Maple Leafs after NHL Free Agency: Better, worse, or the same?

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In the grand scheme of things, it seems like the Maple Leafs covered most of their offseason to-do list after signing Ilya Mikheyev. Sure, they need to settle things with RFA Travis Dermott. And there might be some cap-related wrangling on the margins.

(As you may remember from re-acquiring David Clarkson‘s contract and other tweaks, GM Kyle Dubas isn’t afraid to get into the weeds.)

But, overall? It sure seems like the Maple Leafs we see today should be close to what (eventually) hits the ice to kick off the 2020-21 NHL season. So, after all of that, what’s the verdict? Are the Maple Leafs better, worse, or basically in the same spot?

Looking ahead, let’s break the Maple Leafs’ offseason changes (or lack thereof), position by position.

Forward group: Worse, but how much worse?

To review, the Maple Leafs lost Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Kyle Clifford, and Frederik Gauthier during the offseason. On the other hand, they brought in Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, and Joey Anderson.

No doubt about it, it’s crucial to consider the salary cap with virtually all of the Maple Leafs’ moves. This time around, that belt-tightening really happened regarding their forward group.

Losing Kapanen and Johnsson largely for cap space hurts, particularly Johnsson.

Even with Johnsson and Kapanen in the lineup, the Maple Leafs leaned quite a bit on big names such as Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. There’s a strong chance they ask even more of them in 2020-21.

As far as forwards added, your results may vary, and quite a bit is up in the air. At 41, and after a long layoff, what can Joe Thornton bring? Will the Maple Leafs account for his lack of footspeed, or will “Jumbo Joe” prove to be an awkward fit?

In our memories, Wayne Simmonds is a net-front dynamo, and the sort of gritty player many see the Maple Leafs lacking. However, recent years haven’t been kind to Simmonds.

The drop-off from the Maple Leafs’ top-six to their bottom-six could be even steeper in 2020-21.

Maple Leafs after offseason, NHL Free Agency, Tavares, Matthews, Marner, Reilly
(Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

That said, it would be a blast if Simmonds, Thornton, and Jason Spezza all turn back the clock a bit and impress. Heck, Thornton occasionally passing to Matthews on the power play could be a fun way to mix things up if that PP unit needs the occasional remix.

Overall, though, the depth took a hit. Maybe a substantial one.

Defense: A better fit?

When Tyson Barrie was traded to the Maple Leafs, his stock was probably overly inflated. Now, after a frustrating season, it seems like it was artificially diluted. Ultimately, the answer’s likely somewhere in between: the Maple Leafs lost a flawed-but-useful defenseman.

That said, they also parted ways with Cody Ceci. It’s probably a little harsh to call that “addition by subtraction.” Then again, the problem with defensemen like Ceci and Jack Johnson isn’t always that they have issues. It’s also that teams sometimes stubbornly insist on sending them out for top-four minutes when they might be better off teetering between bottom-pairing work or watching games in street clothes.

Such a reality might be the case for Zach Bogosian, who might need to battle with the likes of Rasmus Sandin, Travis Dermott, and Mikko Lehtonen for reps.

Overall, the most promising addition overall — not just on defense — comes in adding T.J. Brodie. As much as anything else, he seems like a better fit for what Toronto needed. Maybe he doesn’t have the same offensive “pop” as Barrie, but he figures to be more versatile.

Goalies: Deeper

Heading into the offseason, there were rumblings about trading Frederik Andersen. After all, Andersen’s mix of a generous cap hit ($5 million AAV) with a tiny post-bonus actual salary ($1M) would have made him appealing to a team like, say, the cost-conscious Coyotes. One can’t totally blame Maple Leafs fans for dreaming about what Darcy Kuemper might accomplish.

But who knows how Kuemper would transition from the low-event Coyotes to the high-drama Maple Leafs?

While there’s always a chance Dubas has a trick up his sleeves, it looks like the Maple Leafs will stick with Andersen for 2020-21. They also get a chance to integrate Jack Campbell into the mix a bit more, and added Aaron Dell as a reasonable third goalie/reclamation project.

Personally, I believe the Maple Leafs leaned too heavily upon Andersen over the years. Such usage might have explained a bumpy 2019-20.

Getting Campbell and maybe also Dell in the mix more could make Andersen fresher. Doing so might be worth it, even if it means hurting your odds at better seeding. (Passing the Bruins and especially the Lightning will probably be a tall order, either way.)

Coaching: More cohesive

Let’s face it; the clock felt like it was ticking on Mike Babcock right from the beginning of 2019-20. Between his sniping at Dubas, stubbornness with Auston Matthews’ ice time, and general clashing of style, it just seemed like a strained situation.

Even if Sheldon Keefe isn’t an outright upgrade, it seems clear that he’s on the same page with Dubas. Or at least they’re reading the same book.

That cohesion might be the takeaway from this Maple Leafs offseason … you know, beyond wiggling under the salary cap. On paper, I don’t believe the Maple Leafs are better. Instead, they maybe took a slight step back.

They do seem to be in a better overall rhythm, and for all we know, that could pay off in 2020-21.

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

Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

“When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

“Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

“This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

“We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

“It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

“It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

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CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.