As the Maple Leafs head south for their annual winter snowbird tour, we get to see a Florida Panthers team that sits at the top of the standings and may look pretty similar to what fans in Toronto hope the Leafs will resemble in a few years. Barkov as the young stud center every team wants (Nylander), Huberdeau as the ultra-talented winger that does things with the puck that most can’t (Marner), Bjugstad as the undervalued secondary center (Kadri), Brian Campbell as the useful but overpaid veteran defender (Phaneuf) and Jagr as the grizzled old veteran (a 46-year-old Jaromir Jagr playing on a competitive Leafs team a few years from now would be wonderful wouldn’t it?). Now all we need is a 19-year old franchise defenceman and an all-world goalie. Those are the easy pieces, right?
The Panthers were supposed to be improved this year but not many expected them to be at the top of the Atlantic Division standings as we near the All-Star break. Led by a core of young talent, tonight’s game should give Leaf fans a chance to dream up a brighter future.
But, if nothing else, it’s a valuable chance for us to take in the Sasha Barkov show.
Six more years of this? Sounds good to us… ? pic.twitter.com/07fmL1CcnY
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 26, 2016
The Leafs start the road trip on a two-game losing streak and having lost seven of their past 10 games. Just two points up on Columbus for last in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs season has been going exactly as the front office had scripted. Playing competitive hockey, showing growth under an exceptional coach, but still losing enough games to remain in the Auston Matthews conversation.
With reports yesterday that the selling season may be upon us, it’s time to focus on inflating the value of guys like Polak, Matthias and Parenteau in the hopes of maximizing the return.
A day after announcing a six-year extension with their franchise centerman, the Panthers hope to win their third game in a row and increase their lead in the division. As mentioned, any chance you get to watch Sasha Barkov, you need to take it. He’s one of the most exciting young players in the league and at $5.9 million a year he’s likely to be one of the most underpaid (Non-ELC) players as soon as the contract kicks in next season.
A perfect combination of youth and experience, head coach Gerard Gallant has the Panthers playing incredibly well and poised to be a real contender in the eastern conference playoff race.
With the report from James Mirtle yesterday that the Leafs may be shopping Jonathan Bernier, coach Mike Babcock will continue to staple him to the bench as long as James Reimer is playing as well as he has been of late. With an amazing .947 SV% on the road, Reimer will likely have to keep his team in the game in the hopes of stealing a 2-1 game. When healthy, he’s been one of the Leafs’ true bright spots and is likely hoping his lower body can hold out long enough to cash in with a new contract (thank you Cam Talbot).
Problem solved…….. pic.twitter.com/TyQ0HcGye0
— Strombone (@strombone1) February 11, 2015
Not only is he one of the best follows on Twitter, Roberto Luongo is back to being one of the best goalies in the NHL. Giving up only two goals a game at home and sporting a .930 SV% on the season, Luongo has been a huge part of the Panthers success this year. He’s been a Leaf killer in the past as he’s won 18 of his 25 matchups against Toronto over his career.
The Reimer vs Luongo means two of the hottest goalies in the league against two teams that have been known to struggle offensively at times. All signs tell you to take the under in this game, which means we’ll likely end up with a 6-5 shootout victory.