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.)

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.