Potatoes and perception: Toronto’s divisive offseason

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Depending upon whom you ask, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason ranks as either a shrewd reboot or a baffling series of missteps.

At its core, the debate seemingly pits fans who rely upon “advanced stats” against those who base their opinions on gut reactions, win-loss records, intangibles or other more “traditional” factors.

The most succinct way to summarize the divide probably comes in the perception of GM Dave Nonis.

Against Nonis: 71 percent of voters at popular Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets voted that potato would have had a better offseason than Nonis.

For Nonis: Conversely, Leafs ownership gave him an emphatic stamp of approval by way of a five-year contract extension.

Lupul lets loose

In most hockey markets, the stat-loving crowd tends to argue in less mainstream circles, even as deeper analysis appears to be making in-roads to NHL front offices. In Toronto, the debates are prominent enough that Maple Leafs players are addressing them directly.

For one thing, Joffrey Lupul took to Twitter in July to lambaste the use of Corsi numbers, which essentially track shots in a similar way to how plus/minus tallies goals for and against.* (Click here for a more sophisticated explanation.)

It’s unclear what specifically left the 29-year-old so steamed, although many wonder if his strong 2013 results were fluky, as he connected on a staggering 26.2 percent of his shots on goal during the regular season.

Bozak vs. Grabovski

Still, the Lupul debate is a mere whisper compared to the divide between how the Leafs and some of their stat-leaning fans view centers Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski.

Members of the number-crunching community argue that Phil Kessel is the reason Bozak is a first-line center and many praise Grabovski’s puck possession skills. Conversely, the team gave Bozak a big extension and bought out Grabovski, who’s still looking for NHL work.

These rumblings prompted a public response, too. The discussions were widespread enough that Bozak addressed his critics in mid-July, stating that he’d gladly follow his coaches’ opinions rather than Twitter commentary.

***

Leafs fans are divided on a significant chunk of this summer’s moves, including the additions of David Clarkson and Jonathan Bernier.

Still, considering how long they’ve been waiting to see the Buds bloom into a legitimate contender, it’s likely that most of those fan-critics would be glad to be wrong. For the most part, anyway.

* – Although Corsi includes shots that miss the net and so on.

Report: Canadiens to sign KHL defenseman Jakub Jerabek

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Just four days after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens’ front office is already hard at work.

The Habs have reportedly agreed to terms with Chekhov Vityaz defenseman Jakub Jerabek, according to KHL reporter Aivis Kalnins.

No official announcement has been made because Jerabek still has four days remaining on his current KHL contract.

The 25-year-old isn’t big (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), but his numbers suggest he’s got a good blend of offensive ability, while playing with an edge.

In his first KHL season, Jerabek scored five goals, 29 assists and accumulated 56 penalty minutes in 59 games.

He had spent the previous eight years with Plzen HC over in the Czech League.

Montreal has plenty of defensemen on their roster, but with the expansion draft and free agency on the horizon, that could change fairly quickly.

Veteran Andrei Markov is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but it would be shocking to see him go. Alexei Emelin, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson are all signed, while Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov are both set to become restricted free agents.

In Beaulieu and Nesterov’s case, there’s a decent chance they won’t be back with the club next year.

Last year’s ninth overall pick, Mikhail Sergachev, will also be looking to make a full-time leap to the NHL in 2017-18, so Jerabek isn’t a slam dunk to become a regular.

PHT Morning Skate: Five under-the-radar coaching candidates

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–We don’t often see franchise players hit the open market, but next summer could be intriguing in that regard. Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog focuses on the Islanders’ future with or without John Tavares, and what direction the team could be heading in. Friedman also touches on Joel Quenneville’s job security in Chicago and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Some hockey fans have begun questioning the importance of winning faceoffs, but the Anaheim Ducks aren’t among those who doubt the importance of winning draws. “If you start with the puck, you can use it to your advantage on the offensive side of the game. When you’re trying to protect a lead and starting with the puck, you’re killing their momentum that they’re trying to build.” (OC Register)

–Even though it’s been almost 30 years since Wayne Gretzky has suited up for the Edmonton Oilers, he still gets pretty intense during their playoff games. We’ve all gotten to see the footage of a nervous-looking Gretzky watching the Oilers play, and he’s definitely not just putting on a show. “It’s an emotional game and I’ve always been sort of an emotional guy. It’s exciting. Back in Edmonton, the city is on fire. The Oilers are playing with a great deal of passion. You can’t help but get caught up in that passion. That’s what it’s all about. (Edmonton Journal)

–There’s a couple of teams still looking for new head coaches at this point, and Sportsnet’s Ryan Dixon brings up five off-the-board candidates that could step in and get an NHL job very soon. With the success the Capitals have had over the last few seasons, it’s not surprising to see their associate coach Todd Reirden and assistant Lane Lambert get some recognition. (Sportsnet)

–Speaking of people flying under the radar, USA Today looks at eight players that could surprisingly make a huge difference for their teams in the second round. With the injury to Karl Alzner in Washington, Nate Schmidt could eat up some important minutes for the Caps. Pens forward Jake Guentzel, who was terrific in the first round against Columbus, may need to help shoulder the offensive burden. (USA Today)

–Smaller goalie equipment was supposed to make life harder for netminders, but has it had the opposite effect? Since the equipment change became mandatory on Feb. 4, scoring went down by 0.03 goals-per-game. The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell suggests that if the NHL wants to add more scoring, they may be better off making goalies wear bigger equipment. (The Hockey News)

Bruce Cassidy officially named head coach of the Bruins

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Bruce Cassidy wanted it, and now he’s got it.

On Wednesday morning, Cassidy was officially named the 28th head coach of the Boston Bruins.

He really helped turn Boston’s season around after taking over for Claude Julien, who was fired on Feb. 9. Cassidy led the Bruins to an 18-8-1 record in 33 games behind the bench.

Despite being without a number of key players like Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, David Krejci and others, Cassidy’s Bruins managed to push the Senators before eventually being eliminated in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.

“Obviously we’re talking (the players) about pretty much everything when we’re out shooting the bull, and a lot of guys liked him,” forward David Backes said on Tuesday, per NESN. “He was put into a tough situation — being out of the playoff race, maybe just chasing at the point he takes over to try to take a team and get in … and you figure the way the business works, that he’s probably coaching for his life to make a splash and show that he can be a difference-maker or else who knows what the future holds for him? I think he did a heck of a job, and his results are what a coach should be judged on.”

Cassidy did some impressive work over the final three months of the campaign. Under his watch, the team finished first in goals-per-game (3.37), first in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in wins (18), tied for second in power play percentage (27.8), tied for third in goals allowed per game (2.30), and they ranked sixth in takeaways (229).

Prior to joining Julien’s staff as an assistant at the start of the 2016-17 season, Cassidy spent five years as head coach of Boston’s AHL team in Providence.

This is the second head coaching job for the 51-year-old at the NHL level. He previously served as head coach of the Washington Capitals for parts of two seasons (2002-03 to 2003-04).

After surgery, Joe Thornton should be ready for 2017-18 (Wherever he plays)

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On Monday, we found out that Joe Thornton made the “courageous” (or … outrageous?) decision to fight through tears to his ACL and MCL and suit up for the playoffs.

(That still warrants a moment of reflection, because, wow.)

The San Jose Sharks sent out a positive update in that regard: after successful surgery yesterday, Thornton is expected to be ready to play by the start of the 2017-18 season.

So, that answers one big question. It doesn’t settle an even bigger one, though: where will Thornton play next year?

Patrick Marleau indicated that he believes he has “at least five good years” left, a fine thought that becomes trickier when you consider San Jose’s salary structure problems for 2018-19 and on. The impression is that Thornton wants to come back, too, but what if he – justifiably – seeks security in a longer term deal?

That situation is currently unclear, but at least it sounds like he’ll be healthy to start next season, whether he remains a member of the Sharks or joins a different roster.