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Leafs: Phil Kessel & Brendan Shanahan have dinner

Twitter predictably lit up after the following photo of new Leafs President Brendan Shanahan and Phil Kessel was posted:

As you can imagine, it led to a whole host of comments, ranging from critiquing what Kessel was wearing (he’s at that level of rich where you no longer have to worry about making a good impression and you know you’re jealous really), to asking who the hell the guy in the middle was and taking the piss out of him. (Clue: He’s the guy that posted the photo who, unlike you, got to meet Shanahan and Kessel.)

(It never fails to amaze me how many miserable and angry people there are on Twitter. At least that’s what you have to surmise from reading all the negative comments.)

On top of that, there are all sorts of rumours about why Shanahan and Kessel were meeting for dinner. Was Shanahan getting Kessel’s opinion on if he should fire Randy Carlyle? Was the Hall of Famer asking his star player to be the new captain? And so on…..

However, here’s a crazy thought: Maybe Shanahan just wanted to begin building a good relationship with his players, starting with Kessel.

Photo credit: @Jon_Dwyer

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Maple Leafs: Randy Carlyle likely to pay the price

There is a new sheriff in town, as Brendan Shanahan was named President of the Toronto Maple Maple Leafs.  It seems like a great hire, though it doesn’t really solve any of the Leafs problems on its own.  For now, Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle have a new boss.  And they should both be nervous.  So should many of the players on the roster.

But it is likely Carlyle who will pay the price.  Why?  My answer to that is quite simple – it was largely his fault.  He did not get what he should have out of this roster.

People have complained that this Maple Leafs team couldn’t play Carlyle’s system.  That is complete rubbish.  These are professional hockey players – they can play in any system.  Look at what Mike Babcock did with the Team Canada at the Olympics in Sochi.  New system, new roles and players who weren’t used to playing together.  But it worked because the players did their job and did what the coach asked them to do.

The problem for Carlyle wasn’t that the players couldn’t play his system; it was either that they wouldn’t play it, or the system wasn’t one that was suited to the strengths of the roster.   Personally, I believe it was the latter – you can force a square peg into a round hole, but it never quite fits right, no matter how much you fuss with it.  Regardless, either of these circumstances places the fault with the coach implementing the system.

The players?  Yes, there were many disappointments (insert David Clarkson comments here!).  But was that due to a lack of effort, or was it the product of being used ineffectively?  I have a hard time believing that this team quit playing for Carlyle.  But I have little trouble accepting that many players were not put into roles that best suited their skill sets.

Enter Brendan Shanahan: Smart, savvy, respected and a proven winner in his playing days.  This alone doesn’t mean his hiring makes the Leafs a better team.  However, there is no reason to think he won’t make a big impact on this team, and quickly.  So, it stands to reason that a new coach is likely.  And so are a large number of roster changes.  Perhaps we may even see a new GM.

Regardless of how he does it, fans are hoping that “Sheriff Shanny” can get things in Leafs Nation back on track.  My bet is that the cleanup will start behind the bench.

Photo credit: http://storage.canoe.ca/

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Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf says they let fans down

If you were to say just a month ago, that April 14th would be the day the Toronto Maple Leafs were cleaning out their lockers for the off-season, it would have been tough to believe. (Much like the eight-game losing streak.)

However, that’s exactly what happened after a disappointing end to the Leafs campaign. As you’d expect, captain Dion Phaneuf was asked about the season and what went wrong:

Give Dion his due. Whatever people may think about his leadership capabilities, he usually manages to stay calm, no matter the circumstances.

Mind you, there is a saying that if you can keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs, it’s highly likely that you don’t fully understand the severity of the situation. Make of that what you will………….

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Leafs: Randy Carlyle amuses Senators Paul MacLean

Last night’s 1-0 loss to the Senators may have brought a miserable last month of the season to an end, but it wasn’t all bad for Leafs fans. This clip of Randy Carlyle cooling himself down brought a smile to my (and Paul MacLean’s) face:

It was also good to see Carlyle practising his waving skills. Something tells me (rightly or wrongly) he’ll be doing it for real sooner rather than later.

Credits: GoTMLgfycat.com

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Maple Leafs: Beatable until the end

CP24's Photo

The Toronto Maple Leafs had one last chance to finish the 2013-2014 season on a winning note, but they couldn’t muster any offence against the lowly Ottawa Senators (a team they dominated all season).

That drops Toronto’s season record to 38-36-8 and will see them finish 11th overall in the Eastern Conference – a far cry from the days in early March when they sat near the top of the conference.

What happened to Toronto? There were great expectations for this season and at times, things appeared in good shape. James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak both had career years; Phil Kessel continues to show he’s one of the league’s best offensive players; and the play of Jonathan Bernier has all the makings of a legitimate NHL starter.

Heading into the Olympic break, Toronto was hot and racing up the standings. However, on their return from the break, things started to turn sour. There was an eight-game losing streak and towards the end of the season an injury limited Bernier’s play and Kessel virtually disappeared.

In all honestly, it’s probably just the case that reality finally caught up to the Leafs. Their defence was suspect all season and a lack of secondary offence was apparent from the start. Nazem Kadri and David Clarkson, for instance, fell well below expectations, while Dave Bolland missed most of the season due to injury.

It might take the Leafs a few days to accept their new reality, but the fans have already been braced for it. We saw it coming in late March. The players said nothing was wrong and that they would stick to their game play.

We screamed, “Wake up!” but the message fell on deaf ears. Now there may be a shake up on the team, led by new team president Brendan Shanahan.

I can only guess at his plans and what they mean for general manager Dave Nonis, but I don’t expect James Reimer, Bolland and head coach Randy Carlyle to return next season.

Aside from the potential loss of Reimer, this would be understandable. The Leafs cannot afford to keep Bolland in a financial sense and they certainly cannot afford to keep Carlyle in a competitive sense. I just hope they came finally come to terms with the reality of the team.

No more delusion, please. We need an(other) overhaul.

Credits: @CP24

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Maple Leafs: A “battle” for nothing

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators battle for the puck in front of James Reimer

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators meet tonight on Hockey Night in Canada to conclude their season series.

Normally, the “Battle of Ontario” (or the “Battle for Ottawa” as it should actually be called) draws out the intensity of both fan bases, but these aren’t normal times. I cannot even quote Charles Dickens here – it’s arguably the worst of times for Toronto and Ottawa. (Editor’s note – Mentioning Charles Dickens?! In a sports column?!?! You’re much to smart for the likes of us.)

The Senators had high hopes for this season. They saw excellent goaltending from Craig Anderson last season and it was expected that they would simply improve upon their 25-17-6 record from the 2013 campaign. A healthy Erik Karlsson and the addition of Bobby Ryan added considerable weight to this idea.

Despite a healthy Karlsson, however, nothing else really worked out as planned. Anderson has battled inconsistency and injury all season, while Ryan’s season was recently cut short. The Senators hold a decent record of 35-31-14, but it isn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs.

Toronto’s season has been just as bad. Once sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, the Leafs have essentially dropped dead over the past month. They’ve been officially eliminated from the playoff race and fingers are now being pointed in every imaginable direction as they head towards another long offseason.

In other words, there’s nothing really at stake for either team in this latest instalment of the “Battle of Ontario”. The Leafs have already won the season series, outscoring the Senators 15-10 to claim the first three games. A win by Ottawa won’t change this fact.

At best, the Senators can simply ensure that they finish above the Leafs in the standings, but this is really just a small consolation prize.

In fact, the real victory might come in the form of a loss tomorrow night. There’s a potentially higher draft pick at skate, and this might as well be the Stanley Cup for these two loser clubs.

Photo credit: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography – Getty Images

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Leafs: Enter Shanman – Brendan Shanahan arrives in Toronto

Elite Sports Tours's Photo

A new era is about to begin in Leafs Nation.

Following intense media speculation over the last few days, hockey legend Brendan Shanahan has officially been named the new president of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The fancy title places him directly above general manager Dave Nonis, but directly below MLSE president Tim Leiweke on the organization’s depth chart (for management anyway). He’ll assume the new role immediately.

Shanahan previously worked as the discipline czar for the NHL – an office that will now be occupied by Stephane Quintal, who played in the league for 16 seasons.

Adding a hockey legend like Shanahan gives the Leafs some instant credibility, but it raises a host of awkward questions as well.

What exactly will Shanahan do? What does this mean for Nonis? Why now?

(All of Nonis’ decisions will be vetted by Shanahan from this moment forward. That’s a good thing.)

It’s also unclear why the organization chose Shanahan as its new president. This isn’t meant as a knock against Shanahan, but there’s no connection between him and the Leafs beyond the fact that he’s a Toronto native and likely supported the team as a kid.

For some reason, the idea of hiring a former player or landing a great one is popular in the NHL. Look at the Vancouver Canucks: they just hired fan favourite Trevor Linden as their new president.

However, a familiar face or a famous last name is no guarantee of success. For every Patrick Roy and Steve Yzerman out there, there’s a Brett Hull and Pat LaFontaine to remind us that hockey smarts don’t always equal management smarts.

Where will Shanahan fall? I don’t know.

It took him some time to adjust as the head of discipline, barely surviving intense criticism during his first year. (For a while, there was even talk that he would resign under the weight of all the criticism.) Leafs fans are incredibly impatient. They ate Brian Burke alive and now it seems like head coach Randy Carlyle will serve as the second dish.

These are “tough” guys, but ones who could never carry the weight of expectations placed on them in Toronto.

Can Shanahan survive? We’ll probably know very soon, given the current state of the franchise. As I said, the fans are impatient and hungry.

Photo credit: @EliteSportsTour

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Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf is the right captain

The Hockey Writers's Photo

Bottom line first: I think Dion Phaneuf is the right guy to be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I believe he was (and still is) deserving of his contract extension.

Okay, don’t throw things. And stop cursing at me. At least let me explain.

First of all, the captaincy. Phaneuf is a presence. A big one. You may not like him, but he commands respect with his size and physical play. Take away the last couple of weeks, when the entire roster was awful, and Phaneuf had one of his best seasons in recent years (78 GP, 8G, 23A, +3).

He is well-spoken, and can handle the spotlights of the media, and in Toronto, that is a huge responsibility.Yes, he ducked out after one game, frustrated by the team’s losing streak; he’s human, and it shows he cares.

Let me ask a question: who else on this roster could be the captain of this team?

Phil Kessel? Nope. Not a leader, just a scorer. Joffrey Lupol? Nope. Injured too often to have the necessary impact on the room. Fans do love him, though. Dave Bolland? Nope. And not likely to be back anyway. David Clarkson? Please. And there you have it. Nobody.

Phaneuf is the guy. He is recognizable, carries himself well and despite being a polarizing figure, at least among fans, he is able to shoulder the responsibility of absorbing the attention of media and fans alike.

Is he a number one defenceman? No, not on most teams. But he is on this one. And he is so far and away the best defenceman on this team, he deserved his contract extension.

Imagine this roster without Dion Phaneuf? Your new number one defencemen, by default, would be his linemate, Karl Gunnarson. Happy with that? I didn’t think so.

It would be great to get Dion a partner that was a true top defender, to take that pressure off of him. But it probably isn’t going to happen, at least not without a significant cost.

The team is out of the playoffs, and deserve to miss the post-season party, but to put this all on Dion Phaneuf is just wrong. So let’s give our captain a break.

Photo credit: @TheHockeyWriter

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Maple Leafs: Attacked by a panther

Drew MacIntyre is left high and dry by the Toronto Maple Leafs

Someone call bylaw: the Toronto Maple Leafs were attacked by a panther last night.

The Leafs turned to journeyman goaltender Drew MacIntyre in last night’s matchup against the lowly Florida Panthers. It was MacIntyre’s first career start and it was hoped that the change in net would produce some positive results.

Instead, it was the same old story for the Leafs. Untimely goals, shoddy defence and uneven offence kept them far from ever posing a real threat in the game. They would surrender four goals before the attack was finally over, losing 4-2.

MacIntyre did his part. It wasn’t spectacular hockey, but it’s hard to look good when the team in front of you is conceding shots like they’re nothing. On the night, he was asked to stop 37 shots and it’s understandable that some of them got by him.

You’d think the Leafs would have wanted to put forth a better effort for MacIntyre in his long overdue debut as a starter, but there was no sign of that. You’d also think their pride as a team and as individual players would want to make some kind of statement towards the end of the season – something that said, “We don’t really suck!” – but that wasn’t the case either.

When the team needed him to play at his best, Phil Kessel has virtually disappeared down the stretch. He may be nursing a foot injury, but it’s remarkable to note he’s gradually slid down the top scorers chart after briefly occupying the number two spot in early March.

The one bright side is arguably Tyler Bozak. He recorded 2 points last night – 1 goal, 1 assist. He now has 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 57 games this season. These are career numbers for him and they seem to confirm the team’s faith in him as a genuine first-line centre. He’s only gotten better every season.

Toronto’s final game of the season is Saturday. They’ll be facing the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. The two teams are battling for 11th place in the Eastern Conference and there’s always the “Battle of Ontario” (or the “Battle for Ottawa” as I call it) to consider.

This is far from the finish I originally imagined for the Leafs when the season started, but I’m now glad that it’s almost over. In many ways, the Leafs are like a first love: they cast a spell over you at first, but then they leave you disappointed when everything’s over.

Photo credit: Joel Auerbach – Getty Images

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Maple Leafs: Drew MacIntyre makes athletic save

Okay, I get it. Drew MacIntyre didn’t exactly have the greatest of debuts, but it’s not like the Leafs were playing solid defence before he arrived. With 255 goals conceded this season, only four teams have let in more.

Anyway, I’m feeling a bit sorry for MacIntyre, having to come in and play with such a hapless bunch. As such, I thought I’d share this athletic save he made during last night’s 4-2 loss to the Panthers:

Credits: moresound17http://gfycat.com/

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