Johan Franzen

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.

PHT Time Machine: Mario Lemieux’s 5 goals, 5 different ways

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back back to Dec. 31, 1988 when Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux became the first — and only — player to score five goals, five different ways in the same game.

It was 31 years ago Tuesday that Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux accomplished what was probably his most incredible single-game achievement: Scoring five goals in every possible way during an 8-6 win over the New Jersey Devils.

His goals: An even-strength goal, a power play goal, a shorthanded goal, a penalty shot goal (which was also while the Penguins were shorthanded), and an empty-net goal.

They are all in the featured video above. Notice the commentary just before the first goal that says the Penguins really need a “big game” from Lemieux. He delivered.

It was the first five-goal game of his career, while he also finished with eight total points, factoring into every single goal the Penguins scored. It was his second eight-point game of the season. He recorded at least five points in a game 12 different times, including three seven-point games. He finished the season with 199 points (while missing four games) but only finished second in the Hart Trophy voting behind Wayne Gretzky who had just finished his first season with the Los Angeles Kings. It remains one of the most controversial MVP votes in league history (read about that here).

Some other random facts from that game

  • His five goals gave him 43 for the season. It was only the Penguins’ 38th game.
  • Not crazy enough? His eight points put him over the 100-point mark for the season. In game 38. It was the third-fastest climb to 100 points in league history, behind only a couple of early 1980s Wayne Gretzky seasons.
  • His first three goals (even-strength, power play, shorthanded) came in the game’s first 10 minutes.
  • His shorthanded goal was already his seventh of the season. He would go on to score an NHL record (that still stands today) 13 shorthanded goals that season. He scored 10 the year before.
  • An underrated and completely overlooked performance in this game is that Kirk Muller, the No. 2 pick in the 1984 draft, just one spot behind Lemieux, had five points. His team lost by two goals. The 1980s were really something.
  • Speaking of, this was a classic 1980s game in the sense that there were 14 total goals and 68 total penalty minutes between the two teams. There were no fighting majors in the game, but New Jersey’s Steve Rooney was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for cross-checking late in the first period.

This just seems to be one of those accomplishments that will be nearly impossible to duplicate in the modern game.

Consider the fact that any five-goal performances is almost unheard of now.

There have only been 11 five-goal games in the NHL since this performance by Lemieux, and two of those games belong to Lemieux himself.

There have only been three since 1996 (Marian Gaborik in 2007, Johan Franzen in 2011, and Patrik Laine in 2018).

Since the start of the 1979-80 season, there have only been 134 instances where a player recorded a hat trick with at least one even-strength goal, one shorthanded goal, and one power play goal. There is also the fact that penalties are down across the league from where they used to be (negating the number of power play and shorthanded chances players get) and penalty shots are now extremely rare.

It is probably the one feat in NHL history that you can say with probably 99.9 percent certainty that it will never be accomplished again.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

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.

Marc Crawford will return to Blackhawks’ bench after suspension

Marc Crawford Suspension
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Assistant coach Marc Crawford has been away from the Chicago Blackhawks since Dec. 2 as the team investigated incidents of player abuse during his previous NHL coaching stops.

The team announced on Monday evening that Crawford will remain suspended through Jan. 2 following the investigation, and will then return to the team’s bench.

Crawford and the team both released statements. Those statements address the incidents, the investigation, the suspension, and the steps Crawford has taken.

The Blackhawks said they do not condone his previous behavior, and during their review confirmed that Crawford proactively sought counseling in an effort to improve.

He began the counseling in 2010 and has continued to go through on a regular basis.

Crawford’s statement

Crawford issued a few more in-depth statement. Here is an excerpt.

Recently, allegations have resurfaced about my conduct earlier in my coaching career. Players like Sean Avery, Harold Druken, Patrick O’Sullivan and Brent Sopel have had the strength to publicly come forward and I am deeply sorry for hurting them. I offer my sincere apologies for my past behavior.

I got into coaching to help people, and to think that my actions in any way caused harm to even one player fills me with tremendous regret and disappointment in myself. I used unacceptable language and conduct toward players in hopes of motivating them, and, sometimes went too far. As I deeply regret this behavior, I have worked hard over the last decade to improve both myself and my coaching style.

I have made sincere efforts to address my inappropriate conduct with the individuals involved as well as the team at large. I have regularly engaged in counseling over the last decade where I have faced how traumatic my behavior was towards others. I learned new ways of expressing and managing my emotions. I take full responsibility for my actions.

You can read the full statements via the Blackhawks’ website.

The incidents

Just before Crawford stepped away from the Blackhawks, former NHL player Sean Avery told the New York Post that Crawford had kicked him back in 2006 when they were with the Los Angeles Kings. Several other players that played under Crawford also came forward with stories, including Harold Druken, Patrick O’Sullivan, and Brent Sopel.

Druken called Crawford “hands down the worst human being I’ve ever met” for his verbal and physical abuse that included derogatory comments about Druken’s background.

O’Sullivan had also shared similar stories about Crawford’s coaching tactics.

Other incidents around the league

• The stories regarding Crawford started to resurface following Bill Peters’ exit from the Calgary Flames.

Peters resigned from the Flames after it was revealed he used a racial slur against former player Akim Aliu when he was head coach of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. That was followed by defenseman Michal Jordan detailing how Peters had punched and kicked players on the Hurricanes’ bench, a claim that was backed up by then-assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour.

•  Shortly after Mike Babcock was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, a story surfaced detailing how he made then-rookie Mitch Marner rank his teammates from hardest working to least hardest working, and then informed the players at the bottom of the list of Marner’s ranking.

• Former Red Wings forward Johan Franzen also shared his own personal experiences with Babcock, calling him the worst person he had ever met.

More: Crawford on leave from Blackhawks

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Francis faces criticism; Franzen criticizes Babcock

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Seattle general manager Ron Francis comes under heavy criticism for his handling of the Carolina Hurricanes player abuse situation. [Seattle Times]

• Former Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen opens up about his time playing for Mike Babcock, telling a Swedish newspaper outlet that Babcock is the worst person he has ever met. [Detroit Free Press]

Kyle Okposo considered retirement following his latest concussion. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is representing himself in his next round of contract negotiations. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.[ESPN]

• The case of two different Tyler Ennis‘ and a near mistaken diagnosis. [TSN]

• Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom has been granted a leave of absence from the team so he can attend his father’s memorial service. [Vancouver Canucks]

• Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak continues to make the case he is the NHL’s best bargain player. [The Hockey News]

• The Montreal Canadiens placed backup goalie Keith Kinkaid on waivers. [Montreal Gazette]

• Who (and what) the Pittsburgh Penguins need to lean on to get through this tough injury stretch. [Pensburgh]

• A new app allows players to rate coaches, agents. [USA Today]

• The Philadelphia Flyers capped off a special November and entered December with their most points since the 1995-96 Eric Lindros season. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The Arizona Coyotes’ tumultuous November still produces a lot of positives. [AZ Central]

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Laine rubs elbows with Gretzky on five-goal night

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Patrik Laine, number one with a bullet

When you have a night a special as the one Laine experienced, you get your own section.

On a night of hat tricks, Laine refused to settle for a mere three goals, nearly managing a double-hatty. Ultimately, he finished with a ridiculous five goals on five shots. If anyone can do that, it’s Laine.

This isn’t just a one-night outburst for Laine, either. By the three-goal mark, he had reached at least a hat trick for the seventh time in his young career … and the third during the month of November.

In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s been a very long time since someone managed a hat trick of hat tricks during a single month.

Laine, 20, won’t turn 21 until April 19. That’s relevant to note because, while he’s unlikely to match this Wayne Gretzky mark, it’s also true that it was already unlikely that he’d generate three hat tricks in a single month.

Laine lands in Gretzky-rarified-air more than once. Sportsnet’s stats staff also notes that he’s the first 20-year-old to collect five goals since Gretzky managed that mark twice. Again, it would be asking a lot for the winger to match that mark by number 99, yet he also has the rest of the season to do so (Winnipeg’s last regular-season game comes on April 6, almost two weeks before his 21st birthday).

PHT’s Scott Billeck did a great job of recapping Laine’s red-hot ways:

Thanks to this ridiculous night, Laine now has 19 goals in 2018-19, giving him the NHL lead. Interestingly, Saturday left him at 99 career regular-season goals. It should be fascinating to see Laine try to climb this list, too.

Interesting to see Jimmy Carson right behind Gretzky, the name he’ll be linked with forever thanks to that famous trade, eh?

The other three stars

1. Kyle Connor and Bryan Little

Let’s give Laine’s partners-in-crime a little love, too.

Both Connor and Little collected four assists during Laine’s five-goal night. If you have to choose one of the two, Connor would probably get quite a bit more credit for driving play, as he finished the night with four shots on goal to go with his four assists (Little had one SOG).

Many joked about how Laine’s going to get paid on his next contract. The way things going, Connor might not be too cheap, either.

2. Andreas Johnsson

Heading into Saturday, this 24-year-old Leafs forward had two goals over his entire, young NHL career. Johnsson generated a hat trick in a single period on Saturday, and actually hit that mark with about seven minutes remaining in the opening frame.

Would Johnsson have generated even more offense if the Flyers ever got on the board in this one? Maybe, but he still enjoyed one of the night’s great performances.

(Garret Sparks‘ 34-save shutout likely kept Toronto from going too over the top.)

Read more about Toronto making life miserable for Philly’s goalies here.

3. Jake Guentzel

Guentzel didn’t need three periods to collect his hat trick. He took advantage of some splendid Sidney Crosby passing to gain three goals without about four minutes left in the second period.

This marks the first regular-season hat trick for Guentzel, who now has 18 points in 22 games during the 2018-19 campaign.

Fun fact unless you’re the one managing Pittsburgh’s salary cap: like Connor and Laine, Guentzel is headed toward RFA status. A big season would go really well with all of those playoff heroics, huh?

Highlights of the Night

Quite the no-look pass by Crosby

Matt Luff had the right stuff to make Jacob Markstrom take his bluff:

Non-Laine, non-Sabres-topping-the-league factoids

Laine isn’t the only youngster playing beyond his years.

Gotta love how specific this stat is:

Scores

WSH 5 – NYR 3
TOR 6 – PHI 0
BOS 3 – MTL 2
BUF 3 – DET 2 (SO)
CHI 5 – FLA 4 (OT)
NYI 4 – CAR 1
PIT 4 – CBJ 2
WPG 8 – STL 4
COL 3 – DAL 2
VGK 6 – SJS 0
VAN 4 – LAK 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.