Frederik Andersen

Previewing the 2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, but things could have been much worse considering their cap crunch — and also the rather obvious need for Nazem Kadri to get a change of scenery.

Ultimately, it’s still a step back to replace Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Jake Gardiner, Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, etc. with Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Jason Spezza, and so on. That doesn’t mean that the end result has to be a step backward, but it’s a minor stumble on paper.

Strengths: Yes, the Maple Leafs are paying top dollar for Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and now Mitch Marner. It just so happens that they’re more or less worth that money; fans of NHL teams have just become conditioned to see these types of guys making less than they should, thanks to the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sidney Crosby.

With Morgan Rielly and now Barrie, the Maple Leafs have some pretty potent options as far defensive scoring goes, although things get sketchy once you reach beyond the best options.

Frederik Andersen is also one of the best goalies in the NHL, and can sometimes will the Maple Leafs into games when their defense is cratering and their offense is cold.

Weaknesses: If Andersen gets hurt or struggles, the Maple Leafs’ backup options sure seem pretty dicey. Such a thought might prompt the team to wear Andersen out even if he plays well and stays healthy.

Depth on defense is a bit of a challenge, too.

Frankly, it’s tough to ignore Mike Babcock as someone who might be holding the Maple Leafs back. It’s not always huge decisions, but the conservative leaning can be a death by a thousand cuts. Not giving Auston Matthews enough minutes. Falling in love with old-school defensemen who, frankly, aren’t very good. It all adds up to a Maple Leafs setup that sometimes doesn’t feel fully optimized. I’m not convinced Babcock is a “bad” coach, yet like a lot of others, he has some bad habits.

[MORE: X-factor | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): It’s usually not the best sign when you end a season needing a vote of confidence from your GM. Babcock came to Toronto with a big reputation and an even bigger contract, making it slightly awkward to fire him, but despite all of the personnel improvements the Maple Leafs have made, they still haven’t won a playoff series since 2003-04. Some of that comes down to facing tough opponents, including being tormented by the Boston Bruins, but patience is wearing thin. Put Babcock at a 9.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Tyson Barrie.

Marner got his wish with a contract that carries close to an $11 million cap hit; now it’s time for him to silence his doubters by showing that he’s worth that asking price. Fair or not, any cold streak will be magnified.

Nylander’s near-$7M AAV looks a whole lot better months later, but that doesn’t mean that Maple Leafs fans have totally “forgiven” him for a bumpy 2018-19 season once he actually signed. His hair choices will also be fascinating to watch.

Barrie brings a lot of skill to the table, and should have plenty of motivation in a contract year. That said, he also has his warts on defense; Maple Leafs fans and media tend to fixate on such mistakes, and it remains to be seen if Barrie will finish 2019-20 with a high standing among hockey folk.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and another Round 1 exit won’t be acceptable. That might mean finally scaling the mountain that is the Boston Bruins. Even if Toronto draws someone like the Lightning or revamped Panthers, chances are it won’t be an easy challenge, yet people won’t be very interested in excuses — even good ones — if this season ends just like the last few.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

How potential Marner deals might affect Maple Leafs’ salary cap

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Even during the dullest moments of the hockey offseason, you could probably find at least two people arguing about Mitch Marner.

The debates really revved up this week, however, with reports surfacing from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, along with Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger from TSN (among others).

Reports indicate a wide variety of possibilities, from shorter “bridge” deals to long-term contracts, basically all of them with eye-popping numbers.

Let’s consider the many ins and outs of the Maple Leafs’ cap situation, and how different Marner deals might fit in, by looking at things on a year-by-year basis. Cap Friendly was a major resource for this post.

2019-20, year one: Don’t bet on a one-year pact, but this is a good spot to discuss the most immediate squeeze.

Toronto must wait to put Nathan Horton ($5.35M) and David Clarkson ($5.25M) on LTIR and … that really gums up the works. To keep the details from making brains pop like corn, it figures to be tight, especially if Marner gets “in the universe” of $11M.

The Maple Leafs’ defense figures to be different after this season with Cody Ceci ($4.5M), Jake Muzzin ($4M), and Tyson Barrie ($2.75M after retention) entering contract years. GM Kyle Dubas is full of enough surprises, so who knows what lies ahead on defense?

2020-21, year two: In Tuesday’s “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reports that a two-year deal was pondered, “a few sources threw cold water on that.”

Regardless, a big change could come after two years, as Frederik Andersen figures to get a big raise from $5M after 2019-20. Maybe a “bridge” deal would make it slightly easier to keep Andersen?

2021-22, year three: A variety of reporters point to a three-year “bridge” deal as one of the most likely possibilities at this time.

It’s also maybe the trickiest scenario for the Maple Leafs, something mentioned by the likes of TSN’s Bob McKenzie:

Marner and other RFAs might follow a path where a three-year deal is, functionally, a four-year deal to get to unrestricted free agency. Essentially, Marner would sign for X over three years, with a salary hitting a peak at year three, so that would set the stage for a qualifying offer in year four. Years five and beyond would then be open to UFA. TSN’s Darren Dreger illustrates this as well:

If it’s three years, Marner would need a new contract (technically or not) during the same offseason as Morgan Rielly. Reilly is just 25 and carries a cheap $5M cap hit, so the price could really grow. One would think Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2M) might get squeezed out.

We could also start to see Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren needing new deals around 2023 or shortly after, depending upon when Toronto starts burning those entry-level years.

2022-23, year four: If the above bridge deal with a high third-year salary happened, this is where Marner’s cost would balloon. It’s also possible – though improbable – that the two sides would simply sign a four-year deal, sending Marner to UFA status in the summer of 2023 without the gymnastics.

Following that fourth season, Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5M) and Andreas Johnsson ($3.4M) would need new deals.

Any small and medium-sized decisions would need to be weighed by how much room they leave for bigger ones, and not just potentially Marner …

2023-24, year five: Two whoppers expire in five years: Auston Matthews ($11.64M) and William Nylander ($6.96M).

It’s tough to imagine the Maple Leafs set the stage for Marner to have the opportunity to hit the UFA market during the same summer as Matthews and Nylander, which is why you don’t hear about a five-year solution very often.

Let’s be honest: that scenario could break Hockey Twitter, the Internet, or even humanity’s collective, slipping grip on something resembling sanity.

2024-25, year six: The six-year possibility doesn’t get mentioned much, but Tavares’ $11M expires after 2024-25. What if Marner figured that much of that Tavares money could transfer to his third contract? Could six years be a sweet spot for Toronto’s cost certainty, Marner getting paid, and present something of a compromise on UFA years?

(Unlikely, but just saying.)

2025-26, year seven, and 2026-27, year eight: McKenzie reports that there have been offers “in the universe” of $11M for seven or eight-year terms, but Marner reportedly isn’t satisfied because he’d get less than Matthews’ $11.64M while also signing for more than Matthews’ five-year term.

We can debate whether Marner would be worth $11M all day (motions to increasingly volatile Hockey Twitter), but Marner’s reluctance to go long-term is understandable, as for all we know, the cap ceiling could be much higher in 2025-26 and beyond.

***

Unfortunately for anxious Maple Leafs fans, Friedman, Dreger, MacKenzie, and others point to considerable divides behind Marner’s camp and the Maple Leafs.

As the above timeline shows, Toronto faces a host of complicated decisions, and plenty of tough questions even beyond Marner. Make no mistake about it, though: this Marner contract situation is absolutely pivotal, and it’s a tough nut to crack.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Net gains: Andersen, Grubauer, Rinne stepping up in playoffs

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DENVER (AP) — This classifies as fun for Frederik Andersen: Protecting a late lead in the third period by leaping out of his net to stop a shot with the handle of his stick.

Sticky situation handled.

”Doing whatever it takes to save it,” the Toronto goaltender explained after the 3-2 win Monday over Boston. ”Fun one.”

Going into the postseason, there were some reservations concerning such goaltenders as Andersen, Philipp Grubauer of Colorado and even Pekka Rinne of Nashville. They have each responded in a big way with Andersen, Grubauer, Rinne helping stake their teams to 2-1 leads in their first-round series.

All three look to come up clutch yet again in Game 4 on Wednesday night.

Like Andersen, Rinne turned in a huge save in a 3-2 win Monday over Dallas – sliding over from his knees to stop left winger Jamie Benn‘s attempt with his left goalie pad.

”Every once in a while he makes one like that where you roll your eyes and say, ‘How did he do that?”’ Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said. ”He’s been doing that for a long time, though.”

Rinne, the reigning Vezina winner, wasn’t exactly vintage Rinne a season ago in the postseason, allowing 21 goals in a second-round series loss to Winnipeg that was extended to seven games. So far this season, Rinne has a 1.98 goals-against average against Dallas and a .936 save percentage.

Now that’s more like Rinne, who led the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final in ’17.

”Peks made a couple unbelievable saves in the third there,” Filip Forsberg said. ”It’s what the playoffs is all about.”

Andersen entered the postseason on the heels of a bad stretch to end the season, when he allowed 35 goals over his last 10 appearances.

Against Boston, he’s made 108 saves and none bigger than his stop of center David Krejci on Monday. Andersen lunged out of his net as Krejci made a move to the backhand. He kept his goalie stick close to the ice and had the puck deflect off the end.

The chants of his name by the fans only intensified.

”Playoff time, this building comes alive. It’s a special place to play,” Andersen said. ”It makes you want to play even harder.”

A year ago, Grubauer started the first two games of the Stanley Cup title run for the Washington Capitals before surrendering the net to Braden Holtby. Grubauer was dealt to Colorado in the offseason and he began as the backup to Semyon Varlamov. But Grubauer took over late and went 7-0-2 down the stretch help the Avalanche earn the No. 8 seed. He’s allowed seven goals and made 90 saves against the Flames, the top seed in the Western Conference.

”We have to be in the moment and I think we’re doing the right things right now,” Grubauer said after a 6-2 win, the second in a row for the Avs.

Holtby appreciates the grit of Grubauer.

”He’s too good of a goalie to not have success over time,” Holtby said. ”It’s great for him. Obviously he’s had an adjustment to a different situation, adversity he’s grinded through. He’s a strong guy mentally, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to any of us.”

BOSTON at TORONTO (7 p.m. EDT, NBCSN)

Boston forward Patrice Bergeron remains confident his line will crank up the production.

Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have combined for three goals in three games against the Maple Leafs after a regular season in which they had 106. One of the reasons is the defensive work of Toronto’s offensive line of John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman.

”It’s tight right now. There’s not much space,” Bergeron said. ”We believe in ourselves and know we’re playing a good team and a good line.”

NASHVILLE at DALLAS (8 p.m. EDT, USA)

At 5-foot-6, Predators center Rocco Grimaldi is one of the shortest players in the NHL. He’s certainly coming up big in this series, scoring in consecutive games.

After going into the lineup for Game 2 – filling in when 6-6 center Brian Boyle had an appendix issue following Game 1 – Grimaldi had his first career playoff goal Saturday with a stick coincidentally named ”Frankie” – on the three-year anniversary of the death of his grandfather Frank. He added another goal, with a different stick, in Game 3.

CALGARY at COLORADO (10 p.m. EDT, NBCSN)

The Flames watched film as a group in lieu of practice Tuesday. Among the topics discussed was getting back to playing the way they played in amassing a Western Conference-best 107 points. Johnny Gaudreau has been held in check, with just one assist in the series. He had 99 points in the regular season.

”Everyone’s got to be better, not just one guy,” Gaudreau said. ”All of us are going to be better next game.”

Calgary is searching for a way to slow down MacKinnon, who has three goals, including an OT winner in Game 2.

”We’re going to have to make sure we eliminate some of that ice he’s had available through three games,” Flames coach Bill Peters said.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Matthews makes difference as Maple Leafs beat Bruins in Game 3

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There’s still a long way to go before Round 1 is settled between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, but Toronto left with more than a 2-1 series after a 3-2 win in Game 3. They had to leave with extra confidence.

Auston Matthews absorbed heavy criticism as he was unable to generate a single point through the first two contests in Boston, but he had a strong Game 3, scoring his first goal and first assist of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Maple Leafs also showed that they can hang onto a lead. They entered the third period with a 3-2 lead, and were able to protect that against a Bruins team that can be quite dangerous. As a bonus, they showed that they can at least slow the deadly line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, as that trio was unable to generate a single point on Monday.

Matthews had the biggest night, but maybe Mitch Marner‘s moments were the most symbolic. Pastrnak was pressing to get a final chance in the final seconds of Game 3, yet Marner blocked not one, but two shots to ice the win (and he’ll probably need to ice the spots that were wounded by those attempts). Finesse is clearly the Maple Leafs’ game, but they showed grit in Game 3.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

After a generally even first period ended 0-0, the two teams combined for five goals during a hectic second. Both power plays produced (two of Toronto’s three goals in the second period; one of Boston’s two), and, again, Matthews was able to make his presence felt.

Frederik Andersen continues to be a rock in net for Toronto, while Tuukka Rask was able to shake off this hard collision during the second period. Concussion spotters never took a look at Rask, even though he seemed dazed, but if Rask was limited afterward, it was tough to tell.

One promising sign for Boston is that, while the top line was nullified, the Bruins are getting decent production from supporting cast members. Charlie Coyle is starting to get the bounces he wasn’t receiving after being traded to Boston, as he scored his second goal of the postseason, while David Krejci nabbed his first goal of Round 1 on Monday. If Matthews’ top line can occasionally get the edge against Bergeron & Co., then players like Coyle and Krejci needed to step up.

After a tough Game 2 loss, the Maple Leafs regain their series lead to 2-1, and get a chance to take a stranglehold over Round 1 if they can win in Toronto on Wednesday.

Maple Leafs – Bruins Game 4 from Scotiabank Arena takes place Wednesday 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.

Maple Leafs take Game 1 against Bruins on the road

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The Maple Leafs limped into the playoffs with a 4-7-3 record to round out the season and rob any chance of Game 1 of their long anticipated series against Boston being played in Toronto. In the end though, it didn’t matter. After working through some late season injuries, the Maple Leafs had all hands on deck and combined they delivered a 4-1 victory over Boston.

While this game certainly wasn’t a blowout by any stretch of the imagination, it was close to the ideal scenario for the Maple Leafs. Most importantly, goaltender Frederik Andersen was great. There were some concerns about fatigue with him late in the season and he didn’t look good in the 2018 series against Boston, but this game would have been very different if he was just okay.

The only time Andersen was beat Thursday night was on a superb power-play goal from Brad Marchand to Patrice Bergeron. That marker gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead and had the potential to set the tone, but Mitchell Marner changed the story.

Marner evened the contest before the first period ended and provided the turning point when he got on a breakaway while the Maple Leafs were shorthanded. He drew a penalty shot that led to Toronto’s game-winning goal.

That narrow 2-1 edge stuck for most of the second period until William Nylander provided Toronto with some much needed breathing room, thanks in part to a laser pass from Nazem Kadri.

Boston ended up out shooting Toronto 21-14 in the second period alone, but the Maple Leafs scored the only two goals in that frame. That 3-1 lead would stick until John Tavares finished Boston off with an empty netter.

The Maple Leafs now have something they never possessed in the 2018 series against the Bruins: The lead. In 2018, the Bruins won the first two games in Boston and while Toronto battled back to force a Game 7, the Maple Leafs never possessed the series lead. Now we’ll see if Toronto can build on its early success or if Boston will come right back in Game 2. Certainly, Boston is too good of a team to be dismissed after just one loss.

Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.