New coach, same old Leafs – but there’s good news in Toronto if you know where to look

Adam Proteau
Brendan Shanahan (Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs officially hung the title of interim head coach on Peter Horachek Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night, Leafs players officially hung their first stinker performance under his stewardship, falling 6-2 to the Capitals at Air Canada Centre. And really, is there anyone left that was expecting any different? To imagine a new bench boss would immediately deliver an improved Leafs team is to scream out for your friends and family to grab you by the shoulders and never stop shaking until your senses return.

Some people may choose to not believe it, but that awareness of the extent of the damage does extend to Leafs management. Nobody – not Brendan Shanahan, not Kyle Dubas, not Mark Hunter, and certainly not the in-house analytics team – can be accused of having Blue And White disease, which afflicts victims’ ability to properly appraise the Leafs’ collection of talent. They all understand the enormity of the task at hand, and the time frame that will accompany it. But they’re also not going to be hurried or pressured into remaking the franchise simply because it’s in dire need of a distinct direction. There’s too much to do, and too many things that require a delicate touch, to just fire up a fleet of bulldozers and send them to work. If you’ve ever tried to untangle a number of cords that have virtually fused together, you know that moving quickly isn’t a good idea.

That’s what Shanahan & Co. are faced with. That means more steps backward before the organization gets to the point where every step forward feels natural and not an anomaly. And for as agonizing as it undoubtedly is for Leafs fans to hear (especially the older ones who’ve heard various versions of the “give management a chance” speech for nearly five decades now), that means dozens, if not hundreds more nights where Toronto looks out of sync, if not altogether discombobulated. There will be more blood, and fans will be tempted to call for more heads to roll and/or players to be jettisoned.

But for Leafs fans, the good news coming out of all of this is that, in Shanahan, they finally have a power broker prepared to show the appropriate amount of patience come hell or high water. Shanahan already has demonstrated his willingness to operate in a manner significantly different from his predecessors in Toronto. Hiring Dubas and the analytics group showed he wouldn’t be bound by convention, and it’s safe to expect that approach also is applied to the way the team sees the fan base. That’s important, because for too long, Leafs ownership and brass have hamstrung the franchise by presuming their fans would not be patient enough to sit through a longer rebuild and instead made fast-track moves that ultimately hurt the Blue & White.

This is where Shanahan’s native son status makes him different: he knows that’s a pile of rubbish. He knows Toronto fans just want to see the team built properly, and that they don’t care if that takes a week, five years or longer. So if that means hiring someone in Horachek who is a transparent stop-gap measure until a more desirable candidate appear in the off-season, so be it. If that means eschewing quick fixes that might nudge them into the final playoff position for one season in exchange for developing young players, so be that, too.

The importance of this particular sea change in Toronto’s management thinking can’t be overstated. It’s the thing Leafs fans should be happiest about through all this ugly play and frustration that manifests in media/player squabbles and other distractions. As we saw again Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre, the organization is far from perfect, but it’s now run by someone with the stroke and spine to not be caught up in the drama of the moment and finally see a proper Leafs rebuild through.

It won’t always be a fun ride in Toronto, but at long last, at least it will be the right one.

Return of Duclair and Draisaitl shakes up the Memorial Cup race

Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

You can debate whether or not the Edmonton Oilers were right to hold rookie center Leon Draisaitl out of the world juniors, where he would have been far and away Germany’s best player. And you can debate whether or not he should have been kept up by the Oilers as long as he was before they sent him back to junior in the Western League. But the trade that sent his rights (and consequently, him) to Kelowna from Prince Albert is huge in the WHL’s arms race. Just as big as the New York Rangers sending Anthony Duclair back to the Quebec Remparts.

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Florida’s Vincent Trocheck dives, gets called out by Barry Trotz

Jared Clinton
Vincent Trocheck. (Jeff Sanzare/Getty Images)

The NHL has made it clear that this season, more than ever, they’re cracking down on diving. As such, Florida Panthers winger Vincent Trocheck may be well served to watch his embellishment.

During Sunday’s game between Trocheck’s Panthers and the Washington Capitals, with the Cats already on the man advantage, Trocheck crossed in front of the net and took a quick jab to the leg from Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik. It shouldn’t have been enough to drop Trocheck, yet he fell to the ice in dramatic fashion. Read more

Roberto Luongo steamrolled by Alex Ovechkin, but Panthers star says he’s fine

Adam Proteau
Roberto Luongo (Getty Images)

One of the reasons the Florida Panthers are in the battle for a playoff spot is star goalie Roberto Luongo. So it had to give Panthers fans heart palpitations to see Luongo get waylaid by Capitals star Alex Ovechkin when Washington hosted Florida Sunday.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Ovechkin barrelled in on Luongo in the first period Sunday, as both raced for a puck in the middle of the Panthers’ zone. The veteran goalie clearly got the worst of it: Read more

Washington’s Winter Classic comes to life in photos

(Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

As a game, hockey lends itself to some brilliant photos and spectacular moments, but the beauty of the game is amplified when it gets taken outdoors.

The 2015 Winter Classic was an outstanding battle between Chicago and Washington, two of the league’s best teams, and some of the league’s finest stars. The Capitals took home a 3-2 victory on a last-minute goal by Troy Brouwer, and the elation shown by Brouwer’s teammates was a moment that was meant to be captured.

This is the 2015 Winter Classic in photos: Read more

The five best (and one of the worst) things of the 2015 Winter Classic

(Brian Babineau/Getty Images)

For a game that was said to be lacking the buzz of year’s prior, the Winter Classic went off without a hitch and ended up being quite the game.

Almost everything about the game was as good as one could have hoped. From the on-ice action to the atmosphere and the show the league put on, 2015’s edition of the annual outdoor game had some great moments, with one not-so-great one mixed in.

These are the five best (and one of the worst) things about Washington’s Winter Classic. Read more

Capitals, Blackhawks beat back glare to put ‘classic’ in Winter Classic

Jared Clinton
WC Ovechkin featured

The spectacle itself, the Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks, didn’t start like many before it had. The pageantry was given a healthy bump thanks to the team entrances, and the game itself was one of the better outdoor contests the league has seen.

Though the first game will always be the most memorable – the snow falling in Buffalo while Sidney Crosby, the face of the league, scored the shootout winner – 2015’s Winter Classic will certainly be remembered as one of the outdoor games that stand the test of time. Read more

Blackhawks’ Crawford, Raanta show off Winter Classic masks

(via Chase Agnello-Dean/Chicago Blackhawks)

For lovers of goalie masks, Christmas came a little bit later. On Tuesday, Chicago Blackhawks goaltenders Corey Crawford and Antti Raanta gave fans a first look at their masks for the upcoming Winter Classic.

Both masks pay a bit of an homage to the Blackhawks history, while also incorporating parts of Chicago or thematic nods to the Winter Classic itself. Read more