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NHL

Picture it: You’re at the gym for a game-day workout, visions of an afternoon nap dancing in your head, and suddenly Duthie’s beaming face (appearing in the flat screen mounted to the wall) is informing you that you, yes you, have been traded to the (sigh) Edmonton Oilers. As the blood rushes in your ears you sort of miss what the return is; and besides, you’re suddenly distracted by the onslaught of messages your iPhone is now receiving. Everybody and their cousin wants to know how you’re feeling about becoming an Oiler. Quick man, defuse those t-bombs! But what did you expect? It’s trade deadline time after all.

David Clarkson

It’s not time to sound the alarm, but the sense of urgency is heightened across Toronto.

The Leafs are still firmly in a playoff spot and, other than Detroit (who has three games in hand on the Leafs, but are also missing Zetterberg and, for the moment, Datsyuk), the 4+ point gap the Leafs have on everyone else is a much tougher hill to climb than it looks because of the “three point era” in the NHL. It’s extremely tough to make up ground at this stage of the season in this day and age.

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Although the Leafs went 1-2 last week, it really was one of their better weeks of hockey this season. They handily outplayed LA but just weren’t able to bury, and they laid a beating on the first place Hawks. It’s true that St. Louis completely outclassed them, but two pretty dominant games against two of the top five teams in the league is really impressive. The Leafs have to build on that as a positive.

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Brendan Shanahan and the NHL have come down on yet another Maple Leaf; this time for a cheap, blindside hit to St. Louis Blues player, Vladimir Sobotka, by David Clarkson.

Ruling Video

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Phil Kessel vs LA Kings

The Maple Leafs played their best game of the season, but were dealt a taste of their own medicine with a sublime goaltending effort by Martin Jones, ultimately thwarting a plethora of fantastic chances and a game full of uncharacteristic sustained offensive zone time by the Leafs.

1st period

The first minute of the game had the makings of yet another one of those games where Toronto was going to spend way too much time in their own zone (“The Leafs have difficulty getting the puck out of their zone™”).

That quickly changed at the 18 minute mark, with the Rielly/Gardiner pairing moving the puck with efficiency and  in the proper direction.

The initial fears of the game going the way of L.A. domination were scuttled at around the 16:50 mark; Lupul’s first touch was a scoring chance for Kulemin off the rush and should have been buried but for a fantastic save.

Come the five minute mark of the first, the shots were 5-3 Toronto. LA’s slow defense was having to hurry pucks on the breakout, and Toronto seemed more committed to a fast forecheck. If not physical, they were putting a lot of pressure on the Kings, who were being made to look like, well, the Leafs on any given night this season.

The penalty kill still continues to plague the Leafs game, and sunk them early. Despite taking the play to the slower LA Kings team, this was their chance to set up, control the play and get their 1-0 marker, which as an elite team they proceeded to do.

Despite the score, the shots were 9-4 Toronto late in the first.

One of the habits creeping into the Leafs’ heads more and more: their inability to close out periods and games. Inexplicably, the last minute and a half the Leafs were hemmed in and looked like they would concede another goal.

2nd period

The Leafs got off to a nice start to the 2nd period.

Toronto’s defence was pinching and activating on the rush regularly, and it was giving the Leafs a chance to show off their speed more than they have this season. The D pinching down the wall was giving the Leafs more zone time than as long as I can remember, as reflected in the shot and shot attempt count (as close to a proxy for possession as we have). The Rielly/Gardiner pairing got regular shifts with the Kessel-Kadri-JVR, and they were fantastic in every area of the ice. They held the zone well, made great tape-to-tape saucer passes, pinched with great timing and, of course, lugged the puck as you would expect; lots of clean zone exits,  zone entries, and controlled set ups in the offensive zone.

With Phaneuf  injured, it’s forced Carlyle to do things he never tries, which is having Gardiner/Rielly on PP#1 and  Gardiner/Franson on PP#2. The puck carrying duties went  to Gardiner on the breakout and the Leafs achieved easy zone entries by not having, without fail, Phaneuf and Franson on the same PP unit. The dynamic duo are able to pinch with efficiency and still have the skating ability to get back into position on time.

As the 2nd period was winding down, it was apparent that this was the longest stretch of good hockey  Toronto has sustained this season.

The Leafs finally evened the game on a 5 on 3 powerplay. It was Gardiner/Franson again, with Leafs  getting a flurry of great chances. More great play from the Leafs in front of the net drew a penalty. On the ensuing 5 on 3, Frason scored on a beautiful switch with Kessel on the powerplay. Franson and Gardiner finally called the audible and switched sides (which Carlyle seems to coach them not to do),  opening up two one-time point shots.

The Kings were previously a perfect 8 for 8 on 5 on 3s, but that changed tonight. The small victories, right?

That was a hell of a 2nd period for Toronto.

3rd period

The Leafs were exposing the LA Kings lack of speed; worth noting the Kings were in the 2nd leg of a back-to-back on the road.

A note I made before the game: I was hoping that the addition of Lupul would open up the lines a bit for Toronto and allow Lupul to avoid some coverage, and for the Leafs to roll two lines properly. He looked like the Lupul of old and had a number of great chances tonight; he was hard on the puck and drove the net with reckless abandon. It makes the Leafs a tougher team to play against.

The pinching was a bonus for the Leafs tonight, but it has also cost them with the go-ahead goal by Jeff Carter. A pinch from Ranger resulted in a 2 on 1. Fraser was in a tough spot; he can play it like a 2-on-1 and take the pass away, which he does for the most part, or take the shooter with Ranger closing in on the pass option. He correctly elected for the latter and Carter got off a sneaky hard shot through Bernier’s legs to make it 2-1 Kings. That’s a game breaker goal that Bernier has to save and he didn’t. This was a decidedly average performance from Bernier;  he needed to be better tonight. You wonder if starting Reimer against a team that doesn’t have the book on the goalie (like LA did) might have been the better decision.

Once again evident in the period, Gardiner and Rielly were dynamic tonight. Where they usually are a high-risk/reward combination, they were all reward tonight and moved the puck up the ice with skill and speed, making plays that are both exciting and effective. They beat LA’s heavy forecheck, as puck-moving defenseman are wont to do, when they play the game at a high speed.

There was a surefire holding penalty on the JVR rush missed by the refs late in this period. It was a free-hand hold, which is usually a call on every.single.play in every.single.nhl.game. While my tinfoil hat is currently at the dry cleaners, the calls against the Leafs this year are, quite frankly, staggering. I’ve never seen officiating as poor in the NHL in my decades of watching hockey. Perhaps coming out of the 2005 lockout when new rules were implemented, but that’s not saying much.

JVR blew by Regehr, but Regehr impeded JvR’s progress with the loose arm. That’s called holding.

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Shortly thereafter, Kadri got cross checked and absolutely filled in from behind by Voynov without the puck.

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Alas, Kyle Clifford came back the other way and scored. Insert dagger here. Game over.

 

Leafs/Kings Shot Location Data

Leafs/Kings Shot Location Data

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Gary Bettman

How will it happen & what does it mean for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

A. Background

In a memo released in September of this year, the Chief Operating Officer of the NHL notified all league employees of initiatives and staff changes to take effect during the 2013-2014 season. In the memo the league identified a plan to increase annual gross national revenue by $1 billion dollars by the end of three years, or in other words, in time for the 2016-2017 season. To put that type of increase in perspective, it had previously taken the league from 2005-06 to 2011-12 – or 6 years – to attain the same revenue growth. Forget linear growth, we’re talking exponential revenue growth here, folks.

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Toronto Maple Leafs’ win, a 6-5 victory in OT, marks best start
for the franchise in 20 years (1993-1994 Toronto Maple Leafs).

Randy Carlyle and Dallas Eakins are probably going to want to forget this game; it was poorly played with more turnovers than we’ve seen in a while, complete 5-man defensive breakdowns, poor goaltending, no hitting, no commitment and/or sacrifice in the way of blocking shots or being hard on the puck.

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Anyone that follows me on twitter or that has read any of my pieces here at MLHS knows that I enjoy using possession statistics alongside production statistics to examine and evaluate players. After recent events, like Lupul’s tweets and Alec’s interview with Greg Cronin, that have stirred up the tension between those that use these statistics and those that don’t, I thought I’d dig into why the use of statistics should be embraced.

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Joe Colborne Traded

Joe Colborne, restricted free agent no longer, has re-signed with the Maple Leafs to a one-year, one-way contract valued at $600,000.

The Leafs remaining RFAs include Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Mark Fraser and Nazem Kadri. By handing out the one-way deal, Colborne came in at a pretty cheap hit of $600,000, leaving the Leafs with around $10 million in available cap space.

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Well, it’s been a wild ride on twitter for the past few days. If you follow the hockey analytics crowd on twitter you probably know what I’m talking about, though for those of you that don’t, let me fill you in. I think the best place to start is the beginning of this recent road and it’s a bit of a bumpy ride so buckle up.

As I’m sure many, if not all, of you know, on Thursday afternoon the Leafs placed Grabovski on waivers for the purpose of buying him out. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this news was a shock to most of us, but none more so than those heavily involved in the “advanced statistics” community.

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Dion Phaneuf

Let’s start this off with a bold proclamation:
Dion Phaneuf’s 2013 campaign was his best season in the NHL to date.

I really believe that. Phaneuf has rounded into the complete, 1A defenseman that Brian Burke and Dave Nonis envisioned when they swindled the Calgary Flames into one of the most lopsided trades in recent NHL history.

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As the Toronto Maple Leafs skip along to their first playoff berth in eight seasons, Dion Phaneuf’s play is forcing his name to be included in discussion for the Norris Trophy.  The Norris is awarded annually to “the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” and that sure sounds like the play of the Leaf captain this season.

He plays a physical, two-way brand of hockey and sits fifth-best in league for defensemen scoring with eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 42 games.  He’s a leader on the ice, the best defender on the team by a mile and has joined forces with Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and James Reimer to drag the Leafs into contention.

But how does his performance this season stack up against performances past, and what greater truths can we find about the anatomy of a Norris Nominee?