Mark Fraser

Marner, Babcock respond to ‘hardest working Leafs’ list

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Now that the coaching change has finally been made, the stories about what life was like during the Mike Babcock era of the Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to surface.

The most unbelievable one so far came out over the weekend.

It was then that the Toronto Sun‘s Terry Koshan revealed that during the 2016-17 season, Babcock had asked one of the team’s rookies “to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic.”

The rookie, not wanting to upset his coach, went through with the list only to have Babcock then tell the players at the bottom of the list where they stood.

That rookie turned out to be Mitch Marner, one of the core building blocks of the Maple Leafs’ organization.

According to Ian Tulloch of The Leafs Nation, Marner placed himself at the very bottom of the list with both sides (Marner and Babcock) agreeing he had to work harder without the puck. Forwards Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri were reportedly two of the more prominent names at the bottom and were later informed by Babcock of their rating in Marner’s eyes.

On Monday, Marner was asked about the situation and went on the record confirming that it actually happened.

“I’d say it was just surprising,” said Marner. “It was so long ago now, honestly I really kind of forgot about it until the report came out. It’s over with now and done with. I was lucky enough the guys that were there with me, none of them took it to heart and they knew it wasn’t up to me.”

He was also asked if he felt Babcock’s task had crossed a line.

“It was my first year, I didn’t really know what to think of it, but it’s over with now,” said Marner. “I’m looking forward to the new change and seeing how I can help this team under Sheldon.”

Babcock also responded on Monday by telling Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman: “I was trying to focus on work ethic with Mitch — focusing on role models — ended up not being a good idea. I apologized at (the) time.”

It is one thing to want a young player to have a strong work ethic and point out positive role models on the team, but there is probably a better way to go about it than the way Babcock did. And by probably, I mean definitely, and by better, I mean almost literally any other way. Putting a 19-year-old rookie on the spot like that — a player that is in a position to almost certainly do whatever the coach asks them to do — is no way to win over favor in the locker room.

This is pretty much an extension of the mind games coaches and executives play when they try to take on the role of amateur psychologist at scouting combines, asking ridiculous — or even insulting — questions to try and get a reaction to see how they respond.

Babcock probably isn’t the first coach to employ some sort of tactic like this, and he will almost certainly not be the last (not that it makes the situation any better — it’s bad no matter who does it).

It is also not unfair to say that Babcock now has a growing list of former players that are either critical of his coaching style, or just flat out do not like him.

Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Commodore has been Babcock’s most vocal critic on social media, while former Maple Leafs defender Mark Fraser offered a little more insight in the wake of Toronto’s coaching change this past week. Fraser said, among other things, that Babcock is a coach that “95 percent of his former players can’t say a good thing about.”

Fraser’s entire Twitter thread on the subject is here.

Babcock also drew harsh criticism in Toronto earlier this season when he made Jason Spezza, a Toronto native and respected veteran, a healthy scratch in what would have been his first ever game for the Maple Leafs. To outsiders it probably wasn’t that big of a deal, but when added into the context of how some of his former players feel he unjustly treats them — as well as this story regarding Marner — it certainly stands out a little bit more.

It has only been two games since the coaching change, but the Maple Leafs already seem like a looser, more energized, and most importantly better team.

MORE:
Maple Leafs fire Babcock, name Keefe head coach
Underachieving Maple Leafs needed this change
Where will Mike Babcock end up after Maple Leafs?

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.

Report: Devils to part ways with Bernier, Fraser and Harrold

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Scott Gomez isn’t the only member of the 2014-15 New Jersey Devils who will not return next season.

Devils GM Ray Shero has informed the agents of Steve Bernier, Mark Fraser and Peter Harrold that they should explore the market come July 1.

“We’re not going forward right now with any of them,” said Shero per Tom Gulitti of The Record. “I’ve notified their agents that they’re going to July 1. I talked to Scott Gomez’s agent and we’re not going to go be going in that direction. Bernier, we’re going to July 1 and just see what’s out there. Fraser the same thing and Harrold likely the same thing.”

Bernier had 16 goals and 32 points in 67 games with the Devils during the 2014-15 season.

Harrold scored three goals and two assists to go along with a minus-10 rating in 43 games while Fraser appeared in 34 games for the Devils last season registering four assists.

“I think it’s really good for us to look and for them to look to see what’s out there,” Shero said. “That’s more coming from my end than theirs. … You never close any doors, but to me with Steve Bernier, he had a really good year last year, maybe there’s better for him out there with another team.”

Related: UFA of the Day: Antoine Vermette

End of an era in New Jersey as Shero replaces Lamoriello as GM

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The NHL’s longest-serving GM is done.

Lou Lamoriello, who’s been in charge in New Jersey since 1987, has relinquished his title as general manager to former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero.

“This is my decision with 100 percent support of ownership,” Lamoriello said on a conference call, adding that he would retain his role as president of hockey operations. “Ray is well-respected throughout the hockey industry and knows what it takes to win.

“His 22 seasons of NHL front-office experience will be beneficial to the New Jersey Devils organization. I look forward to working alongside Ray.”

Lamoriello, 72, steps away from his GM role after winning three Stanley Cups and leading the Devils to the playoffs all but three times between 1988 and 2012. The club has failed to make the postseason in each of the last three seasons, however, and Lamoriello has faced increasing criticism following several failed free agent acquisitions.

“Teams and personnel dictate changes,” Lamoriello said. “Ray might do things just a little different than I do.”

Shero, 52, has been out of work since being fired by Pittsburgh last summer. During his time with the Penguins, Shero captured one Stanley Cup (in 2009) in eight years on the job. He will immediately be tasked with hiring the club’s next head coach, as the Devils finished last season with Adam Oates and Scott Stevens behind the bench.

With this hire, Shero falls out of contention with the vacant Boston Bruins GM gig, which he was rumored to be shortlisted for.

“It’s a great situation for me,” Shero said during Wednesday’s call. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Shero has plenty of work ahead of him. Aside from the coaching search, he holds the sixth overall pick at this June’s draft, as well as No. 36 and 41 (the latter acquired in the Jaromir Jagr trade with Florida.) Shero will also need to work on new contracts for RFAs Stefan Matteau, Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas, and decide what he wants to do with veteran UFAs (Michael Ryder, Martin Havlat, Steve Bernier, Jordin Tootoo, Scott Gomez, Bryce Salvador, Peter Harrold and Mark Fraser.)

Give the names on that list and the regime change from Lamoriello to Shero, the Devils could be a very different-looking team in 2015-16.

Note: Lamoriello went out of his way to thank Penguins CEO David Morehouse and the entire organization for their cooperation in the Shero hiring process, but noted there would be no compensation going to Pittsburgh. This offseasons is the first of the NHL’s re-instituted policy to award teams compensatory draft picks should their executives or coaches be hired by other teams.

Defenseman Mark Fraser signs AHL deal with Albany

Defenseman Mark Fraser is going back to where his career began.

The 28-year-old has signed an American Hockey League contract with the Albany Devils the club announced Sunday.

Fraser, who most recently spent the 2013-14 season split with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, was the New Jersey Devils third-round selection (84th overall) at the 2005 NHL Draft.

The 6-foot-4, 220 pound blue liner turned pro with the Lowell Devils in 2006-07 and appeared in 98 games with New Jersey between the 2006-2011 seasons.

In 185 career NHL games, Fraser has four goals, 14 assists, 247 penalty minutes a plus-5 rating.

Fraser has played in 308 career AHL games with Lowell, Albany, Syracuse and Toronto.

Video: Oilers’ Fraser scores controversial second-period goal

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On Thursday, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Mark Fraser scored his first NHL goal in over four years, and it also happened to be of some controversy.

The goal came with St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman on the ice, in pain, after taking an incidental knee to the head from the Oilers’ Jesse Joensuu.

Joensuu was trying to avoid contact, by jumping over Jackman, who fell trying to play the puck, however he clipped the Blues defenseman with his left leg. The goal counted, despite Jackman down on the ice for several seconds between the contact with Joensuu and when the puck went past Ryan Miller.

For Fraser, it was his first goal since March 2, 2010. It also tied the game at 2-2 heading into the third period.