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Senators handle Uber video nightmare in very Senators way

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The Ottawa Senators latest PR disaster (it’s already getting the “-gate” treatment) surfaced on Monday, as the Ottawa Citizen reported that an Uber video leaked of players trashing assistant coach Marty Raymond.

In true current-day Senators fashion, it seems like it’s only getting stranger from there.

One very “Senators” factor is that the players involved didn’t answer questions from the media after their morning skate on Tuesday. Instead, Mark Stone, Zack Smith, Mark Borowiecki, and head coach Guy Boucher were among those speaking for Thomas Chabot, Dylan DeMelo, Matt Duchene, Alex Formenton Chris Tierney, Chris Wideman and Colin White.

It’s crucial to note that, while the video leaked recently, it appears to have happened on Oct. 29, in the middle of a four-game losing streak where Ottawa lost to Vegas on Oct. 28 and the Coyotes on Oct. 30. That context helps explain why Stone and Boucher were among those explaining that the matter was already addressed, and that the team knew about it “long before” the footage surfaced.

“It was dealt with internally, the way it should be, we’re going to move forward and grow from it,” Stone said. ” … This is only going to make our team stronger moving forward.”

Such comments make you wonder if the video was leaked intentionally, or at least by an unhappy front office member. Considering how things are going – poorly – for the Senators from a PR perspective, management hasn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt.

Update: TSN’s Ian Mendes went in-depth to explain how the Senators knew about the video in advance, and more.

To paraphrase Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight,” what doesn’t kill the Senators might not make them stronger; it might just them stranger.

It’s tough to believe that any of this will really make the Senators kill penalties more effectively, score more frequently on the power play, or listen more closely in team meetings. Instead, this is just a reminder that the bloom is off the rose as they’ve fallen to 5-6-3 after a promising 4-2-1 start.

After all, it’s not exactly as if the Senators have rallied since … whenever this mystery team meeting took place. They’ve lost six of their last seven games, with their only win (4-2 against Buffalo on Thursday) immediately being followed by the Sabres getting revenge to the tune of a 9-2 shellacking on Saturday.

Now, to be fair, it’s not that unreasonable to imagine players on all 31 teams having conversations like the one Duchene & Co. enjoyed while unknowingly on candid camera. Zack Smith pointed out as much, saying that if a camera followed him around during his career, he doesn’t think he’d still “be in the league.” Some of this boils down to the fact that technology opens the valve for leaks like these to happen more and more often.

So, perhaps the distinguishing factor is that this surfaced, rather than being contained.

Whether it comes down to self-inflicted wounds or mishandling crises that would challenge even the most stable management, it’s been a dizzying stretch of terrible developments for the Senators.

  • If management had any sense of the trouble brewing between Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson, then it makes the drama that much tougher to stomach, particularly since embattled GM Pierre Dorion settled for pennies on the dollar in the eventual trades.
  • Now-former-assistant GM Randy Lee resigned over charges of harassing a hotel shuttle driver.
  • There are all sorts of questions about the Senators front office. A litany of moves look questionable, from the worse-by-the-day Duchene trade (and the draft pick implications), as well as Alex Burrows’ failed experiment ending with a buyout. Perhaps just as pressing: does Dorion really have any faith in Boucher, considering how he undermined him heading into what would be a turbulent summer?
  • Fair or not, a lot of the turmoil can be traced to owner Eugene Melnyk, whose bizarre video with Mark Borowiecki seems more and more like comic relief amidst all these nightmares.

Would the Senators even employ the same coaching staff that players criticized if their owner wasn’t so, um, budget-conscious? Could a crisis been averted or at least minimized if Karlsson was moved at the trade deadline? How unhappy are people behind the scenes? It’s easy to see why Senators fans aren’t pleased with many things, with the team’s owner ranking as possibly the biggest area of discontent.

The Senators ultimately face some crucial decisions after this latest headache emerged.

It would be rash to trade every player involved in that video, yet one cannot help but wonder if this is yet another sign that Duchene could find himself traded once again (the speedy, occasionally attention-lapsing forward is in a contract year). Chris Wideman is also slated to be a UFA. Conversely, Stone was not in that video and was instead tasked with facing the media, and he’s also in a contract year. What will Dorion do with players like these? How many of these players are part of the solution, particularly when all of these leaks feel like telltale signs of a sinking ship?

The Senators’ problems run deep, and putting them off might be why they’re in such a mess. Management has to start digging out of this hole, or the nightmares will just continue.

As poorly as the Sens have been playing, it’s probably a relief that they’re getting back on the ice, as Ottawa hosts the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Of course, if we’ve learned anything from the Senators, it’s that things can go sour fast … so expect fans to boo their own team, probably very soon.

Update: Matt Duchene spoke to the media following Ottawa’s 7-3 win against the New Jersey Devils.

Duchene made a brief statement before answering questions from reporters.

“I want to take this opportunity to extend my absolutely sincerest apologies to Marty Raymond,” Duchene said. “He’s a heck of a person and coach, and he did not deserve what we said. That’s all I can say on it right now, unfortunately. I sincerely, sincerely mean that, on behalf of myself and my teammates.”

Duchene said the win was big for the Senators, especially given the events over the past couple of days.

“We’ve dealt with things and everything in here is good,” he said. “Just how I feel, it’s hard for me to even talk about it because it makes me emotional. That’s not the person I am or any of us.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Senators players apologize after being filmed ripping assistant coach

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Six players from the Ottawa Senators have apologized to assistant coach Marty Raymond after their private comments were caught on tape and leaked to the public on Monday.

The video, which was first reported by the Ottawa Sun/Citizen, shows Thomas Chabot, Dylan DeMelo, Matt Duchene, Alex Formenton Chris Tierney, Chris Wideman and Colin White in an Uber in Phoenix on Oct. 29 trashing Raymond’s coaching style.

The video ranges from Duchene poking fun on the Senators woeful special teams play, which Raymond heads up, and at one point even saying he hasn’t paid attention in video meetings in weeks.

Wideman can be heard saying that Raymond doesn’t teach the players anything.

“Marty Raymond, the only coach in NHL history to have the worst power play and the worst PK within a calendar year,” Duchene says.

“Do you notice that when (Raymond) runs the video, if you actually do pay attention, he doesn’t ever teach you anything? He just commentates what’s happening,” Wideman adds.

“Here’s the other thing, too. We don’t change anything, ever. So why do we even have a meeting? I haven’t paid attention in three weeks,” Duchene responds.

The Senators released statements on behalf of the players and head coach Guy Boucher on Monday night:

Boucher:

“Nothing is more important to us during this rebuild than making sure our players and coaches are fully committed to our plan, our values and our system of play. We have every confidence in Marty Raymond’s coaching; in the effort and determination of our team; and in the sincerity of our players’ apology. We are now treating this as a team matter, and will be making no further comment to the media.”

The players:

“We want to apologize publicly to Marty Raymond, our teammates and coaches for our comments in Phoenix, Arizona on October 29. Our private conversation was recorded without our knowledge or consent. We’re passionate about our team, and focusing on growing together. We are grateful for the support of our fans and organization. This is an important learning experience, and we will do better.”

Uber Canada general manager Rob Khazzam took to Twitter on Monday night to condemn the recording.

“A video was released by the media today of several Uber passengers being filmed without their consent while having a private discussion during a trip in Phoenix. This is a clear violation of our terms of service and we worked vigorously to investigate this issue. Filming or recording passengers without their consent is totally unacceptable and if reported/detected we will investigate + take action to preserve our communities privacy and integrity. In this specific case, we made efforts to have the video taken down.”

The Senators host the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night. The media availability after their morning skate should be interesting.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blackhawks should get used to winning ugly

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Not long ago, the Chicago Blackhawks probably would have been fuming about the sort of win they opened the season with, not unlike Aaron Rodgers essentially subtweeting his coach after a 22-0 Packers victory.

If the Ottawa Senators aren’t written in Sharpie as the odds-on worst team in the NHL, they enter 2018-19 as easily the most miserable (you’re off the hook, Montreal Canadiens).

In trading away Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman during a historically bad summer, the Senators took on the Blackhawks last night with Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and … not a whole lot else.

Yet, as limited as the Senators clearly seem to be, the Blackhawks didn’t steamroll their opponents. In fact, they trailed the Senators from Colin White‘s 3-2 goal late in the first period until Brent Seabrook tied things up with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation, needing a nifty Patrick Kane OT goal to down the lowly Sens.

You can’t just chalk this up to Craig Anderson beginning his “every other year” cycle with some awe-inspiring performance or Cam Ward conversely playing like, well, Cam Ward, either.

This was, by most measures, a pretty evenly-played game. For example: the two teams were tied in “high-danger chances” with 10 apiece, according to Natural Stat Trick.

via Corsica Hockey

To review: a team that is still built in a “win-now” mode barely beat the sad sack Senators, and with Corey Crawford‘s murky health in mind, will likely see their hopes hinge on Cam Ward. In 2018.

Chicago doesn’t boast a lot of positive difference-makers beyond its big-money players, so they’ll need their stars to carry substantial burdens. That worked out last night, but it remains to be seen if the Blackhawks’ aging core can keep this up over an 82-game season.

Now, it’s not all bad, even if it’s … mostly bad.

While it’s early, the Blackhawks integrated some new faces into the lineup, with Joel Quenneville sounding pretty smitten about Henri Jokiharju.

Maybe most importantly, the Blackhawks saw great starts from their big names.

Obviously, Kane scored that overtime game-winner, Duncan Keith played well, and Seabrook at least made a significant play. Jonathan Toews‘ play may be most crucial, and he enjoyed a great Thursday, scoring a goal and assisting on Kane’s game-winning goal. Toews did more than just scoring, firing four shots on goal and winning 20 of 29 faceoffs.

***

Heading into this season, only one PHT staffer picked the Blackhawks to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while two of five picked them to finish last in the Central Division.

If nothing else, the Blackhawks are about as close to underdogs as you’re going to get when you’ve recently won your third Stanley Cup as a core group. Could they defy the odds and return to the postseason after failing last year?

To make it work, they’ll need to get a lot out of stars like Kane and Toews, the Blackhawks will probably need to win a lot of ugly games.

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.

Erik Karlsson dealt to Sharks as Senators continue roster teardown

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The long-awaited Erik Karlsson traded has finally been completed and the talented defenseman and prospect Francis Perron are heading to the San Jose Sharks. In return, the Ottawa Senators will receive Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, plus two conditional picks.

Here are the details on those picks:

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson went hard after John Tavares in free agency, but struck out and moved on to extending key pieces in Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane. He wanted a “difference-maker” and certainly achieved that goal in acquiring the 28-year-old Karlsson.

San Jose’s blue line will now feature Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a very solid trio, while their top power play unit will be something to watch with the newly-added Swede.

“It’s extremely rare that players of this caliber become available,” said Wilson. “The word ‘elite’ is often thrown around casually but Erik’s skillset and abilities fit that description like few other players in today’s game.”

Karlsson, who was the No. 15 overall selection in the 2008 NHL draft, spent nine years with the Senators, suiting up for 627 games, scoring 126 goals and recording 518 points. He quickly developed into an all-around blue liner, capable of hitting double digits in goals and being strong defensively. His play would help earn him two Norris Trophies and second-place finishes in 2016 and 2017.

Since 2013, Karlsson is one of only three defensemen — Burns and P.K. Subban being the others — to record at least 300 points. Karlsson is third in goals (89) over that stretch with Burns leading the way (116) comfortably.

The key now for Wilson and the Sharks is to sign Karlsson to an extension. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and will command a max deal, whether he reaches UFA status or not. The Sharks are perennial contenders out west and this move certainly keeps them in the conversation for 2018-19 in a crowded field of Western Conference field favorites.

[Karlsson trade gives Sharks NHL’s most explosive defense]

For the Senators, the trade is one of the final parts of the complete teardown of a roster that was a goal away from reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. After moving Karlsson and dealing Mike Hoffman, the big pieces that remain are Bobby Ryan, who still has four years left carrying a $7.25M cap hit; Mark Stone, who signed a one-year, $7.35M deal over the summer; and Matt Duchene, who was acquired last October and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Goaltender Craig Anderson probably could be had if the right offer came along.

It’s all about stockpiling assets to go with a prospect cupboard that features Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Logan Brown, Colin White and Alex Formenton. (And let’s not forget Ottawa’s 2019 first-rounder belongs to the Colorado Avalanche.)

How deep are the Senators entrenched in this rebuild? The headline for the trade press release reads: “Ottawa Senators complete most important trade in rebuild” and the messaging inside keeps on the theme that the future is bright — they just need to keep dealing away their best players.

“This is the right moment for us to rebuild our team, and shape our future with a faster, younger and more competitive team on the ice,” says Senators GM Pierre Dorion in a statement. “We are going to build a culture of consistency which will allow this team to sustain better performance over the long term.”

If you’re wondering, the Sharks visit Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 1.

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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.

PHT Midseason Report Card: Atlantic Division

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Now that the All-Star break has arrived it’s time to look back at the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season. Our team-by-team report cards will look at the biggest surprises and disappointments for all 31 clubs and what their outlook is for the second half, including whether they should be a trade deadline buyer or seller.

• Boston Bruins:

Season Review: The Bruins have been the hottest team in the NHL for over a month now. They went into the All-Star break riding an 18-game point streak (14-0-4). They own a 29-10-8 record (66 points) through 47 games. The Bruins are currently second in the division, just five points behind the Bolts with two games in hand. Grade: A.

Biggest Surprise: We all knew that Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak were good players, but nobody could have expected this kind of dominance from Boston’s top trio. They haven’t only dominated in the offensive zone, they’ve managed to keep teams in check in their own end, too.

Biggest Disappointment: There aren’t many disappointments in Boston this season, but Brandon Carlo‘s second season hasn’t gone as well as his first. He’s averaging almost less than two minutes of ice time per game compared to last year and he has just five assists this season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Buy, buy, buy. The Bruins have a lot of young assets they can use to acquire some help for their playoff push. GM Don Sweeney could be in the market for another scoring forward. Making a splash at the deadline could be the difference between going to the cup final or not.

Second Half Outlook: They’ll suffer a loss in regulation eventually, but they’ve managed to close the gap between themselves and the first-place Lightning enough that they can challenge for top spot in the Atlantic.

• Buffalo Sabres:

Season Review: Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Sabres in the first half of the season. They head into the break with a 14-26-9 record (37 points), which puts them only ahead of the Arizona Coyotes in the standings. It’s another lost year in Buffalo. Grade: F.

Biggest Surprise: The fact that Evander Kane is having a strong season isn’t a surprise, but he’s on pace to score a career-high 60 points in his contract year. Kane will almost certainly be traded before the trade deadline. Sabres fans will have to hope that he nets them a nice return.

Biggest Disappointment: There are plenty of disappointing things about the Sabres’ 2017-18 season, but the fact that they’ve scored a league-low 114 goals in 49 games. Kane, Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly are the only three players on the roster to hit double-digit goals so far this season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: There’s no doubt that they Sabres will be in seller mode at the deadline. There’s absolutely no way that they’ll make the playoffs, which means they’ll be trading pending unrestricted free agents for draft picks and futures before the end of the month.

Second Half Outlook: With the playoffs a distant dream, the Sabres should focus on finishing as low as they can in the standings, so they can try to land an impact blue liner like Rasmus Dahlin through the draft. Judging on their first half of the season, it won’t be too hard for them to lose during the stretch.

• Detroit Red Wings:

Season Review: The Red Wings season has gone exactly the way most people had anticipated. They aren’t one of the bottom teams in the league, but they’re still 10 points out of a playoff spot. The Red Wings have a 19-21-8 record (46 points) through 48 games. To make matters worse, they went out and signed veterans like Trevor Daley in free agency. It’s time for them to start embracing the rebuild. Grade: D+.

Biggest Surprise: Dylan Larkin is having quite the bounce back season. He currently leads the Red Wings in points with 38 in 48 games this season, which is strong considering he had just 32 all of last year. The 21-year-old appears to be back on the right track. It looks like he’ll turn into the player they hoped he’d be after his strong rookie season.

Biggest Disappointment: Only the Senators, Coyotes and Sabres have found the back of the net less often than the Red Wings in the first half of the season. Justin Abdelkader, Henrik Zetterberg and Larkin have combined to score just 22 goals. That’s simply not enough if the Red Wings want to make a statement in the East.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Wings front office needs to realize that it’s time for them to sell off veteran assets like pending unrestricted free agent Mike Green. It’s time for them to start piling up young assets and draft picks, so that they can start putting together another dynasty.

Second Half Outlook: Their 10 points out of a playoff spot, so they won’t be able to play deep into April, but they aren’t quite as bad as the Buffalo Sabres either. Expect the Red Wings to play spoiler as the season goes on.

• Florida Panthers: 

Season Review: The Panthers have some talent on their roster with players like Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau, but it’s clear that they’re still lacking in the depth department. Florida has 19-22-6 record (44 points), which puts them 12 points out of a Wild Card spot. Grade: D.

Biggest Surprise: Trocheck is coming off a pair of back-to-back 50-point seasons, but he’s been on a roll this year. Trocheck is already up to 18 goals and 44 points in 47 games this season. Nobody expected the Panthers forward to score at nearly a point-per game pace.

Biggest Disappointment: Veteran forward Radim Vrbata‘s production has fallen off the map. After scoring 20 goals and 55 points last season, he has just five goals and 13 points in 35 games this season. The fact that they’re lacking in the depth scoring department is partly Vrbata’s fault.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Panthers don’t have much to trade in terms of rentals, but they could look to make a hockey trade or two to improve their outlook going forward. They’ve built a strong core with Huberdeau, Barkov and Aaron Ekblad, but they clearly need more if they want to get back to the playoffs next season.

Second Half Outlook: Like the Red Wings, the Panthers have enough talent not to finish in the basement of the Eastern Conference. They’ll likely be looking to play spoiler for teams hoping to make the playoffs.

• Montreal Canadiens: 

Season Review: The Canadiens have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season. They had legitimate playoff aspirations at the start of the year, but they’ve fallen totally flat. They don’t have enough scoring, their defense is mediocre and Carey Price can’t do everything himself. Grade: D.

Biggest Surprise: Brendan Gallagher is having a strong bounce back season after dealing with a few injuries over the last couple of years. Gallagher is on pace to score 30 goals for the first time in his career. But even beyond the numbers, he’s continuously been the heart and soul of his team all season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jonathan Drouin was the major acquisition of the offseason and he just hasn’t lived up to the hype. He’s still young, but his transition to center has been slow, painful and filled with mistakes. Drouin is far from the only disappointment on the roster, but he’s the one they were counting on to be their next local superstar. There’s still time for him to turn it around, it just hasn’t happened as quickly as most expected.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Marc Bergevin will surely look to sell off expiring contracts like Tomas Plekanec, but it sounds like they could be looking to shake things up in the locker room, too. Max Pacioretty‘s name has come up in trade rumors. If they make that move before the deadline that would be a huge wake up call to the players in the locker room.

Second Half Outlook: The Canadiens don’t have much coming through the pipeline, so they need to focus on being as bad as they can be in order to increase their odds of winning the lottery. They’ll be competitive some nights because of Price, but giving Antti Niemi a few more starts down the stretch could be a subtle way to tank.

• Ottawa Senators:

Season Review: Oh how things can change quickly in the NHL. The Senators were a goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Final last season, but they’ve fallen off the map completely in 2017-18. Ottawa’s 39 points put them just two ahead of the lowly Sabres, who are in the basement of the Eastern Conference. All this talk of trading Erik Karlsson certainly hasn’t helped their team. Grade: F.

Biggest Surprise: Mark Stone has put up a pair of 60-point seasons in his career, but he’s rolling at exactly a point-per-game pace through 44 games in 2017-18. The 25-year-old’s play is definitely the biggest positive to come out of this season for the Senators even though he’s banged up right now.

Biggest Disappointment: The Matt Duchene trade simply didn’t give the Sens the shot in the arm they were looking for. To make matters worse, the Avalanche and Predators have been rolling since the three-way trade went down earlier this season. This whole year has been a colossal disappointment in Ottawa, and the trade that was supposed to fix everything hasn’t done that at all.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Like most of the other teams in the division, the Senators will look to be sellers at the trade deadline. It’s also important to keep things in perspective. As much as their season has been a disappointment, they’ve still managed to get top prospects Thomas Chabot and Colin White some playing time. They need to find a way to add youngsters to their up-and-coming group.

Second Half Outlook: Well, when you’re 17 points out of a playoff spot it’s easy to see what your second half will look like. One thing they should try to do between now and the end of the season is make Erik Karlsson happy again. They’ve done a horrendous job of doing that since October, so it’s time for them to admit their mistakes and get him signed to a long-term deal. Or else, you might as well blow this team up.

• Tampa Bay Lightning:

Season Review: After missing the playoffs last season, the Lightning couldn’t have asked for a much better first half of the season. Sure, they might be slumping a little bit heading into the All-Star break, but that’s bound to happen to every team over an 82-game season. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Andrei Vasilevskiy and the gang have emerged as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They have the best record in the NHL at 34-12-3, which gives them a grade I could’ve only dreamed about when I was in school. Grade: A+.

Biggest Surprise: Sergachev was made a healthy scratch in the last two games before the break, but he’s clearly been the biggest surprise on the team. When the rookie blue liner was acquired from the Canadiens last summer, no one expected him to play such a big role on this season. The 19-year-old has eight goals and 27 points in 47 games during his first full NHL season. Honorable mention to Yanni Gourde.

Biggest Disappointment: They have the best record in the league, they’ve scored the most goals in the league and they have the best goal differential in the league, so writing down a disappointment seems unnecessary.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Most people will say that the Lightning need to be buyers. Sure, they could add a complimentary piece or two to their roster, but they don’t have to go overboard. Their team is clearly good enough to make a Stanley Cup run if they stay healthy, and making a major trade might disrupt chemistry. GM Steve Yzerman should be looking to make small tweaks to his roster, nothing more.

Second Half Outlook: As good as they were in the first half, they need to make sure they keep rolling from February through the end of the season. They can’t allow themselves to get complacent. Getting home ice advantage throughout the playoffs should be the goal. They’re definitely talented enough to get the job done.

• Toronto Maple Leafs: 

Season Review: The Leafs came out of the gate like gangbusters at the start of the season. They were scoring goals by the truckload and they were skating everybody out of the building. They looked like they were going to give the Lightning a run for the division crown, but things haven’t materialized that way. Their offense has dried up in recent weeks and many of the players they were counting on to produce haven’t done that. The injury to Auston Matthews earlier this season seemed to have set them back. Despite all that, they are comfortably in a playoff spot with a record of 28-18-5 (61 points). Grade: B.

Biggest Surprise: It’s not necessarily a surprise, but Morgan Rielly has been a real positive on a team that is clearly lacking good defensemen. The Leafs blue liner has taken another positive step in his development and that’s led him to tallying more points. The 23-year-old is already up to 31 points through 47 games this season (his career high is 36). They need him to get healthy.

Biggest Disappointment: The Leafs’ play in their own end still isn’t good enough to be considered an elite team in the league or even the conference. They rank in the bottom half of the NHL in goals allowed, and that’s something that will have to change if they’re going to compete with the Bruins and Lightning.

Trade Deadline Strategy: They have to go out and find themselves another competent, puck-moving defenseman. They clearly have enough offense to get the job done, now they have to find a way to land a blue liner that can play top-four minutes. Making that kind of trade is difficult during the season, but they’ll need to do it if they want to make it out of the first round.

Second Half Outlook: Babcock and his team will never admit this, but they’ve pretty much wrapped up a playoff spot. Now, they’ll have to focus on getting their game in order before the postseason hits in April. Whether they face Tampa Bay or Boston, they’ll have their hands full. And as bright as the future is, another first-round exit would be disappointing.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.