In most NHL cities they ask, “Is this the year?” That question usually means if this is the year their team will win the Stanley Cup. The bar has been set a bit lower in Toronto lately though and now the fans wonder if this is the year the team will get back to the postseason. The Maple Leafs haven’t seen the NHL’s second season since the 2003-2004 campaign, the season before the lockout nearly killed the NHL.
This season, the Leafs are off to a 3-0-0 start heading into tonight’s game against Colorado (7 p.m. ET on Versus) and while it’s a position the Leafs have been in before (they started last season 4-0 before losing eight of their next nine), their first goal is making sure it doesn’t get to their heads. With all that potential doom and gloom aside, however, is this a team that can crack the top eight in the Eastern Conference? Why not?
The Leafs are being keyed by their biggest stars and for them that means one player at each key position. Phil Kessel is their best forward and he’s proving it with five goals and eight points so far. Dion Phaneuf is the team captain and top defenseman and his physical play as well as offensive contributions have the team rolling along.
Perhaps most importantly, rising star goalie James Reimer picked up where he left off last season and is doing well to help bail out the Leafs defense when needed. His solid numbers compare better than what he put up last season and gives the Leafs a reason to have faith when he’s in goal. That’s something they haven’t been able to do since guys like Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour were in goal.
If the Leafs can keep up this level of great play and get bigger contributions from Tim Connolly (who has yet to play) as well as Tyler Bozak and Matt Lombardi, there’s no reason the Leafs can’t get to the playoffs. With GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson steering the ship, the experience is there – now they just need the results to match up.
The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with goalie Robin Lehner, as they inked him to a one-year, $4 million contract on Tuesday morning.
Lehner and the Sabres were scheduled to have their hearing on July 27, but that obviously won’t be necessary anymore.
The 26-year-old played a career-high 59 games in 2016-17. He finished the year with a 23-26-8 record, a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.
There’s no doubt that he’s a talented netminder, but he’s had his share of struggles when it comes to staying healthy and being consistent. Of course, the team in front of him hasn’t been very good either.
Both of Buffalo’s goalies (Lehner and Chad Johnson) will have something to prove this season because they’re both on one-year contracts. When their deals expire next summer, Lehner will be a restricted free agent again, while Johnson will be free to test the market on July 1st.
The Sabres now have just over $10.9 million in cap space with RFAs Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu and Evan Rodrigues still needing new contracts.
A huge extension for Jack Eichel is also on the horizon, but his new salary won’t count on the cap until 2018-19.
–Hall-of-fame goalie Tony Esposito joined the guys on NHL Tonight to talk about his illustrious career. He talked about being named to the NHL’s Top 100 list, how he was one of the first goalies to use the butterfly style and more. (NHL.com)
–It looks as though NHL players definitely won’t be playing in the next Olympics, which means certain players on AHL contracts could crack their country’s rosters. The Hockey News looks at eight minor leaguers that could find themselves at the next Olympic. Tom Kostopoulos could be an interesting player for Team Canada while Chris Bourque could be an option for the U.S. (The Hockey News)
–Nashville Predators GM David Poile has had a relatively good offseason, but he still needs to figure out a way to get Ryan Johansen under contract. The Score takes a deeper look at what his next contract could potentially look like. Johansen will never be the highest paid skater on his team (P.K. Subban makes $9 million), but second isn’t out of the question (that rank is currently held by Filip Forsberg at $6 million). (The Score)
–BarDown put together an interesting list of seven once popular equipment advancements that aren’t so popular anymore. Anyone remember Curtis Curve goalie sticks or aluminum shafts? (BarDown)
–We all know what a shark is, but why did the original ownership group in San Jose settle on that name for their hockey team? Here’s one of the reasons: “The Red Triangle is (obviously) a triangle-shaped region that spans roughly from north of San Francisco to Big Sur. It hosts seven species of sharks including Great White, Leopard, Mako, Seven-Gill, Blue, Soupfin, and Spiny Dog. Notably, it is home to one highest concentrations of Great White Sharks in the world. With so many sharks in the water, it made sense to put them on ice.” (NHL.com/Sharks)
–Everyone knows Sidney Crosby as an ultra-focused hockey star, but the little things separate him from the rest. Here’s a really cool story about him helping a Canadiens fan:
The Vancouver Canucks still have some work to do this summer, but at least none of their players will take part in salary arbitration hearings.
After coming to an agreement with Michael Chaput, the Canucks reached a one-year, $687,500 deal with forward Reid Boucher on Monday.
Boucher, 23, has 112 regular-season games under his belt. He spent most of his career (82 of 112 games) with the New Jersey Devils before bouncing to the Nashville Predators (3 games) and then the Canucks (27 games) last season. He averaged a little more than 12 minutes per night with the Canucks, much like with the Devils in 2016-17.
While the arbitration hearings are covered, the Canucks face two lingering RFA situations: Brendan Gaunce, and most importantly, Bo Horvat.
The Arizona Coyotes handed a one-year, two-way contract to goalie Marek Langhamer on Monday.
Langhamer would be paid $660K at the NHL level and $67,500 in the AHL, according to AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan.
Langhamer turned 23 on Saturday. He got about the smallest cup of coffee you could ask for with the Coyotes last season: he appeared in one game for 16 minutes, allowing a goal on eight shots.
It was quite the year for the Czech-born goalie, who played seven games in the ECHL and 25 in the AHL along with that brief NHL appearance. He also played in the AHL and ECHL during the 2015-16 season, so he’s been bouncing around.
As a seventh-rounder (184th overall in 2012), Langhamer likely doesn’t take opportunities for granted.
The netminding situation is interestingly fluid in Arizona. Both Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue stand ahead of Langhamer – at minimum – but those two only have one year remaining on their current deals. If nothing else, there’s likely a “prove it” vibe at multiple levels now that Mike Smith is in Calgary.
With Langhamer settled, the Coyotes only have one RFA left to sign, but it’s a tricky one with forward Anthony Duclair. When it came to Duclair, GM John Chayka kept it pretty vague with the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan.
“We’re still trying to determine the best value for the player and the team moving forward,” Chayka said.