Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins

Phil Kessel to the Leafs trade is finally complete

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It only took twenty-one months, but the deal that sent Phil Kessel from Boston to Toronto is finally complete. It was a different climate when the deal went down—the Bruins were looking to trade the disgruntled sniper, due in part to difficult contract negotiations. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs were coming off of an offseason where they thought they had put together a team that would be able to complete in the postseason. By adding an offensive player of Kessel’s caliber, Brian Burke and Co. thought they’d be able to do damage in the playoffs.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way.

The king’s ransom the Maple Leafs traded was a potpourri of future assets that had the potential to help the Bruins for years to come. When the Leafs plummeted in the standings, the trade almost looked comical by draft day. Not only did Toronto struggle with Kessel on their team, but the freefall in the standings meant the #2 overall pick would be headed to Boston—not Toronto. For their efforts, the Bruins happily picked up the leftovers from the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin debate. Fans in Toronto were left to dream about Tyler Seguin in a Leafs jersey.

With the second pick of the second round, the Bruins picked up talented forward Jared Knight from London. The Bruins’ front office is pleased with his development thus far:

“There are some within the Bruins organization that get just as bright-eyed speaking about the offensive potential of Knight as they do about Seguin and his elite skating, shooting and playmaking package.

All that was left to complete the deal for the Bruins was Toronto’s first round pick in this year’s draft. After another struggle this season, the Maple Leafs first rounder was a lottery pick—this time 9th overall. It was the first time since 1983 that the defending Stanley Cup champions were able to select in the top 10 of the next draft. The Islanders were able to pick up Pat LaFontaine with their pick; it almost seems unfair in retrospect.

As the beginning of the draft unfolded, a 6’5” talented defenseman with a booming shot fell to the eagerly awaiting Bruins. Most scouts pegged Dougie Hamilton as the best North American defenseman in the draft (and second best blueliner overall). He can score from the point with his gigantic shot and can punish opponents with devastating physically play. Fans in Toronto had to watch in horror as the highly touted defenseman slipped to the defending Stanley Cup champs.

He threw out some decent names when asked who he compares himself to:

“When asked to name the NHL players he most models his game after, Hamilton quickly spit out Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Burns and Rob Blake among others – a pair of physically bigger defenseman with some offensive upside.”

The good news for the Maple Leafs is that the trade is finally complete. Even if they struggle next season, the Bruins won’t be selecting for them in the 2012 Draft. To recap: the Bruins were able to pick the highest rated center in the 2010 draft and the highest rated North American defenseman in the 2011 draft—both courtesy of Brian Burke. All that is left is the pain of watching Seguin, Knight, and Hamilton develop into NHL players while critics constantly compare the trio to Kessel. If all three players reach their potential, it could be one of the most lopsided trades of the last 10 years.

It’s important to remember that when Burke made the trade, he thought his team was going to make the playoffs in both 2010 and 2011. He was building for the present with high priced newcomers like Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin. But instead of thriving in Toronto, the team has struggled and temporarily shifted into a slight rebuilding mode. They were able to get back into this year’s first round by trading both Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg. Unfortunately for the Leafs, they were unable to re-acquire their own first rounder from Boston.

There is some good news at the end of all of this for the Maple Leafs though. At least this trade helps fans forget about the Andrew Raycroft for Tuukka Rask trade.

Bruins management failed to improve roster as planned

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After missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Boston Bruins went into the offseason with three major things on their to-do list:

1. Fix the defense.
2. Get a better back-up goalie.
3. Get “heavier” at right wing.

By the time the offseason was over, they’d:

1. Done nothing to fix the defense.
2. Signed Anton Khubodin to back up Tuukka Rask.
3. Signed David Backes.

In other words, Cam Neely, the Bruins’ president, and Don Sweeney, the general manager, went 1-for-3. Signing Backes made the B’s heavier on right wing. There’s no disputing that.

But the defense? It has 39-year-old Zdeno Chara on a top pairing with 20-year-old rookie Brandon Carlo. And it still has Adam McQuaid in a top-4 role.

That’s not meant to slight McQuaid. It is less about him than the two right-shot defensemen who have been traded away and not replaced: Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton.

The fact is, when the Bruins were winning championships and going to the Stanley Cup Final, McQuaid was a bottom-pairing guy. Since his role has been expanded, the Bruins have not made the playoffs.

Read more: The Bruins didn’t fix their defense, but Neely still expects improvement

Which brings us to the backup goalie. Khudobin was a bad signing, plain and simple. He went 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage before he was dispatched to the minors — and, if you were paying attention, it was not a huge surprise that he failed to deliver. This is a goalie who hasn’t put up good NHL numbers since 2013-14. Heck, he spent most of last season in the AHL.

And make no mistake, for bubble teams like Boston, backup goaltending can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Not only does it cost wins when a bad backup plays, the coach’s reluctance to use his backup means more work for the starter. Consider: only three other goalies have started more games than Rask (37) has this season, and he has not looked particularly fresh in his last few outings.

That, finally, brings us to the head coach. Claude Julien has been on the job for almost a decade, and perhaps it’s time for a new voice with some new ideas. After all, the league is faster now, and these aren’t Milan Lucic‘s Bruins anymore. Sometimes, change can be a good thing.

But just remember — if Julien does, indeed, get fired — Bruins management had three things they wanted to fix over the summer, and they only fixed one of them.

And that’s not on the coach.

Related: Julien’s job reportedly in danger

They fixed the defense, but now poor offense is ‘killing’ the Bolts

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Two weeks ago, Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said the team had lost its defensive mindset. His remarks came during a four-game losing streak in which the Bolts surrendered a whopping 22 goals.

Since then, things have tightened up considerably. Tampa Bay has only surrendered 10 goals over the last five games — which coincided with Ben Bishop‘s return from injury — but now, there’s a new problem at hand.

The Bolts can’t score.

“It’s not for a lack of trying, not for lack of chances,” head coach Jon Cooper said following Thursday’s 2-1 loss in San Jose, per the Tampa Bay times. “The shooting sights are off on the stick, too many missed nets.

“It’s killing us.”

After scoring four times in a win over Buffalo on Jan. 12, the Lightning offense has really dried up. They were only able to beat Sergei Bobrovsky once in a loss to Columbus on Jan. 13, then squeezed out a 2-1 win over the Kings on Monday.

Tampa then suffered consecutive 2-1 defeats in Anaheim (in OT) and San Jose.

All told, it has just five goals in the last four games.

One could point to all the missing bodies as a reason for the slump. Steven Stamkos‘ absence looms large. And while fellow injured forwards Ryan Callahan, J.T. Brown and Brayden Point aren’t elite offensive guys by any stretch, they were relied upon for depth production.

Not having Victor Hedman is a problem, too. The minute-munching blueliner generated plenty of offense from the back end, and is second only to Brent Burns in d-man scoring across the league.

This isn’t to say Tampa Bay is bereft of scoring options, though. Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn were all in the lineup last night. Killorn had a terrific chance for an equalizer late in regulation, but sailed his shot from the slot wide of the net.

“It was a grade-A chance,” Killorn said, per the Times. “And I missed.”

Tampa Bay needs to figure this all out, and fast. While the Bolts are only three points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, they’ve got to hurdle four teams — Philly, Carolina, Florida and New Jersey — to get there.

Thankfully, there’s some promise on the horizon. The Lightning are in Arizona tomorrow night, to play a Coyotes team that ranks 29th in the NHL in goals allowed.

Five team stats you may find interesting

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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27.5 — Shots per game for the St. Louis Blues. Only one team, New Jersey (27.3), is averaging fewer. So while it’s true that goaltending has been their major issue, it’s also true that in the eight games since the Winter Classic, the Blues have averaged just 22.9 shots, and that’s not very many at all. Perhaps it’s related to the goaltending — i.e. they could be playing more conservatively in order to protect Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. But coach Ken Hitchcock said recently that Vladimir Tarasenko “is getting checked to death, and other people are responsible for creating the space for him. He’s trying to play against four guys right now. We need more participants in order to help him.” So it’s not all on the goalies. In his last six games, Tarasenko has no goals and just nine shots total.

58 — Goals scored by the Washington Capitals since Christmas. That’s an average of 4.5 per game. Only the Rangers (4.4) and Penguins (4.0) are averaging four goals or more in that time frame. Since Christmas, the Caps have been led in scoring by Alex Ovechkin (17 points); however, the resurgence of Evgeny Kuznetsov (15 points) has also been key. Kuznetsov only had 17 points in his first 32 games. He’s up to 32 in 45 now.

73.8% — The Buffalo Sabres’ penalty killing, which has been terrible. In fact, the Sabres are on pace to have the NHL’s worst PK of the salary-cap era:

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3 — Power-play goals for the Blue Jackets in their last eight games. In a related story, the Jackets are 3-5-0 in those eight games. “There’s gonna be times where it just doesn’t feel like it’s going in,” said captain Nick Foligno after last night’s 2-0 loss in Ottawa. Columbus went 0-for-3 with the man advantage against the Sens, who got a 42-save shutout from Mike Condon. The Jackets still have the NHL’s best power play (24.6%), but the Maple Leafs (24.1%) are catching up. The Leafs have scored 12 PP goals in their last 10 games.

14 — Games the Colorado Avalanche have lost by three goals or more, the most in the league. Just how bad are the Avs? Well, they’re 30th in goals for and 30th in goals against. And if they keep up their pace, they’ll be the worst team of the salary-cap era:

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Leafs claim Griffith off waivers… again

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29:  Seth Griffith #24 of the Florida Panthers takes a shot on Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens during a game  at BB&T Center on December 29, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Seth “suitcase” Griffith is off to join another team — a team he’s joined once already this season.

On Friday, the Leafs announced they’ve claimed Griffith off waivers, just two months after exposing him on the wire and losing him to Florida.

Toronto had originally acquired Griffith off — yup, you guessed it, waivers! — when the B’s cut him loose just prior to the start of the regular season.

The 23-year-old, who played under Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter in OHL London, appeared in three games for Toronto this season, going pointless. Griffith had a bigger role in Florida — notching five assists in 21 games — but suffered a concussion earlier this month and, after recovering, was a healthy scratch for three straight games.

Per multiple sources, the Leafs are sending Griffith straight to their AHL affiliate, the Marlies.