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Babcock: Phaneuf’s ‘going to have the best year he’s had in a long time’


Phil Kessel‘s time in Toronto is over, but what about captain Dion Phaneuf?

Like Kessel, Dion Phaneuf is inked to a long-term contract (seven-year, $49 million through 2020-21) and, at the age of 30, he might be on his decline by the time the Maple Leafs are serious contenders. Phaneuf was also a big part of the group that, in the words of president Brendan Shanahan, “wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.”

In the end Phaneuf might be traded as well, but for now he appears set to be involved in Toronto’s rebuilding effort. For his part, new Leafs coach Mike Babcock seems very happy to have him.

“He’s going to have the best year he’s had in a long time,” Babcock said, per Sportsnet. “He’s prepared hard all summer. We’re going to help him with his game and he’s going to help us by being the player he’s capable of being. And we’re going to look after him. We’re not leaving him hung out to dry, either on the ice, with the media or in town.”

From an offensive standpoint, at his height Phaneuf recorded 60 points, but that was back in 2007-2008. Over his last two campaigns he’s recorded 31 and 29 points. On top of that, he’s had a negative 5v5 Corsi compared to his team’s Corsi when he’s off the ice for three straight campaigns. Of course, there’s more to his game than those numbers indicate as he will throw his body around and frequently blocks shots, although in terms of the former, he went from 227 hits in 80 contests in 2013-14 to 166 in 70 games last season.

Expectations are low for Toronto this season, to the point where Phaneuf having a great campaign might not be enough to make the squad competitive. At the least though, it would provide Maple Leafs fans with a silver lining in what might prove to be a painful campaign.

Chris Phillips (back) sustained ‘significant setback’

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Senators GM Bryan Murray recently warned that Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips hasn’t completely recovered from his back surgery and that there “are some other issues that are going on.” Phillips has gone into detail about the other issue Murray was likely referring to.

Phillips has a small crack in a disc in his back that he sustained during his rehab process. As a result, he won’t be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s a significant setback and it’s very frustrating,” Phillips told the Ottawa Sun. “The surgery went well and everything on that side was great. I don’t know if it was a complication of the rehab and I’m not 100% sure how it happened.”

This hasn’t changed the fact that the 37-year-old still wants to return to the NHL, although he will have to make sure it wouldn’t impact his quality of life. As it is, his back problems have affected his daily routine.

He is the Senators’ franchise leader in games played with 1,179 and is about to start the second half of his two-year, $5 million deal.

Dylan Strome sets his sights on making Coyotes


For training camp at least, Dylan Strome might be the most interesting prospect in the league.

Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will inevitably get a lot of attention as the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres respectively are hoping that those potential superstars are able to make a smooth transition to the NHL and lead them out of a rough patch in their history. But the real story for them begins with the regular season as their past accomplishments have all-but guaranteed them roster spots.

Strome is a different case. Taken with the third overall pick in 2015 after McDavid and Eichel, Strome has a ton of upside too and could develop into an elite center, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he will spend the season with the Coyotes. He might instead return to the Erie Otters, where he would be the team’s offensive leader as his former teammate, McDavid, obviously isn’t expected to play for them again.

That’s not the path Strome has set for himself though.

“There’s no question that I feel I can be there,” Strome said of the NHL, per NHL.com. “It’s obviously going to be a tough task to get there and it doesn’t happen for too many 18-years-olds, and there’s going to be one [McDavid] who does it this year. I’m hoping I can be that second guy who makes a mark and helps Arizona get back to its winning ways.”

If he does prove in training camp that he’s ready to make the leap, then he would certainly be filling a need for Arizona. While the Coyotes have quite a few promising young forward outside of Strome, they’re also coming off of a campaign where they were the second worst team offensively.

Acquired in Kessel trade, Kapanen ready for first Leafs camp

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In Toronto, the focus is on the future after a summer of major changes, including trading Phil Kessel, marked the start of a new era that will require a building process. Leafs fans might not get as many glimpses of that future this season as the team is projected to still feature a prominently veteran cast, but one exception to that might be Kasperi Kapanen.

The 19-year-old forward was the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ package to pry Kessel away from Toronto, so it would certainly be a nice storyline if he establishes himself with the Maple Leafs this season.

“I was so close last year, and now I feel a lot better,” Kapanen told the Toronto Star. “I know what training camp is all about now.

He added, “I’m going to do everything I can to try to earn a spot. I know I’ll have a lot of good years with this team. I’m excited for the future.”

Kapanen had 11 goals and 21 points in 41 games with KalPa of the Finnish league last season. He does have some North American experience as he wrapped up the 2014-15 campaign with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, scoring three goals and five points in seven playoff contests. Even still, he might benefit from spending more time adjusting to North American hockey and honing his skills in the minors.

Toronto has 14 forwards inked to one-way contracts, although that includes Nathan Horton, who will probably spend the season on the long-term injured reserve list. In addition to those forwards though, the Maple Leafs have quite a few prospects that will be fighting for roster spots including Kapanen, Casey Bailey, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.

That volume of competition should turn this into an interesting preseason for Toronto.

Ryan McDonagh over his foot injury

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Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh broke his right foot in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, but continued to play through the injury for the remainder of the series. It shouldn’t be a factor once training camp begins.

McDonagh reported in August that he was seeing improvement every day and it had gotten to the point where he was “feeling pretty much 100 percent,” but now it’s not something that even enters his mind on a daily basis.

“It doesn’t get sore after skates and I’m able to do everything I want to do in the weight room training wise, so hopefully in that way it’s in the past now,” McDonagh told the New York Daily News. He also doesn’t require any special treatment after training.

McDonagh has been spending the past week skating with other Rangers players as they get ready for training camp. Over the past four seasons, the Rangers have lost in the Conference finals twice and the Stanley Cup Final once. That has to be a tough pill to swallow, but they can simultaneously take inspiration from the knowledge that they’ve been very close to a championship recently and are in a strong position to make another serious run at the Cup.