With the Toronto Maple Leafs having another day off before they play the Tampa Bay Lightning at home, I want to focus on more general news and rumors from the team. I also thought it might be fun to take a bit of a look ahead at what’s coming for next season.
Item One: What’s Jeremy Bracco’s Future With the Maple Leafs?
Where Jeremy Bracco stands within the organization is a mystery. On Dec. 31, 2019, Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts noted that three Maple Leafs players — Bracco, Dmytro Timashov, and Ben Harpur were all placed on the trade block. Both Timashov and Harpur have since left, and only Bracco remains.
This season Bracco has remained in limbo, with countless commentators noting that his path to the Maple Leafs roster is blocked by a plethora of gifted right wingers. Indeed, the team hasn’t called up Bracco and his leave (for “personal reasons”) kept him away from the Toronto Marlies.
However, this past week Bracco returned to the Marlies after his lengthy absence. That’s good news for the team, which is fighting for a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs. Obviously, the Marlies are much better with Bracco on its roster.
Bracco was out of the lineup for about a month and missed 13 games. During that stretch, the Marlies won less than half of those games (a record of 6-7). As well, the team also probably misses Mason Marchment, who now plays with the Springfield Falcons after his trade to the Florida Panthers’ organization.
At first, when the young right winger took his leave, rumors were that Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas would likely trade him as requested. However, when no trade materialized, those rumors slowed. Right now, regardless of what’s floating around, all we know is that Bracco was gone and now is back with the Marlies. Furthermore, whatever those personal reasons were, they haven’t been revealed.
As a fan and a teacher, I hope Bracco is fine and is happily back playing hockey. What the Maple Leafs do with him during the offseason is hard to know. One thing I have come to respect about Dubas as a general manager is that he cares for players and, if someone isn’t likely to find a place on the team, that player is moved to a better opportunity.
As I write this, I’m thinking of Josh Leivo’s trade to the Vancouver Canucks. As I understand it, in moving Leivo, Dubas kept a promise. In short, we simply don’t know Bracco’s future with the team. I’d love to see him get a chance in the NHL, whether that’s with Toronto or somewhere else.
Item Two: Maple Leafs Leaders in Points Scored Per Game
In NHL history, the top four leaders for points-per-game average have been (1) Wayne Gretzky (1.921), (2) Mario Lemieux (1.883), (3) Mike Bossy (1.497), and Bobby Orr (1.393). It was a different time, obviously, and scoring was higher when these players skated.
During the 2019-20 NHL season, Leon Draisaitl (1.59) is the leader in points-per-game average and Connor McDavid (1.52) second. No one else averages more than 1.5 points-per-game. On the Maple Leafs, the team leader is Auston Matthews (with 79 points in 69 games for a 1.14 point-per-game average) and Mitch Marner is second (with 65 points in 58 games for a 1.12 point-per-game average).
Item Three: Ottawa Senators Are Rumored to Want Ron Hainsey to Return
In a note about a former Maple Leafs player, last season’s fans by and large panned two of the team’s defensemen. One was Jake Gardiner, who fans booed out of town; the other was Ron Hainsey, who many fans believed was simply too slow to play a fast-paced NHL game. In response, then-head coach Mike Babcock defended Hainsey noting that “he knew where to stand” on the ice.
Obviously, the Ottawa Senators also have liked where Hainsey has stood this season. A report by Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun noted that the Senators hope Hainsey returns for another season. Similar to last season, he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer and head coach D.J. Smith is pleased with his work. Smith noted that he would talk with general manager Pierre Dorion about the ageless defenseman coming back.
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About what he brings to the team, Smith said Hainsey’s “done a phenomenal job and he’s done exactly what we brought him here to do, to provide some leadership, some stability and help Chabot grow, and I think he’s done that.” (from ‘SNAPSHOTS: The Senators are open to the idea of bringing back Ron Hainsey next season,” Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun, 03/05/2020)
Item Four: The Maple Leafs’ Contract Commitments for 2020-21
When news came out last week that next season’s salary cap was projected to be between $84 million and $88.2 million, Maple Leafs fans wondered where that number puts the team. Assuming the National Hockey League’s Players Association (NHLPA) acts as it did last season to cap the inflator, that would leave the upper limit of the salary cap just under $85 million per team.
Looking at CapFriendly, here’s how the Maple Leafs salaries add up the next season. The team currently has $77.8 million committed to 18 players next season. Given the rules that each team needs an active NHL roster between 20 and 23 players if the salary-cap limit is around $85 million, that leaves $7 million to sign another two to five players.
Barring trades, the team seems to have three full forward lines pretty well locked in for next season, and these represent much of the top-nine forwards. However, I’m certain the team wants to sign young Russian Ilya Mikheyev as well, so count him in.
Let’s also say, for argument’s sake, the goalie situation is set with Frederik Andersen and backup Jack Campbell. That leaves the defense. Right now, the Maple Leafs have three potentially top-four defensemen signed in Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Justin Holl (although who knows where Holl will play?)
In a quick summary, the defense needs help. That isn’t news really, but the salary cap situation shows clearly where the team must spend money.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’m expecting a high-scoring game on Tuesday night against the Lightning. I always hate it when a good team loses the game before playing my team, and that’s exactly what happened Sunday when the upstart Detroit Red Wings snuck up on the Lightning 5-4 for a win.
That probably means Tampa Bay arrives in a bad mood. How the Maple Leafs react will be interesting to see.