GDT: Panthers at Leafs (7 p.m., Sportsnet)


Photo: Reuters

We’ve heard a lot of noise about how rough the last month of speculation has been on the players. Wilson hinted in his most recent post game presser that it’s been responsible for tightening up the dressing room. Call it an excuse or a legitimate byproduct of the Toronto market, either way it’s behind them now, giving way to another form of pressure – having to reward management’s expression of faith that the current group can get the job done down the stretch.

Burke was visibly frustrated with all of the trade speculation that had everybody on the team traded 50 times over in the last month, but I’d warn him to stay away from a message board if the Leafs lose this big game tonight – many will have already got to work on the summer firesale. Point is, the speculation never ends in such a passionate market that lives and dies by its team, especially when things aren’t going well. The only way to avoid it is to win hockey games.

An interesting quote from Dallas Eakins surfaced today (interview here). He said something to the effect of – players who fear the market instead of embracing it need to get in touch with Brian Burke to book a plane ride out of here; that’s exactly the right message to convey to the players here and I wish the leadership group would’ve expressed that same tough-luck sentiment rather than reinforcing the excuse.

Anyways, whether they were valid or not, the excuses are out the window now and the Leafs have to pull out a win against Florida tonight. In a bit of a wake up call, the Panthers now sit five ahead of the Leafs with a game in hand. They’ve got sole possession of the Southeast Division lead at 70 points. After a 2-7-1 stretch in their last ten, the Leafs are two back off ninth placed Washington and three back of eighth placed Winnipeg (Winnipeg has played three more games). The Capitals face off with the Islanders tonight.

The Leafs have let in ten goals against the Panthers in two meetings this season, and James Reimer will be in net to try to stop the bleeding. The new strategy, after the back and forth rodeo that’s gone on since Reimer returned from injury failed to produce the desired result, is to hand the keys to their desired starter in Reimer and tell him its his crease. Let’s hope somehow, someway, we can get league average goaltending from here in on (a lot to ask, I know).

Joey Crabb will swap in for Colby Armstrong, while Mike Komisarek returns to play his 500th game in his NHL career. Komisarek has been scratched for 10 of his last 12. Franson will sit.

Jose Theodore starts for the Panthers.