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Is Babcock holding the Maple Leafs back?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs might not be a perfect team, but on paper, you wouldn’t expect them to go through many scoring droughts.

It’s not just Auston Matthews, and really, it’s not just sophomores Mitch Marner and William Nylander that makes this seem so dangerous. Toronto also has solid supporting scorers in the likes of James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri. They added some veteran savvy to the mix with Patrick Marleau, too.

Even so, frustration is building. In the last six games, they’ve only managed 12 goals (not counting shootouts). The Maple Leafs have lost six of their last eight games and haven’t won in regulation since Dec. 28.

Dry spells are going to come, but the heat is starting to rise on Mike Babcock’s lineup decisions.

Not that he’s flustered by such criticisms, as TSN’s Kristen Shilton reports.

“This is how I kind of look at it: I think they hired me to decide,” Babcock said on Wednesday. “So that’s kind of how I approach it … I’m just going to keep on keeping on. In your lifetime, you get to decide what you react to.”

This video has more from Babcock, including the veteran coach calling for the Maple Leafs to shoot more rather than trying to make the perfect play. It’s a nice supplement to more granular studies, like TSN’s Travis Yost’s deep dive on the Maple Leafs and icing (the unsavory infraction, not delicious frosting).

In the grand scheme of things, Babs should be commended for how he’s embraced this team’s young core, particularly in quickly acknowledging that Auston Matthews can do heavy lifting as far as deployment goes.

Still, people are getting frustrated with certain usage situations.

ESPN’s split stats allow you an opportunity to see who’s being used most often in January, this stretch in which Toronto’s scoring is really drying up.

Maybe you’d want Babcock to lean even more on Matthews (averaging 18:54 TOI this month, 18:38 on the season), but that’s a smaller quibble. People are most bothered by the reemergence of Roman Polak (17:02 per game in January) and Leo Komarov‘s frequent use (about a shift fewer than Matthews per game at 18:24 per night in January).

Komarov is getting two more minutes per game lately than Mitch Marner (16:16) and JVR (16:01). Combine that with low scoring, and yes, people are going to get frustrated.

With these developments in mind, the irritation is rising, as you can see in Ryan Fancey of Leafs Nation’s column: “The Leafs aren’t just boring, they’re mediocre.”

Toronto has stopped scoring, and their overall attack has been neutered for weeks. And what’s worse, it seems intentional. Every Babcock quote over the last couple months seems to be about “playing tight” and being more defensive, which apparently means sitting back and being fed in your own zone before ripping the puck up ice for a stretch pass (a.k.a Carlyle hockey) or getting it to the red and going for a dump-and-chase. The Leafs can’t seem to get any flow to their play when it comes to breaking out or using the neutral zone to create offense, and it’s concerning because it seems like a step back from last year. What’s even worse is that it’s so, so boring.

It’s that “intentional” part that’s interesting.

This ultimately comes down to a fascinating conundrum. The Leafs have some nice defensemen, but could use help in that area and probably lack a truly elite one, though Morgan Rielly is coming along nicely. There are some forwards with two-way ability, but no one demanding Selke bids, either.

Babcock’s goal is to get the most out of that group, so does that mean going for a high-stakes style like that of, say, the Penguins or Devils? Maybe that was the leaning for a bit, yet the charge now is that the Maple Leafs are trying to lower the number of events in their own end, which means playing a more conservative style overall.

With a reasonably comfortable grip on third place in the Atlantic Division, maybe Babcock is merely using this window to experiment? The ideal scenario could be to find the right mix of careful play and daring offense.

At least, that’s what would happen if things fall the right way.

Can Babcock figure this out – as he’s figured out many different alignments during his impressive career – or is this a case of ego and/or stubbornness lowering a team’s ceiling? There’s still time to figure this out, but it’s an interesting story to watch.

Even if the team itself isn’t always as fun as it once was.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

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The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

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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.

Dominic Moore’s Smashfest charity Ping-Pong event a ‘labor of love’

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Dominic Moore’s NHL career has allowed to him to play for nine different teams, including two stints with the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. He has 897 games under his belt since breaking into the league in 2003-04. His long playing career has also allowed him to share his love of Ping-Pong with many fellow players inside various dressing rooms.

Given his travels around the league, you could probably play a “Six Degrees of Separation” game with Moore. For example: When the 37-year-old was in his first full NHL season in 2005-06, his usual Ping-Pong partner was veteran Michael Nylander. Last season while with the Maple Leafs, the teammate who he found himself playing against on a regular basis was William Nylander, Michael’s son.

“It’s kind of a hilarious turn of events there,” Moore told Pro Hockey Talk this week.

On Aug. 1, he will be hosting the seventh annual Smashfest Ping-Pong tournament featuring around 25 current and former NHL players. (According to Moore, Patrick Eaves, the three-time defending champion, is well enough to participate after missing most of the 2017-18 season with post-viral syndrome.)

In the six years Moore has put on the event, he’s been able to raise $665,000 for concussion and rare cancer research. Smashfest 1, back in 2012, raised $20,000. Now in a few years he’ll hit the $1 million mark, which wasn’t even on the radar when things were getting going.

“Never thought about that, honestly. Obviously we wanted to raise as much as we could every year,” Moore said. “Last year we got up to $165,000. I was really hoping we’d be able to hit $1 million this year — I was a bit maybe ambitious with that. I doubt we’re going to get there, but once we got close it certainly became a goal to try and hit.”

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Some of the money that’s raised goes toward rare cancer research benefitting the Broad (pronounced Brode) Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Moore wanted to ensure that the donated funds would make an impact.

“Especially with cancer research, it seems like it’s easy for money to become a drop in the bucket because it takes so much money to do the research,” he said. “And obviously in the cancer space there’s a lot of money that’s put into this research. But for rare cancers, because of the fact that there isn’t a lot of funds behind it, I felt like it was so important to spend our money wisely.”

What the Broad Institute does as part of a special project with Moore is solicit tissue samples from patients around the country suffering from rare forms of cancer. With proprietary technology, they’re able to turn one sample into hundreds and then multiply the tissue for additional testing.

“The premise of it, you’re trying to get tissue directly from patients because what happens with rare cancers is someone will go into a hospital in San Francisco, they have their surgery, that tissue stays in the hospital, they’re the only one on the west coast that has this particular cancer, there’s no money to fund it, nothing gets done with that tissue, but it sits as a commodity in that hospital’s fridge and nothing ever happens with it,” Moore said. “Or maybe they do do some research on it but it’s just an isolated piece of data that has no value. 

“So the whole premise of our project with The Broad is that wherever these patients are around the country we get the word out to them that they can and should send their tissue to the Broad Institute. The Broad actually jumped through a bunch of logistical things to try and make this happen so they made a whole kit, and shipping cancer tissue and keeping it alive as you ship it and making it easy for patients to do that, it sounds easy — just ship the tissue — but it’s not.”

The Broad Institute is also making all of its data available to those who want to use it in order to advance the research.

“The open source nature of it too is something that we’re really proud of,” said Moore.

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The idea for Smashfest originated in 2011 with Moore wanting to use Ping-Pong as a way to raise money and also showcase player personalities. He’s always loved the game, going back to his childhood. Growing up he heard stories about the 1980s Edmonton Oilers competing in intense games that would last until minutes before puck drop. When he reached the NHL, it became a regular activity with his teammates, wherever he went.

“I think it’s just that it’s conducive to you put a table in the middle of the locker room and it’s something fun and competitive that the guys can do,” said Moore, who’s currently an unrestricted free agent and would like to continue playing. “It can help them warm up. It just seems like it fits. I had the idea. This is the perfect thing for a charity event. I loved it, I loved playing. Marty St. Louis and I played a lot in Tampa together. That was around the time I was finally like I’ve got to get off my butt and try and make this happen.”

From the start, Moore wanted Smashfest to be different than a charity golf tournament. He wanted it to be fun, quirky and unique. With help from the NHLPA, gather a bunch of hockey players and fans at a Toronto brewery in the middle of summer for a Ping-Pong tournament. Sounds like the makings of an interesting night, right? He had no idea how it would go over, but from the very first event it was clear there was traction and it would be a success.

“It’s been a labor of love. It’s something that the team that works on it has worked incredibly passionately on and spends a lot of time on,” he said. “For me personally, it’s something I enjoy working on. I do put a lot of time into trying to grow it. We’ve got some great partners and sponsors and friends of the event that all kind of work together to make it what it is. 

“That’s what’s allowed it to grow, as well as the unique nature of the event in terms of showcasing the players in a totally fun way. I think that’s just been the recipe that’s made it grow to the way it is and hopefully we can continue that. I’d love to continue to make it bigger and better.”

Smashfest 7 will take place Aug. 1 at Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto.

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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.

Chris Chelios leaving Red Wings to be closer to family in Chicago

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DETROIT (AP) — Chris Chelios is leaving the Detroit Red Wings to return to his hometown of Chicago.

Chelios spent a decade with the Red Wings as a player from 1999-2009, and he’s also been an adviser for the team. His Hall of Fame career as a defenseman started in Montreal before he spent eight years with the Blackhawks.

”For me, this is an opportunity to move back to Chicago to be closer to family, and in particular my mother,” Chelios said Thursday. ”I began to seriously consider moving home last February after the passing of my father. Now that my children have all graduated, it seems like the ideal time for my wife, Tracee, and I to make the move.”

Chelios was traded to Detroit in March 1999 and he remained with the Red Wings through the 2008-09 season before finishing his career with a brief stint with Atlanta in 2009-10.

”I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Red Wings organization over the last 19 years,” Chelios said. ”Admittedly, I was skeptical about the 1999 trade that brought me to Detroit. As a Chicago guy who was playing for the Blackhawks at the time, we despised those Detroit teams of the 1990s. After the trade, however, things changed quickly and I began to feel right at home.”

Chelios and the Red Wings won Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008.

”What an unbelievable experience, playing on some of the greatest teams in league history, with some of the greatest players of all-time,” Chelios said. ”I consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of it all. The Cup-winning teams in 2002 and 2008 are the obvious highlights, but I’m grateful for every chance I had to put on a Red Wings sweater.”

Chelios’ son Jake is a defenseman as well and is in the Red Wings’ organization.

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Jaromir Jagr hits the ice with Kladno, eyes return this season

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The owner of Rytiri Kladno of the Czech Republic’s WSM Liga hit the ice on Wednesday with his players and stated a goal of being ready to play games at some point in September.

That owner wasn’t a random rich person playing out a fantasy beer league dream, however. The No. 68 on the back of his helmet and the tied mullet would give away his identity to any fan since it was Jaromir Jagr.

“It’s not easy. I was glad I survived the first training, but I’ll do the best to make it better every day,” Jagr told reporters after practice (via iSport).

The 46-year-old Jagr is co-owner of Kladno and returned there after a stint with the Calgary Flames during the 2017-18 season lasted only 22 games before he was sidelined with a knee injury. The Flames waived Jagr before assigning him to Kladno for the rest of the year. He only scored once and finished with seven points after signing a one-year, $1 million contract in early October.

“I would be more happy if I was in the NHL now, but as a second option, this is the place I want to be,” he told the New York Times in April. “I got an opportunity and for whatever reason I didn’t play my best and I got injured.”

In his return to Kladno, Jagr played only five games as the Knights fell short of winning promotion to the Czech first division for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Despite battling through the knee injury, Jagr wasn’t ready to retire. He’s stated he wants to play beyond the age of 50 and that was looking like a decent bet after two years with the Florida Panthers where he played 79 and 82 games, respectively. Only time will tell if last season was reality at age 46 or an aberration for the legendary fitness freak.

Kladno has a 10-game preseason schedule which begins July 31 before the regular season opens up on Sept. 8. Jagr said his goal is to be ready for the season opener.

“I believe that before the season begins I can prepare enough to be able to play the whole game. That’s at least in my plan,” he said.

Jagr, who made his NHL debut during the 1990-91 season, noted that at the moment he does have some restrictions when it comes to training, but added, “I believe that when the leg and the whole body strengthens with more frequent workouts and those outside the ice, it will only improve.”

MORE: PHT Time Machine: Remembering Jaromir Jagr trade nobody won

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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.