Leafs name Horacheck interim head coach, shuffle lines


Big day in Toronto.

First, to the surprise of few, the Maple Leafs announced that Peter Horachek has been named the club’s interim head coach following yesterday’s dismissal of Randy Carlyle. Horachek, who had previous head coaching experience in Florida, will run the bench along with Steve Spott and ex-NHLer Steve Staois, who’s headed down to ice level after serving in a player development role.

Horachek’s first order of business as bench boss? Shuffling the lines ahead of tonight’s game versus Washington.

Daniel Winnik was promoted to a more prominent offensive role alongside Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel, leaving Kessel’s frequent running mates — James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak — to skate with Mike Santorelli.

Trevor Smith centered Leo Komarov and David Clarkson, while recently-recalled Sam Carrick centered the fourth line, which featured Richard Panik, Greg McKegg and Carter Ashton.

Today’s morning skate also had a few new onlookers:

In goal, Jonathan Bernier will start against the Caps tonight after James Reimer was torched for five goals in Saturday’s disappointing loss in Winnipeg.

Related: Nonis: Leafs are ‘capable,’ but also ‘movable’

Ducks begin extension talks with leading goalscorer Beleskey


One thing Anaheim GM Bob Murray probably didn’t expect this season was negotiating new deal for his top sniper.

Under normal circumstances, that guy would be Corey Perry, who’s locked in through 2021. But this year, Anaheim’s leading goalscorer is an unlikely individual — Matt Beleskey — who’ll be a UFA at season’s end. Beleskey’s agent, Murray Kuntz, has already started negotiations with the Ducks.

“You do think about the future,” Beleskey said, per the O.C. Register. “I want nothing more than to stay in Anaheim. I’ve never been anywhere else and I don’t think there’s a reason to go anywhere else.

“This is where I’d like to be. Hopefully we’ll see what happens.”

We’ve written about Beleskey’s breakout campaign already, but a quick refresher: The 26-year-old, a career checking forward that’s never scored more than 11 goals in a single season, currently sits tied for ninth in the NHL (17 goals) with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, James van Riemsdyk and John Tavares.

What’s more, Beleskey sits tied atop the league in game-winning goals, with five.

Translation: He’s about to get paaaaaaid.

The question now is, how much? Ducks GM Bob Murray isn’t commenting on negotiations and one has to think that, at the bargaining table, Murray will mention that Beleskey’s greatly benefited from playing with Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.

(One also wonders if Murray will do something similar to what Brian Burke did with Brendan Morrison in Vancouver a few years ago. During an arbitration hearing, Burke used a parable about “a mouse crossing a river on the back of an elephant, then taking equal credit for the crossing.” Morrison, who racked up career-best numbers playing alongside Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, was the mouse.)

One thing seems for certain: Beleskey will get a raise on the $1.35 million he’s currently making.

Contract year or not (or, sustainable metrics or not), GMs cannot ignore stats or try to downplay production; just ask Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who shelled out $33 million over five years for Nick Foligno, who’s currently in the midst of a career-best campaign in his UFA year.

“The way contract negotiations go in this league, it’s impossible not to take into consideration how guys are producing in the statistics,” Kekalainen explained, per the Boston Globe. “If you don’t put enough weight in them, the other side will make sure you’re aware of the statistical side of the negotiation.”

Video: Kessel lights up the Bruins


Phil Kessel had gone six games without a goal. Then he faced the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. Skid snapped.

Kessel, earlier denied on a breakaway and then a penalty shot, gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a two-goal lead in the second period, snapping home a wicked wrist shot on the power play for career point No. 500.

What. A. Shot.

Prior to that, he danced around the towering Zdeno Chara at the Toronto blue line, flew down the wing and set up James van Riemsdyk with a perfect pass for a goal on a two-on-one rush, giving Toronto a 2-1 lead just 31 seconds after Boston had evened the score.

Here’s the video of the van Riemsdyk goal.

The news is not all good for the Leafs. Joffrey Lupul suffered a lower-body injury and will not return, according to Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun.

PHT’s top 14 of ’14: Winter Classic at the Big House


Neither frigid temperatures nor traffic could stop 105,491 from packing the Big House in Ann Arbor on New Year’s Day.

The sixth edition of the Winter Classic saw an Original Six matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, with Leafs center Tyler Bozak scoring the shootout winner in the third round to give Toronto a 3-2 victory.

The game drew record numbers on television, prompting NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to call it “everything we hoped for”.

There were no goals in the first period as the two clubs adjusted to the obstacle of heavy snowfall during the game, which turned the Big House into a virtual snow globe.

Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring with his 11th of the season at 13:14 of the second period. Then, with less than a minute remaining in the middle frame, James van Riemsdyk tied it 1-1 on his 15th of the season.

Bozak gave Toronto its first lead of the afternoon at 4:41 of the third, but Justin Abdelkader tied it 2-2 with just over five minutes remaining to force overtime, which paved the way for Bozak’s shootout winner.

Jonathan Bernier made 41 saves in the win while Jimmy Howard, who stopped 24 Leafs shots, was saddled with the loss.

The shootout was only part of the day’s drama, however. Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul caught Red Wings’ Patrick Eaves with a cross check to the face in the first period of the game, and was penalized for cross checking. Two days later, Lupul, who had been suspended previously, was fined $10,000 for the hit.

Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles took the pre-game skate at the Big House, but was a healthy scratch. Soon after puck drop it was learned Liles had been dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Tim Gleason.

After the snow, the game and all the theatrics, hockey fans were treated to more drama as the U.S. unveiled its Olympic roster and all the scuttlebutt that went along with it.

Best Winter Classic ever? Hard to say no.

Leafs reach 20 win mark in victory over Stars


For the first time since the 2003-04 season, and just the fifth time since 1977-78, the Toronto Maple Leafs have reached the 20 win mark prior to Christmas.

Toronto blanked the Dallas Stars 4-0 Tuesday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

James van Riemsdyk had a goal and two assists and Nazem Kadri chipped in with goal and an assist.

Tyler Bozak and Mike Santorelli had the other Leafs goals.

Jonathan Bernier made 43 saves to improve to 14-8-3 on the season.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 22 shots in the loss.