Leafs clean house, fire Nonis and Horachek

54 Comments

Just hours after wrapping up one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Toronto Maple Leafs made sweeping changes.

On Sunday morning the Leafs announced that GM Dave Nonis has been relieved of his duties, along with interim head coach Peter Horachek. The news comes on the heels of a regular-season in which Toronto had already fired another head coach — Randy Carlyle, dismissed in early January — and absolutely flatlined down the stretch, winning just nine times over the final 44 games of the season.

Nonis was turfed after just two years on the job. He inherited the GM gig from Brian Burke prior to the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign; on his watch, the Leafs handed out long-term extensions to Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson — the latter of whom Nonis traded to Columbus for Nathan Horton (essentially Horton’s contract, given his significant back injury) at this year’s deadline.

Upon firing Nonis, the Leafs announced that assistant GM Kyle Dubas and director of player personnel Mark Hunter will share GM duties on an interim basis. Steve Staois, the club’s manager of player development, will also stay on board.

As for the coaching side of things, the Horachek regime — which lasted less than 50 games — will be remembered mostly for off-ice incidents, like the Nazem Kadri suspension and Kessel’s ongoing feud with the media. It’s worth noting that in addition to Horachek, the Leafs also fired assistant coaches Steve Spott and Chris Dennis, and goalie coach Rick St. Croix.

Following Saturday’s season finale, a teary Horachek met with the media and acknowledged his time in Toronto would soon be up, saying “it’s evident that there’s lots of change that has to happen.”

“There has to be a better-conditioned (group), a better attitude, a new approach to how we want to do things,” he explained. “Whatever the group is, this has to change. You have to have a respect Toronto deserves.

“If we continued right where we were in November we might not make the playoffs, we might be fighting for the playoffs. And if you’re in that situation, and we’re fighting for the playoffs or we make the playoffs, we weren’t going to win. Is that what we want? Do we want to be competitive or do we want to build something to win a Stanley Cup?”

As for team president Brendan Shanahan’s take on things, well, that will have to wait. Shanahan won’t meet with the media until Monday, and early reports suggest he won’t be the one to eventually assume GM duties.

Flames-Jets stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Flames-Jets stream
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Thursday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Flames and Jets. Coverage of Game 4 begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on CNBC. Watch the Flames-Jets stream at 10:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Calgary scored three goals on the power play en route to a four-goal win. The Flames led 3-2 midway through the game before scoring the final three goals. Winnipeg played a second straight game without Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine – who were both injured in Game 1.

Calgary has not won a playoff series since 2015 when they defeated Vancouver in the opening round. Last postseason, the Flames were the top seed in the West but were upset in the opening round in five games by Colorado. Calgary could join Carolina as the first teams to win their series.

It’s been 33-year-old Cam Talbot outdueling Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck in this series. This is especially interesting because entering this matchup it wasn’t even clear whether Talbot would be Calgary’s starter. 27-year-old David Rittich started 48 of Calgary’s 70 games during the regular season.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Thursday, August 6, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CNBC
ON THE CALL: Brendan Burke, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flames-Jets stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC (livestream)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

 

Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs stream
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Thursday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs Game 3 stream at 8 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After being shutout in Game 1, Auston Matthews scored the Leafs’ first goal of the series with four minutes remaining in the second period of Game 2. This snapped Joonas Korpisalo’s 96-minute shutout streak to start the postseason. Captain John Tavares scored on a breakaway in the third period before Morgan Rielly’s empty-netter.

With less than two minutes to play in the third period, Jake Muzzin was taken off on a stretcher after colliding with Oliver Bjorkstrand. Muzzin was down on the ice for an extended period of time before being taken to a local hospital. He was discharged overnight and returned to the team hotel but has been ruled out for the remainder of this series.

Neither team has scored a power play goal in this series, with both teams going 0-for-6 on the man advantage through the first two games. Toronto went 0-for-5 on the PP in Game 2.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Thursday, August 6, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: John Forslund, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Flyers keep rolling, will play for No. 1 seed in East on Saturday

2 Comments

The Philadelphia Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL when the 2019-20 season was paused, and they are not slowing down during the league’s restart.

They kept rolling on Thursday afternoon with a thoroughly convincing 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals in Round-Robin play to take another big step toward the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.

After beating Boston on Sunday, the Flyers are now 2-0-0 in the Round-Robin phase and will have a massive game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

The winner of that game will be the No. 1 seed in the East while the loser will be second.

The Capitals and Bruins will play for the No. 3 seed on Sunday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

A few takeaways from the Flyers’ latest win…

1. The story for Philadelphia on Thursday was their depth, as it wasn’t their top stars driving the win.

Backup goalie Brian Elliott got the start in goal and stopped 16 out of 17 shots in the win, while Scott Laughton scored two more goals to give him three already in the return to play. That does not include the overtime winner he scored in the exhibition game against Pittsburgh. He also added an assist on Travis Sanheim‘s second period goal to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead.

Both goals were scored because of slick passing plays.

The first one was off a ridiculous no-look feed from Travis Konecny.

2. The Flyers raised quite a few eyebrows over the summer when they acquired the RFA rights to Kevin Hayes and then gave him a massive seven-year contract. Hayes is a good player, but it just seemed like a huge commitment for a player that probably wasn’t considered a core forward. Just one year into his contract and he is looking like a huge pickup in the short-term. After a strong regular season performance that saw him score 23 goals in 69 games, he already has four assists in the return to play and factored into all three goals on Thursday. It is still fair to wonder how that contract will look toward the end of it, but if he helps the Flyers bring a championship back to Philadelphia nobody is really going to be concerned about that.

3. And let’s be very clear about something: the Flyers bringing a championship to Philadelphia this season is not an outrageous thought. It could happen. This team looks like a legit contender right now and is still clicking on all cylinders. Before the NHL pause they had won 19 out of 26 games, and since returning to play have completely dominated the Boston Bruins and Capitals, outscoring them by a 7-2 margin in the two games.

There is little to suggest it is a fluke, either. During the regular season they had very strong underlying numbers at 5-on-5 (on the positive side when it came to shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals), they finally have a solution in goal (Carter Hart), and they have very quietly assembled a strong group of depth players to complement the core of Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. They were so dominant on Thursday that they limited the Capitals to just 17 shots on goals, including only two from Alex Ovechkin.

4. As for the Capitals, the absolute best they can hope for in seeding is the No. 3 seed in the East if they can beat the Bruins in regulation on Sunday. They had a little bit of a scare on Thursday when center Evgeny Kuznetsov took an awkward fall late in the first period. He was able to return to the game eventually. The Capitals are also still playing without top defenseman John Carlson who has yet to play in Round-Robin play.

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Canucks blank Wild, move a win away from advancing

canucks shutout pettersson
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Canucks are a win away from their first postseason series victory since 2011 thanks to a 3-0 win in Game 3. Brock Boeser, Antoine Roussel, and Elias Pettersson provided the goals, while Jacob Markstrom stopped 27 to blank the Wild.

Unlike in Game 2, there was no late push from Minnesota. They controlled possession and 5-on-5 scoring chances (per Natural Stat Trick), but Markstrom was there for his first career postseason shutout. After Boeser scored in his second straight game, the Wild continued pressing for a goal. They had five high-danger scoring chances to the Canucks’ one in the second period, but again it was the Canucks goaltender making save after save.

The backbreaker came early in the third period in one of those “good chance at one end, leads to goal at the other end” situations.

There were several opportunities in front of Markstrom, but the Wild couldn’t cash in. Quinn Hughes‘ clearance around the board then flipped over Brad Hunt‘s stick and an anticipating Roussel picked it up for a breakaway before chipping a backhand over Alex Stalock‘s glove for a 2-0 lead.

The shutout was another game where you’re left wondering when the Wild’s offense will show up. They’ve yet to score to at even strength in the series and their power play is 0-for-13 in the last two games.

Vancouver will have a chance to ice the series in Game 4 Friday night (10:45 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hartman with a dangerous hit on Pettersson

Fortunately, Pettersson was not injured on the play. The Canucks forward was involved in a puck battle along the boards and as he bent over Wild forward Ryan Hartman hit him from behind.

Hartman was sent to the penalty box with minors for boarding and roughing after getting involved with J.T. Miller. Will the NHL Department of Player Safety have anything to say about the hit?

Stalock’s fantastic save

The Minnesota netminder has done his best to keep his team involved games. He added to his list of strong saves in the series in the third period to keep the Canucks lead to just 2-0.

Bo Horvat would like a do-over.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (VAN leads series 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks 3, Wild 0
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.