Connect with us

Sports

Mirtle: Why the Maple Leafs may need a trade to end their latest tailspin

Published

 on

It’s hard to believe we’re back here in panic land again so soon in Toronto.

Although maybe it shouldn’t be.

There’s been a tendency early this season by some to write the Maple Leafs struggles off as a redux version of what happened last year, when they started slow and then played at a 119-point pace from Nov. 1 onwards.

Advertisement

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

Only Colorado was better over that stretch.

There are a number of differences between that slow start and this one, however. For one, Auston Matthews isn’t coming off a significant surgery. For another, goaltending hasn’t really been the issue the way it was a year ago, when Michael Hutchinson was for some reason still starting games.

Even more significantly, I would argue, the Leafs have faced a very weak schedule — one of the easiest leaguewide so far — and their underlying results in terms of puck possession and expected goals have been extremely mediocre.

They’re not scoring. They’re not defending well. They’re not controlling play and simply getting unlucky. They’re just really, to put it charitably, meh right now.

The easy portion of the Leafs’ schedule is effectively over as of this weekend, too, with a back-to-back against Boston and Carolina looming. The rest of the way, the Leafs have one of the most difficult runs of any team.

If they can’t fix some of what ails them relatively quickly, major changes are going to be needed.

That’s not really news if you’re following the latest firestorms here in the city. Various media outlets and betting sites have had Sheldon Keefe on the hot seat from the start of the campaign, and this latest four-game losing streak has only dialled that talk up to 11.

And I get it. The coach is often the first to go in situations like this. They’re more disposable than stars making a lot of money, especially in a tight cap environment where roughly two-thirds of the league is either into long-term injured reserve or within a half million of the $82.5 million ceiling.

Keefe hasn’t been perfect in his tenure with the Leafs, but he has a .669 points percentage — one of the highest in league history — and led them to a 115-point campaign a year ago. He also isn’t responsible for a lot of the mess on the roster, including the lack of scoring options in the bottom six and the lack of defensive depth with Jake Muzzin, Timothy Liljegren and Jordie Benn all out.

Advertisement

I believe they should give him more time to right the ship. And they should give him more to work with, too.

This brings us to the main alternative to firing the coach in early November — a trade.

While the start of the season isn’t the best time to be scouring the NHL’s trade market, and the Leafs are going to be dealing from a position of weakness given their losing skid, GM Kyle Dubas does have one thing in his favour. With Muzzin on LTIR — quite possibly for the rest of the season based on what I’m hearing — Toronto can put a large portion of his $5.625 million salary to work on the open market.

Some of that will have to be allocated to Liljegren, who just played a couple of games with the Marlies on the weekend as part of a rehab assignment. But even in a worst-case scenario, the Leafs will have an extra $4 million in financial flexibility, something that the vast majority of the teams likely in the playoff race simply do not.

In a best-case scenario, Dubas could look to trade some of his underperforming players as part of any move, freeing up even more salary room.

Some of the top candidates to go to shake things up could include Justin Holl ($2 million), Pierre Engvall ($2.25 million), Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5 million) or Nicolas Aube-Kubel ($1 million).

If they keep losing, perhaps some even bigger names are in the mix.

Even without subtracting a significant roster piece, however, the Leafs are now in a position to be players for a difference maker in a deal — assuming that some of what they give up is made up of prospects or picks.

(D. Ross Cameron / USA Today)

Jakob Chychrun is one name out there, although given he’s almost exclusively played the left side and with his recent injury history, there are some buyer-beware factors there. (The asking price from the Coyotes is also sky high.)

John Klingberg is an interesting idea, with the Ducks in freefall. He is only on a one-year deal and could help with Toronto’s puck-moving issues on the right side.

Advertisement

Other pending UFA types the Leafs could target? Vladislav Gavrikov in Columbus is very intriguing, given how strong he is defensively. Damon Severson, Scott Mayfield, Shayne Gostisbehere, Dmitry Kulikov, Justin Braun, Kevin Shattenkirk and Troy Stecher are all potential rentals, too, and all of them can play the right side.

Defence is top of mind with how badly some of the Leafs blueliners are wobbling, but they could also deploy their cap space to find scoring help for the bottom-six forward group or try to add another goaltender to upgrade on third-stringer Erik Kallgren.

With the injuries they’ve had early on, the Leafs have been icing a lineup that is making $10 million or so under the cap on some nights. Recouping at least some of that by spending Muzzin’s salary is going to be vital within the coming months.

The Leafs have had some luck making these midseason deals and getting a shot in the arm, going back to when they added Muzzin almost four years ago. They also acquired Jack Campbell in a similarly tricky situation and beefed up their blue line twice a year ago by bringing in Ilya Lyubushkin and Mark Giordano.

It can be done.

But in addition to improving the roster, the other positive about going the trade route is the message that it sends, especially if it involves sending out a long-time teammate, even someone who plays down the lineup. The message is, in part, that the Leafs aren’t going to simply fire the coach at the first sign of trouble.

It’s also a message that more deals could be coming, should they continue to falter.

Because, frankly, this very much looks like a group of players who could use some of that outside motivation.

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

Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Palestinian flag waved on pitch as Morocco celebrates historic World Cup win

Published

 on

Several players of Morocco’s national team unfurled a Palestinian flag on the pitch while celebrating their historic World Cup win over Spain in Qatar on Tuesday.

World Cup quarterfinals: Qualifying teams, fixtures and schedule

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

 

Following a dramatic penalty shootout, Morocco became the first Arab side to make it to the World Cup quarterfinals.

This is the second time Moroccan players have raised the Palestinian flag after winning a match. Morocco’s player Jawad El Yamiq raised the Palestinian flag while celebrating his country’s 2-1 victory over Canada last week.

Moroccan football fans were also seen waving a “Free Palestine” banner during the North African country’s 2-0 victory over Belgium in Group E earlier in the tournament.

Morocco's team makes a group photo on the pitch, holding the Palestinian flag after beating Spain.

Regulations from FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, prohibit the use of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be political, offensive and/or discriminatory in nature.

“The promotion or announcement of political or religious messages or any other political or religious actions, inside or in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, by any means, is strictly prohibited before, during and after matches,” FIFA regulations state.

Israeli journalists experience chilly reception at Qatar World Cup

 

Football authorities have occasionally issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside grounds.

The flag bearing move was hailed by Arabs on social media, as users from Libya, Morroco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia celebrated the Moroccan win.

Videos on social media also show Palestinians celebrating Morocco’s win in the streets of several cities in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

With CBT 'not an obstacle,' Blue Jays can avoid Judge drama with Guerrero and Bichette – 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

Matt Murray Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Dallas Stars

Published

 on

DALLAS (AP) — Matt Murray made a season-high 44 saves and Mitch Marner extended his Toronto-record point streak to 20 games with an early assist as the Maple Leafs beat the Dallas Stars 4-0 on Tuesday night.

John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Rasmus Sandin and Alexander Kerfoot scored for the surging Maple Leafs, who are 9-0-3 in their last 12 games. They pulled within three points of first-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.

Dallas went 0 for 7 on the power play despite 17 shots on goal, including a four-minute double minor and a 5-on-3 for 1:38.

Toronto blocked 27 shots in its first shutout this season, and the Stars missed the net on 22 attempts.

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

“Big thanks to the guys in front who did a heck of a job defensively tonight against a really dangerous team,” said Murray, who was acquired from Ottawa last summer and shares time in net with fellow newcomer Ilya Samsonov.

Murray is 6-0-2 since missing 15 games with an adductor injury following his initial start of the season.

“He was perfect,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Came up with huge saves in big moments. Obviously, the number of penalties we took today could have been a big problem.”

The Stars were shut out for the first time this season and are tied with Winnipeg atop the Central Division with 33 points. The Jets have two games in hand.

Jake Oettinger stopped 25 shots.

It was the NHL’s first game featuring two players with point streaks of at least 18 games.

The Stars’ Jason Robertson saw his run end at 18, a Dallas record. Robertson leads the NHL with 23 goals.

Marner got an assist when his wrist shot was stopped but Tavares tapped in the rebound 4:51 in for the first of two first-period Toronto goals.

“Like I’ve been saying, it’s not a one-man effort,” Marner said. “Just trying to go out there and buzz.”

Matthews took possession after his wrist shot was stopped and circled back into the slot to score at 17:36.

Sandin collected a loose puck just outside the crease and scored at 12:19 of the second period for a 3-0 lead.

Kerfoot added an empty-net goal with 3:53 remaining, rolling the puck in from center ice. It was his first goal since a 3-2 overtime win at home over the Stars on Oct. 20.

Toronto played most of the game with only five defensemen. Victor Mete left with a lower-body injury after playing just 3:04 of the first period. Mete is expected to miss at least a few games.

During part of Dallas’ 5-on-3 late in the second, the Maple Leafs were further handcuffed when Marner had to give up a broken stick. He still managed to block a shot.

Maple Leafs forward Semyon Der-Arguchintsev made his NHL debut, playing 7:16.

FAMILY AFFAIR

It was the second and final scheduled meeting this season matching Robertson against his younger brother, Maple Leafs forward Nick Robertson.

Their mother, Mercedes, traveled from Michigan to attend the game. She followed her custom in these brotherly matchups by wearing the home team’s sweater and the visitors’ cap.

Nick Robertson scored his only two goals of the season to date in the teams’ previous meeting — including the overtime winner.

“He wasn’t too happy about that,” Nick said of his brother when they visited after that game.

POWER OUTAGE

Dallas is 0 for 11 on the power play in its past two games after ranking second in the NHL at 30% going into Sunday’s game, a 6-5 shootout loss to Minnesota.

“We had some great looks,” captain Jamie Benn said of Tuesday’s effort. “We’ve got to find a way.”

UP NEXT

Maple Leafs: Host the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

Stars: Host the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

___

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending