Bill Peters

Plenty of big surprises, disappointments for Toronto Maple Leafs

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The many surprises and disappointments involving Babcock, Maple Leafs

Look, this isn’t the first instance of the Maple Leafs turning into a hockey soap opera. The pressure cooker Toronto media environment practically demands the spilling of tea.

Even by those heightened standards … my goodness, the Mike Babcock era certainly ended with messy drama. Didn’t it?

You could almost imagine a crowd egging Babcock on with “oohs and ahhs” as he undermined his GM Kyle Dubas more than once. Little did we know that time would reveal just how problematic Babcock’s ego could become.

It’s no surprise that Babcock sometimes rubs players the wrong way, but following his in-season firing, rather troubling details emerged. The hockey world learned about Babcock’s childish mind games with a rookie Mitch Marner. Johan Franzen also spoke out about pretty gross treatment by Babcock during their time in Detroit.

Details about Babcock going far beyond “strict” inspired players to speak up about other coaches blurring the line, including former Babcock protege Bill Peters.

Again, it was no secret that Babcock could be harsh, but learning about the times he went too far ranked among the season’s bigger disappointments. While the jury remains out on Sheldon Keefe, for many Maple Leafs players, a coaching change probably went beyond a pleasant surprise to a downright necessary change.

Biggest changes don’t really work out

Dubas often comes off as progressive, forward-thinking GM, but this past offseason reads like a swing-and-a-miss. Maybe several strikeouts, really.

  • Trading away Nazem Kadri doesn’t look so great. Admittedly, I thought Alexander Kerfoot could be, say, 75 cents to Kadri’s dollar. Unfortunately, some might argue Kerfoot’s closer to a quarter.
  • Few players saw their stock drop like Tyson Barrie‘s did this season. That’s uncomfortable being that Barrie was the biggest takeaway of the Kadri trade.
  • It’s fair to wonder: did the Maple Leafs realize Jake Gardiner might have been easier to retain than expected? As tough as this season’s been for Gardiner, it makes you wonder if there were better ways to move on from Kadri, if that was truly required.
  • The big picture move of ridding Toronto of the Nikita Zaitsev contract was crucial … but it was confusing that they kept Cody Ceci around. And Ceci failed to make that any less of a head-scratching strategy.
  • Yes, it’s true that Patrick Marleau‘s ill-advised contract had Lou Lamoriello’s fingerprints all over it, not those of Dubas. But Dubas still had to pay a big price to unload the final year of Marleau’s deal.
  • Fair or not, that Mitch Marner contract will remain polarizing for quite some time.

On the bright side, the Maple Leafs can walk away from mistakes like Ceci and Barrie if they want to. That doesn’t change the fact that Dubas struck out on some pretty big 2019 summer swings, though.

Not so steady Freddy?

When you factor in workload and difficult assignments, Frederik Andersen moves up your goalie rankings. Well, at least, Andersen did so during previous Maple Leafs seasons.

While Andersen wasn’t a flat-out disaster in 2019-20, he struggled. Andersen sported a .909 save percentage this season, easily the worst of the usually reliable goalie’s career.

Now, it’s true that the Maple Leafs don’t always provide the most nurturing atmosphere for a goalie. That was true under Babcock, and while there were some positive developments, it’s a fair criticism under Keefe. It’s just that Andersen was able to bail Toronto out quite a bit over the years, but hasn’t been able to don the cape so much lately.

Maple Leafs navigate the disappointments and surprises — to a point

People expecting the Maple Leafs to take “the next step” have been disappointing in this season. Really, the team took a step backward, as the gap widened between the Bruins, Lightning, and the Maple Leafs.

When you take stock of all that went wrong, though? It certainly could have been worse.

This team navigated turbulence and found ways to win, ugly or not. Beyond a coaching change, the Maple Leafs also dealt with significant injury issues and other curveballs.

Sports provide examples of plenty of teams putting things together after bumpy seasons. The 2018-19 Blues loom as an example, even if some find them a bit too tempting to apply when it doesn’t quite fit.

Could this team put something together if 2019-20 resumes? Well, the Maple Leafs have certainly been full of surprises already, so who knows?

MORE ON THE MAPLE LEAFS:

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.

Aliu response to KHL hiring Peters: I’m open to second chances

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Bill Peters is back in hockey, and Akim Aliu – the player whose racial allegations led to the former Calgary Flames coach’s resignation – says he’s open to people getting second chances.

”Only with the past behind us can we focus on the future,” Aliu wrote in a text to The Associated Press on Thursday. ”Hockey is for all. I believe in second chances for everyone, that we can all find forgiveness in our heart and that real positive change is coming if we continue to push forward together.”

Aliu, who later posted the comment on his Twitter account, was responding to a request seeking comment on Peters being hired as coach of the Kontinental Hockey League’s Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg a day earlier.

Peters resigned as the Flames coach in November after the Nigerian-born Aliu alleged Peters ”dropped the N bomb several times” in directing racial slurs at him when the two were in the AHL a decade earlier. Other players also accused Peters of physically abusing his players behind the bench during his four years coaching the Carolina Hurricanes.

”I don’t resent a man for finding work,” Aliu wrote. ”But I will fight to make sure those same opportunities are available to everyone, on and off the ice, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

Aliu was born in Nigeria and raised in Ukraine before his family moved to Canada. The 30-year-old is a journeyman minor-league defenseman, who played six games in the Czech Republic this past season.

Aliu said he is ”patiently looking forward to the outcome of the NHL’s investigation” into allegations made against Peters.

The NHL said the investigation has not been concluded.

Peters, speaking during an introductory video conference call with Russian media on Wednesday, said he is attempting to learn and grow from what happened.

”I think as times goes on, we all grow and improve and become better versions of ourselves. And I’m no different than that,” Peters said. ”You learn from all the experiences that you’re in, and you become better.”

Aliu is continuing to focus on making hockey more accessible and diverse by trying to make the sport more affordable to underprivileged youth.

He finished his note by writing: ”Stay Tuned #TimeToDream.”

Bill Peters signs two-year deal to coach KHL’s Avtomobilist

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Bill Peters has resurfaced and has been given a two-year deal to coach the KHL’s HC Avtomobilist.

Five months ago, Peters resigned as Flames head coach after former players came forward with accusations of racial slurs and physical abuse.

Akim Aliu, who played for Peters with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in 2008-09 and 2009-10, Tweeted in November that Peters used a racial slur “several times” because he did not like the choice of music being played in the team dressing room.

Those allegations were confirmed by two of Aliu’s Rockford teammates.

Two more of Peters’ former players came forward days later. Michal Jordan alleged he was kicked and punched in the head on the bench by Peters when he played for Carolina. Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, an assistant under Peters, confirmed that it had happened.

Sean McMorrow, who played for Peters in 2008-09 with the Ice Hogs, Tweeted, “Worst human being to ever coach me … treated me terrible on a AHL team (IceHogs) where I won a League Award for Community Service. #badguy.”

Peters released a statement offering a ‘sincere apology’ to the Flames and ‘anyone negatively affected.’ He was out of a job two days later after Flames general manager Brad Treliving did an investigation.

On a video conference with KHL media Wednesday morning, Peters was asked about his end in Calgary.

“I think as time goes on we all grow and improve and become better versions of ourselves, and I’m no different than that,” Peters said. “You learn from all the experiences that you’re in and you become better. It’s no different right now, we’re going through a very trying time as a world with the global pandemic. I believe we’re going to come out of this and when we come out of this people are going to be better people for it and more passionate and compassionate towards each other and more patient.”

Peters’ staff in the KHL will include Perry Pearn and German Titov and his roster will feature former NHLers like Nikita Tryamkin, Nigel Dawes (pending free agent), Pavel Datysuk, and Peter Holland.

UPDATE: Treliving said the following after being asked about the former Flames coach’s new gig:

“I’m a big believer in second chances for everyone. Bill made a mistake. He’s a good coach, he’s a good man. He made an error and I certainly wish him well.”

Aliu posted a statement on Twitter Thursday afternoon:

MORE:
‘This is for real:’ Journeyman Aliu sparks hockey reckoning
Aliu calls Flames coach’s apology ‘misleading, insincere’
Bill Peters out as Calgary Flames head coach

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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.

Calgary Flames: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames.

Gaudreau, Monahan have been disappointments for Flames

Johnny Gaudreau enjoyed the best season of his NHL career in 2018-19, setting career highs for goals (36) and points (99). Gaudreau blew away his previous career high of 84 points.

In doing so, Gaudreau might have set expectations too high for both himself and the Flames.

Some might pin Gaudreau’s slippage to a morale-busting first-round loss to the Avalanche during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, Gaudreau failed to score a single goal during that series, managing a measly assist over five games. If there was a shred of doubt about Gaudreau vs. Nathan MacKinnon, that debate was crushed with the speed of an authoritative overtime playoff game-winner.

Maybe Gaudreau is suffering from a minor crisis of confidence, but that armchair psychology likely falls short. Simply put, he was probably playing over his head last season, and then he regressed.

It’s still a disappointment for the Flames, though. With 58 points in 70 games, Gaudreau’s .83 points-per-game average is the third-worst of his career.

And, generally speaking, as Gaudreau goes, so does Sean Monahan.

It’s not surprising that Matthew Tkachuk ranks higher than Monahan and Gaudreau on this GAR chart (via Charting Hockey using Evolving Hockey’s stats), being that Tkachuk is such a five-on-five demon. But the two being run-of-the-mill by their standards made it tough for Calgary to pull away from the Pacific pack.

Flames firing Bill Peters was part of a run of coaching surprises

The series of events that ultimately led to the Flames firing Bill Peters was quite ugly, and there were also surprises along the way.

Frankly, the fact that Peters faced actual consequences — rather than another powerful person’s indiscretions merely being brushed under the rug — was a pleasant surprise. Peters facing repercussions doesn’t delete the unpleasant experiences Akim Aliu and others went through, yet it was a sign of progress in hockey — whether you consider the changes big or merely incremental.

Peters’ firing was part of a series of surprises in the coaching ranks that would probably go down as a bigger story for 2019-20 if COVID-19 hadn’t halted play altogether.

Cam Talbot rebounds for Flames

In a season of slippage for the Flames, Talbot’s lifting Calgary up.

After seeing his save percentage sink below .90 during his final year with the Oilers, Talbot’s been huge for Calgary. Talbot entered the “pause” with a three-game winning streak, and generated a strong .919 save percentage overall.

That’s all been crucial, as David Rittich remained mediocre. If he’s “Big Save Dave,” perhaps Rittich needs to focus a bit more on the small and medium-sized stops?

Flames aren’t getting pleasant surprises from Sam Bennett

Expecting more from Rittich (.907 save percentage in 2019-20) was foolish considering his .908 career average. Projecting a dramatic transformation from Bennett might have been even more foolish.

Yet, even by diminished standards, Bennett’s 2019-20 was extremely meh. Bennett only managed 12 points over 52 games, which translates to a career-worst .23 ppg.

The Flames have tried to hold out for value in potentially trading Bennett. That makes sense, as it would sting to receive very little for the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. But considering how his numbers (and ice time) are sinking, maybe it would be best for everyone involved if a trade happened?

A change of scenery might be the only thing that leads to pleasant surprises for Bennett and the Flames.

Oh, and as a bonus surprise: Milan Lucic … not as bad as maybe people think. His contract remains bad, but Lucic seems like he can be an OK contributor overall. Yup, life and the Flames are both full of surprises … and OK, perhaps disappointments.

MORE FLAMES BITS

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.

Boko Imama fought Brandon Manning in first AHL meeting since racist incident

Bokondji “Boko” Imama and Brandon Manning dropped the gloves during their first AHL meeting since Manning was suspended five games for uttering a racial slur at Imama. As you can see from the video above, Imama ended up winning that fight with Manning.

Imama wins fight with Manning, has quite the night

Imama didn’t just win that fight; his team also won the game. In fact, Imama’s Ontario Reign set a franchise record by beating Manning’s Bakersfield Condors 10-3.

Imama generated a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a goal, assist, and that fight. With all of that in mind, it’s not too surprising to see Imama beaming (and distracted) in a postgame interview:

Imama didn’t directly address the Manning fight there, but perhaps he felt that his Jan. 22 statement was enough? Manning apologized via a statement on Jan. 21, noting that he had a chance to speak with Imama after the incident.

Of course, no win (in a fight or a game) erases what Manning said to Imama. It also won’t silence critics who believe that a five-game suspension wasn’t enough. Racism remains a problem in hockey, at the AHL and NHL levels, and beyond.

How NHL, AHL has handled past incidents, and potential future approaches

After all, we are only a few months removed from Bill Peters resigning as Calgary Flames head coach after Akim Aliu shared details about Peters’ racist remarks from their AHL past.

There have been several incidents that became public at the NHL level, too. Chris Simon was suspended three games for using a racial slur toward Mike Grier in 1997. The league suspended Krys Barch for an alleged comment toward P.K. Subban (one Barch denied). Players have also faced plenty of ugly racist incidents involving fans.

Back in December, the NHL detailed how it may handle future moments that “cross the line.” Time will tell if those changes end up being meaningful — Aliu seemed optimistic after a talk — but hopefully Friday gave Imama a measure of closure.

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.