In their years as Toronto Maple Leafs teammates, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin became close friends – and now that they’re playing for the New York Islanders, they’re showing their sense of humor for a great cause.
In this brief video, Kulemin accepts the “ice bucket challenge” – part of a campaign to raise awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – by dumping a pail of freezing water over his head. But when he’s done…well, watch the video and see what happens: Read more
The NHL has always been a pressure-packed league, but from year-to-year, some teams face more pressure than others. Which franchises are going to be dealing with an especially hot seat once the 2014-15 season begins? These five:
5. Washington Capitals. When the Caps missed the playoffs last year and owner Ted Leonsis cleaned house on the management side, some observers expected them to go the same route with their underachieving roster. They did no such thing, and instead doubled down with two high-priced free agent acquisitions (defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen). Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee they’ll even make the playoffs in the mediocre Metropolitan division. And if they fall on their faces again and miss the post-season for the second straight year – the first time that will have happened since 2005-07 – what will ownership’s response be then?
4. San Jose Sharks. Sports has a long tradition of identifying underdogs – i.e., teams not expected to do well because they’re lacking in depth or talent – but the Sharks are now officially overdogs: a team not expected to do well despite having all kinds of depth and talent. San Jose GM Doug Wilson’s criticism of his group of players after last spring’s playoff collapse against the Kings should have everyone walking on eggshells as soon as training camp begins, but any kind of serious stumble during the season could lead to major changes. Read more
First, Fenwick Close. Then, the world.
We saw it two weeks ago when the Toronto Maple Leafs named Kyle Dubas assistant GM. Last week, it was the New Jersey Devils’ turn, as they hired Sunny Mehta. Statistician Eric Tulsky also works for a mystery NHL team. Today, as Bob McKenzie reported, Edmonton struck with Tyler Dellow.
A significant chunk of the hockey population likely said “Huh? Who’s that?” upon hearing each of those news nuggets. A minority, albeit a growing minority, went the other way, with a full nerd-gasm.
Those friends who texted you things like “OMG DELLOW, F— YES” are the advanced stat community, celebrating the fact four of their own have now penetrated the NHL.
Dubas is to front offices what Doogie Howser was to medicine, a 28-year-old prodigy (16 in teen doctor years) whose love of baseball statistics spilled over into his hockey analysis. Mehta is a former pro poker player with a strong online presence as an Oilers blogger.
Dellow, who has worked as a lawyer, is one of the strongest voices in the advanced statistic world. He’s best known for using the team he cheered for, the Oilers, as the main subject of his studies. He was often scathing, but he was groundbreaking in his use of the new metrics like Corsi. His site, mc79hockey.com, has been shut down, at least for the time being.
The Toronto Maple Leafs recently avoided salary arbitration with defenseman Jake Gardiner and goaltender James Reimer. Gardiner re-signed a five-year, $20.25-million contract, while Reimer inked a two-year, $4.6-million deal.
Both players were frequently mentioned in trade rumors last season. While their new deals suggest the Leafs won’t be peddling either player soon, it’s done little to fully dampen trade speculation.
Gardiner’s new deal indicates the Maple Leafs see him as part of their defense corps for the long term, but his new contract lacks a no-trade clause. Should he continue to struggle under coach Randy Carlyle, trade rumors will continue to dog the 24-year-old blueliner.
For decades, anyone who has questioned the usefulness of fighting in hockey has heard the phrase “you never played the game, so you wouldn’t understand” thrown at them. Of course, the idea anyone needs to have been an NHL player to comment on fighting is bogus – are former politicians the only people who are allowed to comment on politics? – but, for the sake of the following argument, let’s say that’s true and only NHLers are permitted to talk about fighting’s place in the sport. How do fight fetishists reply to the comments new Canucks president Trevor Linden made to Vancouver’s Team 1040 Radio yesterday?
If you missed it, Linden co-hosted the show and was asked about his stance on fighting in hockey. Dimitri Filipovic of CanucksArmy.com transcribed them:
“I think that our game is such a great one,” Linden said. “It’s built around speed, and skill, and hard-hitting, not unlike the NFL. Can you imagine an NFL game where a linebacker puts a good lick on a running back and the linemen get in there and drop their helmets and start bareknuckle punching each other in the face? It seems rather odd. And you can see why there are some fans in the States that have a tough time with that. They say, ‘I watch the NFL on Sundays and they hit hard, play hard, and pop up after hits and run back in the huddle’. That’s part of the game.
“Hockey has a different culture, of course. I think there are a lot of fans that don’t care for the needless fighting. The staged, ‘I’m supposed to fight, you’re supposed to fight, so let’s fight. We’re not really mad at each other, but that’s our job’ type of thing. I tend to agree with it. I think the NHL moving forward – whether it be a Steve Yzerman or various others – have come out and had significant stances (against that).” Read more
Late Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jake Gardiner came to an agreement on a five-year extension with a $4.05 million cap hit as reported by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
This past season, Gardiner was in the rumor mill often as trade bait for Toronto to potentially land the No. 1 center they’d covet. After the season, it was speculated he and the team would work towards a short-term bridge contract, kind of like the one P.K. Subban signed with Montreal two years ago. But with the obvious cultural and strategic changes going on in Toronto’s head office, it shouldn’t surprise us that the team deviated from its old patterns.
If all goes according to plan, these surprisingly good moves will become less and less surprising.
If Gardiner hits the peak of his potential, he will become an elite and swift puck-moving blueliner, the kind you need to succeed in a league that is starting to put a premium on possession. But even if his development flattens, his natural skill set is valued in the NHL – and he doesn’t have a no-trade clause attached to this deal (just sayin’).
And though we’ve caught glimpses of Gardiner’s huge upside (especially this past season) his numbers haven’t yet flourished on such a poor team. The 24-year-old’s corsi for percentage at even strength last year was a rather low 46.4 percent, but it was still the highest on Toronto’s roster. His 10 goals and 31 points topped his full-season totals from 2011-12 – and 19 of those points came in the final 41 games, when Gardiner was playing some of his best NHL hockey yet. He was second only to Dion Phaneuf in average ice time per game.
What the Leafs are betting on with this five-year pact is that there’s plenty more to come from Gardiner and he’ll grow into a contract that will look like a steal by the end of it as he matures and the cap ceiling rises. They also bought one of his UFA years, which could be extremely valuable by Gardiner’s age 27 season. Seems like a good bet for a terrible team to make – the latest in a trend that should have Leafs fans excited. Read more
The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked the hockey world last week with their progressive hiring of Kyle Dubas, 28, as assistant GM. Diehards were familiar with Dubas already, as he’d been GM of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds since he was 25. Advanced stat heads also danced jigs upon hearing the news, as Dubas is known as a major proponent of metrics like Corsi and Fenwick.
By now, though, you’ve likely read all that about Dubas already. Who is he? And what is it like being an NHL executive before his 30th birthday? I tracked him down for a Q&A.
The Hockey News: You were close to your grandfather, Walter, and he coached the Greyhounds when you were young. Learning from him, did you know from a young age you wanted to be in the management side of hockey?
Kyle Dubas: I grew up probably like everybody else in Canada. I wanted to be a hockey player, and when I was 14 that came to a close. Being around hockey my whole life and around my grandfather, Walter, certainly lent itself to me in learning a lot about the game and the way that it was coached and operated. Once my playing days were forced out of me, it was just a natural for me to want to learn as much as I could about the hockey operations side of it, and I fortunately had that ingrained in me from a young age.
As they saw last season with Mason Raymond, the Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping a couple recent signings can result in great bargains.
The latest is local product Daniel Winnik, who signed with the Buds for $1.3 million on Monday and projects as a third-liner with the squad. Winnik played some very tough minutes with the Anaheim Ducks this past season, ranking third among the team’s forwards in Quality of Competition relative to Corsi.
Winnik was relegated to the press box for four playoffs games by Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, including the first three games of Anaheim’s second-round series against Los Angeles. The Ducks lost two out of three of those games Winnik was scratched for, ultimately losing the series in seven.
A center who can play on the wing as well, Winnik will join a long list of recent Leafs signings who can replace players lost during the off-season such as Nikolai Kulemin, David Bolland and Jay McClement. Another recent signing that fits along with Winnik in terms of strategy is David Booth.
Like Winnik, Booth was cast off by his former team (Vancouver), but brings potential to Toronto at a relative pittance of $1.1 million. Booth struggled through injuries as a Canuck, but he was one of Vancouver’s best possession players when he did suit up and finished more shifts in the offensive zone than he started. Also noteworthy is that both Winnik and Booth drew more penalties than they took this past season.
Toronto was abysmal while shorthanded in 2013-14 and on top of staying out of the box, Winnik can also help the penalty kill, as he led all Ducks forwards in shorthanded ice time (Anaheim finished 15th on the PK; Toronto was 28th overall).
Although the Leafs lost a bunch of forwards, they now have a logjam thanks to the Winnik and Booth moves. Along with those two, Toronto brought back Matt Frattin and Leo Komarov for a second tour of duty and added newbies Petri Kontiola and Mike Santorelli. Along with youngsters from the Marlies (and perhaps even 2014 first-rounder William Nylander), that’s a lot of competition to suss out for coach Randy Carlyle.