Leafs’ luck runs out as Grossmann scores fluke off the back boards

Josh Elliott
Toronto Maple Leafs Jonathan Bernier

The once high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs came crashing back to earth with another embarrassing defeat on Saturday, this time in a 7-4 loss to Philadelphia that hinged on a crazy ricochet goal.

The Leafs and Flyers played to a wild 3-3 tie after one period, but it was Nicklas Grossmann who broke the game open with one of the most bizarre goals of the year.

With his team pressuring, Grossmann took a pass at the left point and dumped the puck hard into the corner. The puck hit the back wall, then hit Jonathan Bernier‘s leg, then went in.

The slow-motion replay is like watching a game of Plinko.
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Maple Leafs keep winning despite bad advanced stats. How?

Matt Larkin
The Leafs believe a "quality over quantity" approach to offense and defense is the key to their strong start. (Getty Images)

Cliches are the hallmark of lazy writers, but the Toronto Maple Leafs warrant an act of laziness, as one cliche fits too darned perfectly: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The front office makeup tells us the Leafs have changed. Brendan Shanahan, 29-year-old analytical whiz Kyle Dubas (who “politely passed” on participating in this story) and Mark Hunter now share decisions with Dave Nonis and had no affiliation with the franchise a year ago. The team makeup tells us the Leafs have changed, too. Randy Carlyle’s glorified three-line system, which gave fourth-liners Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren a few shifts a game, is extinct. Peter Holland gets full-time NHL work now and off-season additions like Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik have turned Toronto into a true 12-forward operation.

The standings, for now, emphatically tell us the Leafs have changed. They sit 19-9-3, seven points up on ninth place in the Eastern Conference and winners of six straight games. They lead the NHL in goals per game. They’ve beaten Chicago, Anaheim and Los Angeles this season, albeit at home.

The more wins pile up, the more difficult it is for even the Grinchiest of pessimists to write this team off and insist its almost-annual swoon is coming. That said, I encourage these Grinches to try, as they’ll find plenty of alarm bells to jingle.

The very reason certain pundits didn’t buy Toronto’s 2012-13 playoff run or fast start in 2013-14 was, of course, analytics. They had an artificially high shooting percentage. They ranked among the league’s worst teams in metrics like Corsi, meaning the majority of pucks, including those that were blocked and missed the net, went toward their own goal. They depended too much on goaltending.

Flash forward a year later to the piping-hot Leafs, and you get this friendly quip from center Nazem Kadri after Tuesday night’s 6-2 shellacking of the Ducks:

“Obviously the shot total’s got to get down, but the way Bernie’s been playing, he’s got those. (he laughs and smiles at Jonathan Bernier, sitting beside him). “So I don’t think we’re too worried about that. But I think coming back, we’re keeping them to the outside most of the time.”

It’s a funny comment, and you have to love Kadri’s honesty, but it’s telling, isn’t it? Allowing high shot totals. Relying on Bernier to bail the team out. Sounds. Familiar.

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Rumor Roundup: Trading Hall would do little to help Oilers long-term improvement

Taylor Hall (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers firing of head coach Dallas Eakins prompted speculation over potential roster changes. It’s believed Oilers management will consider all options going forward, including the possibility of trading star left wing Taylor Hall.

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports of a “sagging work ethic” and lack of a winning culture among the Oilers’ players, suggesting Hall hasn’t been what the front office expected “from a culture standpoint.” Dreger believes the 23-year-old Hall will be in play in the trade market and believes the best return could be had during the summer, perhaps at the NHL Draft in June.

Oilers GM Craig MacTavish spent several weeks seeking help for his floundering roster via the trade market. During a press conference on Dec. 5, MacTavish stated he wouldn’t make any knee-jerk moves and wasn’t prepared to move his core players. Read more

Kings might want to flip the switch anytime about now

Ken Campbell
Joffrey Lupul and Jonathan Quick (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

If the Stanley Cup playoffs were to begin right now, the Los Angeles Kings would be in them by the skin of their teeth. They would have limped into the post-season with four losses in their past five. They would enter the tournament with their most productive players in terrible slumps – Anze Kopitar with one goal in his past 13 and Jeff Carter with one in his past 12. Nobody is talking about Drew Doughty as a candidate for the Norris Trophy and Marian Gaborik has alternated between being injured and ineffective.

They’d be preparing to play one of the league’s hottest teams, one that has nine wins in it’s past 10. That team would be the Chicago Blackhawks and we all know what happened when they faced each other last spring. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Several teams looking at moves leading up to holiday trade freeze

Buffalo's Tyler Myers (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the NHL’s holiday trade freeze beginning at midnight on Dec. 19 there’s growing speculation over possible moves leading up to the deadline.

ESPN.com’s Craig Custance reports Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray is willing to be creative after noting a recent decline in trade talks, leading Murray to acknowledge his asking prices could be too high.

Winger Chris Stewart, a recent healthy scratch against the Los Angeles Kings, is considered most likely to be dealt. The Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports the 27-year-old winger’s poor play could affect his trade value, as well as his chances for a lucrative contract via free agency in July. Vogl claims the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators could be interested in Stewart. Read more

How the Boston Bruins blew the Thornton, Kessel, Wheeler, Seguin trades…and lost out on T.J. Brodie, too

459854570-Seguin-Kessel

Let’s play a little hindsight gymnastics.

Quick question: would you make this trade?

Joe Thornton, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler and Tyler Seguin for Matt Bartkowski, Loui Eriksson, Alexander Fallstrom, Matt Fraser, Dougie Hamilton, Alexander Khokhlachev, Jared Knight, Joe Morrow, Dennis Seidenberg and Reilly Smith.

Because that’s what the Boston Bruins are left with after trading three future superstars and one well above average player before their primes in four separate trades.

If Thornton, Kessel, Wheeler or Seguin were still with Boston today, each would be the team’s top scorer. Seguin, of course, leads the NHL in goals and points.

One dumb deal is a mistake. Two is a coincidence. Three is a trend. Four is…WTF is going on?

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Report: Mike Babcock on verge of announcing contract extension with Wings; team’s success made choice easy

Adam Proteau
Mike Babcock (Getty Images)

That sound you’re hearing is Red Wings fans exhaling a giant sigh of relief: according to Windsor Star columnist and THN contributor Bob Duff, Detroit coach Mike Babcock is on the verge of agreeing to a multi-year contract extension. Babcock had been the subject of intense speculation he would move on – to the Wings’ division rival Maple Leafs, some said – when his current deal expired at the end of this season, but his links to the team were not easily broken, especially considering how well it has started the 2014-15 campaign.

Although the Wings were beaten at home by Toronto Wednesday night, they still had the Eastern Conference’s best record (17-6-6) and only Anaheim had more points (43) than Detroit’s 40. This, despite a roster whose two best players aren’t far from retirement. This, despite a patchwork defense corps that’s hardly the envy of the NHL. This, despite the hiccups and backsliding that can occur when you’re attempting to assimilate a new generation of young talent into the sport’s top professional league. The Red Wings throw aside more phoney crutches than a fraudulent religious healer’s act and just go out there and win, and when you’re as much a part of that culture as Babcock is, it’s next to impossible to walk away from it. Read more

Reimer steals win for Leafs; where does he rank on list of goalies available via trade?

James Reimer (Getty Images)

Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer has lost the starter’s job to Jonathan Bernier, but despite not starting since Nov. 18, he stopped 41 of 42 shots Wednesday to steal two points in a 2-1 shootout win over Detroit:

That won’t change his status with the Buds, who are committed to Bernier for now and the future, and Reimer is well-aware his best chance to start on a regular basis again lies outside Toronto. But where does Reimer rank among goalies who are or might be available on the market between now and the March 2 trade deadline? Let’s have a look at who else is out there:

– Carolina’s Cam Ward has a winning pedigree, but the 30-year-old’s stock has plummeted in recent years and he still has another season left on his contract at a $6.3 million salary cap hit. He’s played decently at times, but that salary alone will make teams in need of netminding hesitant to take a chance on him when there are cheaper options available.

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