Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Will Toronto finally make the playoffs?

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Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.

When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.

It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.

All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So yeah, long time.

Long time.

For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.

Which brings us to the question at hand:

Will the futility end this season?

If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.

Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.

His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.

That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.

The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.

Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.

“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.

“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”

As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.

James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.

Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.

To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.

The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.

He’s just one of a number of Leafs that need to improve from disappointing 2011-12 campaigns (others, to name a few: Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles.)

But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.

“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.

“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”

Related

For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.

For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

San Jose Sharks Name Peter Deboer Head Coach
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In Pete DeBoer’s first season as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, he went to the Stanley Cup Final with a roster that was headlined by two pretty talented players in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

For DeBoer and the Devils, it never got better than that. By the time he was fired, the team had missed the playoffs two years in a row, Kovalchuk and Parise were elsewhere and the roster was looking pretty, darn barren.

Now, in his first season with San Jose, DeBoer is once again off to the final, this time with a Sharks team that’s headlined by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Why, you could almost draw the conclusion that a head coach has a much better chance to win with a roster full of talented players.

Certainly, the teams DeBoer had in Florida wouldn’t hurt that theory.

A motivated roster is nice to have as well, and DeBoer definitely had that when he took over in San Jose.

“I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there,” DeBoer said Wednesday. “First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there.

“I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group, they’re pissed off, they’re embarrassed by the year they just had, and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again.”

DeBoer was also the benefactor of some fine work by GM Doug Wilson, who signed veterans Joel Ward and Paul Martin in free agency and got goalie Martin Jones in a trade. Wilson also signed Joonas Donskoi out of Europe, a year after he did the same with Melker Karlsson. Throw in a few draft picks that have come along — youngsters like Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Matt Nieto — and it’s hard to find a real weakness on the roster.

“The additions that Doug made, it just came together,” said DeBoer.

“They were coming off a down season, but they were coming off a decade of great hockey. They’d been well-coached. Todd McLellan and the previous staff are as good as there are in the business. These guys had a great foundation. Right place, right time.”

Related: DeBoer predicts ‘big bounce-back’ in San Jose

Panthers expect Campbell to test free agency

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The Florida Panthers are operating on the premise that veteran d-man Brian Campbell will go unrestricted on July 1.

From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

[GM Tom] Rowe said that the Panthers told Campbell and his agent they want to re-sign him but it appears Campbell, who turned 37 on Monday, will test the market first.

Campbell will be one to watch on the open market. A terrific puck-mover, he finished with six goals and 31 points for Florida last season while averaging a healthy 22:17 TOI per game.

He rarely gets hurt — Campbell hasn’t missed a game in five years — and has excellent skating ability. All of these attributes mask the fact that 1) he’s not overly physical, 2) he’s not what you’d call a “defensive defenseman,” and 3) he’s had an albatross of a contract.

Signed to a whopping eight-year, $57.1 million deal back in 2008, Campbell has been pulling down $7.14M annually, which has sort of skewed perceptions of him. His $7M+ cap hit puts him alongside the likes of P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang and Drew Doughty.

But at a lesser price, Campbell might be a really good acquisition.

And what’s more, the market for transitional defensemen is already heating up.

Earlier this week, GM Don Sweeney said the Bruins would be “aggressive” in their pursuit of a puck-moving blueliner.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault conceded his club had a puck-moving problem this year, and could lose both Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle off the blueline.

Finally, there are those Campbell would be up against on the open market.

It’s not an especially deep class for defensmen: Yandle, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Russell headline the list, which makes Campbell all the more valuable.

Max Talbot signs in KHL

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Earlier this week, we passed along word that veteran NHLer Max Talbot was contemplating a move to Europe.

On Friday, that move was made official.

KHL club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl announced that Talbot has agreed to a one-year contract. The deal comes after the 32-year-old split last season between Boston and its AHL affiliate in Providence, scoring seven points in 38 games at the NHL level.

Over the course of his 10-year NHL career, Talbot appeared in over 700 games and established himself as a gritty, hardworking forward with decent touch around the net.

He scored double-digit goals four times — including a career-high 19 in ’11-12 — and will always be remembered in Pittsburgh for scoring both goals in a 2-1 Game 7 win over Detroit at the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

 

 

Jets assistant Vincent named AHL Manitoba head coach

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  (L-R) Assistant coach Pascal Vincent, head coach Paul Maurice and assistant coach Charlie Huddy and the Winnipeg Jets look from the bench against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Winnipeg didn’t have to look far to find Keith McCambridge’s replacement for its AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Pascal Vincent, who’s served as an assistant coach with the Jets for the last five years, will become the eighth head coach in Moose history, the club announced on Friday.

Vincent, 44, was one of the original hires when the franchise moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011. He’s worked under two different head coaches — Claude Noel and Paul Maurice — and is held in high regard by the organization.

That said, he did face some critiques this year. Jets fans were displeased with the Vincent-led power play, which posted a league-worst 14.8 percent success rate, tying Ottawa for the fewest power play goals in the NHL (38).

With today’s reshuffling, there appears to be a spot now open on Maurice’s staff. The Winnipeg Sun reports that Jeff Daniels — former head coach of the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers — could be one to keep an eye on.

Daniels played for Maurice in Carolina, and the pair went to the Stanley Cup Final together in 2002.