- Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will be a game-time decision for Saturday’s game in Montreal, notes Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star. Matthews has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury although he did participate in his second practice of the week earlier today. Even if he is cleared to return, the 20-year-old acknowledged that his conditioning may not be back where it was right away before he suffered the injury.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Although Canucks GM Jim Benning stated last week that they still have plans on talking to defenseman Erik Gudbranson about a contract extension, TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie reported on a radio appearance with Sportsnet 590 (audio link) that there is some trade interest around the league surrounding the blueliner. In particular, Lavoie pegs the Maple Leafs as a team with interest in him as well as several other stay-at-home defenders around the league, though those others aren’t at Gudbranson’s level.
The 25-year-old has played in 18 games so far with Vancouver this season and has yet to record a point. However, he sits second on the team in both hits and blocked shots and would give Toronto another defense-first option on their back end. Lavoie added that Toronto is ideally looking to add a defender before December’s holiday break (from December 24th to the 26th).
The Leafs aren’t alone in their pursuit of a stay-at-home rearguard as Lavoie adds that the Canadiens are also looking to add one and could be interested in Gudbranson while he suggests that Ottawa may be looking to add a blueliner as well. Considering Senators GM Pierre Dorion has stated several times that he likes his current defensive depth, it’s likely that a move on that end for them would be closer to the trade deadline with an eye on hedging against some injuries for the postseason.
One team that doesn’t appear to have interest in Gudbranson is his former team in Florida. Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province reports that the Panthers (who at one point were rumored to have a trade in place for him over the summer involving Jason Demers) are no longer interested in pursuing his services.
Gudbranson is in the final year of his contract with a salary and cap hit of $3.5MM and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July. If the team can’t come to terms on an extension with him, there’s a good chance that the defenseman will become one of the more sought-after rental players in the weeks and months to come.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed forward Josh Leivo to a one-year extension worth $925K. Leivo was a candidate for Group VI free agency this summer if he didn’t play in another 34 games with the club this year. We examined his candidacy in a piece earlier this season, and it clearly looked like the team wasn’t ready to give him a full-time role this year. That could chance next season though, as both James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov are unrestricted free agents.
Leivo has an intriguing skill profile for the Maple Leafs, as a big-bodied forward that has a good shot and playmaking ability. While some have questioned his skating ability in the past, he provides good value on the powerplay and has historically never complained publicly about his disappointing situation with the Maple Leafs. Since making his debut in the 2013-14 season, Leivo has suited up for just 46 NHL games and no more than 13 in a single season. That’s in spite of the fact that he registered 10 points in that 13-game sample last year, and has performed well at the AHL level. The 86th-overall pick in 2011, Leivo is on the second year of a two-year minimum salary deal he signed in 2016. The $925K doesn’t seem like a lot, but will actually be a hefty raise for the 24-year old.
The question now becomes if this is in preparation for life without van Riemsdyk and/or Komarov, or just to protect an asset they believe is valuable as a 13th forward. There is always the chance that Toronto moves one of the aforementioned wingers to improve their defense corps, which would allow Leivo to jump into the lineup full time. The Maple Leafs need quite a bit of cap room to sign their big three of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner in the near future, meaning players on inexpensive deals like this one will need to be key contributors.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
The new owner of the Houston Rockets met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently, according to a report from Katie Strang of The Athletic. Tilman Fertitta, who purchased the Rockets this summer for $2.2 billion, had previously suggested he’d be interested in bringing the NHL to Houston. One meeting doesn’t prove that anything is set to happen, but it does have to throw Houston into the ring for potential expansion or relocation in the future. Bettman did admit to The Athletic that they would have to consider Houston if there was interest “under the right circumstances.”
There are several teams around the league with uncertain futures, most notably in Calgary, Arizona and New York (Islanders), and now two US locations that seem like legitimate new possibilities. Seattle, with its new arena proposal headed by Oak View Group, and now Houston with interest from an owner who is more than financially capable. While many Canadian hockey fans wish that Quebec City was first on the list, they may remain in the NHL’s back pocket even longer if viable locations are popping up in the United States. There is no clear path for expansion right now, nor is the league actively looking for relocation at the moment.
- Buffalo’s season is getting even worse with the announcement that Taylor Fedun and Matt Tennyson have been put on injured reserve today. An already thin blueline gets even thinner, and head coach Phil Housley announced that Fedun would be out six to eight weeks with a lower-body injury. In the meantime the team has recalled Casey Nelson because Zach Redmond is also nursing an injury in the minor leagues. The Sabres need defensive help even when all of their starters are healthy, and risk falling out of the playoff race altogether if they don’t find an answer on the back end.
- Auston Matthews is out once again for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, despite practicing for much of the week. The 20-year old superstar hasn’t played in ten days, though the team is 3-0 in his absence. Nikita Soshnikov will enter the lineup in his absence, though it likely means Patrick Marleau will regain his position at center ice. Marleau has been a winger for the last several years, but was forced into the center role in Toronto due to their lack of depth behind Matthews. Beyond the NHL, the Maple Leafs don’t have a ton of other options down the middle, a concern that could lead to some interesting decisions this summer. Tyler Bozak is a pending unrestricted free agent, but could be too expensive to bring back on anything other than a short-term deal. The team may have to look elsewhere to fill the third-line center role next year.
While all eyes are on John Tavares of the New York Islanders as we get closer and closer to July 1, 2018, Craig Custance of The Athletic examines the impressive list of other top names headed for unrestricted free agency next summer. Custance updates us on the current situations for each one, including interesting notes on several impending KHL free agents.
The most intriguing one out of Russia will once again be Ilya Kovalchuk, who last year wasn’t able to find a deal because of the rights New Jersey still held. Those rights will expire after the season because he’s now 35, making him free to sign with anyone in the league. Custance expects it to take “a multi-year deal in the $6 to 7 million range,” but notes that he is still seen as a potential impact player around the league. Kovalchuk has 20 goals and 36 points in 31 games for St. Petersburg this season.
- Also from The Athletic, Pierre LeBrun speaks directly to Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello about the recent Nikita Soshnikov recall, and how it was partially forced by a clause in his deal that would have allowed him to go back to Russia. Interestingly, Lamoriello tells him that even had Soshnikov been assigned to the KHL the Maple Leafs would have retained the ability to recall him at any time. Instead, the team brought him up and are excited about how he’s played this season in the minor leagues. With 12 points in 14 games for the Toronto Marlies, Soshnikov was arguably their best player so far this year.
- Marco Scandella has been fined $5,000 for slashing Patric Hornqvist last night, the maximum amount allowed under the CBA. It’s not the first time Scandella has been disciplined by the Department of Player Safety, as he was fined and suspended previously for checks to the head. Some New York fans might even be familiar with his slashing prowess (h/t @myregularface) from his days with the Minnesota Wild.
Clarke MacArthur failed his physical before the season, and according to GM Pierre Dorion on TSN radio he likely won’t be playing at all this year. MacArthur is not with the team and has moved to Florida, which could signal the disappointing end to a solid career.
MacArthur came back for the Senators just before the playoffs last year, and was an integral part of their run to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. His career was derailed by head injuries, but he was once a consistent offensive producer and reliable top-six winger. In 552 games he scored 304 points. Dorion did admit that they’d look at bringing him back in should he want to play next season, as he’s under contract for $4.65MM per season through 2019-20. More likely he’ll spend the next few seasons on long-term injured reserve.
- The Nashville Predators also have some bad news when it comes to injuries, as the team announced Yannick Weber and Scott Hartnell would each be out several weeks with their respective injuries. While Nick Bonino is back from his injured reserve stint, losing Weber and Hartnell will put some more stress on the Predators’ depth chart. Luckily, the team already relies so heavily on their top three defensemen that Weber’s role shouldn’t be too difficult to fill. While Hartnell is a bit tougher, there are several young wingers ready to step into the situation.
- The New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs could each get a boost to their forward group when they meet on Thursday night, as both Travis Zajac and Auston Matthews have a chance to play. Zajac was back at practice centering the top line for the Devils today, while Matthews was on the ice for an hour with a few teammates despite being given the day off. The Devils and Maple Leafs each have 24 points through the first part of the season, and it should be a good matchup on Thursday especially if both get their top centers back.
Carey Price says he would be in the lineup if tonight’s Montreal Canadiens game was a playoff contest. Price hasn’t played since suffering a lower-body injury in warm-up before the Canadiens’ November 2nd game, and doesn’t have a clear timeline yet.
Skating by himself once again, he’ll need to rejoin the team in practice before suiting up for a game. That slow process is being helped by the play of Charlie Lindgren, who now carries a .964 save percentage through his four starts. The 23-year old Lindgren looks ready to take on at least a backup role in the NHL, which will complicate things with Al Montoya when all three goaltenders are back to full health. Montoya is under contract through next season, but has played poorly in his small sample this year.
- Nikita Soshnikov was called up to the Maple Leafs earlier today because of his KHL clause that would have allowed him to return to Russia, but Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports that the team isn’t out of the woods in that respect just yet. The clause allows Soshnikov to request a loan to the KHL at any future point this season if they try to send him back down. That, along with the fact that he’ll become waiver-eligible after playing in three games, complicates things for the Maple Leafs. While Soshnikov has done little offensively in his 67 NHL games (14 points), he is off to a fast start in the AHL this season at nearly a point-per-game pace.
- Sean McIndoe of Sportsnet breaks down the current GMs that are feeling the heat, listing four among the “Smoke, sparks and fire alarms” group. One of those members, John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes wouldn’t have been considered in trouble a year ago when the team was going through a slow rebuild. That was accelerated this summer when they made some supposed win-now moves like bringing in Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson, but it hasn’t paid off at all. The Coyotes have still yet to win a game in regulation, and look even further away from contention than they did before giving up the seventh-overall pick this summer.
As always, we’ll keep track of all the league’s minor moves right here. Keep refreshing this throughout the day.
- The Washington Capitals have loaned Tyler Graovac to the AHL on a long-term conditioning stint. That allows the Capitals to move Graovac down without having to send him through waivers for the time being. The 24-year old forward hasn’t played since October 17th, but must be healthy enough to get back on the ice.
- Nikita Soshnikov is at practice with the Toronto Maple Leafs and has been called up to replace Frederik Gauthier. Today is when Soshnikov’s KHL out-clause kicks in, meaning he would have to be called up or risk him going back to Russia. While it doesn’t seem like Soshnikov is itching to leave North America, it’s an easy call-up to make at this point. Interestingly though, if Soshnikov plays three more games in the NHL he will lose his waiver-exempt status.
- The Los Angeles Kings have recalled Andrew Crescenzi from the AHL, giving him a chance to get into his first NHL game. The 25-year old Crescenzi has been in the Kings’ system for several years but has yet to get a sniff of the NHL lineup. While there is no guarantee this time around, it at least will provide him with a big-league paycheck for a few days.
- After allowing five goals in the third period last night, the St. Louis Blues have made a change up front. The team has assigned Beau Bennett to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. Bennett has played six games for the Blues this year but has yet to register a single point. The 25-year old forward last cleared waivers on September 28th, but hasn’t used up the allotted 30 active roster days (or 10 games) yet, and thus can be sent down without clearing again.
The Toronto Maple Leafs started the season scoring tons of points, but still finding it hard to close out games as their defense and their goaltending was under constant scrutiny. Things looked even worse last week when they team wrapped up its road trip and allowed 11 goals in two games against the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings combined. However, the tide seems to be turning and suddenly the goaltending seems to have shaken their rust off, according to Eric Koreen of The Athletic (subscription required).
The scribe points out that starting goaltender Frederik Andersen has steadied the ship on their recent three-game homestand in which Andersen has allowed just seven goals in three games, a much stronger percentage that previously. With a save percentage hovering well under .900, Andersen seems to have settled down in net this week with a .930 save percentage. Even backup Curtis McElhinney got into the act, putting up a strong performance Saturday against the Boston Bruins, stopping 38 of 39 shots for the win.
Koreen admits that Toronto’s defense has improved, but the goaltenders have had to make quite a few big saves during the games, suggesting that if the goaltenders can keep it up, the team should find itself continually atop of the Eastern Conference standings.
- Howard Berger of Between the Posts praises the offensive play of Toronto Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly. He notes that Rielly is the unsung hero of the team as he has quietly put up 16 points in 19 games so far this year. Only John Klingberg, Kevin Shattenkirk and Erik Karlsson have more points for a defenseman that Rielly, who is on pace to amass 74 points on the year, which would be the fourth-highest number for a Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner. Rielly’s highest points total in his career is 36 points, which he attained in the 2015-16 season.
- James Mirtle of The Athletic writes that the Maple Leafs have high hopes that Mitch Marner can get back on track after a quality performance against the Boston Bruins on Friday night. He points out that after 55 games last year, Marner was 22nd in scoring, but then got injured and has never really seemed the same since then. In fact, he’s had just five goals in his last 39 games from that point on. He finished the season with 19 goals and 61 points, but has struggled this season. However, with Auston Matthews down, Marner stepped up and has started to show his skills on the ice. He added his second goal of the season last night, suggesting he might be ready to be a key contributor to the team going forward.
- Lance Hornby of The Toronto Sun writes that the Maple Leafs are beginning to find some success against goaltender Tuukka Rask, best known to be one of the worst trades the team has made in a long time. Rask’s rights (he was a first-round pick in 2005) were traded back in 2006 in exchange for goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who started one year for Toronto and put up a 2.99 GAA that year before taking a backup role the next year. The team, however, has had some success against the now-veteran, 10 years later, as they have bested him in their last four meetings, dating back to last year.
The New Jersey Devils have activated Kyle Palmieri from injured reserve, and could get him back in the lineup for the first time since October 20th. Palmieri had been dealing with a lower-body injury, which derailed what was an excellent start to the season. The 26-year old had seven points in his first seven games, and looked well on his way to a third straight 50-point season.
To make room, the Devils have moved Marcus Johansson to IR with his concussion issues. His stint is retroactive to November 1st when he last played, meaning he is eligible to come off as soon as he’s ready to play. Johansson left after crashing hard into the boards on his first shift of a game against the Vancouver Canucks, and hasn’t played since.
- Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley has updated Rasmus Ristolainen’s injury, now calling the defender week-to-week in his recovery. The team should get Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges back soon, but missing Ristolainen for any length of time is a big hit to the Sabres defense corps. The 23-year old was originally day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but it’s unclear now when he’ll return to the team. With Buffalo sitting at 5-8-2 on the season, a loss of their best defenseman for very long could put them in an impossible hole.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have Auston Matthews at practice again as he continues to deal with his upper-body injury, but there were also two conspicuous absences. Jake Gardiner and Frederik Andersen were both given what have been called maintenance days according to Kristen Shilton of TSN. Andersen took a blow to his blocking hand in last night’s game that was reminiscent of the injury to Roberto Luongo earlier this year, but stayed in the game to earn the Maple Leafs the win. For a team that was so injury-free last season, any lengthy absence from a single member of that trio would be something new to overcome. They’ll be careful not to aggravate any minor injury.