Alexander Kerfoot

Maple Leafs defense with Jake Muzzin out one month
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Can Maple Leafs survive on defense with Muzzin out one month?

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A season of extremes continues for the Maple Leafs, as their defense must find answers with Jake Muzzin out about one month. Muzzin broke his hand blocking a shot, souring Tuesday’s otherwise sweet win against the Lightning.

Everything about the timing fits the soap opera narrative of “As the Maple Leaf turns …”

  • Toronto lost Muzzin for a month in the first game after signing him to a contract extension.
  • It’s also the first game following a trade deadline that mixed the good with the bad. On one hand, it turns out that keeping Tyson Barrie was wise, warts and all. On the other, GM Kyle Dubas’ critics will argue that he still didn’t do enough.
  • Oh yeah, the Maple Leafs follow up this potentially devastating injury with an enormous Thursday game against the Panthers in Florida.

Woof. Dubas is a different cat, so naturally he tweeted out this very Zen approach to dealing with the Muzzin news.

(If you’re like me, you’re imagining Dubas trying to meditate after being thrown under the bus by Toronto media and fans. It’s kind of fun.)

The Maple Leafs defense has been, uh, flawed for some time now. Subtract Muzzin, and put him on an injured list that already includes Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci, and you might feel very UnDude.

Let’s take a look at the tattered remains of a Maple Leafs defense that may resemble seven wild horses.

Looking at the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and others shared the Maple Leafs’ defense pairings from practice:

Travis DermottJustin Holl
Rasmus Sandin – Tyson Barrie
Martin MarincinTimothy Liljegren
Extra: Calle Rosen

Do you look at that group as seven wild horses, or seven broken ones? (Don’t make any glue factory jokes, please.)

Long story short, this leaves the Maple Leafs with a relatively inexperienced group.

If you want a glimpse at Toronto’s confidence level in certain players, consider how Sheldon Keefe deployed Sandin on Tuesday. Through two periods, Sandin received just 5:27 time on ice. Once it was clear Muzzin wouldn’t return, Sandin’s ice time skyrocketed to 9:34 during the third period alone.

Dicey stuff, but what’s the best approach, Zen-like, or otherwise? What’s a good mantra for the Leafs going forward?

Accepting reality of the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out, and considering Panthers

Despite wildly different approaches and markets, the Maple Leafs and Panthers boast notably similar strengths and weaknesses. After all, they are the only teams in the NHL who’ve scored and allowed 200+ goals so far this season.

So maybe the Maple Leafs should embrace the perception of their most prominent, healthy defenseman in Tyson Barrie, and their perceived identity as a team that needs to outscore their problems, in general?

There’s also the potential silver lining of realizing that players like Sandin and Liljegren might be further along in their respective developments than Toronto realized. Interestingly, Dubas sort of touched on this during his trade deadline presser, before Muzzin was injured.

” … We need to see how our own guys develop,” Dubas said, via Pension Plan Puppets’ transcript. “In a perfect world your own guys develop and quell your concerns you have about the roster and that people on the outside may have about them as well.”

Both Sandin and Liljegren carry pedigree as first-rounders, and have produced some offense at the AHL level. Perhaps they can bring almost as much to the table as they risk taking away with mistakes?

Obstacles, and gauntlets thrown down on top Maple Leafs

When you dig deep on the Maple Leafs’ numbers, you get a more complicated look at their hit-and-miss defense. Either way, they need better goaltending going forward — even if that leads to awkward choices.

No, the Leafs don’t make life easy for Frederik Andersen, but he needs to improve on his .906 save percentage (his -4.25 Goals Saved Above Average points to some fault on his end).

Frankly, it might be just as important that the Maple Leafs show a willingness to turn to Jack Campbell instead. Through four games, Campbell’s generated an impressive .919 save percentage, going 3-0-1.

Of course, the onus is also on their big-money forwards. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares have mostly delivered in 2019-20, but the team needs them now more than ever.

The challenge comes in balancing attacking with supporting embattled defensemen. Not hanging them out to dry for icing infractions would be a good place to start:

If patterns continue, there will only be more twists and turns for the Maple Leafs. Maybe they can end up better after facing all of these challenges, but either way, it doesn’t look easy, and might not always be pretty.

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.

Revisiting 7 of the NHL’s biggest offseason trades

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With the first half of the 2019-20 NHL season complete and the trade deadline just a couple of weeks away we wanted to take a quick look back at seven of the biggest trades that were made during the offseason and how they have worked out.

Let’s dig in to them.

The Nazem KadriTyson Barrie trade

Toronto Maple Leafs received: Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, 2020 sixth-round pick
Colorado Avalanche received: Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, 2020 third-round pick

How it’s worked: This is one of those trades where everyone is probably getting just what they thought they would get. And exactly what they wanted. Kadri gives the Avalanche a center to drive their second line, has been a huge part of their improved depth, and is scoring on a 30-goal pace (again) over 82 games. Barrie is under a far more intense microscope in Toronto, is the type of player that always be prone to criticism due to his style of play, and had a brutal start to the season. (Who didn’t on that team?) But he has looked like a completely different (and better) player under Sheldon Keefe than he did under Mike Babcock (who hasn’t?). Not sure how the Maple Leafs handle him and Jake Muzzin beyond this season (both free agents) but for right now it’s been a hockey trade where both teams benefitted.

The Phil Kessel trade

Pittsburgh Penguins received: Alex Galchenyuk, Pierre-Oliver Joseph
Arizona Coyotes received: Phil Kessel

How it’s worked: Nobody is winning it right now. This was always a weird trade from the Penguins’ perspective because they didn’t get the better player and they didn’t really save a ton of salary cap space. Kessel has been slightly more productive than Galchenyuk, but he’s definitely not Phil Kessel anymore. There’s no way the Coyotes are happy with four even-strength goals in 55 games. Galchenyuk, meanwhile, has just been a terrible fit with the Penguins. He works hard, he plays hard, he does his best, but it’s just not working. It will be a surprise if he remains with the team into March. The development of Joseph will make or break this trade for the Penguins, while the Coyotes have to hope Kessel has another big postseason in him.

The Jacob Trouba trade

New York Rangers received: Jacob Trouba
Winnipeg Jets received: Neal Pionk, 2019 first-round pick

How it’s worked: Probably not the way anybody expected it to work. Trouba was part of the Rangers’ big offseason and resulted in him getting a HUGE contract. He was also part of a mass exodus off of the Winnipeg blue line that also saw it lose Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and — apparently — Dustin Byfuglien.

The twist here is that Pionk has  been the better player this season and one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bad defense. He has been the more productive player across the board offensively, while Trouba has quite literally had one of the worst defensive impacts of any player in the NHL. Granted, he’s playing on a dreadful defensive team, but he has not been good. Given his salary they are going to need a lot more. The Jets used that first-round pick to select Ville Heinola, a promising young defenseman that had an eight-game cup of coffee in the NHL to start the season and looked impressive.

The J.T. Miller trade

Vancouver Canucks received: J.T. Miller
Tampa Bay Lightning received: Marek Mazanec, 2019 third-round pick, conditional 2020 first-round pick

How it’s worked: The Lightning desperately needed to shed salary to get Brayden Point re-signed, and Miller was an obvious choice to go. It seemed like a risky move for the Canucks to give up a future first-round pick given where they were in their rebuild, but Miller has been one of their most impactful players, biggest game-changers and is helping to drive their run toward a Pacific Division title. An increased role and a bigger opportunity to shine is resulting a career year, and there is not much to suggest it is a fluke. As long as the Canucks make the playoffs and that first-round pick is in the bottom half of the round this is a win for the Canucks, and simply the cost of doing business for a cap-strapped Lightning team.

The P.K. Subban trade

New Jersey Devils received: P.K. Subban
Nashville Predators received: Steve Santini, Jeremy Davies, 2019 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick

How it’s worked: The good news for the Devils is that they didn’t give up anything too valuable here. The bad news is Subban’s days as an elite player may be behind him and they still owe him $18 million over the next two years. It’s not that Subban has been bad, but he hasn’t been a $9 million per year player, either. It’s simply been a tough spot for a defenseman that plays his style to be in. The goaltending behind him has been bad, there isn’t a lot of forward talent around him, and the team as a whole has simply underwhelmed. Nashville, meanwhile, used its new salary cap space to sign Matt Duchene. He’s been fine, even if the team itself hasn’t.

The James NealMilan Lucic trade

Edmonton Oilers received: James Neal
Calgary Flames received: Milan Lucic

How it’s worked: “Our contract we don’t want for your bad contract you don’t want.” During the first month of the season this looked like it was going to be a laugher for the Oilers when Neal could not stop scoring goals, but he has just eight goals since Nov. 1 and has been a complete non-factor outside of the power play. Lucic has just been a non-factor. In the end, both players are exactly what we thought they were at this point in their careers, just in different sweaters.

The Justin Faulk trade

St. Louis Blues received: Justin Faulk, 2020 fifth-round draft pick
Carolina Hurricanes received: Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk, 2021 seventh-round draft pick

How it’s worked: After years of speculation and rumors the Hurricanes not only finally traded Faulk, but they sent him to the defending Stanley Cup champions. Faulk is the bigger name and the better player, but objectively speaking there has not been a huge difference in the performance of the two players this season, while the Hurricanes didn’t have to give Faulk the huge contract the Blues did. Bokk is an intriguing prospect (2018 first-round pick) for them, and they still have a pretty deep blue– and young — line to build around. Faulk still figures to be a huge part of the Blues going forward.

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.

Red Wings’ Fabbri fined for spearing Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot

Fabbri fined
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Detroit Red Wings forward Robby Fabbri was fined $2,419.35 for spearing Toronto Maple Leafs center Alexander Kerfoot. The incident took place during the Maple Leafs’ violent 4-1 win.

No suspensions or fine beyond what Fabbri received?

Fabbri speared Kerfoot during the second period, while the most explosive action happened late in the the third.

With the game out of reach, Jake Muzzin mixed it up with Anthony Mantha, and Mantha’s scary fall resulted in an injury. Moments later, Andreas Athanasiou tried to go after Kerfoot, only to instead get physical with Justin Holl.

Barring additional updates from the NHL, it looks like Fabbri is the only one to receive supplemental discipline from that game. This clip captures the spear the league fined Fabbri for:

Mixed injury news for Red Wings

While the severity of Mantha’s injury isn’t totally clear, the latest word isn’t very promising.

The Red Wings placed Mantha on IR on Sunday. Maybe this represents merely a smaller setback, but it’s troubling to see, considering his difficulty leaving the ice.

Detroit also received some decent news, though, as Jimmy Howard was removed from LTIR. It could be interesting to see where his career goes, as Howard is a pending UFA. Could he improve his trade value going forward? Howard’s contract doesn’t include a no-trade clause, so we’ll see.

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.

Mantha injured during nastiness between Red Wings and Maple Leafs

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The Detroit Red Wings announced that Anthony Mantha will be out Sunday with an upper-body injury. Judging by the nasty fall he suffered during rough stuff with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin, that isn’t very surprising.

The Blackhawks and Avalanche got a little nasty on Saturday, but apparently they weren’t alone.

Mantha injured, Athanasiou reacts

Most NHL games present frequent danger, but hockey players should be on even higher alert when the score isn’t very close. Such a thought comes to mind after witnessing some of the ugly late moments of Toronto’s 4-1 win vs. Detroit on Saturday.

Mantha needed help off of the ice after a dangerous takedown by Muzzin, as you can see from the video above. While Muzzin’s actions may draw league attention, Mantha didn’t exactly shy away from contact, either.

After seeing Mantha leave the ice injured, Andreas Athanasiou may have lost his cool. Witness as Athanasiou goes after Alexander Kerfoot, only for Kerfoot to seemingly avoid most of the damage. Following that attempt, Athanasiou got into it with Justin Holl:

To reiterate, both teams knew that the game was out of reach at that point. With little fear of taking penalties that would hurt your chance to win, players can go over the line. While the league took measures to discourage late-game fights, what about stretches of dirty play like these?

Relief for a relief goalie

Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman both enjoyed big nights, scoring three points apiece. You might peg Michael Hutchinson as the happiest Maple Leaf, however, as he finally won a game.

“It was a challenge [to keep positive over the first two months of the season],” Hutchinson said. “I think I was doing a good job about it. Getting sent down (to the American Hockey League), that’s always difficult, so regaining that good headspace is a process, and you can’t do it on your own. [Goaltending coach] Steve [Briere] and I have a good relationship, and there’s a lot of people in our organization you’re able to talk to open and honestly so you can feel good about yourself and ready to play at your best when you get that opportunity.”

UPDATE:

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.

Lightning’s Cernak suspended 2 games for elbowing Rasmus Dahlin

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A busy week for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety continued on Tuesday when they announced a two-game suspension for Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak.

Late in the second period of Tampa Bay’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night, Cernak caught Rasmus Dahlin with an elbow to the head that left the young defender with a concussion.

There was no penalty called on the play.

Here is a look at the play, as well as the NHL’s explanation of the suspension.

The most surprising thing in that video is the note from the DoPS that the Lightning tried to argue that Dahlin’s glove is what drove Cernak’s elbow into his face. The DoPS clearly disagreed with that assessment.

This is the first time Cernak has been fined or suspended by the league. He will lose $7,500 as a result of the suspension and miss games against the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals. He will be eligible to return to the Lightning lineup on Nov. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Cernak has appeared in 20 games this season for the Lightning, scoring one goal.

There is no word on when Dahlin, the league’s reigning rookie of the year, will be returning to the Sabres’ lineup.

Already this week the DoPS has suspended Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot two games for boarding and Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo four games for cross-checking.

Related: Sabres’ Dahlin injured

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.