Dominic Moore

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Slow start pushes Marner to Maple Leafs’ fourth line

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the pleasant surprises of the 2016-17 season. The biggest reason they were able to make the playoffs last year was because of the play of their three terrific rookies: Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner.

Matthews and Nylander are off to roaring starts (Matthews has eight points in five games, Nylander has five points in five games). But things haven’t gone as well for Marner, who has a four points in five games.

That’s far from a poor point total for the sophomore forward, but head coach Mike Babcock hasn’t been impressed with his overall play (for whatever it’s worth, he’s a minus-6 this season).

On Monday, Babcock tweaked his lines, which shocked the fans and media in Toronto. Marner was no longer skating on a line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. Instead, he was with Dominic Moore and Matt Martin on the fourth line.

“Their line wasn’t going, so tie goes to the veterans,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “(Marner) just happens to be the kid on the line, that’s it. Let’s not read too much into that. You have to have all your units going and we’re trying to do that. It was a big win in Montreal (on Saturday), but saying that, we didn’t generate a lot and they did.”

If you thought the Leafs coach was just trying to send a message for one day on Monday, guess again. Marner was right back out on the fourth line during Tuesday’s morning skate ahead of tonight’s game against Washington.

It looks like Babcock is serious about this wake up call.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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From ‘pain’ to playoffs, young Maple Leafs face heightened expectations next season

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

In the span of a year, the Maple Leafs went from the bottom of the NHL standings and front runners in the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes to a playoff spot.

Matthews was taken first overall and made an immediate impact on opening night for a Maple Leafs team — and a fan base — in dire need of hope for a better future.

There is an abundance of hope in Toronto these days.

Matthews scored 40 goals and 69 points and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were excellent in their freshman campaigns and Nazem Kadri at age 26 had his best season with career highs in goals (32) and points (61). How quickly the fortunes of an organization can turn around, though, with a lottery win and a shot at a generational talent.

Two years after coach Mike Babcock predicted “pain” for the franchise as it underwent its rebuild, the Maple Leafs made the playoffs. Then they gave the Capitals everything they could handle in six games before Toronto was eliminated.

Maple Leafs fans haven’t had much to get excited about over the years. Never mind their Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1967. They made the playoffs only once from 2005-06 to 2015-16 and that lone postseason appearance concluded with an epic third-period, Game 7 meltdown versus the Bruins.

This past season, however, had a different feel. The future looks bright, like success beyond 2016-17 can be sustainable. It’s not just with Matthews, Nylander and Marner. On defense, the Maple Leafs have Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner, and goalie Frederik Andersen bounced back from a difficult start with his new team. He’s under contract for four more years.

Excitement brings higher expectations, for next season and beyond, as the club may be approaching a window to win a lot quicker than many would’ve predicted a year ago.

Take, for instance, today’s poll question: Will the Maple Leafs have the NHL’s best offense next season? That would be a lofty expectation. The results as of the publishing of this post were nearly 50-50.

They’ve even added notable veteran players like Dominic Moore, Ron Hainsey and, at three years and more than $18 million, Patrick Marleau to enhance their roster with more experience.

Their possible success, as is the case with every team, next season will depend on multiple factors. Will Matthews, Marner and Nylander be able to build off their impressive rookie seasons, or will there be a dreaded sophomore slump in there? It will also require their best players to stay as healthy as possible.

All three of their top young forwards were able to remain, for the most part, healthy during the regular season, with Marner playing the fewest games — at 77.

Andersen had the second most starts (66) of all NHL goalies last season, behind only Cam Talbot, and the Leafs will count on him again to provide the goaltending necessary to make the playoffs.

Pressure to win is inherent in playing hockey in Toronto.

Since the second lockout, however, the standard had been set very low. That was until last season, when Matthews and the Maple Leafs went from a painful rebuild to raising expectations.

The hockey world now waits to see if this young and talented team can handle the pressure and set the bar even higher next spring.

Report: Canadiens have made an offer to Mark Streit

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The number of free agents that have gone on to sign with their former teams has been remarkable (see Scott Hartnell, Justin Williams, Dominic Moore, Mike Cammalleri, Chad Johnson, and so on), but it sounds like there could be at least one more reunion on the horizon.

According to the Journal de Montreal’s Marc De Foy, the Montreal Canadiens have made a one-year, $1.5 million offer to Mark Streit.

Streit began his career in Montreal after being selected in the ninth round of the 2004 draft. He played for the Habs from 2005 to 2008, and he had his best NHL season in 2007-08 (he put up a career-high 62 points in 81 games).

De Foy also reports that GM Marc Bergevin tried to acquire Streit before the trade deadline, but he was unable to do so because of the salary cap. Instead, the 39-year-old was traded from Philadelphia to Tampa Bay before being dealt to Pittsburgh.

Streit was part of the Penguins team that won the Stanley Cup in the spring, but he only suited up in three games during their run to the final.

He finished last season with six goals and 27 points in 68 contests. He averaged 18:44 of ice time in 2016-17 (19:23 with Philadelphia, 17:06 with Pittsburgh).

Montreal’s interest in him would likely diminish if they found a way to get a contract finalized with free agent Andrei Markov.

Markov is reportedly seeking a two-year contract worth $6 million per year, while Montreal is only offering one year at a lower salary.

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey players in Buffalo set world record for longest game ever played

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–A group of recreational hockey players from Buffalo broke the world record for the longest hockey game ever played. The game lasted 10 days, 10 hours, three minutes and 21 seconds, which is absolutely incredible. To make this an even better story, the players raised $1.2 million for cancer research. (Associated Press)

–The Boston Bruins were pretty quiet during free agency in 2017, so CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty took the opportunity to look back at the three best and worst free agent signings during the Don Sweeney era. Veteran Dominic Moore gave the Bruins some solid value, while David Backes’ deal appears to be a little steep. (CSN New England)

–Artist Tony Harris has been painting portraits of each of the Top 100 NHL Players in history. This week, the league unveiled color portraits of Teemu Selanne in a Ducks jersey and Mats Sundin in a Maple Leafs jersey. “Teemu Selanne had nearly 700 goals, and I asked an NHL coach what made him such a prolific goal scorer. Speed, of course, was his first thought but then he clarified his answer noting that Teemu’s anticipation and ability to react was uncanny. For me, this painting is trying to capture that moment of jumping into the play and creating a scoring opportunity.” (NHL.com)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked the hockey world when they signed Patrick Marleau, but was it a good move? Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire believes the move is risky based on Marleau’s age. Fortunately for Toronto, they have a number of key players on entry-level contracts, which means they can afford to pay older guys a little more money. (Sportsnet)

–Canadiens goalie Carey Price just signed an $84-million contract extension, but his former billet family doesn’t believe that kind of money will change his laid-back attitude. “He’ll be 30 this year and I’ve known him since he was 16. If he can go to a different store to save five bucks, he’ll still do it. He likes to do things for charity, and he doesn’t spend money like he’s a millionaire.” There’s also a funny story about Price being 25 cents short at a convenience store. (NHL.com)

–The Vancouver Canucks give us a behind-the-scenes look at GM Jim Benning’s 2017 draft experience. From discussing trades to selecting draft picks, Benning did it all during those two days. This is a must-watch for any hockey fan. (Top)

Mike Babcock doesn’t seem too worried about Marleau’s age

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The Toronto Maple Leafs committed three years to free agent Patrick Marleau on Sunday, signing the now former San Jose Sharks forward.

It’s a pricey deal — worth a total of $18.75 million, most of that geared towards signing bonuses, according to CapFriendly.

It also involves a no-movement clause.

That’s quite a bit for a player about to celebrate his 38th birthday in September. Marleau won’t reach his lofty numbers achieved five, six, seven or eight years ago. Knocking on the door of a 40-goal campaign was the norm back then for Marleau.

But he has remained productive into his late 30s, scoring 27 goals and 46 points this past season.

Toronto’s bench boss Mike Babcock coached Marleau with Team Canada in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. With such emphasis on youth and speed in today’s NHL, signing a soon-to-be 38-year-old forward — especially to a three-year deal — raises eyebrows.

However, Babcock doesn’t seem overly concerned about that deal or Marleau’s age.

Babcock has been put in charge of overseeing the on-ice component of the Maple Leafs rebuild, which, with an impressive group of young and talented players, has taken quite a step forward in the last year. The Maple Leafs have since added veteran players like defenseman Ron Hainsey and center Dominic Moore to their lineup. Marleau is the most noteworthy catch for Toronto over the last day-and-a-half.

From the Canadian Press:

The Leafs are trying to snatch the last bit of good from his Hall of Fame-worthy career while injecting veteran stability and versatility into an lineup that’s mostly populated by youth. The club also has a limited window for making such a move with young stars Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner all still on entry-level contracts.

“We won’t be able to do this in a year or so but we have the room and flexibility to do it (now) and not interrupt the process that we have in place, understanding where our young players are and where they will be,” Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement released by the team.

Meanwhile, this marks the end of an era for the Sharks and Marleau.

He played 1,493 regular season games in San Jose, and another 177 in the playoffs. Between regular season and playoffs, Marleau scored 576 goals and 1,202 points with the Sharks.

“Patrick has been a pillar of this franchise since he was drafted as a 17-year-old in 1997, and has become one of the elite players in our team’s history,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement.

“He owns nearly every offensive record in Sharks history, scored some big goals for our team and helped shape San Jose into a true hockey city. While we were hoping he would choose to return to San Jose, we wish him the absolute best and want to thank Patrick, his wife Christina, and their children Landon, Brody, Jagger and Caleb for their time in San Jose, a place he has called home for nearly two decades.”