John Tavares

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Maple Leafs’ Tavares out at least two weeks with broken finger

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It has been a bit of a slow start for the Toronto Maple Leafs and they received a bit of bad news on Thursday afternoon that won’t make things any easier.

The team announced that captain John Tavares will be sidelined for at least the next two weeks due to a broken finger that he suffered during the team’s 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.

Tavares will be re-evaluated by the team in two weeks when a more definitive timetable on his return will be known.

He was injured when he was struck by a Morgan Rielly slap shot during Wednesday’s game.

In eight games this season Tavares has three goals (including one goal on Wednesday) and four assists. He scored 47 goals for the Maple Leafs a year ago in his first season with the team.

Following Wednesday’s loss the Maple Leafs are 4-3-1 through their first eight games and are still struggling defensively, showing all of the flaws that have slowed them down in recent years. Now they will be without one of their best offensive players for what will probably at least the next six games, if not more. During this upcoming stretch the Maple Leafs play Boston two times, including their next game on Saturday night, and will also play Columbus, San Jose, Washington, Montreal, Philadelphia twice, Los Angeles, and Vegas. Not the most daunting schedule, but not exactly the easiest, either.

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.

Maple Leafs’ new captain: John Tavares

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For the first time since they traded Dion Phaneuf during the 2015-16 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a captain. To little surprise after news surfaced about Auston Matthewsdisorderly conduct charges, John Tavares will be that captain.

Unfortunately, Tavares didn’t come out during the season-opener wearing his Maple Leafs bed sheets around his neck like a cap while sporting the “C.” Maybe next year?

The Maple Leafs decided to make the announcement during player introductions before Wednesday’s season and home-opener against the Ottawa Senators. Tavares, 29, is the 25th captain in Maple Leafs’ history. Phaneuf had been Maple Leafs captain for some time, as he served that role from 2010-11 up until that in-season swap in 2015-16.

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, the Maple Leafs shared the captaincy news with Tavares in a creative way, revealing it with some help from his baby boy, Jace.

MORE:
Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• 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.

PHT Morning Skate: Stan Bowman on hot seat; Five potential surprises in 2019-20

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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.

Sidney Crosby (foot) returned to Penguins practice on Tuesday. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• The drama surrounding the Maple Leafs captaincy is about to come to an end. (Leafs Nation)

• Offense will continue rising in the NHL, according to TSN’s Travis Yost.

• It’ll be an emotional return home for Jakub Voracek when the Flyers open the season in Prague. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

• The Devils hoped to become closer during their trip to Annapolis. (NJ.com)

• Wild defenseman Greg Pateryn underwent successful surgery. He’s expected to miss around six weeks. (NHL.com/Wild)

• NHL is trying to grow grassroots hockey in China. (Sports Illustrated)

David Backes skated with some 12-year-old figure skaters over the summer. (Bruins Daily)

• This new edition of the Edmonton Oilers is hoping to avoid the same old results. (Sportsnet)

• Here are five things the Florida Panthers will accomplish this season. (Panther Parkway)

• The evolution of the Canucks roster led to them waiving Sven Baertschi. (Vancourier)

• The Central Division will have a huge influence on the upcoming NHL season. (The Score)

• What are the realistic expectations for the Dallas Stars? (The Sporting News)

• Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is on the hot seat in Chicago. (Blackhawk up)

• Here are five potential surprises ahead of the 2019-20 season. (Featurd)

• Finally, Alex Steen and Colton Parayko surprised Laila with a very special gift this week:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues

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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, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

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

Better or worse: The Blues are bringing back mostly the same team that won the Stanley Cup just a few months ago and that is generally a pretty good sign for a team’s chances. Whether or not they are any better or worse depends on your perspective and what your expectations are. There is a very good chance they finish as a better regular season team, but end up doing worse in the playoffs for no other reason than winning the Stanley Cup two years in a row is a brutally difficult task. If they finish with, let’s say, 105 or 106 points but get eliminated in Round 2 or 3 a year after winning the Stanley Cup are Blues fans going to be disappointed with that result? Going to guess they will not be.

Strengths: Their defensive play. They are a lockdown team that is one of the best in the league at limiting shot attempts against and as long as they get competent goaltending are one of the toughest teams in the league to score against. They have two great blue liners in Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, do not really have a true weakness anywhere on their defense, and have one of the best shutdown centers in the league in Ryan O'Reilly. Their other strength: Having one of the league’s elite goal-scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko. Since the start of the 2014-15 season only Alex Ovechkin (236) and John Tavares (183) have more goals than Tarasenko’s 182. Tarasenko has also played in fewer games than both during that stretch.

Weaknesses: It is probably more of a question mark than a “weakness,” but what will Jordan Binnington be able to do over a full season? His call-up was a turning point in the season and he fixed the team’s biggest early season flaw. But can he play at that level from the start of the year and maintain through the playoffs? That is the big unanswered question for the Blues entering the season and it will go a long way toward determining what they are capable of.

[MORE: Three questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Craig Berube has been behind the team’s bench for less than a year and in that time the Blues went 38-19-6 during the regular season (that is a 106 point pace over 82 games) and then won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. His coaching hot seat rating is a 1 out of 10. It is probably even lower than that.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Robert Thomas, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabbri are three players to watch.

The final numbers for Thomas’ rookie season do not really jump off the page, but keep in mind that he was 19 years old and playing meaningful minutes for a championship team. That is impressive, and even though it did not always result in goals or points you could see the potential he has and why the Blues are so excited about what he is capable of in the NHL. Does he take a big step in year two?

Schwartz had what was probably the worst regular season of his career offensively, scoring just 11 goals in 69 games, a massive drop from what he normally produces. It was almost entirely the result of a 6 percent shooting percentage that was entirely driven by a lot of bad luck. Every other aspect of his performance was right in line with what the Blues expect and it was only a matter of time until he bounced back. He did just that in the playoffs with 12 goals in 26 games, exceeding his regular season total. There is no reason to believe he will not be a 25-30 goal scorer again this season.

Fabbri is going to be fascinating just to see if he can get his career back on track. He is talented and had such a promising start four years ago only to be robbed of three years due to injuries. Can he get some better injury luck and still become the player the Blues hoped he would be?

Playoffs or lottery: As long as Binnington does not have a massive regression there is no reason this is not a playoff team again. They were built to win a year ago and the slow start in the first half was simply the result of not having any goaltending. Once they fixed that, combined with the improvement they saw under Berube, this team was a machine. They are not going away.

More
Blues turn back the clock with alternate jersey
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.