Leafs have big decisions to make this summer

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Another year, another first-round exit for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since 2013, the Leafs have been knocked out by the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the first round three times. Last year, Toronto had a 3-2 lead against Boston in the deciding game, but they let it slip away. So what did they do? They added John Tavares in free agency and Jake Muzzin before the trade deadline. Still, it wasn’t enough.

So now what?

General manager Kyle Dubas will have his work cut out for him this summer. The Leafs have three key players scheduled to become restricted free agents in Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. They also have two important blueliners set to hit the open market in Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey.

Let’s start with the defense because we know that’s where the Leafs need the most work.

Leafs fans like to pin blame on Gardiner because he tends to make silly decisions with the puck at times, but nobody can deny that their defense is better with him than without him. The 28-year-old was clearly banged up in the playoffs, and that definitely affected his play. You’d have to think that his services will be in high demand on July 1st because there won’t be too many puck-moving defenders available this summer.

As for Hainsey, he played over 20 minutes per game in the regular season and playoffs. But how much longer can the Leafs continue rolling out a 38-year-old player on their top pairing? They need to upgrade on defense, which means Hainsey doesn’t come back or he gets pushed further down the lineup.

Dubas already has $75.759 million committed to the cap next season, which means that he’ll likely have less than $8 million in cap space. Marner alone will command way more than $8 million per season, so the Leafs will have to get creative when it comes to opening up dollars to re-sign players and to bring in new bodies.

Both Johnsson and Kapanen scored 20 goals and both surpassed the 40-point mark this season, but Johnsson (43 points) averaged under 14 minutes per game, while Kapanen (44 points) played over 16:30 per game. Could one of those two guys be on the move? Will it be Kapanen?

But the five players with expiring contracts mentioned above aren’t part of that $75-plus million cap hit heading into next season. Players under contract will have to move, too. 39-year-old Patrick Marleau is on the books for $6.25 million for one more year and he clearly isn’t the same player he once was. Can they find a taker for him? Dubas might have to send Kapanen to a team that’s willing to eat Marleau’s contract.

Nazem Kadri has three years left on his current contract at a very reasonable cap hit of $4.5 million. There’s no denying that his five-game suspension against the Bruins effected the outcome of the series. Has he worn out his welcome in Toronto? He’s still an effective player, but the trust between he and the organization may be fractured at this point.

Nikita Zaitsev‘s contract ($4.5 million AAV per year) forces him into a top four role that he probably isn’t suited for over an 82-game season plus playoffs. Other teams won’t be lining up to trade for that contract.

Dubas was the big winner last offseason, as he found a way to bring Tavares home. He also made a solid trade with Los Angeles for Muzzin and he was able to get Auston Matthews to sign a long-term extension, but this is the first major challenge he’ll experience as GM of the Leafs.

How will he respond?

MORE:
In a series full of questions, Mike Babcock short on answers
Bruins win yet another Game 7 versus Maple Leafs

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins, Sharks in Game 7 heaven after clinching respective Round 1 series

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  • The Toronto Maple Leafs must hate facing the Boston Bruins in Round 1. They’re now 0-for-3 in attempts to beat them in the opening series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after the Bruins beat them 5-1 in Game 7
  • 3-1 down in the series. 3-0 down in the third period of Game 7. And somehow, some way, the San Jose Sharks are off to the second round

Bruins 5, Leafs 1 (BOS wins 4-3)

It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as recent Game 7s between these two clubs, but the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead, survived an onslaught in the second period and then found three more in the third as Mike Babcock failed to adjust in time. The Leafs are now 8-12 under Babcock in the playoffs over the past three seasons and are out of the playoffs after spending big money on John Tavares and bolstering their back end to get Jake Muzzin prior to the trade deadline. All for naught, and a lot of questions that need to be answered in TO.

Sharks 5, Golden Knights 4 [OT] (SJS wins 4-3)

How do you explain this one? Down 3-0 in the third period, the San Jose Sharks are sent a gift from the heavens in the form of a controversial five-minute major assessed to Cody Eakin. Then this happened:

PHT’s James O’Brien has the rest in the link above.

Three stars

1. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks

Four points in a span of four minutes and change, including the go-ahead goal to cap off one of the greatest comebacks in hockey history (and sports, too).

Labanc assisted on the three goals that led to a tied game, all on the power play after Eakin’s major. Quite the turnaround for Labanc, who had one goal coming into Game 7.

Oh, and he set one record and matched another:

2. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture sparked the comeback, scoring seven seconds into Eakin’s major.

“The message was that’s one, let’s go,” Couture said after the game.

After Tomas Hertl scored his sixth of the series to pull San Jose to 3-2, Couture joined him with his sixth to tie the game.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Rask had the kitchen thrown at him in the second period but stopped 12 of 13 in the frame to preserve a 2-1 lead. That effort (along with his 12 first-period saves) seemed to propel the Bruins in the third. Boston found three more goals, including two into an empty net and shut down the Leafs who were out of options and out of ideas to solve Rask.

Unlikely star of the night

Barclay Goodrow, San Jose Sharks

Goodrow barely played in regulation, going minus-3 and then he was stapled to the bench in the overtime period.

“Legs were fresh,” Goodrow joked following the game.

Fresh enough that he made sure the Sharks moved onto Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Two playoff goals for Goodrow. Two game-winners.

Highlights of the night

Goodrow’s series clincher in OT:

Sometimes big goals come from lower down the lineup. This one was massive:

Factoids of the night

Bizarre video of the night

Wednesday’s game

Game 7: Hurricanes at Capitals (Series tied 3-3), 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)


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

Krug, DeBrusk good to go for Bruins in Game 3

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The Boston Bruins’ Game 2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs could have been a costly one as defender Torey Krug and forward Jake DeBrusk were both injured on Saturday night.

DeBrusk was on the receiving end of a cross-check to the head from Nazem Kadri late in the the third period, while Krug was injured when he crushed along the boards on a big hit by Jake Muzzin. Their status for Game 3 on Monday night had been up in the air, but coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed on Monday morning that both players will be good to go when the series shifts to Toronto for Game 3.

This is obviously good news for the Bruins as being without even one of them, let alone both, would have been a pretty big blow to their depth.

Even though DeBrusk has yet to tally a point in the series, he was the Bruins’ fourth-leading goal scorer during the regular season with 27 goals in only 68 games.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Krug, meanwhile, is one of the Bruins’ top-defenders and their biggest offensive threat from the blue line, finishing the season with 53 points (fifth best on the team) in only 64 games.

Their availability is an added bonus because it comes on the same day that the Leafs’ depth is going to take a significant hit when Kadri learns his fate for the cross-check that injured DeBrusk. Kadri is one of the Leafs’ top centers and is facing a significant suspension that could potentially take him out of the series. He was offered an in-person hearing for his cross-check on Saturday night, giving the NHL’s Department of Player Safety the option to suspend him for more than five games. Five games would be the remainder of the series.

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.

Kadri could face big suspension, offered in-person hearing

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UPDATE:

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced that Nazem Kadri‘s been offered an in-person hearing for his ugly hit on Jake DeBrusk, making people wonder if we’ve seen Kadri for the last time during this Round 1 series.

An in-person hearing opens up the option for Kadri to be suspended for 5+ games, not that it would guarantee that would happen. If it were five-or-more, that would mean that Kadri could return no sooner than Round 2, if the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to get by the Boston Bruins.

Losing Kadri, a very valuable center (when he’s not losing his cool) would greatly reduce Toronto’s chances of avenging last year’s Round 1 loss to Boston. No doubt about it, this is unlikely history potentially repeating itself, as Kadri received a three-game suspension for going after Tommy Wingels during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

You can watch that hit in the video above this post’s headline. Kadri was likely riled up in part by an earlier hit by DeBrusk, who delivered a check on Patrick Marleau before Kadri’s cross-check to the head.

After the Bruins’ 4-1 win to tie the series at 1-1, NBC’s Keith Jones called for a 10-game suspension.

As far as DeBrusk’s knee-to-knee goes, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said he believed it was clean.

This exchange was the most explosive moment from Game 2, but things really started to get out of hand during the second period. Torey Krug and Connor Clifton also left the contest, while Jake Muzzin was able to return to action despite being bloodied, so we’ll see if Kadri’s not the only one who will miss some time. Just, in Kadri’s case, it would be because of a suspension.

Maple Leafs – Bruins Game 3 from Scotiabank Arena takes place Monday night at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Live stream)

More: Series preview

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.

Bruins blast Maple Leafs in violent Game 2

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The Boston Bruins got mean against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2, and now their Round 1 series is even 1-1. Now we’ll just need to wait and find out who will actually be able to suit up for Games 3 and beyond.

Boston really stormed out of the gate, generating a 2-0 lead in the first period and adding another goal in the second, while dominating the shot clock 29-16 through the first 40 minutes. Ultimately, the Bruins won 4-1, so things are now tied up as the scene shifts to Toronto.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

These two historical (and contemporary) rivals don’t like each other, and that really showed in this one. Jake Muzzin was bloodied by a hard David Pastrnak hit, and then delivered a thunderous check of his own on Torey Krug. Krug did not return to Game 2, so it’s fair to wonder if he’ll miss some time.

[A collection of the second period’s nasty, physical moments.]

But the most controversial moments of violence revolved around Nazem Kadri, and his actions might force him to miss some time, too.

During the second period, Kadri was shaken up by a knee-to-knee collision with Jake DeBrusk. Kadri was able to return in the third period, and actually scored Toronto’s only goal, but was ejected after an ugly, high hit on DeBrusk. Kadri was suspended three games during last year’s Round 1 series; will he involuntarily take a seat again?

[More on the Kadri situation here.]

We’ll have to wait and see, and the same goes for Krug, and possibly other players who might have gotten roughed up in a very rough Game 2. It’s possible that Connor Clifton and DeBrusk may also be at risk of missing time following this nasty contest.

(In case you’re wondering, the officiating was also criticized heavily on Saturday, especially by Maple Leafs fans.)

With the Maple Leafs taking Game 1 by a score of 4-1, this fascinating series hasn’t featured nail-biting, overtime action yet, but we’ve already received a look at how explosive each team can be — and also the high level of snarl between Boston and Toronto. If the Bruins carry this effort over to Game 3, the Maple Leafs are going to be in tough, but it feels like things could go either way … and likely back and forth.

It might not be easy to forecast, and at times it sure looks like it won’t be easy on the bodies of players on either team, yet it sure seems like this Round 1 clash will be as exciting and contentious as expected. Now we just need to get some closer games.

Maple Leafs – Bruins Game 3 from Scotiabank Arena takes place Monday night at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Live stream)

More: Series preview

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.