I shared the rumor a couple of days ago that there might be something afoot between Jack Eichel and the Vegas Golden Knights, and there was. I woke to read the news that Eichel had been traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Golden Knights.
It’s a risky trade for both sides. Should Eichel return to his pre-injury abilities and skills, the trade could be a big loss for the Sabres. Should he not return to the dominant player he once was, the trade could be a huge loss for the Golden Knights.
Given the return the Sabres got for Eichel, I’m suggesting that Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans might want to think twice about their constant banter about the organization trading Mitch Marner. It wouldn’t be pretty.
Now, Back to the Maple Leafs
When the Maple Leafs meet the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, it will be a bigger test for the blue and white than the Golden Knights proved to be on Tuesday. Both teams come to the meeting holding onto a three-game winning streak.
Although the Lightning won’t have Nikita Kucherov in their lineup, they have been playing well. On Monday, they beat the Washington Capitals by a 3-2 score. The Lightning should find returning to Toronto like coming home. They were part of the 2020 playoff bubble (winning 10 of their 13 games there on their way to their first of two Cups).
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at where the team stands as they enter into a couple of two-points-either-way games that will likely test the metal of all three teams involved.
Item One: Mitch Marner “Looks Like Himself”
Finally, the Maple Leafs’ best two players had themselves a good game. To say they’d been struggling would have been an understatement. Both produced and the team won.
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Auston Matthews scored two goals and Marner scored a goal and added two assists. I can only imagine there must have been a sigh of relief in Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe’s comments about Marner’s last few games.
Keefe shared, “He looks like himself. That’s the Mitch we know and love. He playing with confidence. He looks like he’s free out there. And when he’s free, and the game is flowing for him, he makes great things happen on both sides of the puck.” (from “THE BOYS ARE BACK: Maple Leafs’ core delivers in win over Golden Knights,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 02/11/21).
Marner had this to say: “I definitely feel a lot better about my game. I think overall it’s been a good couple of games here — just got to make sure I keep going and just try and keep this mojo going.”
After starting off slowly, Marner’s now collected two goals and three assists in the last three games. I can see why coach Keefe is pleased.
Item Two: Travis Dermott Is Day-to-Day
Although Travis Dermott’s official injury is listed as undisclosed, we’re pretty sure what’s hurting him. During the Golden Knights’ game, he blocked a shot off his boot and now he’s having a hard time lacing his skate up.
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Coach Keefe’s comments seemed to be pretty disclosing to me when he noted that Dermott “wasn’t very comfortable when he tried to put his skate on today so was unable to skate.”
Keefe then added, “We’ll have to see how he is tomorrow.”
Dermott didn’t practice on Wednesday and it isn’t clear if he’ll be ready to play tonight, so it might be that Justin Holl draws into the game. The word from Wednesday’s practice was that Keefe paired Timothy Liljegren with Rielly and played Holl on the third pairing with Rasmus Sandin.
Item Three: Jack Campbell Gets the Start Against the Lightning
Jack Campbell played on Tuesday and, because of the Maple Leafs’ stifling defense, had a pretty easy 26-save shutout. He’ll be in the net again tonight against the Lightning. After a tough game against the Pittsburgh Penguins where he gave up five goals and a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes where he gave up four, Campbell has won his past two games and now sports a 4-2-1 season’s record, a goals-against-average of 1.99, and a save percentage of .929 in eight games.
The 29-year-old Campbell will be facing a Lightning team that’s averaged 3.22 goals per game this season, which ranks 10th in the NHL.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Prior to the Golden Knights’ game, coach Keefe noted that his team “wasn’t close yet” to being the team they should be. He was more encouraged after Tuesday’s game and noted that “right from the start we took control of the game, and I thought we maintained that all the way through.”
Keefe outlined some of the improvements he saw: “We were good on special teams; the goaltending was certainly more indicative of what we think we’re capable of.”
In three more days, and Maple Leafs’ fans might have gained a much clearer picture of what this team might become. Following the Lightning’s departure, the Boston Bruins arrive at Scotiabank Arena. By the time Saturday ends, the question might be answered whether the team is closer to the consistency Keefe believes they could achieve – or not.
We’ll all soon know.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf