Because the regular season has been suspended, in each of the News & Rumors posts I’m writing these days I’ve included glimpses of what current Toronto Maple Leafs players are doing. At the same time, I’ve been collecting the news emerging from the organization.
In today’s post, I’ll check up on news from the Maple Leafs players as well as note why newly signed Alexander Barabanov might fit well into the Maple Leafs picture.
Item One: Sheldon Keefe Calls Alexander Barabanov an Important Piece
MapleLeafs.com shared the transcript of a conference call that Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe had with the Maple Leafs media earlier this week. Keefe reported that he expects Alexander Barabanov “to be an important piece of the puzzle” for the team.
Specifically, Keefe shared that, “We’re really excited to add another player to the fold here that we think has great experience and a great skill set, and is very high character as well. He just checks a lot of the boxes that you’re always looking for when you’re adding a player that you fully expect to step in and be an important part of your team.”
Barabanov signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs that covers the 2020-21 season. During the 2019-20 KHL season, he scored 20 points (11 goals, 9 assists) in 43 games with SKA St. Petersburg and added three points (one goal, two assists) in four playoff games.
The Maple Leafs beat out a number of NHL clubs to sign the 25-year-old Russian. Given Keefe’s comments, he’ll get a chance to make the team’s roster next season.
Item Two: John Tavares Is Enjoying His Young Family
Maple Leafs captain John Tavares and his wife Aryne’s first child – son Jace – was born in Sept. 2019 just before the start of the 2019-20 NHL training camp. The NHL’s suspended season gives the Tavares family a rare chance to hang out together for an extended time.
How does Tavares feel about that? Probably like any new dad, he’s enjoying his time at home – especially because his son is so young and growing so quickly.
During a video conference call organized by the NHL, Tavares reported, “I’m just really enjoying spending time with my son. When you’re traveling through the season, you’re in and out so quickly, you don’t get to experience that consistency. Just having that time to be around on a daily basis and be able to help out and spend time with them has been fantastic.”
On another note, during the conference, Tavares extended his best wishes to the city of New York that has been hit especially hard with the COVID-19 crisis. He has been urging everyone to follow health recommendations and did so on the video as well.
Tavares, who played nine seasons with the New York Islanders, said, “Whether it’s former teammates, staff and people I know very well, the fans down there, people I interacted with there, I wish all the best to them and hope it can get better,” (from Leafs’ Tavares enjoying time with son during pandemic, mindful of those ‘on the front line,’ Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 30/03/20).
Item Three: Mitch Marner Shares with Young Maple Leafs Fans
In an especially thoughtful move, young Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner remembered a certain demographic when he posted a hand-written letter on Tuesday to young hockey fans on social media. He simply wanted to let them know they weren’t alone during this difficult time.
Kids are writing each other letters of support. I wanted to offer mine. Thanks to @KidsHelpPhone, young people are never alone. Show your support by volunteering, donating at https://t.co/5k0ugJcsg2, or write a letter letting kids know they can text Kids Help Phone at 686868 pic.twitter.com/0UTprK1mhC— Mitchell Marner (@Marner93) April 7, 2020
Marner addressed young people’s fears directly when he wrote, “It’s really hard knowing some of you are scared and worried about what’s happening around the world right now. You’re not alone. I get scared too.”
Then Marner reminded young people that, if they needed to talk about their feelings or worries, they could call Kids Help Phone and shared the number and message: “just text 686868. Someone is always there.”
Good on Marner to being so thoughtful.
Item Four: Auston Matthews Also Actively on Video Chats
In an earlier post, I noted that Auston Matthews showed up with Justin Bieber on Instagram Live last Sunday. He also spoke to young patients from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto a week ago Monday. Matthews has been self-quarantined with Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen in Phoenix.
Matthews was asked what his favorite thing to do was and he noted “playing hockey.” He also was asked his favorite food and he answered “Mexican and Italian.” It’s good to see these young Maple Leafs giving back to their community.
Item Five: The Matthews, Marner, and Marleau Friendship Remains Alive
Time away from playing hockey gave Matthews, Marner, and former teammate Patrick Marleau the opportunity to reconnect and hang out via a video conference call.
The three had formed a close friendship when Marleau signed with the Maple Leafs after playing 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks. During a road trip early in 2017-18, after Marleau signed with his new club, Matthews returned to the Maple Leafs’ hotel after dinner one night to find his roommate Marner (both were second-year players) sitting on the bed with newly signed, 38-year-old winger Marleau.
As Matthews recalled, “[They were] waiting for me and we were going to watch a movie … we put on Cars 3.”
Watching a movie and ordering dessert became a tradition on every road trip. The two young forwards almost became Marleau’s adopted kids. As Marleau noted, “They seemed like really good, young guys” and he, “Just took a liking to them.”
It’s good to see the relationship continue.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
What’s up with Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas not signing any new players yet today; that’s become a regular occurrence.
Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has let it leak that finishing the NHL regular season might not be possible, we have no official word on that yet.
There’s still news to come.