Maple Leafs News & Rumors: 5 Key Early-Season Questions

It has been over four months since the Toronto Maple Leafs last stepped on the ice to face another NHL opponent. Their prospects played in the Traverse City Prospect’s tournament a week ago but the regular players have not competed in a game since May 14th.

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Today fans get the pleasure of watching the team play two games as they face the Ottawa Senators in a split-squad preseason doubleheader at the Scotiabank Arena. The first game goes at 1:00 pm this afternoon. The second one is at 7:00 pm tonight.

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As the puck drops on the first of seven preseason games prior to the regular season start for the Maple Leafs in Montreal on October 12, what are five key questions that will soon be answered? 

Question One: Can Auston Matthews Get Off to a Quick Scoring Start?

Auston Matthews tore up the NHL last season setting a new Maple Leafs record for most goals scored in a single season with 60. That was six more than the previous record of 54 set by Rick Vaive exactly 40 years previously.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If we look back at last season, Matthews missed the first three games due to wrist surgery and then only scored one goal in his first six games. He then scored 60 goals in his last 67 games. What might happen should he have a quick scoring start? 

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If we can stay healthy this season, play all 82 games, and score at the same pace this season, he would end up with 73 goals. We realize there are a lot of “ifs,” but 70 goals is not an unreasonable target for Matthews. If he accomplishes that feat, it will have been exactly 30 years since it was done. In the 1992-93 season, both Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny scored 76 goals. 

Question Two: Who Will Win the Battle For the Number Six Forward Slot?

Five forwards of the top six appear to be set for the Maple Leafs. Despite head coach Sheldon Keefe shuffling his lines in training camp with the team split into two groups, Keefe has already stated his intention of keeping the top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Michael Bunting together. 

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe also said he hasn’t decided on the makeup of the second line. We have to think that, despite their struggles defensively last season, he intends to keep John Tavares and William Nylander on that line. If that’s the case, who can we expect to see as the other forward on that line? 

There appears to be an open competition going on for the spot. Players, like Adam Gaudette, Calle Jarnkrok, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel who we thought would be in the bottom six might get a shot on that second line. When Pierre Engvall recovers from his injury and rejoins the team will he get a chance, or will we eventually see Alex Kerfoot back there?

Question Three: Is Rasmus Sandin Getting Bad Advice?

After reading all the articles and listening to numerous radio broadcasts in the past couple of weeks, it seems that the unanimous position taken by hockey insiders and ex-NHL players is that Rasmus Sandin is making a mistake in his holding out from signing a contract.

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The general consensus is that he has little to no leverage in the negotiations, that he’s passing up on an opportunity to take advantage of valuable ice time in his development, and that he isn’t helping his reputation with the team and the fans. 

Hopefully, the two sides can get a deal done as soon as possible so he can rejoin the team. 

Question Four: When Might the Other Shoe Drop?

The one thing that is not talked about much is the fact the Maple Leafs still need to get under the league salary cap. This team has to divest itself of players from the roster either by trade or by putting a number of players on waivers. Likely that group will include more than those players making the $750,000 league minimum salary. 

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Will the most likely candidates to be traded, Justin Holl and Alex Kerfoot, find themselves elsewhere? Will Wayne Simmonds find himself on waivers? What happens with Sandin? 

If the team and Sandin do get a deal done, it means moving out more salary. Teams are allowed to be over the $82.5 million salary cap by $8.25 million until the day of their first regular season game. The clock is ticking. 

Question Five: What is the Status of Jake Muzzin?

Jake Muzzin was reported as day-to-day with a back ailment. That report has caused some consternation in Leafsland, especially with Muzzin’s history. Is there a chance that the back injury might not be as problematic as it seems on the surface?

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It was reported on the Leafs Lunch radio broadcast that Muzzin had played in the team’s annual golf tournament the day before weigh-in. Knowing that the first few days of camp are physically hard on the players as they’re put through the traditional “bag skates” to test their physical conditioning and endurance, might the team feel it best, given Muzzin’s history, to take it easy on him and give him a pass on the more “treacherous” portion of training camp?

Still, until we know differently, Muzzin’s status has to be a bit concerning for fans. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Tomorrow will be a ton of deconstruction of two games the team will play. The fun (we hope) is beginning.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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