James Reimer, Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel

2011-12 season preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

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2010-11 record: 37-34-11, 85 points; 4th in Northeast, 10th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

The Maple Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since the lockout, but last season ended with at least a glimmer of hope. The team put together a spirited run for one of the final spots on the strength of James Reimer’s breakout performance. They ended up falling short of that goal, but that chunk of games secured the young goalie’s future.

Perhaps even more promisingly, GM Brian Burke’s success rate is rising, as he’s almost ‘batting for average’ rather than swinging for the fences with his transactions. Burke seemingly ‘won’ trades involving Tomas Kaberle, John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson, so maybe Toronto will win enough games to end its postseason curse.

Offense

While Phil Kessel’s team-leading 32 goals and 64 points shouldn’t have been a big surprise, the Leafs benefited from an unexpectedly strong season from the Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke MacArthur-Nikolai Kulemin line. One could expect at least a slight drop in their outputs – especially with Kulemin, who scored 30 goals on the strength of an unsustainable 17.3 shooting percentage – but the trio consists of in-their-prime players so don’t be shocked if they score 20-25 goals each.

The more important matter then is finding offense from different players. That’s where the Leafs’ free-agent consolation prize Tim Connolly comes into play. In a world without injuries, he’d be an outstanding playmaking partner for Kessel’s sniping skills, but his health is the elephant in the room.

Speaking of health concerns, Matthew Lombardi provides more evidence that the Leafs are something of a coin flip. If he ends up playing a substantial amount of games, then the team suddenly looks reasonably deep and versatile at center.

Defense

While it’s reasonable to argue that their blue line only really improved from a scoring standpoint, the Maple Leafs should be a far more potent team after Burke’s shrewd moves. Liles is a double-edged sword of a defenseman, but the positive end can produce a 40-plus point season. Combine his potential with Dion Phaneuf’s hard shot and Toronto could create a lot of offense from the blue line. Franson can also come in and provide some strong offensive skill on the second power-play unit (with perhaps potential for more down the road).

That’s not to say that Toronto’s defense doesn’t have any solid stay-at-home types, though. Luke Schenn is a strong defensive defenseman who should help the Leafs win at least a few more tight games.

Now if they could just reanimate Mike Komisarek, they’d really be onto something.

Goalies

Look, it’s understandable that the Maple Leafs lacked many options for goalies this offseason, but hopefully they at least considered having too much of a good thing by adding Tomas Vokoun. Just about any team with an uncertain netminding situation should have considered him, although the only two teams whose interest went public were teams in fair states goalie-wise: Detroit and Washington.

Instead, Toronto will roll the dice with short-term sensation Reimer and disappointing import Jonas Gustavsson. Reimer could go any number of ways: passable starter, rising star or one-hit wonder. Gustavsson needs to play well this season if he wants to avoid being called the goalie version of Fabian Brunnstrom.

Coaching

Ron Wilson was once (fairly or unfairly) known as ‘the coach who couldn’t win the big one’. Now his critics would probably settle for that much, as the innovation-friendly bench boss probably needs to make the playoffs to keep his job. The roster in front of him is a mixed bag again, but at least this time around the mix of good and bad is far more even.

Breakout candidate

If his knee heals up fairly soon, then Nazem Kadri has a chance to finally justify all the fawning praise he’s received the past couple years. Kadri might have been Burke’s consolation prize when Schenn was (hilariously) swiped from him in the 2009 draft, but he’s one of the Maple Leafs’ most promising prospects. Perhaps he’ll start reaching his potential – whenever he can get on the ice, that is.

Best-case scenario

That Kulemin-MacArthur-Grabovski line produces 80-90 goals between them, Kessel and Connolly produce a lethal one-two punch and the rest of their offense gets by. That explosive defense makes Toronto a nightmare from the point and the standings points follow. Reimer produces an outstanding sequel, proving all of his doubters wrong. The Maple Leafs don’t just make the playoffs – they win a round or two.

Reality

The Maple Leafs are a coin-flip of a team. A lot can go right or wrong – from health to encore seasons and prospect breakthroughs – so it’s a bit difficult to forecast their future, especially since they can make up so much ground in a ridiculously promising January 2012 run.

Again, it’s close to 50-50, but the Maple Leafs have enough ‘ifs’ that it’s probably safer to bet on them falling just short of that precious playoff spot. It’s been a long time since Toronto fans have had so many reasons for optimism, though – so don’t count the Leafs out.

BREAKING: Flames fire head coach Bob Hartley

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 5, 2016. The Flames won 4-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Associated Press
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The Calgary Flames have decided to move on from head coach Bob Hartley. The team made the announcement via their Twitter account on Tuesday morning. Associate coach Jacques Cloutier has also been informed that he won’t be back next season.

Hartley and the Flames surprised many last year when they won 45 games and made the postseason. Hartley was awarded the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s top coach.

What a difference a year makes. Unfortunately for the Flames, they won just 35 games in 2015-16 and finished 26th in the overall standings.

More details to come.

Kris Letang will have a hearing for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Many expected it to happen and now it has. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety confirmed that Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will have a hearing for his hit on Caps forward Marcus Johansson in Game 3.

After Brooks Orpik was suspended three games for this hit on Olli Maatta in Game 2, many people are expecting a similar outcome for Letang. It’s important to note that there are certain similarities between the two hits, but there are also some key differences.

Both victims definitely took shots to the head, there’s no doubt about that, but to say that the hits are identical isn’t accurate. First, although Letang’s hit appears to be late (0.6 seconds after the puck is gone is considered late), it isn’t as late as Orpik’s hit on Maatta. Another key factor to consider is that unlike Maatta, Johansson returned to the game.

Letang was given a two-minute penalty for interference on the play.

TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie breaks it down perfectly:

A decision is expected to be made later on this evening.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with three games on Tuesday night. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at NY Islanders (7:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 3 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

San Jose at Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 3 will be on the USA Network. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Dallas at St. Louis (9:30 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 3 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for tonight’s action:

Lightning strikes: Bolts even series with Islanders

The Sharks are the only team to grab a 2-0 series lead in the second round

Seguin resumes skating in Dallas, Ruff notes ‘they have flights to St. Louis every day’

PHT Morning Skate: Adam Henrique wants to make NHL 17 great again

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Martin Jones is a calming presence in the Sharks’ net. (Sports Illustrated)

–The Rangers should go after Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. (The Hockey News)

–Some people have pretty wild hockey tattoos. (BarDown)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A great piece on how Bruce Boudreau impacted the Ducks and Capitals. (Sportsnet)

–It should be an interesting off-season for the Anaheim Ducks. (Daily Breeze)

Adam Henrique is a funny guy. He took to Twitter to try and get himself on the cover of NHL 17: