In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’m going to look back briefly to consider why the Maple Leafs were so interested in Nick Foligno two trade deadlines ago. Then, I’ll wonder if Derek Stepan might be a player the team might also be interested in.
Second, I’ll look at the great Auston Matthews and ask the question if he can hit 60 goals again this season. It would be tough, but possible. Finally, I’ll invite readers to add to my research list in a post I’ll do on great Maple Leafs’ players from the province of Saskatchewan.
Item One: What Was Nick Foligno’s Attraction to the Maple Leafs?
Mostly I know my pay grade. In writing about the Maple Leafs, because the organization has had such great success building a really solid team, I’m cautious in my critique. They’re way smarter hockey people than I am. In addition, I don’t have a crystal ball to tell if a decision they’ve made is wrong, even if I don’t get it at the time.
However, I still only can speculate about the logic of going after Nick Foligno so hard in April 2021. I understand the desire to bring him to the team, but the cost seemed really high at the time. And, in the end, it didn’t work out well at all. But, it was the keen attraction that gave me pause.
In his post this morning, Editor in Leafs Stephen Nixon noted three possibilities for low-cost additions to the Maple Leafs. That is, if the Maple Leafs are not yet done looking for additions to their roster. He mentioned PK Subban on defense, Sonny Milano as a left-winger, and then Derek Stepan as a depth center for the team’s fourth line.
Actually, I’m in favor of letting the team’s current fourth line of Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Adam Gaudette, Denis Malgin, and/or whomever the Toronto Marlies might provide for the task – be it Bobby McMann or Joey Anderson (my choices) – have a go at the job. Still, although Stepan had not been on my radar, bringing up his name reminded me of the Foligno fiasco; and, I found it intriguing as a possibility.
Related: The Top 10 NHL Goalie Prospects
Stepan made his mark mostly as a third-line center who helped the New York Rangers during a number of their playoff runs. At 32 years of age, he probably can still contribute; and, during the playoffs, he could be a reliable veteran to throw out on the ice when the going gets tense.
Last season, he played with the Carolina Hurricanes and recently signed a Professional Tryout (PTO) with the Hurricanes. But, if he doesn’t play there this season, would he be a possibility for the Maple Leafs?
Although he’s far from flashy, Stepan’s been solid. He could offer what Foligno was seen to bring to the team two trade deadlines ago but failed to produce (mostly because of injuries, I know). Might there still be a desire for this kind of player?
Item Two: Can Auston Matthews Hit 60 Goals Again?
The simple fact is this: Auston Matthews is an amazing NHL player. Last season, as Maple Leafs’ fans know, he set a franchise record and led the NHL by scoring 60 goals. That was obviously his own personal best, as was his total of 106 points in 73 games.
By the way, it needs to be re-noted that it was 73 games and not 82. Imagine what he would have done if he had been healthy (and not suspended) for nine games over the season.
Matthews was the first NHL player who scored 60 goals in a season since the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos did it in 2011-12. He’s also scored 40 or more goals three seasons in a row. Furthermore, his 148 goals in 195 games are 19 more than any other NHL player has scored over the past three seasons. Amazing, really.
Could he do it again?
Item Three: Other Recent Players to Hit the 60-Goal Mark
Pavel Bure, when he was with the Vancouver Canucks, was the last NHL player to score 60 goals in back-to-back seasons. That was now almost 30 years ago. Matthews was bigger than Bure. He was 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, while Bure was 5-foot-10 and 190. However, they both possess great individual skill sets.
Bure set the mark in a time when scoring was up and goalies were not as good, and he did it during his second and third seasons with the Canucks. Matthews was 24-years old, while Bure was 22 years old the first season and 23 years old during the second. Bure later scored 59 and 58 goals with the Florida Panthers, but never again hit the 60-goal mark. It’s tough.
Only Alex Ovechkin and Stamkos have scored 60 goals since the turn of the century. Wayne Gretzky scored 60 goals in four straight seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Mario Lemieux scored 70 and 85 goals in back-to-back seasons. In the early 1990s, Brett Hull logged three straight seasons of scoring 70 goals or more when he was with the St. Louis Blues.
Matthews can hit 60 goals, but it might be difficult. Had his 2020-21 season not been shortened to 52 games by the pandemic, he might have hit 60 then. He was on a pace that would have given him 64 for the season. So, it isn’t a lack of skill. Everything must go right.
Good luck to him, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if he didn’t score 60 goals. However, for him not to hit 50 would be a huge surprise.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
In writing about Wendel Clark in a recent post, I was intrigued by his story of coming to the Maple Leafs as a young farm boy from Saskatchewan. I’m planning to do a post on great Maple Leafs’ players from Saskatchewan. The first player who comes to mind is Patrick Marleau. He seems to have similar beginnings to Clark.
I’ll be researching that question over the next while for a post perhaps next week. If any reader wants to add to my beginning list for my research, I’d be thankful.
Who do you believe have been the best Maple Leafs’ players from Saskatchewan?