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

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.

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

Sharks finally solve Gibson in OT to defeat rival Ducks

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Talk about perfect timing.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday, doing so in overtime to lift the San Jose Sharks past the goaltending of John Gibson in a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

Facing off against their California rivals for the first time this season, the Sharks dominated puck possession and on the shot clock. Had it not been for the play of Gibson, this one could’ve been a lopsided win for San Jose.

Gibson replaced Jonathan Bernier to begin the second period. Bernier left the game with an upper-body injury.

In relief, Gibson made 24 saves on 25 shots. Vlasic was the only San Jose player to get the puck past him, but not before the Ducks managed to steal a single point.

The Ducks recorded the single point, but did so faced with a short-handed lineup as the game continued. Not only did Bernier leave the game, but so, too, did Ryan Getzlaf, who didn’t play a shift in the third period.

He left with an upper-body injury, as per the Ducks, who at the time listed his return as questionable.

Elliott backstops Flames to victory in his return to St. Louis

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So, it seems Jake Allen was onto something.

The St. Louis Blues goalie noted a few days ago that Calgary Flames fans shouldn’t be worried about Brian Elliott despite his early-season struggles.

Well, Elliott has since put together strong performances in back-to-back games against Central Division opponents from Chicago and then St. Louis.

After earning a shootout win over the Blackhawks on Monday, Elliott was put back in the Calgary net to finish off the back-to-back road set.

Facing his former team, Elliott made 23 saves on 24 shots and the Flames recorded a 4-1 victory. It was a special return to St. Louis for Elliott, who spent five seasons with the Blues.

“I saw that on the schedule from a while ago in the summer,” Elliott told “You want to come back here. I had so much fun playing in front of these fans in this building and wanted to do it again even though it was another team. The guys did a heck of a job in front of me to get that win for me.”

Not a bad trip for the Flames, with a maximum four points against two teams considered to be contenders in the Western Conference.

“I thought we were good in front of him, too,” Flames coach Glen Gulutzan told the Calgary Herald. “I thought we kept a lot of the stuff to the outside, but he made some big saves, especially at the end, when we knew their push was coming.

“I thought that was when he was his best. And that’s what you need — we put ourselves in position to win and then he carried us through.”

Bernier (upper-body injury) gives way to Gibson in Ducks net

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson began Tuesday’s game on the bench, but was forced into action to begin the second period against the San Jose Sharks.

Jonathan Bernier, who got the start, left the game with an upper-body injury and was doubtful to return, the Ducks stated on Twitter.

Bernier has played in only one other game for Anaheim so far, making 42 saves on 45 shots in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 15.

‘Dig in there with the rest of the guys,’ says Babcock after leaving Andersen in against Bolts

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: In his first game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen #31 puts his mask on against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Frederik Andersen‘s difficult start to the season continues.

After an interesting exchange when questioned about his goaltender prior to Tuesday’s game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning and some guy named Steven Stamkos, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was once again forced to answer inquiries about the play of Andersen, who allowed seven goals on just 24 shots.

Andersen stayed in the crease for the entire game, as the Leafs lost 7-3. He certainly didn’t get much help in the defensive end from his teammates in front of him.

Stamkos started the scoring for Tampa Bay, and continued it with a rocket one-timer past Andersen, before finishing with a four-point night.

But in Toronto, the conversation about the amazing play of rookies like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner seems to have shifted to the play of their goalie, acquired in a blockbuster deal with Anaheim, in which Toronto parted ways with a first- and second-round pick to make it happen. The Leafs then signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal.

Playing on a new team in a hockey-crazed market has likely been an adjustment. His season also started with an injury in Olympic qualifying.

Following the loss Tuesday, Babcock explained his reasoning for leaving Andersen in net for all seven Tampa Bay goals, two of which came late in the third period.

“I want him to play. He’s my guy. I want him to play,” said Babcock, as per Jonas Siegel of The Canadian Press. “So I could pull him and then say, ‘Okay I showed you!’ But what did I show him? To me, dig in there with the rest of the guys, make the next save and give us a chance to come back and win the game. You can’t do that sitting on the bench.”

The Maple Leafs face the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Florida’s goalie Roberto Luongo knows all-too-well about the pressures that come with playing the position in a Canadian market.

It is early in Andersen’s Toronto tenure.

But Babcock will likely be facing a similar line of questioning until his goalie turns it around.