Frederik Andersen

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Point shines in return as Lightning dismantle Maple Leafs: 3 takeaways

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The Tampa Bay Lightning were happy to welcome one of their most important players — Brayden Point — back to the lineup on Thursday night and he wasted no time making a huge impact in a 7-3 dismantling of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Three quick takeaways from the Lightning’s big win…

1. That Point contract is going to be a steal for the Lightning 

As soon as the terms of Brayden Point’s three-year contract with the Lightning were revealed it was obvious that it was a huge win for the team. Point is already one of the NHL’s best all-around players thanks to his elite scoring and often times overlooked defensive impact, and at age 23 he is probably still only getting better. After missing the first three games of the season following offseason hip surgery, Point was back in the lineup on Thursday and wasted no time making an impact. He opened the scoring just 2:28 into the first period before adding another goal and an assist later in the game to finish with three points. The line of Point, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov was almost unfair with each of them recording at least three points in the win (Stamkos and Kucherov both had four points).

2. The Maple Leafs haven’t exactly erased their defensive concerns just yet

The Maple Leafs have done a lot of work to try and fix their blue line — probably the one Achilles Heel the team had the past few years — by adding a bunch of new faces over the past few months. Jake Muzzin came over from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline, while Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Rasmus Sandin were all new additions at the start of the season. So far, the early results are not promising. They have now allowed 19 goals through the first five games, including at least three goals in every single home game. We know they can score, and we know the top of their lineup is great, but until they prove otherwise their ability to prevent their opponents from scoring is going to be a significant concern. The common trend with this team over the past few years is that when Frederik Andersen is on his game in net they can look like an unbeatable team. When he is not — as he has yet to be this season — things can quickly start to unravel for them.

3. Pay close attention to Anthony Cirelli this season

Not that the Lightning need another outstanding young player, but they may have one in Cirelli, a second-year forward that chipped in three assists in Thursday’s rout of Toronto. Playing on a 62-win team that had a league MVP and a number of other award winners it was easy for his rookie season to kind of get overlooked. But with 19 goals, 39 totals points, and quite a few Selke Trophy votes (one second place, five third place, 12 fourth place, and 23 fifth place) he has already shown he can be a force all over the ice. Just another impact player for a team that is already full of them.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV 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.

The Buzzer: Pietrangelo helps Blues top Maple Leafs; Texier the OT hero

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Three Stars

1. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

The Blues captain picked a great time to record his 400th career point. With 12:09 left in the third period and the game tied at two, Pietrangelo wired a shot by Frederik Andersen to give the Blues the lead for good over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The goal was the 23rd game-winning tally of his career, putting him past Al MacInnis for the franchise record among defensemen. The win capped off a pretty good sports Monday for the city St. Louis.

2. Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets

Monday’s win over the Buffalo Sabres was a wild one. The Blue Jackets went up 2-0 in the first, then proceeded to blow that lead in the second period. In the third, the teams exchanged power play goals, which included Victor Olofsson‘s third of the season with 1:14 to play. Overtime was all Columbus, with the young forward netting the winner after 128 seconds.

3. Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets captain scored his first of the season and later assisted on Texier’s overtime winner. He was also 67% in the face-off circle

Highlights of the Night

• It may been a losing effort, but this was a pretty sequence by the Maple Leafs that ended in a William Nylander goal, their second in 24 seconds:

• Neat assist here from Jason Spezza:

Jeff Skinner had this robbery of Ryan Murray:

Factoids

Scores
Blues 3, Maple Leafs 2
Blue Jackets 4, Sabres 3 (OT)

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Crosby leaves preseason finale with apparent foot injury

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PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby left the Pittsburgh Penguins’ preseason finale against Buffalo in the first period Saturday after taking a shot off his skate.

Hit by a shot from Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella, Crosby played on 6:42 before leaving. Pittsburgh forward Bryan Rust left the game after he was hit in the hand in the third period.

”They both got hit with shots,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ”They are being evaluated now. We will probably have more definitive answers tomorrow morning.”

The Sabres won the game 3-2 in a shootout, with Casey Mittelstadt scoring in the sixth round.

Tage Thompson also scored for Buffalo in the shootout. Thompson’s goal in the second round drew Buffalo even, after Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang opened the round by scoring on a wrist shot. Letang was the only Penguin to score in the shootout.

Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark made 34 saves, and Marco Scandella and Zemgus Girgensons scored for the Sabres. Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust scored for the Penguins, and Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The two teams will open the regular season Thursday in Buffalo.

Previewing the 2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, but things could have been much worse considering their cap crunch — and also the rather obvious need for Nazem Kadri to get a change of scenery.

Ultimately, it’s still a step back to replace Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Jake Gardiner, Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, etc. with Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Jason Spezza, and so on. That doesn’t mean that the end result has to be a step backward, but it’s a minor stumble on paper.

Strengths: Yes, the Maple Leafs are paying top dollar for Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and now Mitch Marner. It just so happens that they’re more or less worth that money; fans of NHL teams have just become conditioned to see these types of guys making less than they should, thanks to the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sidney Crosby.

With Morgan Rielly and now Barrie, the Maple Leafs have some pretty potent options as far defensive scoring goes, although things get sketchy once you reach beyond the best options.

Frederik Andersen is also one of the best goalies in the NHL, and can sometimes will the Maple Leafs into games when their defense is cratering and their offense is cold.

Weaknesses: If Andersen gets hurt or struggles, the Maple Leafs’ backup options sure seem pretty dicey. Such a thought might prompt the team to wear Andersen out even if he plays well and stays healthy.

Depth on defense is a bit of a challenge, too.

Frankly, it’s tough to ignore Mike Babcock as someone who might be holding the Maple Leafs back. It’s not always huge decisions, but the conservative leaning can be a death by a thousand cuts. Not giving Auston Matthews enough minutes. Falling in love with old-school defensemen who, frankly, aren’t very good. It all adds up to a Maple Leafs setup that sometimes doesn’t feel fully optimized. I’m not convinced Babcock is a “bad” coach, yet like a lot of others, he has some bad habits.

[MORE: X-factor | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): It’s usually not the best sign when you end a season needing a vote of confidence from your GM. Babcock came to Toronto with a big reputation and an even bigger contract, making it slightly awkward to fire him, but despite all of the personnel improvements the Maple Leafs have made, they still haven’t won a playoff series since 2003-04. Some of that comes down to facing tough opponents, including being tormented by the Boston Bruins, but patience is wearing thin. Put Babcock at a 9.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Tyson Barrie.

Marner got his wish with a contract that carries close to an $11 million cap hit; now it’s time for him to silence his doubters by showing that he’s worth that asking price. Fair or not, any cold streak will be magnified.

Nylander’s near-$7M AAV looks a whole lot better months later, but that doesn’t mean that Maple Leafs fans have totally “forgiven” him for a bumpy 2018-19 season once he actually signed. His hair choices will also be fascinating to watch.

Barrie brings a lot of skill to the table, and should have plenty of motivation in a contract year. That said, he also has his warts on defense; Maple Leafs fans and media tend to fixate on such mistakes, and it remains to be seen if Barrie will finish 2019-20 with a high standing among hockey folk.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and another Round 1 exit won’t be acceptable. That might mean finally scaling the mountain that is the Boston Bruins. Even if Toronto draws someone like the Lightning or revamped Panthers, chances are it won’t be an easy challenge, yet people won’t be very interested in excuses — even good ones — if this season ends just like the last few.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Maple Leafs sign Mitch Marner to big six-year deal

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Just like that, the Mitch Marner saga has been settled.

The Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that they signed the star winger to a six-year deal that carries a $10.893 million AAV.

That $10.893M cap hit ranks lower than that of Auston Matthews ($11.634M AAV through 2023-24) and John Tavares ($11M through 2024-25).

From an immediate standpoint, this makes for a tight squeeze.

Who else will remain a part of this team’s core?

Looking back at a PHT post from earlier this week, we can see that this Marner near-$11M will make for tough decisions. Here are some of the big names who will eventually need new contracts, which Marner, Matthews, and Tavares may essentially force out:

After 2019-20: Defensemen Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie.

After 2020-21: Goalie Frederik Andersen.

After 2021-22: Defenseman Morgan Rielly.

After 2022-23: Forwards Andreas Johnsson and Alexander Kerfoot.

After 2023-24: Stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander.

It’s interesting, also, that Tavares and Marner will see their close-to-$22M expire after the same 2024-25 season. Things could be very different beyond those two by then, but wouldn’t it be interesting if it came down to Tavares or Marner around that faraway date?

[MORE: Could Marner signing open floodgates for Laine, other star RFAs?]

A tough question of value

Plenty of reports indicated that Marner, 22, compared himself to Matthews as much as anyone else. With that in mind, the Maple Leafs must feel some relief in signing Marner for six years, thus locking him down for an extra year — and crucially, staggering things so their contracts don’t expire during the same summer.

As far as Marner being worth $10.893M? That’s subjective, obviously. Maybe it’s more important to ask: how much of an overpay would it be, if it is an overpay? Maple Leafs fans might be somewhat pleased to hear that some answer “Not so bad.”

(Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire provided a fascinating look at Marner’s underlying value recently, if you want some deeper reading on the playmaking winger.)

Marner set career-highs in goals (26), assists (68), and points (94) last season while finding outstanding chemistry with Tavares. Many noted the Tavares bump while trying to argue against Marner earning a ransom with his second contract, but the bottom line is that they both made each other better in 2018-19, and are likely to continue to do so in 2019-20 and beyond.

For those still suffering through sticker shock, consider that the Maple Leafs “bought” two would-be UFA years by making this a six-year contract. If the cap ceiling rises thanks to various revenue-related forces, then $10.893M might look a lot more manageable in a few years. Consider how excessive Leon Draisaitl‘s $8.5M cap hit seemed at the time; now most would label that an all-too-rare steal for the Edmonton Oilers.

But, yes, the price is steep, and maybe Dubas hasn’t handled the Maple Leafs’ big three RFAs in the best way possible (although I’d argue Nylander will ultimately be seen as a strong value).

Make no mistake about it, though. The Maple Leafs are expensive at the top level, with Marner, Tavares, and Matthews combining for a cap hit of about $33M. Ultimately, their collective efforts will determine if it is all “worth it” — which means hurtling over obstacles they haven’t yet cleared, such as, say, beating the Boston Bruins in a Game 7, or winning a playoff series or two.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.