Brendan Shanahan;

Shanahan tasked with ending years of collapses

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The Toronto Maple Leafs’ collapse will haunt Joffrey Lupul until the day he dies. He’s not the only player to be scarred by the team’s shortcomings.

“It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that,” Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said after a particularly devastating late season game. “It’s one of those situations right now where it seems like no matter what we try to do it’s just not working. We’re having a tough time getting through it right now.”

The thing is, neither of them were discussing the 2-12-0 tailspin Toronto endured at the end of the 2013-14 campaign that ripped a playoff berth that seemed all-but secured away from the team. Lupul was talking about the Maple Leafs’ Game 7 collapse to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and Franson’s quote was from March 2012 after the Maple Leafs lost 7-1 to the Flyers, which dropped Toronto to 5-17-3 in its last 25 games following a 28-19-6 start.

So when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who will step down, promised in April that the Leafs are “never going to have to go through this sort of thing again,” you could forgive Toronto fans for being skeptical.

After all coming up short — sometimes in defiance of the odds — seems to be a tradition for the Maple Leafs and while there are nevertheless reasons to be optimistic about the team’s future, the question remains: Are they losing in part because it’s become deeply ingrained into the team’s culture or is this purely a matter of the talent not yet being in place? Or to put it another way: Is there a psychological aspect of the Maple Leafs’ problems?

“I definitely sense that we lack an identity,” Lieweke conceded this summer. “Right now we’re a team that lacks a direction. And we want to change that.”

Given that he’s moving on, Lieweke won’t be the one to see that change through to the end. That task will instead fall to team president Brendan Shanahan. Since his appointment, he’s resisted the push to make dramatic changes by calling the idea of stripping Dion Phaneuf of his captaincy a “cop-out” and giving head coach Randy Carlyle a contract extension.

The Maple Leafs have made some roster moves over the summer, but they didn’t react to their latest collapse by pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade or free agent signing. That’s in line with Shanahan’s belief that building through the free agent market is a bad habit.

Instead, the changes in Toronto have been a bit more subtle, or at least as subtle as is possible in the hockey hungry market. They changed Carlyle’s assistant coaches and brought in 28-year-old Kyle Dubas to serve as an assistant general manager. The latter move is particularly noteworthy given Dubas’ support of advanced statistics, which is something the Maple Leafs had previously been criticized for dismissing.

Combined with the fact that Shanahan himself is a recent addition and its fair to say that the Maple Leafs are starting to look different at the top. It remains to be seen if that will have a trickle down effect or if their recent history of pain will continue.

One thing we have learnt is that Shanahan has a vision for how he wants to see the team operate and while he hasn’t held his current position for long, he’s certainly acted as someone that won’t deviate from his preferred course in an attempt to alleviate fan or media pressure.

Related:

Under Pressure: Randy Carlyle

‘He doesn’t seem to get rattled’: Blues officially name Alex Pietrangelo team captain

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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The news leaked a day early, but on Thursday the St. Louis Blues made it official: Alex Pietrangelo is the 21st captain in the club’s history.

Selected fourth overall in 2008, Pietrangelo has played 459 games for the Blues, with 51 goals and 255 points in that span. He takes over the ‘C’ from David Backes, who signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent this summer, following the Blues’ run to the Western Conference Final.

“Watching him perform when the game is on the line, he doesn’t seem to get rattled,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong of Pietrangelo, as per the club’s website.

“As the captain, you have to answer questions, the tough questions when games are over. I really like his personality, his demeanor to his teammates, to the coaching staff and to the media. He’s someone that has the respect of everyone.”

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the end of July, Pietrangelo praised Backes for the impact he had on the young defenseman as he was developing with the Blues.

“I think being so close with Dave over the five years he was captain, I’ve learned a lot from him just kind of sitting back and seeing how he operates on a daily basis,” said Pietrangelo.

“Not only on the ice but off the ice, which is a big part of it trying to keep the locker room together and doing the off-ice stuff.”

 

Coyotes GM: Bolland ‘won’t be ready to play for the foreseeable future’ due to injury

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Arizona Coyotes fans anticipating Dave Bolland‘s debut for his new team will have to wait, and a long time, too, by the sounds of it.

On Thursday, the Florida Panthers traded the 30-year-old Bolland and prospect Lawson Crouse to the Coyotes in exchange for draft picks. Bolland, who has an annual cap hit of $5.5 million, played in only 25 games last season, scoring once with five points.

The move frees up plenty of cap space for the Panthers, while the Coyotes did well to pick up a young forward in Crouse, a former first-round pick who has yet to play in the NHL.

However, at the moment, Bolland is dealing with an injury that could keep him out of any lineup for quite a while. Perhaps the entire season.

Last season, Bolland was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions, which could be frustrating for any player or any organization, but he was locked into a massive five-year, $27.5 million contract.

And that massive contract, or Florida’s desire to move it along, has cost the Panthers a prospect forward.

Video: Pavel Datsyuk scores first goal since returning to KHL

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Pavel Datsyuk’s venture into the KHL has been official for a while.

This latest development might add salt in the wound of Red Wings fans who wish the skilled but aging center was still playing for the Original Six franchise.

He has now scored his first goal since returning to the KHL. Another former NHLer, Ilya Kovalchuk, set it up off the rush. Datsyuk finished off the play with a slick backhander coming down the right wing.

After it took weeks to decide his future with the Red Wings, Detroit finally unloaded his contract to Arizona at the draft in June.

 

Poll: Will Jaromir Jagr lead the Panthers in scoring again?

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14:  Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Florida Panthers signals a teammate during the third period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

At age 43 Jaromir Jagr was the oldest player in the NHL last season by more than four years.

You would have never known it when watching him play.

He was still a dominant top-line player and on many night was the best player on the team. His 66 points were more than any player in NHL history age 43 or older, and he finished as the team’s leading scorer.

While he has obviously slowed down from where he was during his peak years in the league when he was one of best players ever, he is still playing at a level that almost no other player in NHL history has been able to match at this age. And there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him dramatically slowing down in the near future.

Because of that, the Panthers are bringing him back in 2016-17 for at least one more year.

So with Jagr back in the mix for another year, will he end up leading the Panthers in scoring once again even though he will be 44 years old? Jagr is one of just three players in NHL history that has ever finished as his team’s leading scorer over the age of 40, a list that includes only him, Gordie Howe and Teemu Selanne. He is the only player that has done it over the age of 43 and the only one that has done it for two different teams (New Jesrey in 2013-14 and Florida in 2015-16).

The one player that seems to be a significant challenger is Aleksander Barkov. He finished just seven points behind Jagr in 2015-16 (in 12 fewer games) and spent most of the season playing on a line with Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, a trio that was one of the most dominant lines in the league when they were together. But given how Jagr still seems to be in great shape and was still a 60-point player a year ago he is not going to be easy to overtake.