Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Brooks, Bunting, Campbell & Liljegren

As the Toronto Maple Leafs get set to meet the determined St. Louis Blues tonight on home ice – in front of some fans, no less – there’s some team news happening. The Blues are coming off an overtime loss against the Montreal Canadiens and need the points.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of it. 

Item One: Adam Brooks Lands Back Home in Winnipeg

Most curious of the news was the travels of Adam Brooks, who landed back home in Winnipeg – which, although I liked him on the Maple Leafs’ roster, I think is great for him. The Jets need some forward depth to compensate for injuries to the team. He’ll likely play quite a bit.

Adam Brooks Toronto Maple Leafs
Adam Brooks, now formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Brooks saga is sort of like a follow-the-bouncing ball story, which had to be an emotional whirlwind for the young Brooks. It was the fourth time this season he’d been claimed off waivers. Yesterday, the Jets picked him off waivers from the Maple Leafs. On Wednesday, the Maple Leafs had picked him up from the Vegas Golden Knights. In November, the Golden Knights claimed him from the Montreal Canadiens. And, of course, as Maple Leafs’ fans recall, the Canadiens claimed him from them in October just before the drop of the puck for the regular season.

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Thinking from a family perspective and not the perspective of a Maple Leafs’ fan, I love when a young player can go home and play in front of family and friends. I hope it works out for him – sometimes it doesn’t. As I remember, Brooks and Jason Spezza had a mutual admiration society going when Brooks played last season on the team’s fourth line.

Item Two: Can Michael Bunting Win the Calder?

Speaking about young players coming home, general manager Kyle Dubas found a hometown star for the Maple Leafs during the offseason. That’s Michael Bunting, the 26-year-old rookie forward from nearby Scarborough. 

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although Bunting’s by definition a rookie because he didn’t play more than 21 games with the Arizona Coyotes, he doesn’t have the same pedigree the usual winners of the Calder Trophy possess. He kicked around in the AHL for a number of years and his “advanced” age of 26 years made him an outsider for Calder consideration. However, there seemed to be a turning point that at least raised the possibility. 

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When the Maple Leafs played the Detroit Red Wings on January 29, Bunting put on a show with his first Maple Leafs’ hat trick. He did it against two of the odds-on favorites for the Calder – young Red Wings’ defenseman Moritz Seider and young right-winger Lucas Raymond. Not only did Bunting show well that night but he hasn’t stopped scoring since. 

Brooks has seven goals in his last eight games heading into tonight’s game against the Blues. He now leads all rookies with 16 goals and looks totally at home playing on the Maple Leafs’ first line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.  

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

When Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was asked about Bunting being considered a rookie, he responded: “He’s so involved in our team, I don’t think of it that way. But when questions like that come up, or you see (the Calder race) mentioned, you step back and say: I don’t know if he’s played against every team in the league yet.” 

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In reviewing Bunting as a player, Keefe added: “He has a lot of swagger about him, a chip on his shoulder, and that’s not going away. Rookie or not, it will be part of who he is. We really found a nice player. He just fits in really well with Auston and with Marner. He just completes that line.”

Item Three: Jack Campbell Will Start Tonight Against the Blues

Coming off perhaps his best game of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins, this morning it was announced that Jack Campbell would be tonight’s starter against St. Louis.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Campbell’s outstanding game two days ago, he stopped all but one of 46 shots on the net. He enters the game tonight with a 23-7-3 record, a 2.33 goals-against-average, and a .924 save percentage. Although that looks great in the big picture, until the Penguins’ game he had struggled.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

In all the mild chaos surrounding Brooks’ waiver-wire comings and goings, young defenseman Timothy Liljegren’s dynamic fate has settled as well. When Brooks was picked off waivers, Liljegren was moved to the AHL’s Marlies to take advantage of his waiver exemption. Earlier today, Liljegren was moved back to the Maple Leafs’ roster. I would guess, he’ll play tonight. 

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However, when Liljegren was moved to the AHL, one reason coach Keefe offered was that he wanted to get Travis Dermott some work. We’ll see how that works out for game time. Liljegren has arguably been one of the team’s best defensemen over the last little while. The 22-year-old is playing 15:58 per game and, over his last 15 games, has scored a goal and added seven assists.