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.

Domi: ‘No reason’ the Coyotes can’t make the playoffs next season

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 12:  Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes waves to fans after being named the number one star of the game following the NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Gila River Arena on January 12, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Oilers 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Max Domi is thinking big for next season.

After an impressive rookie campaign, in which Domi scored 18 goals and 52 points, the now 21-year-old forward is eyeing a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Arizona Coyotes.

Tall order, given they are in the Pacific Division and they were 20 points behind the San Jose Sharks for third in the division when the season ended.

But Domi is optimistic.

“There’s no reason we can’t,” Domi told TSN.

“We came out of the gates pretty hot this year and we beat some high-end teams but when the nitty gritty comes down to it, you gotta be able to win after the All-Star break — that’s when it really matters. Finding a way to find that consistency and manage that throughout an 82-game season will be pretty clutch for us and there’s no reason we can’t do it.”

The Coyotes have had a busy offseason since the middle of April. Here are a few examples:

— They fired GM Don Maloney, citing a need to move in a new direction. (Click here)

— They promoted 26-year-old John Chayka, who, as a result, became the youngest GM in NHL history, definitely representing a change in direction. (Click here)

— They acquired the rights to defenseman Alex Goligoski and signed him to a five-year deal. The idea was to add a defenseman capable of efficiently moving the puck to Arizona’s skilled group of forwards. (Click here)

— After a breakout season, goalie Louis Domingue was signed to a multi-year deal that could represent a changing of the guard in the Coyotes crease, which previously belonged to Mike Smith. (Click here)

— They added grit by signing Jamie McGinn to a three-year, $10 million deal. (Click here)

— After a lengthier negotiation process than maybe expected, the Coyotes re-signed Shane Doan for one year at $5 million. Doan, who turns 40 years old in October, led Arizona last season with 28 goals. (Click here)

— They made further moves on the blue line, adding Luke Schenn and re-signing restricted free agents Connor Murphy and Michael Stone. (Click here)

The Coyotes, already with Domi and Anthony Duclair, could have another young, skilled forward in Dylan Strome, the third overall pick in 2015, fight for a spot on the roster next season.

So, yeah. Busy.

With all the moves this summer, especially on the blue line, the Coyotes could perhaps take the next step in their evolution. It will also depend on other teams in the West, and if they improve or regress.

Whether that translates an Arizona appearance in the 2017 playoffs won’t be known for several months. But you can count Domi as a believer.

‘It’s getting stronger every day’: Bishop says he’ll be ready for World Cup camp

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three
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With the World Cup of Hockey approaching, Ben Bishop seems optimistic he’ll be ready to participate in the Team USA training camp prior to the event.

Bishop, the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, was injured on a seemingly innocent play and had to be stretchered off the ice in the first period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

There had been talk that he could perhaps return to game action, but in the end, he didn’t play another game in the series, as the Bolts were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.

“The leg is feeling better and it’s getting stronger every day,” Bishop told ESPN.

“I’m getting ready to start skating soon … and get back on the ice and doing that side of things. We have about a month until we go, so I’ll start off slow and pick it up in the next month and be ready for training camp for the World Cup.”

Good news for Team USA, which also called on Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider for their goaltending duties. The tournament begins Sept. 17.

In keeping with the optimistic mood about his status for the World Cup, Bishop last week revealed his new Team USA mask.

Related: Lightning lock up Vasilevskiy — what now for Bishop? 

Benn aims to be ready for World Cup after offseason surgery

Fans celebrate along with Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) after a score by Benn in the first period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series game, Monday, April 21, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Surgery earlier this month to repair a core muscle has put Jamie Benn‘s status for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey in question, however the Dallas Stars captain still aims to be ready to play for Team Canada.

It was announced on July 15 that the recovery timeline for this surgery was six weeks, which certainly makes it possible that Benn could be ready for the tournament, which begins Sept. 17.

“As of right now, yeah. I think this is a surgery that I’m able to come back a little quicker than double-hip surgery. That’s the main focus I’m training towards being able to make it for World Cup. We’ll just see what happens,” said Benn, as per Mark Stepneski of the Stars’ website on Saturday.

“Well, I think I’ll get on the ice later this week and just keep ramping it up a little more each time. I still think that’s a lot of time, enough time for me to be ready to jump into high-level hockey.”

Benn had 41 goals and 89 points last season with the Stars. He signed an eight-year, $76 million contract extension on the same day his recent surgery was announced.

Benn’s teammate Tyler Seguin “should be ready for the World Cup,” said Stars GM Jim Nill earlier this month.

Done deal: Coyotes sign 2016 first-round pick Chychrun to entry-level contract

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Jakob Chychrun poses for a portrait after being selected 16th overall by the Arizona Coyotes  in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes moved up the draft order to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun at 16th overall. And now, they have signed Chychrun to a three-year entry-level contract.

The Coyotes made the announcement on Saturday.

“We are very pleased to sign Jakob to an entry-level contract,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka in a statement. “Jakob is a highly-skilled player with an all-around game. He has a great work ethic and is very determined. We look forward to watching him continue to develop this season.”

When the 2015-16 season began, it was suggested Chychrun could potentially be a top-three pick in the draft in June. But he fell down the order, despite being the No. 4-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.

He was the fifth defenseman taken in the draft.

Listed at six-foot-two-inches tall and 215 pounds, Chychrun brings size and strong skating ability to the blue line. He had 11 goals and 49 points last season with Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League.

The Coyotes selected Chychrun after acquiring the remainder of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract from the Detroit Red Wings and moving up the order.

Chychrun’s fall — and what precipitated it in the first place — was discussed in great detail when the Coyotes held their development camp earlier this month.

“I think it was about being tense,” said Coyotes director of player development Steve Sullivan. “All the pressure of wanting to be second overall and maybe not having a great season; it snowballed the wrong way for him.

“Now he needs to understand he’s been drafted into the National Hockey League and we’re going to put him in a game plan to get him here as fast as we can. He can loosen up and play the way we think he can play. If that happens, there is no reason why he won’t be here sooner than later.”

Related:

Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing

Report: Stone and Coyotes agree to one-year, $4M deal

Coyotes sign Connor Murphy to six-year extension