Tag: Nazem Kadri

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

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.

With Lamoriello hire, Leafs hammer home their culture change

Lou Lamoriello

If it wasn’t abundantly clear before, it is now.

In introducing Lou Lamoriello as the 16th general manager of the Maple Leafs on Thursday, both team president Brendan Shanahan and Lamoriello himself said this is all about a major offseason theme:

Changing the culture in Toronto.

“We are trying to create [an environment] where the players are willing to give up their own identity for that logo on the front,” Lamoriello explained. “Never mixing what’s on the back of the jersey with what’s on the front — that has to be transmitted to each and every player, no matter what their abilities are.

“Success doesn’t come unless each and every one of these individuals are committed to each other.”

Those are telling words in the wake of Toronto’s disastrous campaign. From Phil Kessel’s ongoing feud with the media to Nazem Kadri’s suspension to Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul threatening to sue TSN to accusations the team quit playing for interim bench boss Peter Horachek, the Leafs were considered one of the league’s most toxic teams.

So, enter the hazmat team. Shanahan cleaned house in the front office. Kessel, the team’s leading scorer, was traded.

At the draft, new head coach Mike Babcock laid down the law for those that remained, saying “anything that’s been going on is going to get cleaned up.”

“The number-one characteristic of a Toronto Maple Leaf is a good human being. Period.” Babcock said. “So if you don’t fit that, you’re not going to be here. 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.”

So the culture change started with Shanahan, continued with Babcock and will now be cemented by Lamoriello.

Few GMs are more adept at establishing culture, and no team in NHL history was defined more by an individual than the Devils were with LouLam. He oversaw nearly every aspect of the organization, right down to the little things — some say petty things — like banning facial hair outside of the playoffs, and not issuing the No. 13.

Lamoriello explained his logic in a February Q&A with the Star-Ledger.

“The word is called tradition,” he said. “That’s the identity of the Devils organization. Those are part of the systemic points that have given us our identity, like our home and away jerseys. Whether you look at the Yankees or the old Montreal Canadiens and their identity, this is the identity of the Devils.

“I look at it as something the players, and hopefully the fans, take pride in.”

As for working with Shanahan and Babcock, well, Lamoriello doesn’t figure to have many problems. The head coach has already praised the hire — “a home run for all of us,” is how he described it to NHL.com — and Shanahan, whose personal relationship with Lamoriello dates back to 1987, sees the 72-year-old as the ideal architect.

“There should be an appreciation and showing of enthusiasm that you’re enjoying being a Toronto Maple Leaf,” he explained. “We want to have enthusiasm, we want to have good people.

“Lou is a great fit for that.”