Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Development Camp, Subban & the Atlantic

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share the good news: Maple Leafs’ hockey has started today. Second, I’ll comment about a rumor that the team has a “luke warm” interest in P.K. Subban. Third, I’ll ask a quick critical question about how competitive the Atlantic Division really will be. 

Item One: Maple Leafs Development Camp Starts Today

If you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan, today’s your lucky day. Hockey is finally here. It isn’t the big guys, but it’s the guys. In fact, 39 young and restless potential NHL players will make up the roster for the team’s 2021 Development Camp.

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During today’s first day, players will engage in medicals and on-ice testing. Tomorrow there’ll be full-team on-the-ice and media sessions starting at the Ford Performance Centre.

The Maple Leafs’ announcement listed the names of 39 players (20 forwards, 13 defenseman, and six goaltenders) who’ll attend, learn, and seek to increase their chances for stardom. The camp also includes eight Maple Leafs draft picks including Nick Robertson.

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hayley Wickenheiser, the Maple Leafs’ Senior Director of Player Development, and her staff will oversee the camp. As well, the Maple Leafs’ player development staff (which is first-class) and coaches from the entire organization will be hanging around and working with the youngsters. Two who’ll be particularly interested are Greg Moore (head coach of the Toronto Marlies) and Eric Wellwood (the new Newfoundland Growlers’ head coach).

Item Two: Is there Any Place on the Maple Leafs’ Roster for P.K. Subban?

I first reported the mild ripples of a rumor that the Maple Leafs had expressed some interest in P.K. Subban three days ago. However, these ripples have turned into a tsunami of speculation that’s keeping a lot of Maple Leafs’ hockey writers engaged. (Ironically, that obviously includes me right now.)

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So, here’s the deal. Really, even if the Maple Leafs could “pry” Subban away from New Jersey with the Devils retaining a ton of Subban’s salary cap, would they have a place for him on the team? Even at half-price, he’d still be at $4.5 million. That’s a ton for the Maple Leafs.

Honestly, I’ve been a Subban fan since he played in Nashville and I saw how he excited the public there about hockey. Still, where does he fit?

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He’s a 32-year-old former Norris Trophy winner (in 2013) but his last two seasons with the Devils are not anywhere near what he’s produced previously. In fact, as my often co-writer Stan Smith noted to me, Justin Holl (with four goals and 34 assists for 38 points) has more points in the past two seasons than Subban (who has 12 goals and 25 assists for 37 points). In fact, like plus-minus as a statistic or not, Holl (at plus-29) is a full 66 points higher on that statistic than Subban (who was minus-37) over the past two seasons. Part of that’s the team, of course; still ….

In short, I like Subban and would love to have him as a neighbor, but I don’t see where he fits on the team.

Item Three: How Good Is the Atlantic Division?

In thinking about the Maple Leafs’ competition this coming regular-season, most fans seem to think the team will be in tough within the Atlantic Division and might not make the playoffs. But is that really true?

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As far as I can see, the Maple Leafs’ competition toughest in the Atlantic will be the Florida Panthers. If Joe Thornton thought it was a good place to land, I’m not arguing. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are good. Sam Reinhart adds to the team. The defense with Aaron Ekblad is solid, and their goalie play is good-enough. Plus, they are well-coached by Joel Quenneville. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning have some great offensive players with ​​Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov and great goalie play with Andrei Vasilevskiy. But they lost some key players as well. Can they hold it together? Can they beat out the Panthers? I don’t think so.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

The Montreal Canadiens’ playoff success seems like a one-hit wonder. How good are the Boston Bruins’ goalies? For sure, the defense isn’t as good as it was. The Perfection Line is aging, and David Krejci went home to the Czech Republic. Can the Ottawa Senators rebuild quickly enough to cause trouble this season, or is their time somewhere down the road? The Detroit Red Wings are clearly a rebuilding team. And, then there’s the Buffalo Sabres.

In short, everyone worries that the Maple Leafs have lost too much; but, really, how different are they than the other teams in their division? Every team seems to be suffering from the salary-cap situation.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

I’m excited to watch the younger players engage in the opportunity to scrap (I don’t think I mean that literally) for a spot on the team. I can’t help but think that these young men were not so much older than my grandson and other young players – both boys and girls – who just this week finished their hockey tryouts and are waiting to be teamed up to play during the winter. 

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Someone will emerge from the 39 young players who start this development camp. The coaches will find a few surprises who’ll stand out. There will be lots of conversations behind closed office doors.

I’m anxious to hear the news – probably by the weekend.

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