Toronto Maple Leafs juggle struggling Jake Gardiner, soaring Stuart Percy

Ryan Kennedy
Toronto's Stuart Percy  (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Jake Gardiner brings one of the highest risk-reward games to Toronto’s depth chart, but early on in the season, the young defenseman seems to have been usurped by rookie Stuart Percy, who counters with smarts and mobility. On the morning of Toronto’s home tilt against Colorado, the big question was whether Gardiner was going to draw in after he had been scratched for the Leafs’ big win in New York over the Rangers. Coach Randy Carlyle was cagey after the morning skate, saying it was a “coach’s decision” (but you’re the coach!) and that the final answer would come after warm-ups. But one thing is clear: Percy is making it hard for the Leafs to take him out.

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Breathe easy, Maple Leafs fans – Phil Kessel scored

Josh Elliott
Cody Franson, Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk

It’s incredible how quickly Leafs Nation hits the panic button. Only in Toronto will a 0-2 start to the season become cause for concern – and cause for throwing a jersey on the ice.

But blow out the New York Rangers 6-3 – with a three-point night from Phil Kessel, no less – and the tone in Leafs Land changes pretty quick.

After the Leafs dropped a hard-fought opener to Montreal 4-3 and fell apart in a 5-2 loss to the guns-blazing Pittsburgh Penguins this week, some were talking like the sky was falling in Toronto. Heck, one panic-stricken fan was so hopeless that he threw his jersey on the ice in Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh.

That guy probably regrets chucking his sweater now, because Sunday’s team looked nothing like the one in Toronto on Saturday.
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Rumor Roundup: Leafs not shopping Kadri, but they’ll never say never

The Leafs believe Nazem Kadri can be a big part of their future, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't listen if they received a tempting offer. (Getty Images)

Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri and defenseman Jake Gardiner were subjects of trade speculation throughout last season. In a recent interview with the Toronto Sun’s Mike Zeisberger, Leafs GM Dave Nonis claims he never actively shopped the pair.

Nonis did say if the right deal came along for a player like Kadri he would trade him. “But there’s a big difference between being willing to trade a player and trying to trade a player. We were never trying to trade Jake or Naz,” he said. Nonis said the Leafs re-signed Gardiner to a long-term deal this summer because they believe in him, and Nonis expects Kadri will also be a special player.

Given the rumors flying around last season about Kadri and Gardiner, Nonis was probably getting calls from rival clubs expressing interest in the pair.  If the Leafs struggle again this season, or if Kadri and/or Gardiner fail to improve as projected, the speculation could resurface, but Nonis made it very clear last season he expected to get a comparable young player in return for either guy.

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Jiri Sekac is before, Tomas Plekanec is after

Matt Larkin
Tomas Plekanec led Montreal with two goals Wednesday night.  (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

There was a typical cluster of reporters in Montreal’s dressing room after Game 1 of the 2014-15 NHL season. Their prey wasn’t who you’d expect — P.K. Subban sat across the room, enjoying a rare minute of solitude. It was Tomas Plekanec, who played hero for the Habs against the Leafs at the Air Canada Center.

Plekanec’s night epitomized the expression “They all count.” His first goal came when he undressed Leaf goalie Jonathan Bernier on a perfectly delayed backhand deke. His second? A final-minute bank shot off rookie Stuart Percy, clinching a 4-3 road win for Montreal.

And as the media swarm engulfed Plekanec, he took it in stride, even joking that it had “been years” since he’d been asked to play an offensive role. It’s not that Plekanec, 31, wasn’t capable, but his penalty killing and faceoff prowess made him too indispensable. The addition of outstanding checker Manny Malhotra this off-season, however, gave Plekanec a chance to play on a scoring line between Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. The early results were obviously promising.

At the adjacent stall stood rookie and pre-season sensation Jiri Sekac, 22, with nary a reporter around him, still relatively anonymous. It’s natural to compare the Czech prospect with his countryman Plekanec. Their games aren’t identical — Sekac is a winger, for one — but they share good vision, touch around the net and puck-possession ability. So maybe, the Game 1 hero Plekanec represents the “after” and Sekac is the “before.”

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Brendan Shanahan knows only wins can rebuild Leafs fans’ trust

Adam Proteau
Brendan Shanahan (Getty Images)

In the hours before the opening night of his first full season as Toronto Maple Leafs president, Brendan Shanahan had two words on his mind: Game Day. It wasn’t the same as being a player, but he was as hungry for his team to win as he was during his 22-year career as an NHL player.

It just shows you – even recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductees have a lot to prove with the rest of their days. And boy, does Shanahan ever. He’s here to prove he can make the rapid, pressure-packed acclimation from the NHL’s department of player safety to the high-stakes boardroom showdowns that decide which cities get to hold Stanley Cup parades. The means to his ultimate goal have changed, but the goal is the same. Read more

Toronto Maple Leafs have a key gem in Morgan Rielly

Ryan Kennedy
Morgan Rielly (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a work in progress, this is obvious. But with young defensemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly starting off the year as a tandem, there is tangible hope to hang your hat on. While both players are mobile, offensively-gifted rearguards, that doesn’t mean they can’t pair up. After all, Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin have made magic in Los Angeles and even if Gardiner and Rielly aren’t on that level, they still represent some of Toronto’s best hope on the back end.

Amazing to think Rielly is only coming into his second NHL season.

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Which NHL team is the king of Twitter? Hint: they lose a lot

New Jersey Devils v Toronto Maple Leafs

We’ll let some marketing genius or anthropological intellectual explain to us the phenomenon that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. But somehow, a business that has consistently produced an inferior product for the better part of four decades, continues to succeed wildly at the cash register and in popularity polls.

The Leafs are the No. 1 NHL outfit in terms of franchise value as calculated by Forbes, they have the NHL’s highest ticket prices (average of $373 at resale), and it was announced by Twitter on the opening day of the 2014-15 season they rank first in number of followers on the social media platform.

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Toronto Maple Leafs most expensive ticket in NHL; all teams listed 1 to 30

Brian Costello
Toronto Maple Leafs Fans Watching Stanley Cup Game At Tailgate Party In Toronto

Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to pay the highest ticket price in the NHL, according to a report by TiqIQ, a leading resale ticket market aggregator.

The average listed resale ticket price of a Maple Leafs game at the start of this season is $373.50 (U.S.). That’s just a 3.87 percent increase over this time last season ($359.60). Canadian teams make up five of the top six spots in this report – Vancouver, Edmonton Calgary and Montreal are the others. The Chicago Blackhawks are the only American team in the top six.

Here’s the average posted resale ticket price for all 30 NHL teams, according to TiqIQ.

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