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The Canadiens have the speed and skill, now they need the will to win – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Two years ago, coming off one of the worst seasons in Montreal Canadiens history, the leading hockey operators made a conscious decision to steer away from their previous focuses. Size and grit would now be replaced by speed and ingenuity.

After winning the third overall pick, Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins had a plethora of talents to choose from, most notably Keith Tkachuk’s younger son; Brady. A Canadiens team of previous vintages would have jumped at that opportunity. “A big winger with a physical edge and a mean streak, ça c’est la classe!”

But after seeing Michael McCarron slide further and further away from being an impactful NHL player and having had a shocking number of draft picks pan out to nothing at all during Bergevin’s tenure, it was time to try a different strategy. Size is great and physicality can make smaller opponents tremble, but in an increasingly fast-paced game, skating and pace were becoming the league’s new catchwords. Many of the bigger players Montreal had brought into their lineup, either via trade or through the draft, couldn’t keep up with this faster style of play. It just does not matter if you are stronger than an ox if you are too slow to use your enormous frame to run over opponents.

The Habs needed to get faster and more skilled. They also needed to get younger. Apparently, Claude Julien (a notorious old school-hockey coach) agreed with those statements as well. Before the draft, Bergevin cut ties with his very first draft pick as the team’s general manager. It is easy to read too much into that now, over two years later, but there is still some symbolism to that. It was time to admit mistakes, clean house, and hit the reset button. In return for Alex Galchenyuk, the Arizona Coyotes sent Montreal Max Domi; a gritty player with a mean streak, who may be on the shorter side, but in return was both quick and had above-average playmaking skills.

When the draft came around, Bergevin and Timmins selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi, to many Habs-fans’ despair. Kotkaniemi was lanky and inexperienced as a centerman, meaning that he was nowhere near a sure bet. He could play a quick game though. He was smart and creative with the potential to become a future top-six centre. And boy, did Montreal need a center in 2018….

Later that year, Bergevin traded away disgruntled captain Max Pacioretty for another centre prospect in Nick Suzuki, with Tomas Tatar and a second-round-pick as sweeteners. Suzuki was also on the smaller side, but he had a high hockey IQ with playmaking abilities to match.

Over the course of a few months, Bergevin had changed the complexion of the Habs’ lineup, especially with regard to the future, but in the present as well. Montreal would change their style of play to focus more on individual skill and skating pace. With such a tactic, they would create scoring chances as well as huff and puff their opponents into possible mistakes.

And yes, during these last two seasons, Montreal has played faster and, I would argue, better than previous years. However, better play only gets you so far. If you can’t score and have trouble keeping the defensive focus razor-sharp for 60 minutes a night, you will get punished by teams such as the Philadelphia Flyers. These are the teams that rely heavily on the very hockey that Montreal chose to abandon during that makeover two years ago.

In the end, no one will remember that Montreal had the second-highest number of shots on goal per game during the 2019-20 regular season, or that they were leading the Flyers in goals (6-5) after four played games. What matters in the end is to grind out a win, even if it isn’t a pretty one. Philadelphia has defended admirably and deserve to be where they are. My personal hopes are that this young, skillful Montreal team learns from this playoff experience, so that they as well can combine their pace and creativity with the grit that is necessary to deliver the kind of wins the Flyers are posting.

I don’t believe that Bergevin should go out shopping for size and physicality. I believe that he has made the right choice in his change of direction. What we instead need is for the current players to learn what is necessary to win when the stakes are high; for the skillful players the team already possesses to become more gritty and develop a win-at-all-costs mentality.

Great teams don’t need to be perfect to win a playoff series, they grind it out anyway. Unfortunately, this young Montreal team just isn’t at that stage in their development yet.

But maybe next year….

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Two-time Stanley Cup winner Bob Nevin dies at 82 – ESPN

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Bob Nevin, a fan favorite who won two Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs before a successful run as captain of the New York Rangers, has died. He was 82.

The NHL said he died early Monday but did not give a cause.

Nevin played 1,128 NHL games with Toronto, New York, Minnesota and Los Angeles, totaling 726 points (307 goals, 419 assists) while compiling just 211 penalty minutes.

“His honest, two-way play and leadership earned him the respect and admiration of teammates and fans alike,” the Rangers said on Twitter.

Nevin, one of the first NHL players to wear contact lenses, was part of one of hockey’s more surreal moments. During a 1962 game with Toronto in Chicago, he lost a lens. Time was called, and players and officials dropped to their knees to scour the ice, looking for the wayward lens. It never turned up.

He played his first full NHL season in 1960-61, scoring 21 goals as a rookie and finishing runner-up to Maple Leafs teammate Dave Keon in the Calder Trophy voting.

Nevin helped the Maple Leafs win Stanley Cup titles in 1962 and 1963 before being dealt to the Rangers along with Arnie Brown, Bill Collins, Dick Duff and Rod Seiling in a blockbuster trade that sent star winger Andy Bathgate and forward Don McKenney to Toronto.

While Bathgate helped the Maple Leafs win another championship in 1964, Nevin became an important part of the Rangers, serving as captain of the team from 1965 to 1971.

He helped the underachieving club end a four-year playoff drought in 1967. He led the Rangers to their first series win in 21 years in 1971, when New York beat the Leafs 4-2 in the quarterfinals.

Nevin was dealt to the North Stars before the 1971-72 season and spent two seasons in Minnesota before joining Los Angeles. His career was rejuvenated in his three seasons with the Kings. He had his highest-scoring campaign in his next-to-last NHL season — 31 goals and 41 assists with Los Angeles in 1974-75.

Nevin joined the World Hockey Association’s Edmonton Oilers for the 1976-77 season but broke a collarbone 13 games into the season and retired.

Nevin was from South Porcupine, Ontario, and came to the Maple Leafs via junior hockey’s Toronto Marlboros. He lived in the Toronto area after his 19-year career.

“Bob was ever-present at Leafs games and within the alumni community,” the Maple Leafs said on Twitter.

Survivors include his wife, Linda.

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Former Leaf, Rangers captain Nevin dead at 82 – TSN

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TORONTO — Bob Nevin, a fan favourite who won two Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs before a successful run as captain of the New York Rangers, has died. He was 82.

Nevin died early Monday, according to the NHL. No cause of death was given.

Nevin played 1,128 NHL games with Toronto, New York, Minnesota and Los Angeles, putting up 726 points (307 goals, 419 assists) while compiling just 211 penalty minutes.

The Maple Leafs, Rangers, Kings were among the organizations offering condolences on social media.

“The Rangers are saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Nevin,” the team posted on Twitter. “A captain and fan favourite during his tenure with NYR, his honest, two-way play and leadership earned him the respect and admiration of teammates and fans alike. Our thoughts are with Bob’s wife, Linda, and his family.”

Nevin, from South Porcupine, Ont., came to the Maple Leafs via junior hockey’s Toronto Marlboros, where he played four seasons and helped the team to a Memorial Cup title in 1956.

He played his first full NHL season in 1960-61, scoring 21 goals as a rookie and finishing runner-up to Maple Leafs teammate Dave Keon in the Calder Trophy voting.

Nevin helped the Leafs win Stanley Cup titles in 1962 and 1963 before being dealt to the Rangers along with Arnie Brown, Bill Collins, Dick Duff and Rod Seiling in a blockbuster trade that sent star winger Andy Bathgate and forward Don McKenney to Toronto.

While Bathgate helped the Maple Leafs win another championship in 1964, Nevin became an important part of the Rangers, serving as captain of the team from 1965 to 1971.

He helped the underachieving club end a four-year playoff drought in 1967, and led the Rangers to their first series win in 21 years in 1971, when New York beat the Leafs 4-2 in the quarterfinals.

The 2009 book “100 Ranger Greats” listed Nevin at No. 51.

Nevin was dealt to the North Stars before the 1971-72 season and spent two seasons in Minnesota before joining Los Angeles.

His career was rejuvenated in his three seasons with the Kings. He had his highest-scoring campaign in his penultimate NHL season, putting up 31 goals and 41 assists with Los Angeles in 1974-75.

Nevin joined the World Hockey Association’s Edmonton Oilers for the 1976-77 season, but suffered a broken collarbone 13 game into the campaign and retired.

Nevin, who the Maple Leafs had at No. 64 on their list of 100 all-time players released for their 2016 centennial season, lived in the Toronto area after his 19-year playing career.

“Bob was ever-present at Leafs games and within the Alumni community,” the Maple Leafs said in a Twitter post. “Our deepest sympathies go out to Bob’s wife Linda.”

Nevin, one of the first NHL players to wear contact lenses, was part of one of hockey’s more surreal moments when he lost a lens during Toronto’s 1962 game against the Blackhawks in Chicago. Time was called, and players and officials dropped to their knees to scour the ice looking for the wayward lens. It never turned up.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.

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What does and does not need to happen for the Leafs to land Pietrangelo in free agency – Pension Plan Puppets

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Cap Friendly has been overrun with Leafs fans this weekend as reports indicate contract negotiations between the Alex Pietrangelo and the St. Louis Blues have deteriorated. It’s becoming more and more likely Pietrangelo will enter free agency on October 9th, with the Toronto Maple Leafs deeply interested. If the improbable happens and he signs, I just want to say that Justin Faulk will never pay for a drink in the GTA ever again.

In the grand scheme of things, the odds Pietrangelo signs on the virtual dotted line in October are low. The Blues can cave in at any moment and give into his contract demands, another team could come in with a better offer, or a meteor could smash into the Earth (we’re on pace for one before the end of September at the rate 2020 is going).

But what if he does? What will the Leafs need to do in order to ice a salary cap compliant and competitive team for next season?

What doesn’t need to happen: Trading Frederik Andersen

The Leafs goalie situation is, for the most part, independent of finding the cap space for Pietrangelo. If the Leafs do make a trade for someone like Matt Murray, Darcy Kuemper, Alexander Georgiev, or sign Robin Lehner, the team’s cap space will go up or down, but it won’t be done because the Leafs need the space. It’ll be because Kyle Dubas pulled the trigger on a goalie for the medium term so he didn’t have to deal with it next season when Andersen is a free agent.

Trading for a cheaper goalie would make signing Pietrangelo easier, as they’ll be able to keep one of their middle-class contracts, but it’s not necessary. Plus, personally, spending more on a more proven starting goalie is more valuable than an average 3C, especially on this team.

What does need to happen: Trading Andreas Johnsson

This move is almost a given if the Leafs are interested in acquiring any defenseman of merit onto the team. Andreas Johnsson simply does not move the needle enough on a team needs as much bang for their buck when it comes to offense beyond the top-four. Ilya Mikheyev has seemingly passed him by on the left side, Nick Robertson is blazing towards doing the same. As a winger, he just doesn’t provide enough.

I don’t think there’s much debate on this topic from the community from what I’ve seen.

What doesn’t need to happen: Trading Morgan Rielly

The money doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t need to happen. The Leafs don’t have someone on the right side who can play the minutes Rielly does and provide the elite puck-moving offense from the defense. Offensively, he can’t realistically be replaced. Where Rielly has lacked statistically, it’s been defensively next to a crop of some of the worst defensive players in the league during Rielly’s time in it. Ron Hainsey was the best one, and replacing him with Alex Pietrangelo has a strong chance of creating an elite top pair this team needs.

Give this pair two seasons together and let’s see what they can do. And at the end of it all, the Leafs will be out of Phil Kessel’s retained salary and Jack Campbell’s contract, giving them adequate space to give Rielly a respectable couple million dollars raise. He won’t command more than Pietrangelo (reportedly in the $8-9 million range) and that’s something the Leafs can do, even under a flat cap. and if the Leafs need to choose between Rielly and an aged Jake Muzzin, they can spend the assets and move Muzzin out too.

There are options for the Leafs to have their Rielly cake (phrasing) and eat it too. It doesn’t need to be solved right now.

Breathe, Rielly is staying.

What does* need to happen: Trading Alex Kerfoot
* probably

I’ve laid out a scenario for the Leafs below to sign Pietrangelo and fill out their roster using internal RFAs and trading both Johnsson and Kerfoot for picks or prospects. I have no idea what the return for those players will be — especially if here are signed skaters coming back — but it’ll definitely look something like this.

With Kerfoot, there is a tiny bit of space that could be made to keep him on the team for a second season. It would require a major squeeze to the likes of RFAs Ilya Mikheyev, Evan Rodrigues. and Travis Dermott (who I will get to later) and likely the trading of Pierre Engvall. All of those things are difficult and cruel, but those players are replaceable for the most part. I think it’s worthwhile to try, but it would be very hard and callous. Brigstew has an article coming out on this that I won’t spoil, but replacing Kerfoot for cheap is a very reasonable proposition (spoiler above).

What Kerfoot doesn’t do is provide enough value on the third line to downgrade top of the lineup players like Andersen, Rielly, or even Zach Hyman. On the ladder of expendable players on the Leafs, Kerfoot and his contract is at the bottom of that group making $2-6 million. Maybe Justin Holl gets bumped for Dermott, that could be very possible.

There are a lot of different avenues the Leafs can take to ice a competitive lineup next season bolstered by one of the top defensemen in the world, however none of them require a major piece to be news. No offense to Andreas and Alexander.

Top Heavy

If the improbable does happen and the above moves do need to happen, the Leafs will finally be what they’ve been accused of by so many people: top heavy. They’ll have two elite forward lines, one elite defense pair, and hopefully a top-10 goalie in Frederik Andersen (at least for this year). The defense will finally look respectable after decades of being bottom-10 in the league, I think I quite like all three pairings (plus whoever else they have as a scratch or on the Marlies. The bottom-six is where they’ll be weakest.

Unless the Leafs can get above-expected seasons from some of their players — Robertson gets old and better, Engvall gets out of his shooting bender, and Alexander Barabanov becomes a worthwhile middle-six player — the third and fourth lines will basically be two fourth lines. Similar to what the Marlies did, I wouldn’t mind an offensively focused and a defensively focused group to maximize both units.

I don’t know if I trust the Leafs top two lines to carry the team every night, but they’ll have to if this is the way the Leafs go in this direction. It’s risky and scary, but it also gets you Alex Pietrangelo. Is that worth it?

Poll

What would you do as GM?

  • 69%

    Bring me Pietro, we need to solve the 1RD problem

    (816 votes)

  • 30%

    Cheap and cheerful, build on depth

    (357 votes)



1173 votes total

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