Brian Burke says Maple Leafs lines are virtually all set heading into camp

The Toronto Maple Leafs begin this season hoping to earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. With guys like Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, and Mikhail Grabovski being joined by free agent Tim Connolly there’s hope that the Leafs can fight through a tougher Eastern Conference and crack the postseason.

As the team heads into training camp next week, most of the spots on the team would appear to be close to filled leaving training camp to be not quite so competitive for players seeking to impress coach Ron Wilson as well as Burke. Burke tells James Mirtle of The Globe And Mail that there could be competition going into camp for one starting forward spot and not much else.

“We think we made some changes that have made our team dramatically better,” Burke said. “We made some changes to the coaching staff, we made some changes on the blueline and we made some changes up front. And we think those things will put us in the position where we want to be which is in competition for a playoff spot.”

As for battles for roster spots, they will probably be few and far between.

“If you notice, we’ve left one spot open,” Burke said. “We want some competition for one of the forward spots. Whether that’s Matt Frattin or Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne or whomever, we do want to have some competition open for a spot. Other than that, we think we’ve filled the holes. But we’re going to find that out.”

Depending on where that opening is in the Leafs lineup would help determine who gets the call to fill it. Frattin is more of a physical forward than Colborne or Kadri. Kadri is a slick skating offensively creative guy while Colborne is a big center with some offensive touch.

There’s also the chance that Burke used their three names in particular because he wants them to know right up front that he wants to see big things out of them. They are three of the youngest guys heading into Leafs training camp and they’re guys that all have higher than normal expectations.  Kadri was the Leafs top draft pick back in 2009, Colborne was acquired from Boston last year in the Tomas Kaberle deal and has high potential after being a first round pick of the Bruins in 2008, and Frattin was a fourth round pick of the Leafs in 2007.

Asking your younger guys to step up and show a little more in camp isn’t anything new but with the pressure for younger guys to show they’re NHL-caliber guys so high these days, the Leafs would love to add a bit more offensive production to their other lines. Getting it from any of these three would go over very well in Toronto. If there’s just one starting forward spot to be had the way Burke intimates, the competition that would seem to be lacking could very well turn intense through training camp.

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.