In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I want to share some of the notes I’ve been taking over the past few days. In these notes, I’ll comment on key players for the Maple Leafs this season and some other items of interest I’ve noticed about the team.
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The Maple Leafs are emerging from a 6-3 beating by the New York Rangers and are preparing to meet the crosstown New York Islanders on Saturday. It’s been a so-so road trip, and the team right now has a 2-2-1 record. Should they be able to beat the Islanders, a 3-2-1 road trip wouldn’t be that bad – especially given the quality of the teams they’ve played.
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What has happened to the Maple Leafs as a result of this road trip?
Item One: Michael Bunting Was a Home Run by Kyle Dubas
In a recent discussion after a post, Old School (a regular reader and quite an objective commentator on Maple Leafs’ posts) said it well in the discussion section, when he asked.
“How can anyone not like Bunting? He’s the real local hero. (He was a) low draft pick and career minor leaguer that finally makes the NHL in his mid-20’s. Although not very big, he plays physical hockey. Surprisingly his skills are pretty good as well. He should be at the top of the list of local heroes.”
On Wednesday, Bunting scored in the Maple Leafs’ 6-3 loss to the Rangers. His goal gave the team a 3-1 lead near the end in the first period, but the Maple Leafs simply collapsed during the rest of the game. On the season, Bunting has nine goals and 15 assists (for 24 points) in 37 regular-season games in 2021-22. (from “Another two-goal lead disappears, Maple Leafs lose to Rangers in New York, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 19/01/22).
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I pointed out recently that I think Bunting’s season compares well to Zach Hyman’s. Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas hit a home run with Bunting. As much as I really like Hyman as a player (and as a person), it made sense that the organization didn’t overpay him during the offseason. That said, I’m rooting for Hyman to have a great season with the Edmonton Oilers. I wish him success.
Bunting has a number of useful tools in his tool chest. The give-and-go set play after the face-off win by Auston Matthews was a thing of beauty. As Old School noted, Bunting’s assist on Matthews’ goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets was as good a play as anything that the Core Four has shown fans.
Bunting draws more penalties than most players. He must irritate the other teams like crazy because he’s always being knocked down. He’s been a good addition to the Maple Leafs.
Item Two: Where Are the Maple Leafs Now, After Wednesday?
The most recent The Hockey News power-rankings were sent to my email this morning after the Maple Leafs’ loss to the Rangers but were obviously written prior to Wednesday’s game. The Maple Leafs were ranked fifth in that power-rankings poll after the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Colorado Avalanche.
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The notes that accompanied the ranking suggested that the “5. Toronto Maple Leafs (24-9-3, +30. CF%: 7th, xGF%: 3rd. PR: 3) The 6-5 win against the Blues was fun to watch, but it should’ve been over after they scored three goals in 3:44. It was an up-and-down week with losses to Colorado and Arizona (!), though Jack Campbell’s 2.13 GAA (tying Ed Belfour) and .931 Sv% is still on pace to be the best in franchise history (min. 25 GS) in 20 years.”
Hard to say where the Maple Leafs would be ranked if the rankings would have been written after that loss, but Campbell’s numbers went down. He’s now ranked sixth in goals-against-average with 2.24 and is tied for third in the NHL with a .927 save percentage. Still good numbers, but not as great as they were.
Item Three: William Nylander Wasn’t Invited to the NHL All-Star Game
Two Maple Leafs’ players – Auston Matthews and Jack Campbell – have been extended All-Star calls. But the same is not true for William Nylander. And, that’s a shame.
Nylander has scored 37 points on the season and is easily on his way to a career season. He’s been driving the offense, playing on both special teams, working hard on defense, and he’s been an exciting surprise to even die-hard Maple Leafs’ fans.
Although Maple Leafs’ hockey fans will enjoy watching Matthews and Campbell represent their team at the All-Star festivities, not inviting Nylander seems a waste. In my mind and others, he deserved to get to the All-Star nod.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs will finish a six-game road trip on Saturday. Has it been a good one, or not? The team beat the Vegas Golden Knights and the St. Louis Blues, which are two quality teams. That the team lost to the Colorado Avalanche in overtime brings no shame; it was just the matter of how the team lost – after giving up a lead.
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They repeated that same collapse on Wednesday against the Rangers. So that’s a pattern that needs to be reshaped. Finally, they were “goalied” by a really hot Arizona Coyotes’ rookie Czech netminder Karel Vejmelka. He was a new name to me, but hot goalies can happen.
The question that remains is whether the Maple Leafs’ fatal flaws were exposed or whether the late-game falters can be overcome by coaching and more purposeful play. We’ll see during the second half of the season.