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.

If Wild want Yeo out, they’ll probably need to fire him

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo argues a call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP
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If the Minnesota Wild want to make a coaching change, it sounds like Mike Yeo won’t make it easy for them by stepping down.

“I’m not freaking quitting here,” Yeo said to reporters including the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo.

It also sounds like Yeo realizes that Minnesota’s morbid losing streak – now at a worrisome eight games – may very well cost him his job.

The scene sounded pretty somber after today’s loss to the Boston Bruins, and not in your usual way.

https://twitter.com/ChadGraff/status/698629021232455680

Yikes.

Firing Yeo would be a big step for the Wild, even more than usual, as he began his coaching stint in 2011. GM Chuck Fletcher was hired in 2009, so the two have been attached at the hip since then.

(And they got to know each other well in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.)

Will one or both be gone, possibly in the near future? Even Yeo admits big changes can happen.

Wild players, meanwhile, just seem beaten down … and maybe ambivalent about Yeo?

A Wild losing streak: Minnesota’s skid hits eight games with 4-2 loss to Bruins

Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) and Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, right, battle for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse for the Wild, they hit a new low.

Minnesota dropped an eighth straight decision in Saturday’s matinee against the Boston Bruins.

The Wild got behind the eight ball early.

Brad Marchand opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at the 6:18 mark of the first period.

Thomas Vanek ended a 10-game goal drought to tie the game at two in the second period.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Bruins answered with goals by David Krejci, Loui Eriksson and Zdeno Chara.

Minnesota drops to 0-4 since GM Cliff Fletcher announced that coach Mike Yeo and his staff were safe.

Even the captain acknowledged that today’s effort wasn’t good enough:

The numbers aren’t pretty:

If they were to lose next Sunday’s Stadium Series game against Chicago, they would establish a new franchise record with their ninth straight loss on ice.

As bad as the Wild have been, they’re still in the thick of the playoff race.

Minnesota is three points behind Nashville for the final Wild Card spot in the West.

Goalie nods: With Talbot sick, Oilers give Laurent Brossoit second career start

San Jose Sharks Bryan Lerg (42) scores a goal on Edmonton Oilers goalie Laurent Brossoit (1) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Edmonton, Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jason Franson)
Associated Press
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Laurent Brossoit will make his second career start in Saturday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.

Brossoit will be between the pipes because starter Cam Talbot is ill and missed the morning skate.

The Oilers are hoping Brossoit isn’t as busy this time as he was in his first career start last year when he turned aside 49 shots in a 3-1 loss to San Jose.

“I’m a big believer in Brossoit,” said teammate Brandon Davidson, per the team’s website. “He’s done a great job. I played with him in the minors and he competes like no other. He’s tremendously athletic and he did a great job last year when he got the game too. He’s ready and I think he’ll show that tonight.”

The Jets will go with Ondrej Pavelec, who hasn’t played since Nov. 21 because of a knee injury.

Elsewhere…

–The Leafs have yet to announce their start. The Canucks haven’t named one either, but expect them to go with Ryan Miller.

Craig Anderson will be between the pipes for Ottawa. The Blue Jackets will counter with Joonas Korpisalo.

–Like the Leafs and Canucks, the Islanders and Hurricanes have yet to announce their starting goaltenders. It could be Jaroslav Halak against Eddie Lack.

–Expect Pekka Rinne to get the start against the Panthers. Roberto Luongo, who was pulled on Friday, will be between the pipes for Florida.

Braden Holtby will put his five-game winning streak on the line when Washington takes on Dallas. Kari Lehtonen will look to extend his winning streak to three games.

–The Ducks have yet to announce their start. The ‘Hawks will turn to Vezina Trophy candidate Corey Crawford.

Louis Domingue will look to win his second straight game. Martin Jones will get the start for San Jose.

Gostisbehere sets new rookie record in OT loss to Devils

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Shayne Gostisbehere is the proud owner of a new rookie record.

With his goal in the third period of Saturday’s 2-1 OT loss to the Devils, the 22-year-old extended his point streak to 11 games, which is a record for rookie defensemen in the NHL.

Gostisbehere has an incredible 10 goals and 30 points in 35 games this season.

Gostisbehere’s goal tied the game at one after Devils forward Joseph Blandisi scored this beauty in the first period:

Adam Henrique added the game-winning goal in overtime.

It’s the second straight 2-1 victory for the Devils, who also beat the Oilers by the same score on Tuesday night.

The Flyers have just one win in their last five contests.

To add insult to injury, Philadelphia lost Michael Del Zotto to an upper-body injury, per GM Ron Hextall.

Here’s an updated look at the Metropolitan division standings and Wild Card race:

standings