Jason Brough

AP

Report: Leafs put three players on LTIR, have lots of cap space now

The Toronto Maple Leafs suddenly have a boatload of cap space.

From Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

They quietly placed Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) earlier this season — giving themselves the flexibility to operate more than $15-million above the $73-million cap for the remainder of the year.

That unlocks a world of possibilities in a cap-strapped league, especially since the cap itself is projected to rise only minimally in 2017–18.

It remains to be seen how the Leafs will use the cap space. Last year, one of their deadline moves was taking Brooks Laich’s contract off the Washington Capitals’ hands, for the price of Connor Carrick and a second-round draft pick.

But the Leafs are in a different position this season. They’re currently in the hunt for a playoff spot, and though their focus will remain long-term, if it’s the right deal, there’s at least the ability to be a serious player in the rental market.

The trade deadline is March 1.

Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run

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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has new priorities following a life-saving liver transplant — and renewed focus on some old ones, too.

Away from the rink, he’s taking up a close-to-home fight. Melnyk launched his new foundation, The Organ Project, on Wednesday, with an aim on ending wait lists for transplant patient. Melnyk received a live liver donation in May 2015 and wants to take an active role in creating more awareness about organ donation.

Meanwhile, at Canadian Tire Centre, Melnyk’s hockey team is making a push for the postseason.

In the 14 years since he bought the Senators, Ottawa has played in the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2007. Since then, Ottawa has not made it past the second round.

Entering Wednesday night’s games, the Senators (29-19-6) were tied for second place in the Atlantic Division. A postseason berth is a real possibility, and Melnyk sees reason to be hopeful.

“I think now, finally, (we) have dug out of a three-year hole,” he said. “It was kind of sad. One out of three years you get into the playoffs, and you get blown out and the others you don’t get in. Now it’s exciting.

“I just think we have the potential, first, of getting into the playoffs and secondly, potentially going into the second, third and even the fourth round. I think finally I’ve become optimistic cautiously.”

With the trade deadline two weeks away, the Senators are still interested in adding a few pieces. However, Melnyk said he would wait until after Saturday’s game against Toronto before sitting down with general manager Pierre Dorion to discuss how to proceed.

“Did you see what they want for (Colorado forward Matt) Duchene and stuff? Oh my God,” Melnyk said. “It’s going to be silly because there’s so many competitive teams, especially in our conference. From bottom to top, even if I was at the bottom I’d still have hope. I think it will be way too expensive, and we’re not going to jeopardize our future. Everyone wants our young stars and I don’t blame them.

“I think we’re going to be smart about it to build a longterm base and a longterm team, but we’re urgently wanting to win of course.”

Melnyk said he’s not opposed to bringing in a player or two, but doesn’t want to spend excessively. He added that team payroll is connected to how well the Senators can draw on home ice.

Over 31 home games this season, the Senators have averaged 16,336 spectators at Canadian Tire Centre. That’s well below the arena’s capacity of 18,572.

“It’s a catch-22,” he said. “You need more people to come to the games to spend more to get a better team and the better your team is the more people come.”

Melnyk is also hopeful the league will soon announce an outdoor game for December.

“We’re done as far as the Senators are concerned, we’re all in,” he said. “We’ve made our deals. I think all the other parties, which includes the city, OSEG, the NHL, they have to do their deal. That’s the only reason. We’re done. We’re in. I want to do it. I’m excited about it.”

‘Hawks are happy with rookies’ progress

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At the start of the season, the Chicago Blackhawks had little choice but to bank on their rookies to keep improving throughout the 82-game schedule.

After losing the likes of Andrew Shaw, Andrew Ladd, and Teuvo Teravainen in the offseason, and with minimal cap space to work with, it was really all they could do.

Fifty-seven games in, the ‘Hawks are still being paced to a large degree by their veteran stars. But youngsters like Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero have at least shown the potential to make up for what’s been lost.

“Our young guys are showing some progressions in their games, adding balance to our team,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “We have depth. We have experience. We’re strong in all areas, all positions.”

Of course, Quenneville also said that GM Stan Bowman “is always looking to improve,” so don’t be surprised if the ‘Hawks make a minor move or two ahead of the March 1 deadline.

But Bowman doesn’t expect to do anything drastic. When he looks at the Western Conference, he doesn’t see “one dominant team we’re trying to catch” that would necessitate a major addition.

“I’m not saying 100 percent we’re not going to make a trade, but I’m not expecting to make a significant trade,” Bowman told ESPN.com recently. “We’re trying to win the Cup this year, absolutely, but it’s not predicated upon a rental.”

The ‘Hawks (35-17-5) entered their bye week on a five-game winning streak. They don’t play again until Saturday at home to Edmonton.

Therrien releases statement, calls coaching a ‘gratifying’ but ‘thankless task’

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Michel Therrien released a statement today, wishing his successor, Claude Julien, well while thanking the Montreal Canadiens for “the experience of five remarkable years.”

Therrien, fired Tuesday as Montreal’s head coach, left the Canadiens in first place in the Atlantic Division; however, the team was also 6-10-2 in its last 18 games.

“Being an NHL coach is a tough job: it is gratifying on many levels but it can also quickly become a thankless task,” said Therrien, per CBC.ca. “When a team is experiencing difficulties, any head coach knows his job is on the line. I understand and accept this reality.”

That Therrien used the word “thankless” to describe the job suggests he may have felt under-appreciated in the role. But after Julien was fired last week by the Boston Bruins, it was no real surprise that a change was made. The Canadiens endured a painful collapse last year, and now they were headed down a similar path in 2017.

Yesterday, Bergevin explained the move, rejecting the notion that Therrien was fired because Julien had suddenly become available.

“I just felt we weren’t playing the way we’re capable of,” said Bergevin. “So, everything happened for a reason. Maybe the timing was — you know, Claude let go by Boston last week — but I didn’t make my decision based on how Boston operates, that’s just not how I did it, no.”

Need to upgrade your defense? Give Carolina a call

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The Carolina Hurricanes have drafted a lot of defensemen in the last few years, and it’s put them in a great position to make some trades.

“I think everyone is always looking for D and we feel comfortable with our depth there,” GM Ron Francis told ESPN.com Thursday. “We’re always looking at all options to make our team better; if that’s an area of strength and you can address an area of weakness, we’d certainly look at those possibilities.”

As mentioned, the ‘Canes have made it a point to draft defensemen. Haydn Fleury went seventh overall in 2014 and is now finding his way in the AHL; Noah Hanifin went fifth overall in 2015 and has already played over 100 games in the NHL; and Jake Bean, still in junior, was the 13th overall pick in 2016.

Carolina has also discovered some gems in the later rounds, like Justin Faulk (37th overall), Brett Pesce (66th), and Jaccob Slavin (120th).

In a related story, there has been talk that the ‘Canes could be a dark horse to land Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog from the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs badly need to upgrade their blue line. No doubt they’re aware of Carolina’s riches.

So keep an eye on the Hurricanes. They’ve got the assets to make a deal. It’s just a matter now of finding the right one.

Related:

Ducks won’t trade young defensemen for rentals

Canucks could trade a defenseman for a scorer