Maple Leafs president and CEO loves job Brian Burke has done with team

toronto_maple_leafs.gifMaple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Richard Peddie was asked for his thoughts on the job Leafs GM Brian Burke is doing with the team, and you have to wonder if maybe Peddie’s underlings are showing him tapes of other teams winning and calling them the Leafs.

Shi Davidi of The Globe And Mail gives us the early leader for quote of the season.

“I absolutely love the job Brian Burke has done,” Peddie said moments before a grand opening ceremony for Maple Leaf Square, his company’s gleaming property development project.

“What he’s done, first off, is he’s built a really deep (management) team, with succession. Dave Nonis is a GM all by himself, Dave Poulin is a GM in waiting, Claude Loiselle has been an assistant GM, we’ve got the greybeard and wise man in Cliff Fletcher, really, really a deep, deep team.

“Then he set about changing the culture of the team. I’ve never seen a GM that had a really clear vision of what kind of team he wanted. I’ve worked with seven of them, which might say something about the longevity of GMs at our place, but he’s got this clear, clear vision — goalies, defence, four lines, all that. I’ve never heard it, basketball, soccer, hockey, as clear as him. …

“Did we finish 29th? Was that not good? Absolutely, but I love where he’s at now, what he’s done, so high, high marks to Brian Burke from my perspective.”

If anyone ever calls Richard Peddie a pessimist, just show them these quotes to shut them up. If anyone wanted to call him crazy, on the other hand, this would make for an outstanding Exhibit A. As for Brian Burke, you better believe he knows what was said and you’d better believe he’s got his own take on things.

“We finished 29th, I don’t know how I can give myself anything other than a poor grade,” he said. “You’re dealing with sophisticated sports fans in Toronto — you better be honest. We haven’t had any success, hopefully it starts (Thursday) night.”

The Leafs open up with the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto and while fans may be excited about the start of the season in Toronto, realism is also a bit more in vogue than usual in Canada’s hockey capital.

While things could all click right for Toronto and they sneak in the playoffs, the more realistic thing to believe in is that they’ll improve starkly over last season and just miss out. If the Leafs can turn the corner like that and perhaps even not finish last in the Northeast Division, then people can start believing in the job Burke is doing building the team. Until then, the jury is out.

Of course, whatever tapes Richard Peddie is watching will show the “Leafs” lifting the Cup at seasons end yet again. He might be asking what happened to the red and black jerseys they wore last year are though.

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    Goalie nods: Vezina candidates clash as Bobrovsky faces Holtby

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    Sergei Bobrovsky leads the NHL in GAA, at 2.04. Braden Holtby sits second, at 2.05.

    Bobrovsky leads the NHL in wins, with 39. Holtby sits second, with 37.

    Holtby leads the NHL in shutouts, with eight. Bobrovsky sits third, with six.

    Perhaps you see where this is going.

    Tonight, the two will square off in a much-anticipated game, as the Jackets travel to Washington to take on the Caps.

    “It’s a great opponent,” Bobrovsky said, per NHL.com. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s one of the best teams in the League, so we’ll see. We’ll see who’s going to be better.”

    Holtby is the reigning Vezina winner, while Bobrovsky captured the trophy three years prior. Both have already been unofficially shortlisted for this season’s award — along with Devan Dubnyk and, perhaps, Cam Talbot — but tonight’s game is about much, much more than goaltending.

    The Caps head into the tilt two points up on Columbus for first spot in the NHL (and just one up on Pittsburgh). Columbus has made it clear it would love to capture the first Preisdents’ Trophy in franchise history, and a victory tonight would be a big step towards it. The Jackets, Penguins and Capitals all have 10 games left in their respective seasons, and Columbus will have one more shot at each this year.

    Elsewhere…

    — The Bolts begin a back-to-back set tonight, and will start Peter Budaj against the Bruins. Tuukka Rask will likely be in for the B’s, after allowing three goals on just 22 shots in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday.

    Keith Kinkaid, who’s seen more playing time that usual down the stretch, will get another start when the Devils take on the Leafs in New Jersey. Curtis McElhinney goes for the Leafs, after Frederik Andersen beat Columbus last night.

    — It’s Matt Murray versus Mike Condon as the Penguins take on the Sens.

    Eddie Lack, who’s played very well since being verbally lambasted by head coach Bill Peters, looks to start when the ‘Canes take on the Habs in Montreal. Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens.

    — After Reto Berra’s first start in over a year on Tuesday, the Panthers will go back to James Reimer against Arizona. The visiting Coyotes will start Mike Smith.

    Ryan Miller goes up against his old Blues teammates as the Canucks visit St. Louis. Jake Allen, who continues to be one of the better comeback stories this season, looks for his seventh win in his last eight starts.

    Chad Johnson gives Brian Elliott a night off as Calgary takes on Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going back to Pekka Rinne, after he earned his third straight win over the Coyotes on Monday.

    — It’s Steve Mason versus Devan Dubnyk as Philly travels to Minnesota.

    Corey Crawford will look to bounce back after allowing four goals on 10 shots (and getting hooked) against Vancouver on Tuesday. The visiting Stars look like they’ll go with Kari Lehtonen.

    — Some thought Cam Talbot, the NHL’s leader in starts, would get a rest tonight in Colorado after getting hooked against Anaheim last night. Nope. Talbot’s back in, going up against Jeremy Smith for the Avs.

    — In the late game, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck gets back in goal after Michael Hutchinson scored a rare win on Tuesday. He’ll be in against Ben Bishop, who looks to keep the Kings’ faint playoff hopes alive.

    ‘Hawks sign Kero to two-year extension

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    Chicago has re-upped with winger Tanner Kero on a two-year deal, the club announced on Thursday.

    Kero, 24, is in his second season with the ‘Hawks. He made his NHL debut in ’15-16 and has earned a more prominent role this year, scoring 12 points through 38 games.

    Undrafted out of Michigan Tech, Kero parlayed a strong senior season — which included being a Hobey Baker finalist — into a contract with the ‘Hawks. He’s spent quite a bit of time in AHL Rockford, emerging as a quality goalscorer.

    That said, Kero has developed a more well-rounded game with Chicago, and impressed head coach Joel Quenneville in the process.

    “He’s reliable in a lot of ways,” Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “He puts himself in the right spot, down low in his own end, underneath coverage, and seems to be useful in killing penalties as well. There’s more offense in his game that hopefully can come around and add to his reliability defensively.

    “We feel he’s done a good job of being a guy in the middle you can use and we like what he’s brought to our team in a position where, [earlier in] the year, I don’t know if he was forecast to be a regular like that. But he’s become more and more reliable, or used more.”

    Financial details of the new contract weren’t released. Kero is in the last of a two-year, $1.85 million deal with a $667,500 average annual cap hit.

     

    Fehr: Players won’t negotiate with NHL over Olympics

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    If the NHL was hoping the players would surrender something for the right to go to the Olympics in 2018, the NHL should think again, according to NHLPA chief Donald Fehr.

    “Obviously the players are not about to engage in collective bargaining in return for getting an opportunity to go to the Olympics for which they aren’t being paid, where very valuable things would go elsewhere in return for that,” Fehr told ESPN today.

    It was reported back in November that the NHL had offered to go to the Olympics, in return for the players accepting a CBA extension.

    Not long after, it was reported that the NHLPA had rejected the league’s offer.

    Looking ahead, the NHL may still be holding out for another party to offer some concessions — that party being the IOC.

    “We don’t even get the opportunity to promote the fact that we’re at the Olympics,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month, per FanSided. “We don’t get to use the rings. I’ve said to the IOC, you know, Coca-Cola is a sponsor, they get to promote their association and say proud sponsor of the Olympics. They won’t let us do that…there’s no recognition of the value by the IOC and the IIHF that we bring to the Olympics.”

    Read more: Bettman argues that Olympic participation hurts NHL product

    Bettman’s latest Olympics update was not very positive.

    “There are no negotiations ongoing,” he told Reuters earlier this week. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance. As things stand now people should assume we are not going.”

    Ristolainen suspended three games for hit that concussed Guentzel

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    Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has been suspended three games for interfering with Pens forward Jake Guentzel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday.

    Ristolainen was given a five-minute interference major and game misconduct for the hit in Tuesday night’s tilt, which left Guentzel bloodied and, as we later learned, with a concussion.

    Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the diagnosis in his postgame presser.

    Ristolainen, 22, didn’t have any prior history with the DoPS, which has yet to release a video explanation for the punishment. It could be argued that Guentzel was in a prone position, and that Ristolainen took advantage of it.

    “I thought it was bad,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said of the hit, per the Buffalo News. “The puck doesn’t get to him. He’s looking to get the puck to get into the play, and the guy holds up a second and then he still goes through him.”

    As a result of today’s announcement, Ristolainen will now sit out Buffalo’s game on Saturday against Toronto, Mar. 27 against Florida and Mar. 28 against Columbus. He’ll be eligible to return on Sunday, Apr. 2, when the Sabres take on the Isles.

    Ristolainen will also forfeit $90,000 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.