Sabres lose Larsson, Kaleta to head injuries, Leafs’ Booth out too (Update: Franson’s hurt)


Regardless of who wins Sunday’s preseason game between Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs, neither side is likely to feel particularly good.

Buffalo lost forwards Johan Larsson and Patrick Kaleta both left the game in the first period due to head injuries and won’t return, per the Sabres’ official Twitter account.

Kaleta was was nailed in the head halfway through the first period by Morgan Rielly’s slap shot. He immediately skated off the ice while quickly discarding his gloves and helmet, per PHT’s Dhiren Mahiban.

Larsson caught Petter Granberg’s elbow in the final minute of the opening frame. It looked like he was bleeding as a result. There was no penalty on the play.

Meanwhile, Toronto announced that forward David Booth has been shut down due to a lower-body injury. He logged 9:19 minutes tonight.

The severity of the three injuries is not yet known. Kaleta and Larsson are both in the running to make the Sabres’ opening game roster. Booth is trying to turn his career around after a disappointing and injury-riddled tenure with Vancouver.

Update: Maybe both sides should just agree to end this one early:

Leafs’ Carlyle sings a new tune about analytics


It may still be Randy Carlyle’s way or the highway in Toronto – for now – but seemingly every story underscores a summer of change for the Maple Leafs.

Unfortunately, some alterations mean people losing their jobs. While the Maple Leafs made waves by hiring an analytics-oriented assistant GM in Kyle Dubas and instituting a stats-minded department this summer, they also completely revamped their public relations team, according to the Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle.

Perhaps that explains, in some way, why we’re hearing Carlyle speak in “advanced stats” terms a little more, then?

“Everyone talks about puck possession and we haven’t been any different. We just haven’t done a good enough job of it,” Carlyle said. “There’s all this craze about analytics and to say we haven’t used analytics would be incorrect.”

While some might (understandably) be skeptical about Carlyle’s comments, this brings up a potential point that may even be PR-related: it’s likely that NHL teams collect advanced stats but elect to play coy on such subjects. After all, why give up shop secrets when you could potentially hold competitive advantages?

MORE: Leafs go all-in on advanced stats

The most intriguing bit might be that Carlyle apparently sent out a memo to players this offseason:

(Just imagine the parody articles that may come from that concept …)

Whether Carlyle is more open-minded about deeper stats than he previously let on or not, it’s obvious that the Maple Leafs are at least spinning things a different way than they had in the past. It might take some time to see real differences on the ice – shuffling guys like Dave Bolland out and David Booth in might signal some steps in a different direction, but probably not leaps – yet it could be a fascinating situation to watch.

Of course, it would be a little more fascinating if everyone isn’t exactly on the same page, but Carlyle’s comments indicate he’s at least saying he’s willing to ponder “fancy stats.”

Nonis dismisses notion Leafs were anti-analytics


Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis doesn’t like the fact his organization was portrayed as anti-analytics (i.e. a bunch of Luddites) before this summer’s hiring of the statistically inclined Kyle Dubas for a role in the front office.

Nonis was a guest on TSN 1050 radio today (audio) in Toronto, where he gave his thoughts on the matter.

“There’s this notion that we had this aversion to analytics, which isn’t true,” said Nonis. “We’ve used them. We’ve had them. But Kyle really was the first person — out of dozens who have come through this office and tried to explain how we could effectively use them — he was the first person that was able to show us, and tell us how this could be developed.

“And is it where it needs to be? I would say no. Are we going to push as hard as we can to develop it? Yes, and I think he’s a pretty bright young guy that is going to have to spend a lot of time with Brendan [Shanahan] and myself and the coaching staff and help us understand what the reports are generating.”

The Leafs have already added a couple of interesting players, statistically speaking, this summer in forwards David Booth and Daniel Winnik. Did Dubas have a hand in those signings? It’s certainly possible, though that’s never been confirmed.

What will also be interesting going forward is if Dubas has any impact on the coaching philosophy of Randy Carlyle. Will certain players get more or less ice time? Will there be more of an emphasis on holding on to the puck, as opposed to dumping it in or shooting it out?

Remember, of all the coaches in the NHL, Carlyle may be on the hottest seat. A slow start and it’s possible the job passes to one of his new assistants.

Related: Burke on advanced stats: “I don’t feel they add any value at all”

Leafs flex financial muscle in one of few ways they can


It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the richest team in the NHL, but despite that they’ve only made the playoffs once in the last nine seasons. Of course, that covers the salary cap era and it’s not coincidental that the Maple Leafs’ struggles have coincided with that change.

The salary cap has substantially diminished the potential on-ice impact of Toronto’s financial strength and the team has been unable to find any meaningful success without that edge. That’s something they’ve been working to remedy, but this summer they’ve also exercised one of the few advantages that their financial situation affords them.

While Toronto didn’t make any blockbuster signings this summer, they have handed out one-way contracts to forwards Daniel Winnik, David Booth, Mike Santorelli, and Petri Kontiola. That brings them up to 16 forwards signed to one-way deals, but nine of those contracts are worth $1.5 million annually or less. That’s important because while the new CBA made burying big contracts in the minors impractical, teams still have some leeway with smaller one-way deals.

More specifically, the first $925,000 of a player’s annual cap hit in 2014-15 won’t count against the ceiling while the person is in the minors, per Cap Geek. That’s allowed Toronto to gamble on promising, but risky players like Booth despite the fact that its only adding to a training camp logjam. Toronto is in a position to bury some of its one-way contracts in the minors to alleviate the cap burden, and that’s exactly what will happen unless trades or waiver claims alter the Leafs’ situation.

Other franchises might balk at employing a strategy that will likely lead to an inflated AHL payroll, but without the ability to significantly outspend teams the traditional way, this is one of the few advantages that the Leafs still have.

Poll: Will the Leafs make the playoffs this year?


Several NHL teams failed to make the postseason last year — 14 of them, to be exact — but none failed quite so dramatically as the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs, you’ll recall, were in good shape for the majority of the 2013-14 campaign…until a late-season slide saw them go 2-12-0 over their final 14 games, completing a stunning fall from grace (or, more specifically, a stunning fall from second place in the Atlantic Division.)

It marked the second consecutive season Toronto went out like a house of cards. The year prior, the Leafs famously blew a 4-1 lead in Game 7 of their opening-round playoff series with Boston — though, to hear players explain it, ’13-14 hurt worse. At least against the Bruins, the Leafs were in the playoffs.

“Losing to Boston was hard, but this was painful,” Cody Franson said, per the Toronto Star. “We started playing some of our worst hockey the tighter it got. That’s not what good teams do.”

The Leafs seemed to take Franson’s words to heart. Good teams don’t do that, so the club set about making itself over. All of Randy Carlyle’s assistants were fired; Brendan Shanahan was hired as president and wunderkind Kyle Dubas was brought aboard as assistant GM.

On the ice, the team beefed up its forward group by adding Leo Komarov, Daniel Winnik, David Booth, Mike Santorelli and Petri Kontiola. The defense was given an overhaul by adding Stephane Robidas while trading Carl Gunnarsson for Roman Polak. (Tim Gleason was also bought out of his contract.)

On paper, these changes should be enough for the Leafs challenge for a playoff spot, given what was already in place. There’s some real talent in the core forward group of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, and Carlyle has vowed to put much more emphasis on defensive awareness and consistency. In goal, the Jonathan Bernier-James Reimer tandem is solid.

But can the Leafs overcome…themselves? This is a group now synonymous with collapse, and questions remain about the leadership group (most notably Dion Phaneuf, who was the target of a potential captaincy stripping this offseason.)

With that said, let’s go to the poll…