Carlyle finds positives in Leafs’ fourth straight loss

7 Comments

Even considering his occasional joviality in front of HBO’s cameras for their 24/7 documentary series, few would call Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle a beacon of optimism. Still, he seemed pretty positive after the team fell to the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Friday, dropping their fourth game in a row.

“This might be one of the better games we’ve played in a month,” Carlyle said, according to TSN’s Jonas Siegel.

“We’ve been begging, pleading, kicking, kissing, whatever we can do to try and find a way that we can play with some confidence.”

For those who’ve been critiquing the Leafs’ underlying stats for months now, one might quip that Carlyle should add “shooting more than our opponents” to that previous quote. To be fair, they almost did so on Friday, as the Capitals only managed a 35-34 shot advantage.

Dion Phaneuf backed up his coach’s positive outlook to Siegel.

“I think we played harder. We competed more,” Phaneuf said. “No one likes to be embarrassed the way that we were.”

Ultimately, admittedly nervous Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth was up to the task, as he won in his first start since Nov. 22. He didn’t deny his excitement after the game, either.

Whatever way you spin it, the Buds find themselves just a hair above .500 (21-20-5) while the Capitals improved to 22-16-6. Moral victories might be better than nothing, but the Leafs need to generate standings instead of style points soon or things might get ugly in Toronto.

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

Getty
Leave a comment

In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

Getty
Leave a comment

The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.

Bolts re-sign Sustr — one year, $1.95 million

Getty
Leave a comment

Tampa Bay shored up some blueline depth on Monday, agreeing to terms with Andrej Sustr on a one-year, $1.95 million extension.

Sustr, 26, appeared in 80 games for the Bolts last season, matching Braydon Coburn for most played among defensemen. Prior to the campaign, he represented the Czechs at the World Cup of Hockey.

A restricted free agent, Sustr gets a pay bump from the $1.45 million he made annually on his last deal. There’s a good chance he’ll see an increased role next year, especially after the Lightning lost Jason Garrison to Vegas at the expansion draft. It also remains to be seen if GM Steve Yzerman will bring back depth blueliner Luke Witkowski, an unrestricted free agent.

That said, Sustr could still be pushed for minutes.

The 6-foot-7, 220-pounder might face a challenge from the likes of Jake Dotchin, Slater Koekkoek and Mikhail Sergachev, the prized youngster acquired from Montreal in the Jonathan Drouin trade.

Sabres hire Sexton, Greeley as assistant GMs

Getty
Leave a comment

It was reported Saturday and made official today — Randy Sexton is joining the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant general manager. He will also serve as GM of the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

Also joining the Sabres as assistant GM is Steve Greeley, who spent the past two seasons as assistant director of player personnel with the New York Rangers.

“Randy and I developed a positive working relationship during our time in Pittsburgh and I think his experience and insight will be advantageous for our front office,” said Sabres GM Jason Botterill in a release. “In Steve, we have hired a talented hockey executive who will offer unique insight to our organization. They both have experience at all levels of the game and we think they will be valuable assets for the Buffalo Sabres moving forward.”

Sexton’s job with Rochester will be especially important for what Botterill is trying to do with the Sabres.

“I think one of the successes of the organization that I’m coming from is the relationship between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh,” Botterill said when he was hired in May. “We want to re-strengthen the relationship with Rochester and Buffalo.”

The last two years, Sexton has been the Penguins’ director of amateur scouting.