Connect with us

Sports

LeBrun: What rival NHL executives are saying about the simmering Maple Leafs powder keg

Published

 on

TORONTO — The problem, of course, is that you can’t evaluate the Maple Leafs’ start to the 2022-23 season in a vacuum.

Whether it’s fair or not, the team’s 4-4-2 record isn’t just about the first 10 games of the season.

It’s about a powder keg that has always been sitting there because, for this organization as it’s currently constructed, this is the do-or-die season.

Advertisement

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

It’s about general manager Kyle Dubas not being offered a contract extension this past summer, which came after the team lost in the first round of the playoffs — which came after other first-round fumbles in the years prior. No one’s panicking about the Lightning’s so-so start. For obvious reasons. When the Leafs decided not to extend Dubas, it put everyone in the organization on notice, including the players. And they can’t help but feel it, whether they admit it or not.

And it’s about Auston Matthews, who likely has to decide by the end of this season if he intends to extend with the Leafs. His current contract expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2023-24 season. I still think he will want to re-sign with the Leafs. But the point is, that’s another major franchise decision looming, and wouldn’t that decision be easier to make if the team finally does something in the playoffs?

There’s so much riding on this season for so many people, and from the offseason into camp, people from other organizations relayed to me that they could sense that tension in the Toronto front office. And I mean, it’s understandable. People’s jobs are on the line.

What I didn’t see coming, and maybe I should have given what’s at stake, was this level of drama so early this season. I figured this team would more or less steamroll through the regular season, finish first or second in the Atlantic, and then we would get set for the playoff drama, regardless of the final outcome.

But since training camp, head coach Sheldon Keefe has been hinting at his level of concern through his actions, whether it’s dropping an F-bomb during a drill in camp or directing a number of postgame comments at his players right from opening night in Montreal.

Some of his comments early this season have certainly been noted around the league.

Advertisement

I asked Keefe during his daily media availability on the morning of an Oct. 20 game against the Stars if he intended to approach the season this way or if it was spur-of-the-moment reactions.

He responded: “Well, it’s a little bit of both. It’s a combination of the fact that we had talked before the season began about the importance of being really consistent and having our game, as often as we can, look like ourselves. Right from Game 1, that wasn’t the case. Even though you have a lot of good things happening in preseason and you got a lot of confidence going, you go out there and it doesn’t look that way.

“For a team that’s been together as long as ours has — I know we have new players and stuff like that — but obviously the identity of our team and the core of our team has remained the same. So there’s an expectation that you would start at a really high level. And you don’t. So that was disappointing.”

Specifically, at the time, he was referring to losses to the Habs and Coyotes.

“We’ve been talking about not leaving those points on the table and it just so happens (with) the schedule, we get two opponents there that were the type of teams we struggled with last season,” Keefe continued. “And the expectation (is) that we’ve improved there, and we didn’t. So, I think (the sharp criticisms of players are) more just a symptom of that than anything.

“I don’t know if I had a game plan to how I was going to approach the early going here other than to say that there’s a high expectation that our group would continue to grow and have a good start to the season (and), particularly in those types of games, we would be better. And we haven’t been.”

First of all, I appreciate the honesty in that answer.

And since then, there have been losses to San Jose and Anaheim, which presumably would again be the type of teams Keefe was referring to.

Advertisement

What I make of Keefe’s edgy behavior with his players so early in the season is that he’s trying to get the foundation as right as possible for playoff time as opposed to waiting until then to raise the decibel level.

Which I get. Don’t cram last minute for your final exam. Do the work ahead of time.

But in the process, he obviously risks alienating his top players, as our intrepid Leafs beat writer Jonas Siegel wondered about after the Ducks loss and the Mitch Marner benching heard around the world.

All of which, of course, has Toronto media and fans alike wondering how hot a seat Keefe is on.

One thing to consider: Not that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is counting its pennies, but remember that MLSE is still paying Mike Babcock this season through June 30 for one last year at $5.8 million. Keefe makes just under $2 million in salary for each of this season and next. If you fire Keefe, you’re paying two guys just south of $7.8 million this season not to coach. Gulp. It’s MLSE, so maybe that’s a drop in the bucket, but then also add on whatever salary is attached to a new coach, especially if it’s a new coach with a brand name. MLSE would be in double digits overall this year between the new coach and the two former coaches.

For example, Barry Trotz isn’t coming to Toronto for anything less than $5 million per year, in my mind anyway. Speaking to Trotz back in September, it was clear that while he eventually wanted to return to an NHL bench, he wasn’t quite ready yet. He needs more time to attend to things in his personal life. My understanding is that Trotz wouldn’t be ready to entertain an NHL return until December at the earliest.

In any case, I don’t believe a coaching change is the first thing the Leafs should look at if things don’t improve.

Instead, I agree with our Leafs columnist James Mirtle that the first thing I would look at, as difficult as it is so far away from the March 3 trade deadline, is making a transaction to help the roster.

I get that it’s hard in a flat cap world this early in the season, but look at those two Vancouver deals last week. Nothing big, but they’re tweaks that could help the team.

Personally? I think it’s too early for this level of panic in the Toronto market. I think this team will get going.

I reached out to several rival front-office executives to see if they agreed, asking them for their honest takes on the Leafs. Some politely declined to comment because it’s too early, but others responded (via text message and under the condition of anonymity, of course):

Team exec No. 1: “Playing .500 10 games in and two points out of a playoff spot … let’s not panic here!! They obviously need to figure it out but way too early to panic.”

Team exec No. 2: “I would be a little bit nervous if I were them. … They haven’t looked great so far. I still think they are very likely to make the playoffs, but I don’t think it is guaranteed, and the bar for them is higher than that.”

Team exec No. 3: “There are 72 games to go, lots of runway. That group will get going.”

Team exec No. 4: “It’s too early to panic. The games I’ve watched, it really was how inconsistent they were during the game. They looked great then just awful. I thought before the season goaltending was a concern but (Ilya) Samsonov has been solid. Offensively they have a top-five team in the league maybe even top-three. Defensively they need to defend as a five-man unit and take pride in it. Also losing to all these weak teams just shows me they don’t have a killer instinct. They go into games thinking it’s going to be easy. So that’s on the coaches to get them ready. With all that, I totally think they will be fine.”

The reality of the situation is that the kind of major changes that some Leafs fans are clamoring for don’t normally happen in-season. Those who want Dubas fired, for example, and want a new GM in place, to me that’s an offseason project when you have access to a larger field of candidates.

And more profound roster changes are easier to pull off in June than they are midseason. There are just more teams willing to talk about things when there’s more flexibility.

That’s not saying changes aren’t coming if the season goes off the rails. They most likely will be.

But I still think the likeliest scenario is the Leafs get back on track and we wait until springtime for that true final exam for the organization, one way or another.

(Top photo: Debora Robinson / NHLI via Getty Images)

Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Pettersson’s revenge: Canucks keep surprising with ‘inexplicable’ comeback vs. Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca

Published

 on


<!–

–>

* #userInformationForm *

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

<!––>
* traditionalSignIn_emailAddress *

Password

<!––>

* traditionalSignIn_signInButton *
<!–

–>
* traditionalSignIn_createButton *

* /userInformationForm *

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Darnell Nurse sounds off on Edmonton Oilers slow starts after Stuart Skinner faces 50 shots – TSN

Published

 on


Another slow start for the Edmonton Oilers wasn’t their undoing against the Washington Capitals in Monday’s 3-2 loss, but it certainly didn’t help either.

The Oilers were outshot 22-12 in the opening frame, with Stuart Skinner turning aside all 22 in his eventual 47-save performance in the loss.

“We come in here and we talk about it every day,” Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said of his team’s starts. “We sit here after the game, talk about it over and over and over. … We want to have good starts each and every night but, you know, we’re sitting here and it’s a part of our game. We’re almost a quarter of the way through the season.

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

“The more we just talk away and pester at it, we need to just show up and play. Relax, pin our ears back and come out on the on the attack.”

The Oilers were outshot 50-30 on Monday, including 19-7 in the second period, when Skinner allowed two goals.

“We weren’t as quick and physical as we wanted to be in the defensive zone,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Our goalie stood tall. We’re 2-2 going into the third period. We made a critical error, and it ended up in the back of our net.”

Skinner Unfazed as Oilers Allow 50 Shots

Skinner, who has moved into the starting role ahead of Jack Campbell over the past month, saw his record drop to 7-6 on the season, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.93 goals-against average.

The 50 shots faced against the Capitals were a season high for Skinner, who said the early barrage helped put him the zone. 

“I think if you get a few [early] chances on you and make all the saves, it’s a little bit of a confidence booster,” Skinner said. “They got on the power play and I got a few shots on the power play, so after that I was ready to go.”

The loss dropped the Oilers to 14-12-0 on the season as the team currently sits in the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference. 

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

‘We need to be better’: Oilers continue to fight slow starts, costly turnovers – Sportsnet.ca

Published

 on


<!–

–>

* #userInformationForm *

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

<!––>
* traditionalSignIn_emailAddress *

Password

<!––>

* traditionalSignIn_signInButton *
<!–

–>
* traditionalSignIn_createButton *

* /userInformationForm *

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending