Even with Auston Matthews, don’t expect overnight success for Maple Leafs

Mike Brophy
Auston Matthews (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Members of Leafs Nation are going ga ga over the fact their beloved Toronto Maple Leafs have the first pick in the 2016 NHL draft.

And why not?

The opportunity to choose Auston Matthews and give the organization its first legitimate No. 1 center since Mats Sundin is nothing to balk at.

The Arizona native, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 212 pounds, is a blue-chipper who finished fourth in the Swiss league with Zurich, scoring 24 goals and 46 points and was second in voting for the league’s most valuable player award. Then, just for kicks, the 18-year-old led the United States in scoring with nine points in 10 games at the World Championship.

Toronto has not had the first overall pick since 1985 when it chose Wendel Clark.

The question is, will the addition of Matthews be the Maple Leafs instant ticket into the playoffs?

The answer, in a nutshell, is no. Not on his own.

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Maple Leafs’ Cowen, Flyers’ Umberger first players to be bought out

Jared Clinton
R.J. Umberger (Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL’s buyout window officially opened Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon saw the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers become the first teams to take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of a contract.

Jared Cowen’s contract was the first to fall, as the Maple Leafs placed the 25-year-old blueliner on unconditional waivers for the purposes of a buyout on Wednesday. He cleared waivers Thursday afternoon to make the process official.

Cowen didn’t play a single game for Toronto and it had been clear for the final few months of the 2015-16 campaign that the Maple Leafs were going to rid themselves of Cowen’s contract come mid-June. The reason for the buyout is two-fold, though. First, Cowen doesn’t fit into what the Maple Leafs are building and he wasn’t in coach Mike Babcock’s plans, nor was he part of the future of the team. The second, much more interesting, reason is that buying out Cowen’s contract provides Toronto with a cap credit of $650,000 for 2016-17.

That’s right: the Maple Leafs earned salary space by buying out the final year of the rearguard’s four-year, $12.4-million deal. They will be on the hook for $750,000 in 2017-18, however. Read more

10 players who could be buyout candidates this off-season

Bryan Bickell (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nothing says the off-season quite like the threat of buyouts, and we’re inching ever-closer to the NHL’s buyout window opening and several players could see their time with their current teams come to a close.

For some of the candidates, massive contracts are at fault, while other will fall victim to underperforming or simply not fitting within a team’s structure any longer. Unfortunately, some are a combination of all three.

With the salary cap remaining relatively flat according to all reports, several teams are going to be in tough financial situations. Even a rise of $2 million in the salary cap, which is a rough estimate of the maximum amount the upper limit will rise, would still see several teams in tough cap positions. That’s not to say all players on this list will be bought out, but there’s at least a fair chance several from this list will be sent packing by way of a buyout. Read more

Johnny Bower on Gordie Howe: ‘He’ll meet his wife up in heaven now’

Gordie Howe and Johnny Bower. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

A turn of events many decades ago, after an exhibition game in Saskatoon, told Johnny Bower exactly who Gordie Howe was.

Bower, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ stalwart goaltender, was leaving the rink, and Howe, star right winger of the Detroit Red Wings, caught up to him. The two were off-season buddies, so Howe wanted to walk and talk with Bower en route to their next destination. Bower, now 91, doesn’t necessarily remember where they were going, but he remembers clear as day what happened next.

“We got about a block away, and all of a sudden, he turns around and goes back,” Bower said. “He said, ‘John, don’t go too far. I’ll be right back. Stay right here.’ ”

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Phil Kessel starring as the best player in a supporting role for Penguins

Phil Kessel  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

SAN JOSE – This is something that simply needs to be said. The Pittsburgh Penguins are on the verge of winning their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history because of Phil Kessel. Now sit back and let that sink in for a minute. And if you’re a fan of the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs, please stay a safe distance from sharp objects.

Since the Penguins last won the Cup in 2009, they were beaten out in the playoffs six of seven years by a team that finished lower than they did in the standings. What they failed to grasp is that superstars get shut down in the playoffs, so you need very good support players to succeed. And in Kessel, they might have one of the most talented support players in the history of the game.

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How ‘Babsocks’ went from a dressing room windup to a budding clothing empire

Ian Denomme

Not many good ideas are born out of beer league hockey dressing rooms. Trust us. But Jake Mednick and Thomas McCole have turned what seemed like an off-the-cuff joke into a booming business.

That business is Babsocks – a unisex, one-size-fits-all sock in blue and white adorned with the animated, disapproving face of Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “For a reason I can hardly remember, I joked about Babsocks being something funny to create,” Mednick said. “While I was joking, Tom knew I was on to something and he hustled to get a prototype made. . .We have been coming up with creative and goofy ideas for years but this is the first time any thing materialized.”

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Matthews defies odds to crack Team North America lineup

Auston Matthews  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

So just how good is the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, Auston Matthews? Well, he’s so good that apparently he can skate uphill.

When Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman, the two men most responsible for putting the North American roster for the World Cup of Hockey together, announced their initial selections for the 23-and-under team less than three months ago, Chiarelli declared that Matthews had an “uphill road” in his attempts to be on the roster. But with an impressive World Championship to his credit where he was one of the best players in the tournament, Matthews bucked the odds and will find himself part of what will easily be the most intriguing team in the tournament.

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Mitch Marner is destroying the Memorial Cup, so what can we expect from him next season?

Mitch Marner (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The London Knights are steamrolling the competition at the Memorial Cup and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner is leading the way, just as he did in the OHL playoffs. All told, the right winger has 57 points in his past 21 games (13 in three Memorial Cup wins). Add in the 116 points he had during the regular season and you’ve got a weaponized threat on the ice.

The Knights have already clinched a spot in the Memorial Cup final thanks to a 3-0 record (in which they have outscored their opponents 20-5), so with one game left on the docket for the team, it’s hard not to speculate what Marner’s future holds next season.

So let’s speculate, shall we?

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