Toronto Maple Leafs now own NHL's longest Cup drought; Will it end soon?

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Thumbnail image for oopsburke.jpgAfter nearly 50 years – most of which were spent falling pretty far from victory – the Chicago Blackhawks broke their drought (“The curse of Espo,” maybe?) and hoisted the Cup last night. So, the question is, who is the new team to wait the longest at the old Championship Deli Counter for a pound of cured, thin-sliced glory? (Hey, at least I didn’t drop this weird analogy on you at lunch time, right?)

The “winner” is the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team who hasn’t won it all since 1967.* The kicker, though, is that the Leafs haven’t even made it to the final round since ’67, either. Yikes.

Fans of other Canadian teams/syrup-haters in general might enjoy the semi-sadistic piece TSN wrote about their struggles since that point. Here are a few choice cuts.

The Leafs have also missed the playoffs 16 times since 1967, and in 26 campaigns since 1984, they have missed out on the postseason on 12 occasions – almost every other year since.

And of course, the Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs each season since the end of the NHL lockout.

Oh, but it gets worse. I don’t fault Leafs fans if they scroll to the next post/close their browser right about now …

In 1997, Toronto traded defenceman Kenny Jonsson, forwards Sean Haggerty and Darby Hendrickson and a first round pick to the New York Islanders for prodigal son Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith.

“Draft Schmaft,” general manager Cliff Fletcher told a Toronto reporter when questioned about dealing his first rounder.

And with a deep draft class that summer, the Islanders used their pick to select netminder Roberto Luongo.

Ouch, that stings. After the jump, I take a look at the future of the Leafs. Can they break the slump anytime soon?

* – The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are on a similar drought but there’s one difference: they’ve never won a Cup at all.

neuf.jpgUnfortunately – in my opinion – the team isn’t in great shape
to be more than low-seed  playoff fodder in the near future. While
Brian Burke is a bright hockey mind, he’s either under too much pressure
to deliver a winner right away or overvalues a few big name,
medium-result players.

I’ll get deeper into the nuts and bolts stuff during the summer, but
the team already has a lot of money locked up in a mediocre core. For a
whopping $32.6 out of a (ballpark expected) $58.8 million, the team
received Dion Phaneuf, J.S. Giguere, Phil Kessel, Mike Komisarek,
Mikhail Grabovski, Francois Beauchemin and Jeff Finger. Really the only
decent news is that Giguere’s contract expires after next season.

The funny thing about the Tomas Kaberle rumors is that he’s one of
the team’s few decent contracts. He might not do everything at an elite
level, but he’s a very good offensive defenseman for the price ($4.25
million) and his contract is set to expire. Kaberle and Luke Schenn are
among the few bright spots on a rough hodgepodge of overpaid players and
borderline AHL’ers.

That’s not to say that the Leafs are ruined, mind you. They still
have $10 million in cap space and Burke clearly loves making splashy
moves. Unfortunately, his splashy moves have been either shaky or awful
lately.

If the Leafs hope to end what is now the league’s longest Cup
drought, they’re going to need to clean up a messy roster. It shouldn’t
be easy, but if the Blackhawks taught us anything, a team can go from
the basement to the penthouse pretty quickly in today’s NHL.

(Of
course, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were top-3 picks in the draft so
… just be patient, Leafs fans. As usual.)

Devils sign d-man Michael Kapla

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The New Jersey Devils have signed UMass-Lowell defenseman Michael Kapla to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Kapla, 22, had three goals and 27 assists in 41 games this season. He’ll report to the Devils and likely burn the first year of his ELC by making his NHL debut sometime very soon.

The Devils host the Winning Jets tonight. They’re in Brooklyn Friday to play the Islanders.

Kapla spent four years in college. Per the Devils’ press release, he “most recently captained the River Hawks to the 2017 Hockey East Championship. He also received Hockey East All-Tournament Team honors and was named to the Hockey East Second All-Star Team.”

 

Report: Penn State sophomore Pedrie leaves school, signs with Rangers

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For the second straight day, the Rangers have landed an undrafted college free agent.

Vince Pedrie, a sophomore blueliner that just wrapped his sophomore campaign at Penn State, has reportedly agreed to terms with the Rangers on an entry-level deal, per the Collegian.

Citing a post from Pedrie’s Facebook account confirming the move, the Collegian reports the 23-year-old is the youngest Nittany Lion in program history to leave the team for the professional ranks.

It comes after Pedrie emerged as a “dominant offensive force” for the club last season, racking up 30 points in 39 games while helping Penn State qualify for its first NCAA championship appearance.

As mentioned above, this is the second intriguing prospect to join the Blueshirts in as many days. On Monday, University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri agreed to join the team after an impressive four-year career with the Gophers.

Hjalmarsson says ‘Hawks are ‘too comfortable’ after rough trip through Florida

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When most people take trips to Florida, it’s to get away from the stress and struggle of everyday life. But it’s safe to say that this edition of the Chicago Blackhawks won’t want to remember their visit to the Sunshine State.

The ‘Hawks dropped an embarrassing 7-0 decision to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night before blowing a 4-1 lead in last night’s game against the Bolts (they eventually lost 5-4 in OT).

They still have a comfortable lead atop the Central Division (eight points up on the struggling Wild), but they aren’t satisfied with their play.

“It’s getting close to the end here and we’re getting a little bit too comfortable maybe,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said, per the Chicago Tribune. “As soon as you do that, you’re going to lose games … At the same time I’m glad that we were playing like this before the playoffs so we can make some adjustments.

“Eighty-two games is a long season. It’s a mental grind more than anything. As soon as you’re not there 100 percent, it’s going to show in the scoring.”

As Hjalmarsson said, six games is still enough time to figure things out for Chicago. They just won’t have the luxury of facing easy opponents when they do try to sort out their struggles.

They’ll play the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday before returning home to play Columbus and Boston. They’ll then head back on the road to close out the season in Denver, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

PHT Morning Skate: This season’s top five breakout performers

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Jake Allen wore a special U.S. Navy tribute mask during last night’s game against the Coyotes. It’s really a gorgeous mask. “The blue and yellow complements our colors well, and it’s a great tribute to the Blue Angel pilots who have the honor of flying and performing across the country.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–With every NHL season, there are surprises and disappointments. Rather than focus on the negatives, The Hockey News breaks down the top five breakout seasons in 2016-17. At the top of the list is Panthers forward Jonathan Marchesault, who is shockingly closing in on a 30-goal season. Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson and Boston’s David Pastrnak have also made names for themselves. (The Hockey News)

–It’s no secret that NHLers are forced to travel a lot, but each team makes the most of their road trips in different ways. For example, Kevin Shattenkirk and the Capitals enjoy fine dining when they’re away from home.  “It’s so easy to go to the top names or the ones that you hear of all the time, but when you go to a lot of these cities, the food scenes everywhere now are really starting to improve. A lot of my friends naturally are foodies. They bring me to some of their places. Even just a simple Google, most of the times, the first two things that come up are Yelp or TripAdvisor, and I usually go a couple down and look at a local newspaper, if they have the best spots to eat in 2017. I like to focus on those.” (Washington Post)

–The Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves down 4-1 in lasts night’s game against Chicago, but they were able to battle back and win in a thrilling overtime period. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Tonight will mark the first time that Jordie and Jamie Benn play against each other since the trade that saw the older Benn head to Montreal. The Canadiens took the opportunity to ask their Benn some questions about what it was like growing up with his brother. Here’s a sample question: “Of the two of you, which one is Peyton and who is Eli?” (NHL.com/Canadiens)

–This year’s rookie class with Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner and Matt Murray is one of the best in recent memory, but which other freshmen classes stand out? BarDown takes a look at the top five rookie classes since 2000. (BarDown)

–Capitals forward Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky had some fun during picture day. The two players showed up to the rink with some pretty poofy hair. There’s no point in me trying to explain it when you can see the pictures for yourself. (NHL.com)