Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Eddie Shack, Blue Jackets & John Tavares

As good as the Toronto Maple Leafs have been recently, it’s been 51 years since they last won the Stanley Cup, longer than any other team. They are also second to the Florida Panthers in that they haven’t won a playoff series in 14 years. With a young, talented roster, is this the season?

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at what some of the more seasoned commentators have to say about the team’s postseason match up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but first I’ll share some sad news about the great NHL and Maple Leafs icon the “Entertainer” Eddie Shack. Finally, I will give an update on Maple Leafs captain John Tavares’ community work in the Toronto area.

Item One: Eddie Shack Placed into Palliative Care

Eddie Shack, who’s rightfully nicknamed, “The Entertainer,” has been in and out of hospital battling cancer for much of the year. Earlier this week, it was announced that the Maple Leafs legend has been placed in palliative care, (from “HORNBY: Don’t get mushy on us, NHL arena ice,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 06/07/20).

1966-67 Eddie Shack hockey card (THW Archives)

During his NHL career, the 83-year-old played more than 1,000 games and won four Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs. Shack helped the Leafs win the team’s most recent championship in 1967. After he retired, he had a long and colourful career as a businessman and a star in TV commercials. He was also front-and-center as a spokesman in the NHL alumni’s successful bid to recover unpaid pension benefits.

Related: The WHA – A Look Back at the Upstart Hockey League

Shack is mainly remembered as a Maple Leaf, but he also played for the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his 1047 career regular-season games, he scored 239 goals and 465 points. He also was a battler, who racked up 1439 penalty minutes.

Item Two: No Blue Jackets Are Expected To Opt Out Of Play-In Round

According to a tweet by Brian Hedger of the Columbus Post-Dispatch, every Blue Jackets player who can lace up for the postseason will do so. That said, it’s still early and players have another day by my count to give a definitive answer.

The postseason series between the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets will be one of those classic offense vs. defense series, and we now know that the full Columbus team will likely be there battling.

Item Three: Could the Maple Leafs Lose Against the Blue Jackets?

How does it look for the Maple Leafs against the Blue Jackets?

Two well-respected hockey analysts, Mark Masters and Craig Button suggested that the Maple Leafs might be in tough against the John Tortorella-coached Columbus team.

John Tortorella Blue Jackets bench (2)
The Maple Leafs will play the Blue Jackets in the play-in round. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Earlier this week, Button reported that, although the Maple Leafs are highly skilled, he wonders if they have the edge they need entering the play-in round. The Blue Jackets fight hard for every puck and every inch of ice. Button further noted that the Blue Jackets don’t beat themselves and are excellent defensively. Finally, he mentioned that if the Maple Leafs don’t attend to the details, he doesn’t like their chances.

Button’s colleague and Maple Leafs insider Masters pointed to the pressure on goalie Frederik Andersen who has a propensity to start slowly. Masters mentioned that Andersen won’t have any wiggle room to get comfortable. He must be absolutely ready to go on August 1.

Does all of this add up to a less-than-ideal matchup for the Maple Leafs? Yes, it does, but that is no different from any other team. If they are going end their Stanley Cup drought, they have to beat everyone in their path – and it begins with the Blue Jackets. The regular-season series gives no edge to either team because the two split their games.

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The COVID-19 postseason is unpredictable. Already a number of commentators are picking underdogs who probably wouldn’t have been in the playoffs to move past the play-in round. In fact, there’s an increased sense that the Chicago Blackhawks will beat the Edmonton Oilers.

Obviously, anything can happen in a five-game series and there is a chance these play-in rounds will be surprising.

Item Four: More News about the John Tavares Foundation

In a recent post, I noted the work of John Tavares both in the community and as a representative of the Maple Leafs. I have also checked in on the John Tavares Foundation a few times since that post, and the website is growing and taking shape. I encourage everyone to check it out.

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares has set up a foundation to encourage a healthy lifestyle. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The organization’s goal is to encourage what it calls a “healthy lifestyle,” which it defines in a broad way. The site offers suggestions for activities families can do together, including riding bike trails around Lake Ontario and setting hydration goals to organizing backyard games. A wide range of activities is covered, along with a strong anti-bullying campaign.

Whatever prompted Tavares to move into this area of community service, good for him. It’s unique but gives Maple Leafs fans some insight into the passion he has for families and especially children as they try to navigate a difficult landscape. The foundation also has a Facebook presence.

Yesterday, Tavares posted about one of his organization’s new partners, Halton Food for Thought, and their plans to provide summer food boxes to more than 1000 families in the Halton community, where Tavares grew up.

Related: The Maple Leafs and the Legacy of the Muskoka Five

I’ve come to appreciate Tavares – and all other NHL hockey players – who “give back” through their community engagement. Such work matters, in this case, children and families who could use some help.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

On July 6, TSN’s Gino Reda pointed out that last year there was a 111-day break between the Stanley Cup Final and the beginning of the regular season. He also noted that, when play starts in August, there will have been a 142-day break.

That reminds me that this 2019-20 postseason has all the elements of starting a new season. No one really knows how it will go, but if hockey is played, it will be good to watch and write about new games again.