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Maple Leafs go with Kyle Dubas as next GM

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When the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager in 2014, the expectation was that whenever Lou Lamoriello vacated his throne, the young executive would take over. Friday is officially that day.

Nearly two weeks after the Maple Leafs announced that Lamoriello would not be returning as GM next season, the franchise has handed that power to the 31-year-old Dubas.

Dubas spent three years as GM of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds before joining the Maple Leafs. Once in Toronto, he oversaw player development and was the GM of their American Hockey League team. In 2017-18, the Marlies were the best regular season team in the AHL for the second time in three seasons. The big club has benefited from their AHL development plan as the Maple Leafs saw eight graduates on their roster this past season.

The Maple Leafs showed just how much they valued Dubas and just how important he was to their future when last summer, the Colorado Avalanche attempted to lure him away to run their hockey operations. Toronto declined to let him leave and now he runs their show.

One of the immediate questions ahead for the Maple Leafs is what becomes of Mark Hunter’s future. Hunter was hired three months after Dubas and has been serving as co-assistant GM. The race to succeed Lamoriello was likely going to be between Dubas and Hunter, so will he continue in his role or will he return to the OHL’s London Knights where he’s co-owner with his brother, Dale.

The Maple Leafs are coming off their most successful regular season since 2003-04 and Dubas has plenty of work ahead this summer to continue the franchise’s progression. There are unrestricted free agents like James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, and restricted free agents like William Nylander and Connor Carrick to deal with. There’s also the ability, beginning on July 1, to begin talking extension with Auston Matthews.

Dubas has been groomed for this day for a long time, now he’ll get his chance to steer the franchise toward ultimately ending its long Stanley Cup drought.

MORE:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

Lou Lamoriello not returning as Maple Leafs GM; time for Dubas or Hunter?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs will have a new general manager next season as Lou Lamoriello will not return in that role for the 2018-19 NHL season.

When Lamoriello was hired in 2o15, the deal was that he would be the GM for three seasons and then move to an advisor position. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement on Monday that he wouldn’t be altering from that original plan. “I will now focus all of my attention towards making a decision regarding our next general manager,” he wrote.

It’s been quite a turnaround in the last three years for the Maple Leafs. Auston Matthews sure helps, but Lamoriello also dealt for goaltender Frederik Andersen (2016) and signed Patrick Marleau (2017), both of whom played big parts in helping the team return to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. (Pension Plan Puppets has a great breakdown of all of his moves as Toronto’s GM.)

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Now comes the two-headed speculation monster: Who takes over for Lamoriello and will Lamoriello remain as an advisor with the Maple Leafs?

First things first, ever since Lamoriello was installed as GM in 2015, the thought was that next in line would be Kyle Dubas or Mark Hunter, the team’s assistant GMs. Both are still with the club with the Maple Leafs blocking Dubas from taking the job of running the entire hockey operations department of the Colorado Avalanche when they came calling last year. One issue that might stem from Shanahan choosing one over the other is what will happen to the one who doesn’t get the job? Will he stay or leave for a bigger opportunity elsewhere? Both are highly thought of in the organization.

The GM decision needs to happen fast as there are some big off-season decisions to make for the Maple Leafs. James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are their big-name unrestricted free agents, while William Nylander, set to become a restricted free agent, needs a new contract. They could have around $28 million in cap space should the ceiling go up at least $3 million like it’s expected, so how would extensions, plus any other free agent signings fit into their plans for next season? Big decisions ahead.

Finally, the hot rumor of the week has Lamoriello leaving the Maple Leafs to join the New York Islanders and replacing Garth Snow as GM. Lamoriello’s son, Chris, is the team’s assistant GM. Would Lou head to Long Island, run the show for a few years and hand the reins to his son? Co-owner Jon Ledecky said last month that he will be “evaluating all aspects” of the organization this off-season. Could that mean “waiting for the right name(s) to come available” in regards to the futures of Snow and head coach Doug Weight?

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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.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to force a sixth game, thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals from Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They would increase it to a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

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.

Biggest contract years for NHL playoff teams

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Technically speaking, NHL players only get paid for the 82-game regular season, aside from the pocket change that comes from certain bonuses for playoff wins.

In reality, a player can make a living off of a magical postseason run or two.

A strong couple of months could end up being costly in contract negotiations, yet greed can also be good in helping a team in the short run. Let’s take a look at the biggest contract year situations for all 16 of the teams that made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In several cases, it’s not as much about deals that will expire after this season, but instead core players lining up for their first cracks at extensions in July.

It only seems fair to begin with the Presidents’ Trophy winners, even if their concerns are minor …

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

West

Nashville Predators

Biggest contract year: Nashville’s biggest concerns come down to the guys whose contracts end after 2018-19: Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne.

Still, there are a couple of RFAs who could mop up. Ryan Hartman needs to prove his value after being traded from the Blackhawks, while Juuse Saros could break the bank if something happens with Rinne and he goes on a big run.

Colorado Avalanche

Biggest contract year: Jonathan Bernier is at quite the fork in the road in his career.

The 29-year-old played a key role in keeping things going for the Avalanche earlier this season when Semyon Varlamov went down with an injury, to the point that he probably did enough to earn another backup role. If he can author a big playoff run, then who knows what sort of offer he might be able to command?

With Varlamov’s own deal expiring after 2018-19, a red-hot run from Bernier could even force questions about a changing of the guard.

Winnipeg Jets

Biggest contract year: Connor Hellebuyck is a pending RFA who just broke the single-season wins record for an American goalie, going 44-11-9(!) with a fantastic .924 save percentage. If the Jets make a long-awaited but easy-to-imagine deep run, Hellebuyck will inspire many “buck”-related headlines.

The Jets also have Jacob Trouba and Paul Stastny to consider, while this playoff run will play a role in Patrik Laine‘s extension. Tough to imagine Winnipeg going through the summer without a new deal for Laine, whose rookie deal ends next season.

Minnesota Wild

Biggest contract year: Jason Zucker blew away career-highs in goals (33) and assists (31) this season, generating 64 points. He doesn’t have a huge body of work of scoring at this level (Zucker’s 47 points from 2016-17 were easily his best before this season), so proving it in the postseason could help him earn even more of a boost.

Matt Dumba generated a sneaky-great season of his own, scoring 14 goals and 50 points. The Wild are very lucky that these two players are RFAs.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Vegas Golden Knights

Biggest contract year: The Golden Knights cleared up some concerns, such as handing Jonathan Marchessault a team-friendly extension. Even so, the Golden Knights may lead in greed.

William Karlsson is a pending RFA after leading the Golden Knights in scoring. Some of their biggest names are soon to be UFAs, including James Neal and David Perron. This team has a lot to prove and a lot to gain in the postseason.

Los Angeles Kings

Biggest contract year: For better or worse, most of this Kings team is locked in place. Tobias Rieder could be one of those “flavor of the month” types if he rides some high percentages.

Anaheim Ducks

Biggest contract year: Depth youngsters are looking to earn new contracts in Ondrej Kase and Brandon Montour.

Really, John Gibson might be the guy shooting for the most money in Anaheim. His dirt-cheap $2.3 million cap hit expires after 2018-19, so the Ducks will get their first shot at extending the underrated goalie in July. If he can get healthy and lead a surge, Gibson could drive up his price.

San Jose Sharks

Biggest contract year: Evander Kane generated 14 points in 17 games since being traded to the Sharks, and that includes a three-game drought at the end of the season. Few players had as much to gain or lose as Kane did coming into 2017-18, and that remains true entering the postseason.

Tomas Hertl also approaches free agency as an RFA.

[Want to follow the action? Here’s the full schedule, including where to watch.]

East

Tampa Bay Lightning

Biggest contract year: J.T. Miller could really market himself if he can produce alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

The Lightning stand out as one of the teams with the most interest in how this might grease the wheels for extensions, though. Kucherov’s due for an enormous raise over his almost-insulting $4.767M cap hit, while Ryan McDonagh‘s similar mark also runs out after 2018-19.

New Jersey Devils

Biggest contract year: There are quite a few depth players on expiring deals in New Jersey, yet the most interesting names are imports from the trade deadline in Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon.

So far, Maroon has been especially useful since being traded to the Devils, as he has 13 points in 17 games with New Jersey. It could really help him to prove that he can score without Connor McDavid‘s help.

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins

Biggest contract year: “Ri-Nash needs cash.” Both Rick Nash and Riley Nash are in contract years, with each forward set to be UFAs. Rick Nash probably grades out an “Incomplete” so far in Boston, as he’s only scored six points with the B’s, yet he’s been limited to 11 games played.

Considering how snakebitten Rick Nash has been, it would be pretty funny if he went on a tear in the playoffs. The Bruins wouldn’t mind, even if it would mean that his time would be short with Boston.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Biggest contract year: The Maple Leafs decided to keep rather than trade James van Riemsdyk, even though a lot of signs point to JVR moving on after this season.

For the second time in his career, he passed the 30-goal mark, collecting a career-high 36 goals. Still, this has been far from a fluke, as he’s scored 29 and 27 during other campaigns and has been a reliable 50+ point guy when healthy.

It’s anyone’s guess what kind of deal he’ll command, and that’s doubly true if he helps the Maple Leafs beat the Bruins.

There are other notable names (Tyler Bozak, Tomas Plekanec, and Leo Komarov especially), but JVR is the contract year player to watch for Toronto.

Washington Capitals

Biggest contract year: John Carlson‘s long been a solid scorer for Washington, generating 37 points three times and even hitting 55 once. His contract year’s been one to note, though, as he topped all NHL defensemen with a whopping 68 points, including a career-high of 15 goals.

Carlson is poised for a big raise over his near-$4M cap hit. Piling on big postseason numbers would inflate that even more.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Biggest contract year: Boone Jenner fits the mold of a guy who could blow up for a playoff run, as right now, it’s really tough to truly gauge the value of a one-time 30-goal scorer who only managed 32 points this season.

Thomas Vanek and Jack Johnson both have a lot to play for, even though they’re in supporting roles for CBJ.

The biggest situations to eye are players whose deals run through 2018-19. Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski both could get extensions during the off-season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Biggest contract year: Some of the bigger concerns fall after 2018-19, although Jamie Oleksiak might be the latest member of The Justin Schultz Club: players who landed with Pittsburgh and then revitalized their careers (and paychecks). Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan also need to earn some dough.

Philadelphia Flyers

Biggest contract year: None of the Flyers’ goalies are locked up for all that long. Petr Mrazek‘s deal is expiring this summer, while Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both see their contracts run out after 2018-19. Philly’s goalies pose plenty of questions, yet you’d think that motivation won’t be lacking.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Toronto Maple Leafs

Zach HymanWilliam NylanderConnor Brown

Patrick MarleauNazem KadriMitch Marner

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakLeo Komarov

Matt MartinTomas PlekanecKasperi Kapanen

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey

Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev

Travis DermottConnor Carrick

Starting Goalie: Frederik Andersen

[Maple Leafs – Sabres preview.]

Buffalo Sabres

Zemgus GirgensonsRyan O'ReillySam Reinhart

Scott WilsonJohan LarssonJason Pominville

Jordan NolanJacob JosefsonKyle Okposo

Benoit Pouliot — Kyle Criscuolo — Nicholas Baptiste

Marco ScandellaRasmus Ristolainen

Brendan Guhle — Casey Nelson

Nathan BeaulieuVictor Antipin

Starting Goalie: Chad Johnson