rebuild depth

Jared Clinton
Patrick Kane (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)

Following Chicago’s Game 7 loss, Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said exiting the post-season in the first round didn’t feel right. And that’s true. As the post-season rolls on without the Blackhawks, something will feel amiss. Chicago has made the Western Conference final in each of the past three seasons, twice taking home the Stanley Cup. They’ve become a staple of playoff hockey, a regular contender seemingly one bounce away from getting back into the winner’s circle.

They didn’t get that bounce in Game 7, though, and Blackhawks fans may have to prepare themselves for earlier summers going forward. Unlike years prior building back to consistent contention is going to take some time.

Before the post-season began, parallels were drawn between this season’s Blackhawks and the team that lost in the first-round in 2011. Both entered the playoffs as defending champions, both entered with high expectations and both were missing key pieces of what made them a contender the year prior. The comparisons will run deeper — and last longer — than this post-season, though.

Following the 2011 exit, which came via a 3-2 loss in Game 7 to the then-rival Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks were forced to say goodbye to Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and — this one is going to hurt today — Troy Brouwer. What followed was a 2011-12 season in which Chicago stumbled again in the first round and were sent packing by the Phoenix Coyotes. And though the team recovered in time for the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, the quick turnaround isn’t going to be as easy to come by this time. Read more

So where exactly do the New York Rangers go from here?

Henrik Lundqvist  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

When the New York Rangers cleaned out their stalls Tuesday morning, defenseman Dan Boyle cursed out a couple of reporters he felt were unfairly critical of him and refused to start his breakup interview until they left the scrum. We’re going to chalk that up to a proud veteran who is going down swinging and will probably look at that incident after second sober thought with regret.

But in a way, Boyle and his rant – which will almost certainly be his last as an NHL player – provide a microcosm of the situation that is facing his soon-to-be-former team. Boyle could have gone quietly into the night or he could have come out with one last flurry. He chose the latter.

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