In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I want to share some of the news that’s emerging from the team. First, after last night’s round-two deciding game when the New York Rangers beat the Carolina Hurricanes, the Maple Leafs’ draft pick has been solidified.
Second, I’ll comment on the surprising media and fan outpouring over Jason Spezza’s recent retirement and move to the Maple Leafs’ front office. Why so much news about a fourth-line forward?
Related: Maple Leafs’ News & (Mostly) Rumors: Muzzin, Nylander & Subban
Finally, I’ll throw out the name of a young, right-shot defenseman who might (or might not) be on the team’s radar. That’s Ethan Bear from the Hurricanes, and it struck me after last night’s game that – should there be something to rumors that another team might offer sheet one of two of the Maple Leafs’ young Swedish defensemen – the team might see Bear as a possibility.
Item One: Maple Leafs’ First-round Pick Number Settled
Until last night, the Maple Leafs were not sure where they would pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft on July 7–8, 2022, at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The best thing that could have happened for the Maple Leafs was that the four favorites for the Stanley Cup – the Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, and Colorado Avalanche – would be upset.
If that would have happened, the Maple Leafs would have improved their draft position from 28th overall to 24th overall. Well, it almost happened. The only favorite to win was the Avalanche. As a result, the Maple Leafs jumped up a few spots from the 28th spot to the 25th spot. That’s where the team will choose in July.
What young prospects will be chosen is a task for our THW writers who make it their business to know those prospects, so read more about the draft coverage on The Hockey Writers. However, interest will certainly increase as the draft approaches. It’s only about five weeks away.
Item Two: Some of the Behind the Scenes Actions by Spezza
As Maple Leafs’ fans who read my post yesterday about Jason Spezza know, he was my favorite Maple Leafs’ player. That said, I was surprised by all the attention given to him upon his retirement. He was, at the end, a fourth-line player whose scoring can probably can easily be replaced.
Related: Maple Leafs Face Tough Decision with Spezza
But Spezza was obviously much more than that, and both Maple Leafs’ fans and writers knew it. The continuing accolades given to him suggest how much he impacted the team and the community, and it makes sense for all sorts of reasons that he’d become part of the management team. He’s a walking culture-builder in a positive way.
Spezza had become a fan favorite. In a nice Steve Simmonds article yesterday in the Toronto Sun, the author noted that Spezza didn’t just play for the team he also spoke for them and to them. Spezza was that special kind of person who made the team better just by being there and who made his teammates stronger just by being with them. (from “SIMMONS: Losing Spezza on ice is losing the conscience of the Maple Leafs, Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun, 30/05/2022).
Simmons went on to say that Spezza had an “undefinable characteristic’ and a “natural instinct” that was obvious when it was experienced up close. Simmons called Spezza the “unofficial team dad” and noted some of the behind-the-scenes things he did for the team.
For examples, he picked up young Maple Leafs players from the airport. He contacted draft picks via social media to congratulate them. He proactively welcomed players who were traded to the team. He invited people to stay at his house with his family if they needed a place to land. He organized the collection of funds for underpaid AHL players when their season was cancelled because of the pandemic. He gave up money in his own pocket to help fund the team’s other players.
Related: NHL Dream Team
These are only some of the behind-the-scenes contributions. No wonder he was appreciated.
Item Three: What’s the Status of the Hurricanes Ethan Bear?
With the loss of the Hurricanes to the Rangers last night, the Hurricanes – similar to the Maple Leafs – are in a position to begin considering next season’s team. One player who’s on the Hurricanes’ roster but was not playing is Ethan Bear. Might the Maple Leafs have some interest?
I first came to know Bear when he was a defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers, and he had a really solid 2019-20 season. At that time, I thought he was on his way to being a top-four defenseman. Obviously, he’s fallen out of favor with the Hurricanes because he saw not a minute of action during the postseason.
Where might that leave Bear, who’s a pending RFA during this offseason? Bear played 58 games during the Hurricanes’ regular season and scored five goals and added nine assists (for 14 points). During the regular season, he also suffered a lower-body injury but he’d recovered by early April. After that, he sat.
Given the status of the Maple Leafs’ two young defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren; who, as rumors have it, might be the target of another team’s salary-cap squeeze on the Maple Leafs. It’s possible another team might tender an offer sheets for one or both of them. Would the Maple Leafs be interested in Bear if Sandin or Liljegren left? He is a right-shot defenseman, and that’s something the Maple Leafs could use.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs hit home runs with two signings during the last offseason. It will be interesting who else might be on general manager Kyle Dubas’ radar this offseason. The Maple Leafs’ organization could hardly have done better than picking up David Kampf and Michael Bunting.
Related: Maple Leafs’ Bunting Should Be a Calder Trophy Candidate
What other free agents are around? The team needs to make a number of decisions about current roster players who will be free agents this season. It should be an interesting time over the next two months.
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