• Lottery winners?! Auston Matthews is the superstar Maple Leafs have lacked for 99 years

    Matt Larkin
    Auston Matthews (Photo by Sparta Prague/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

    Somewhere, somehow, some quack-job Toronto Maple Leafs fan found a magic lamp. Or wand. Or puck. Or Punch Imlach’s fedora. Or anything to wish a mystical transformation upon hockey’s most sad-sack franchise.

    And all the far-fetched theories or ideas typically reserved for irate late-night radio show callers began to come true.

    “Yo, the Leafs should make Brendan Shanahan their president.”

    “Yo, the Leafs should hire Mike Babcock as head coach.”

    “Yo, the Leafs should trade Phil Kessel.”

    “Yo, the Leafs should hire Lou Lamoriello as GM.”

    “Yo, the Leafs should trade Dion Phaneuf.”

    They all would’ve seemed like typical Toronto-media-constructed fantasies even a few years ago. Instead, they’ve happened. The Shanahan regime continues to slide pieces into place, transforming the Leafs team culture. Assistant GM Kyle Dubas is the franchise’s analytics driver and oversees the powerhouse AHL affiliate Marlies. Lamoriello has instilled the same tight-lipped mentality he used in New Jersey for close to three decades. Director of player personnel Mark Hunter holds the keys to the draft. And Babcock has changed the way this team plays. It spent year after year as one of the worst possession drivers in hockey and jumped to the middle of the pack in his first year as bench boss.

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  • Maple Leafs win draft lottery; hold No. 1 pick for first time in more than 30 years

    Daniel Nugent-Bowman
    Brendan Shanahan (Getty Images)

    The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the draft lottery, giving the franchise its first No. 1 pick since 1985 when future captain Wendel Clark was selected.

    The Leafs finished the season with the league’s worst record at 29-42-11, giving them a 20 percent chance to win the lottery. It’s the first time since 2010 that a team with the best odds managed to secure the top spot.

    This was the first year the top three picks were determined via lottery. The Winnipeg Jets secured the second pick on Saturday night and the Columbus Blue Jackets received the third choice.

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  • Former castoff Drouin shines in Game 2 win for Lightning

    TAMPA, FL - APRIL 30:  Jonathan Drouin #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders  during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 30, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)

    And to think, there was once a time when the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jonathan Drouin had no use for one another.

    Now, Drouin’s spot in the Lightning lineup is not only firmly secure, but the left winger is making important contributions in playoff victories. Drouin scored his first career post-season goal and added an assist in a 4-1 Game 2 win on Saturday as Tampa Bay evened its Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Islanders.

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  • Kopitar, Barkov and Eriksson nominated for Lady Byng Trophy

    Anze Kopitar

    Anze Kopitar was nominated for his second 2016 NHL award on Saturday.

    The Los Angeles Kings center was named one of the three finalists for the league’s Lady Byng Trophy, given to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Kopitar is also up for the Selke Trophy for the top defensive forward.

    Joining Kopitar among the final three are Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov and Boston Bruins left winger Loui Eriksson.

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  • Seven players who can turn a successful playoff performance into a contract for 2016-17

    Mike Brophy
    Steve Ott (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Hockey is the ultimate team sport, or so we are lead to believe.

    And yet we also know that the further a team goes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the more it can benefit the individuals that make up the teams. Let’s be honest, there are a number of players on the eight teams still standing who are playing for contracts next season.

    A player like center Matt Cullen of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, is in his 19th season in the NHL, on a one-year contract for $800,000 — quite a comedown for a guy who used to earn $4 million a year with the Nashville Predators. Still the 39-year-old native of Virginia, MN, is playing for the love of the game. Playing pretty well, too. In six games, Cullen has two goals – both game-winners – and three points while averaging 15:22 of dependable two-way play.

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  • Ducks GM Murray casts blame on team’s stars for playoff exits, Boudreau’s dismissal

    Daniel Nugent-Bowman
    during the NHL General Managers media availability at Bellagio Hotel on June 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

    Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray may have sent coach Bruce Boudreau packing after another Game 7 loss, but made it clear others would be on their way out, too.

    Murray ripped his players Friday after he canned Boudreau, notably criticizing their effort early in an opening-round series defeat at the hands of the Nashville Predators. The Ducks dropped the first two games on home ice before winning the next three. They ultimately lost Game 6 in Nashville before falling 2-1 in the decisive affair in Anaheim on Wednesday.

    “I’d like to know where the heck they were in Games 1 and 2. The players are going to have to answer that in the next four or five days,” Murray told reporters. “Where were they? They showed up in Game 7, but where was that passion? That controlled emotion? Where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable, too.”

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  • Rumor Roundup: What off-season changes are in store for Blackhawks and Ducks?

    Lyle Richardson
    Andrew Shaw (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

    With the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs underway, the remaining casualties from the opening round are taking stock. For the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, considered by some to be Cup contenders, their early exit raises questions about off-season changes.

    A lack of skilled defensive depth proved the Blackhawks’ undoing against the St. Louis Blues. Chicago Tribune pundits Chris Kuc and David Haugh, along with USA Today’s Kevin Allen, believe addressing this issue should be GM Stan Bowman’s priority this summer.

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  • Sharks fight through challenges to knock off Predators in series opener

    SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 29:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammates on the bench after he scored a goal against the Nashville Predators in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 29, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

    The San Jose Sharks overcame some potential bad luck, some tough luck and a third-period deficit as they took Game 1 of their Western Conference series against the Nashville Predators on Friday.

    The Sharks exploded in the third period by scoring five times – including two empty-netters – turning Nashville’s one-goal advantage into a 5-2 win.

    Former Predator Joel Ward was the catalyst. He set up Tomas Hertl for a power-play goal and then scored the go-ahead marker to give the Sharks their first lead of the night. His goal occurred on a partial break as he outwaited Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne and tucked the puck around him at 11:49.

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