Tag: Morgan Rielly

2012 Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition

Maple Leafs’ biggest question: Who will follow Kessel out the door?


When Phil Kessel was traded, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan called it a “recognition” that “what we’ve been doing here, and the group that we’d assembled here, wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.”

But for all that Kessel was criticized during his time in Toronto, he was only one piece of the core that “wasn’t good enough.” Hence, the trade speculation that continues to surround Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and many others.

Basically, if you played for the Leafs last year and your name isn’t Morgan Rielly, if you’re still on the roster, you may not be for long.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, it’s not a great time to be dumping salaries. They had to eat part of Kessel’s contract to move him to Pittsburgh. They’d likely be asked to do the same in any swap involving Phaneuf, Bozak, or Lupul, the latter of whom may be untradeable, period.

And remember that a team can only retain the salaries of three players. Kessel is on the books through 2022. Carl Gunnarsson is on there (for a paltry $200,000) through next season.

In addition to the veterans, there’s the younger guys like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, and Jonathan Bernier. They still have to show management that they can be part of the long-term solution.

To illustrate, here’s what Mike Babcock said when Kadri re-signed for one year: “I expect him to be an elite player. He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and put the screws to us.”

Gauntlet: thrown down.

A youngish player like James van Riemsdyk isn’t safe either, even after leading the Leafs with 27 goals last season. The 26-year-old has three years left before he can become an unrestricted free agent. So, do the Leafs envision him re-signing? Because the way they’re talking, he’ll be closing on 30 when the team is ready to start contending.

“We are here to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. There are no shortcuts to go around doing that,” said Shanahan.

“We’ve got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that might take a little bit longer.”

In the meantime, expect the Leafs to be active on the trade front, as it’s out with old core and in with the new.

Related: Wings reportedly no longer interested in Phaneuf

Poll: What’s the best reason for optimism in Toronto?

Toronto Maple Leaf fans

For the last decade or so, Toronto Maple Leafs fans haven’t had much to feel good about.

Some even called last season the worst in franchise history, which is saying something if you followed this team in the ’80s.

But after all the pain and shame, there’s hope that rock bottom has finally been hit.

A new management team lead by Brendan Shanahan now features Hall of Fame GM Lou Lamoriello, who’s supported by young analytics whiz Kyle Dubas and well-regarded talent evaluator Mark Hunter.

And of course there’s a new coach in Mike Babcock. Assuming he didn’t just take the job for the money, if Babcock feels the Leafs are worth risking his reputation on, that has to be a good sign, no?

All that losing has also gifted the Leafs some blue-chip prospects. In the last four years, they’ve drafted defenseman Morgan Rielly fifth overall, forward William Nylander eighth overall, and forward Mitch Marner fourth overall. In June, Marner was one of nine Toronto selections, including five in the first three rounds.

Finally, the trading of Phil Kessel was clear-cut proof that the Leafs were serious about going in a new direction. More veterans are expected to follow Kessel out the door, as management dismantles the core that failed so famously in hopes of assembling one that can win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1967.

OK, time to vote:

Under Pressure: Mike Babcock

Mike Babcock

When you’re the highest-paid coach in the history of the league, there’s going to be pressure.

When you take over the most valuable team in the league, there’s going to be pressure.

When you go to work under the most media scrutiny in the league, well, you get the point.

Mike Babcock is fully aware that the Toronto Maple Leafs represent the biggest challenge of his career.

“Whether you believe it or not, I believe this is Canada’s team, and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map,” he said upon his much-ballyhooed hiring.

“I love to win. I have a burning desire to win.”

Smartly, he also bought himself some time to accomplish that goal.

“If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming,” he said. “This is going to be a long process. This is going to be a massive, massive challenge.”

So it’s not like the Leafs have to compete for a Stanley Cup next year. They don’t even have to make the playoffs.

But there has to be some semblance of progress, whether it’s from younger players like Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, or simply in terms of how the Leafs go about their business.

“Anything that’s been going on is going to get cleaned up,” Babcock vowed at the draft. “We’re going to be a fit, fit team. We’re going to be a team that comes to the media everyday, after a win, after a loss, after practice, and owns their own stuff. Period.”

In other words, the Leafs can’t be a big ol’ tire fire again.

And remember, even with a Stanley Cup and a pair of Olympic gold medals on his coaching resume, Babcock still has his doubters. Not that he’s a good coach — pretty much everyone agrees that he’s a good coach — but that he’s as good as advertised.

The doubters point to the Red Wings team he won with in 2008, headlined by Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg. They point to the loaded 2010 and 2014 editions of Team Canada. They say those teams could’ve won with just about any half-decent coach behind the bench.

And let’s face it, they’ve kind of got a point.

But if he can win with the Leafs?

“I’d like to be the best coach in my generation,” Babcock said in a magazine profile before he took the job in Toronto.

That’s pressure.

On the difference between ‘good’ and ‘big-time’ players

2012 NHL Winter Classic Announcement

Let’s forget for just one second that Mike Babcock has a big decision to make about his future. This post isn’t an attempt to handicap where he’ll end up. We’ve already done plenty of that this season.

This post is applicable to fans of all 30 teams, not just those of the Detroit Red Wings. Because, for me, the one thing that Babcock said last night that really stood out was, per Yahoo Sports, the following:

“In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

When the Wings last won the Cup, they had two “big-time” centers in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and one “big-time” defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom.

Not just “good,” but “big-time.” As in, future Hall of Famers. Elite. Best of the best.

Since Lidstrom retired, the Wings have not been past the second round of the playoffs.

In a related story, the Philadelphia Flyers never recovered from losing Chris Pronger and the future of the Boston Bruins is in question with an aging Zdeno Chara.

The last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Chara, Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. All three are future Hall of Famers.

As for “up the middle,” Babcock asked last night, “Who’s going to replace Pav?” That’s a good question, because Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. A winner of three Selke Trophies, he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the history of the game.

Another related story: the last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, or Anze Kopitar. Again, all three are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, there’s a reason there’s so much excitement in Edmonton about Connor McDavid, a center. Yet equally important will be the development of d-man Darnell Nurse.

Ditto for Buffalo, where there’s plenty of excitement for Jack Eichel; just don’t overlook the development of Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.

And for all the strife we’ve seen in Toronto, Leafs fans can at least be hopeful about Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. Toronto hasn’t had a “big-time” center since Mats Sundin. And did you know the Leafs, an Original Six franchise, have never had a Norris Trophy winner? The closest any Toronto blue-liner has come in the modern era is Borje Salming. The Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup in the modern era.

Look, nobody’s saying a team absolutely has to have a Norris Trophy winner on defense and a Selke Trophy/Hart Trophy winner at center. There are always going to be exceptions. The 2006 Hurricanes didn’t have an elite d-man, though people sometimes forget they had Rod Brind’Amour, a two-time Selke winner.

The thing is, you don’t build a team based on the exceptions. Otherwise, every NFL team would be looking for the next Trent Dilfer.

“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming,” Babcock said.

But are any going to be “big-time” centers or defensemen?

Not just good.


Injuries force Bernier, Phaneuf to skip Worlds

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf and starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier have elected to skip next month’s World Hockey Championship.

Phaneuf is still dealing with a right hand issue, which forced him to miss 12 games during the season. On Monday the Leafs captain noted his hand was still slightly swollen.

The 30-year-old suffered the injury during a January fight with Senators’ forward Milan Michalek.

Bernier told reporters following Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens that he was considering Hockey Canada’s offer to represent the country overseas.

During Monday’s locker cleanout, the 26-year-old said he’s decided not to go due to both an undisclosed injury and the uncertainty surrounding his contract. Bernier is set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

James van Riemsdyk and Morgan Rielly could be headed to the Czech Republic.

Van Riemsdyk told reporters he’s considering an offer to join Team USA while Rielly is awaiting the results from an MRI.