Kessel’s passion needs to be shown on the ice

- March 3rd, 2015

Let the Maple Leafs — or in this case, Phil Kessel — take their frustrations out on the media. Fine.
We should remember what the players almost always say when they’re asked about which way management should go via trades, free agency, other moves, etc.
“The players just play,” usually is the answer, or some variation of it.
Then go do it. Go demonstrate, starting on Tuesday night in Florida against the Panthers, that you’re capable.
Give a damn as much on the ice as you apparently do off the ice.
The tweet that appeared on TSN regarding Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul and Phaneuf’s wife, Elisha Cuthbert, was reprehensible. Period.
Players and the organization should be upset about it, none more than Phaneuf and Lupul.
If that was Kessel’s way of defending Phaneuf regarding that tweet, no problem.
Fact is, though, Phaneuf has been captain of a team — and paid quite handsomely for it — that is headed for another April which will be marked by tee times and fishing trips.
Phaneuf was named captain in June 2010. Since then, the Leafs have appeared in seven playoff games.
Should the collective failures in the ensuing years all fall at the feet of Phaneuf? No. Last we checked, hockey is a team game. Kessel, Lupul, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri and every other Leaf who has been part of unsuccessful teams must share in it.
But Phaneuf is the captain. So yes, he will get more attention than other players. That’s part of the territory that comes with that letter on the front of the sweater.
If Kessel wants to get behind his captain that badly, then show it during games. Start backchecking with authority. Use that quickness and talent that most players would kill for to become a responsible player all over the ice.
Put something behind the words.

Hope that groundwork leads to core breakup

- March 2nd, 2015

So Olli Jokinen and Korbinian Holzer were traded by the Maple Leafs.
Not surprising, sort of. Not sure how Jokinen helps the St. Louis Blues (depth? really?) based on the way he played in Toronto, which was to be mostly unnoticeable other than setting up James van Riemsdyk for an overtime winner against the Winnipeg Jets 10 days ago.
Holzer’s condition must not be serious, though coach Peter Horachek did call it a concussion following the Leafs’ game in Washington on Sunday night. Had it been anything for the Anaheim Ducks to worry about, they wouldn’t have traded for Holzer.
The Leafs got forward Joakim Lindstrom and defenceman Eric Brewer. Both are on expiring contracts. Neither will be in the Leafs’ plans going forward.
Those who were hoping for the Leafs to blow up the roster on Monday — or thought they were going to — haven’t been paying attention in recent weeks.
When Leafs general manager David Nonis was able to trade Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik and David Clarkson, he made it clear that moving players with bigger contracts would be less difficult in the off-season (Clarkson is the exception, and with the way that deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets was consummated, a one-off).
He said as much again on Monday. No names were mentioned. But Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul all could be on borrowed time in Toronto. The Leafs might not necessarily get a ton more value for those players in the off-season, but the market could be bigger.
Nonis said the goal is to build the Leafs into a contender. The core has had its shot.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, remember. When the Leafs added Winnik, Santorelli, David Booth, Leo Komarov, Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak last summer, the thinking behind Leafs closed doors was the core was being bolstered with sturdy depth players. Combined, the core and depth would be enough to get the Leafs back to the playoffs.
And Jonathan Bernier was going to become a true No. 1 netminder.
None of those hopes were realized.
Nonis agreed with the idea that in talking trade with fellow GMs leading up to the deadline, groundwork has been laid for future possible deals. And he was adamant that the idea that other teams aren’t interested in the Leafs’ big-name players is nonsense.
Had there been no interest, phones in the Leafs’ offices at the Air Canada Centre would have been silent. That wasn’t the case.
We’ve been saying for a while now that the Leafs’ core has to be broken up in order for this team to move forward properly.
Let’s hope the pieces put in place by Nonis lead to something constructive — and there is actual trade news that is worthy of hours of discussion — once the players have scattered to their summer homes.

Hitchcock’s words ring true, weeks later

- March 1st, 2015

WASHINGTON — We can’t help but take our thoughts back to something Ken Hitchcock said back in January.
The day before the Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues met in St. Louis, Hitchcock was explaining why he thought it was the Leafs were having trouble scoring goals.
The Leafs had been shut out in two of three road games in California before arriving in St. Louis, where they would lose 3-0 on Jan. 17.
This was Hitchcock on the 16th: “I don’t want to say the hockey gods make you pay, but the hockey gods make you earn it. It’s like everything has to work in sequence and always the last part is scoring. It’s play the right way, check the right way, act the right way, then you get to score goals. We have gone through it. We went through a really tough stretch (earlier this season) where we thought we were playing okay, we were getting shut out, but we weren’t really pouring everything into it. When you looked at the game in detail, you thought, you know what, we were a little loose in (a certain) area and this is just the payback for it. Once we got the players to dig in even deeper, then we not only stayed the same defensively, but we got better offensively because of it. In the game that the NHL is right now, the more you check, the harder you check, the more you score. That is the bottom line.”
Six weeks later, little has changed for the Leafs. In 23 games Horachek has been coach, the Leafs have scored one goal or none in 13.
“They have to bear down and get the chances and they have to finish,” Horachek said after the Leafs lost 4-0 against the Washington Capitals on Sunday night.
“They have to be more willing to get on the inside. They have to be more willing to get in front of the net and stay there, get second opportunities. It’s not a secret when you are trying to score goals, you have to get on the inside.”
Hitchcock’s words ring true, still. The Leafs have played with more structure with Horachek as coach than they did under Randy Carlyle.
But when was the last time the Leafs put in a complete 60-minute effort? How often can they say they have earned something?
This Leafs team is one that doesn’t want it badly enough. It hasn’t for a long time, and the scoreboard has been reflecting as much.

Palmateer, McDonald, Sittler relive Nassau memories

- February 12th, 2015

Lanny McDonald couldn’t believe what had just happened.
On April 29, 1978 at Nassau Coliseum, McDonald scored the Maple Leafs’ biggest goal of the decade.
It came in the home of the New York Islanders that will play host to the Leafs a final time on Thursday.
McDonald’s Game 7 overtime goal is one that Leafs fans still want to talk about when they bump into him today.
“If you watch my expression, even after I knew it was in, I came around the net thinking, ‘Okay, I think we have won,’” McDonald said with a chuckle during a telephone interview on Wednesday.
“Has this really happened? I see a wave of players coming over the bench and I just fired my gloves into the air and jumped into whoever was the nearest guy. It was unbelievable.”
The Islanders are heading to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season, leaving the only building they have called home since joining the NHL in 1972. There have been few memorable moments for the Leafs in the arena, but some resonate.
The clubs have met three times in the playoffs, with the Leafs taking out the Islanders in that upset in the ’78 quarterfinal. The Isles swept the Leafs in the preliminary round in 1981 on the way to their second of four consecutive Stanley Cups, and then came 2002, when the teams scratched, clawed, kicked and fought their way through a conference quarterfinal that the Leafs won in seven games.
Nazem Kadri scored his first NHL hat trick in the building on Feb. 28, 2013, and who can forget Rob Davison’s 190-foot bouncer that beat Vesa Toskala in March 2008?
What the 1978 Leafs — coached by the late Roger Neilson and led by Darryl Sitter, Mike Palmateer, McDonald and defenceman Ian Turnbull — accomplished is tops.
Months earlier, Queen had released the single We Are the Champions, and as was the case in many hockey rinks then, the Islanders often played it during games.
“They would play that song, and when Lanny scored and we were all on the ice celebrating, we were all singing that song on the ice,” Sittler said. “It was pretty special.”
Said Palmateer: “I remember having goosebumps when that song played, and it pumped me up. And I remember the complete silence when Lanny scored. The building just went totally silent.”
With several Islanders nearby, including Denis Potvin and Dave Lewis, McDonald, playing with a broken bone in his wrist and a mask on his helmet to protect a broken nose, beat Glenn (Chico) Resch with a low, weak shot to the far side of the net.
Palmateer, who was excellent in the series, had stopped Billy Harris on a breakaway in overtime.
“The best part of that story, and the reason I am not rich now is because I didn’t patent it, is that I used a cheater on my glove,” Palmateer said. “The wrist part of the glove was only as wide as your wrist, so I expanded it a couple of inches, and sure enough, in overtime, Harris went glove side and I got a piece of it with that extra little piece.”
The intensity of the games took a bite out of Palmateer.
“I remember sitting in the shower with ice packs on my knees, trying to keep my cigarette dry and I think I had a few tears,” Palmateer said. “It was really a good emotional victory. It was great.”
That the Leafs managed to win once in the arena in the series was a feat, given the atmosphere.
“You would skate around in warmups and the fans would be yelling and screaming,” Sittler said. “A little like Philly, not quite as bad, but they were hanging over the glass. We probably played over our heads, but Roger had us prepared. We really cared about each other.”
McDonald would go on to score in the decisive game of the 1989 Stanley Cup final for the Calgary Flames, yet the memory of his goal in the Nassau Coliseum for the Leafs decades ago hasn’t faded.
“To realize we were getting closer, and unfortunately that team got torn apart and that’s another story, it gave us a credibility,” McDonald said. “That is one of those memories that will last a lifetime for all of us on that team.”

Lineups for tonight’s CHL top prospects game

- January 22nd, 2015

ST. CATHARINES — The projected lines for the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospects game on Thursday night at the Meridian Centre:

Jake DeBrusk-Dylan Strome-Mitchell Marner
Evgeny Svechnikov-Anthony Beauvillier-Daniel Sprong
Graham Knott-Filip Chlapik-Dennis Yan
Yakov Trenin-Mitchell Stephens-Adam Musil
Vince Dunn-Matt Spencer
Brandon Carlo-Noah Juulsen
Brendan Guhle-Rasmus Andersson
Samuel Montembeault
Michael McNiven

Timo Meier-Connor McDavid-Travis Konecny
Paul Bittner-Jansen Harkins-Glenn Gawdin
Ryan Gropp-Nicolas Roy-Nathan Noel
Lawson Crouse-Nick Merkley-Blake Speers
Thomas Chabot-Jeremy Roy
Guillaume Brisebois-Nicolas Meloche
Ivan Provorov-Ryan Pilon
Nick McBride
Liam Herbst