In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the players on this season’s preseason roster who are seeking to revive their NHL careers. Which of them will be successful?
Second, I’ll share what I believe is a great organizational move by the Maple Leafs in hiring Rich Clune to a position in player development. From what I’ve seen over the seasons, he’s one of lesser-known, but more-important people in the entire organization.
Finally, I’ll wish a good year to those Maple Leafs’ fans who’ve already given up on the team and have chosen to do something other than watch the 2022-23 NHL season. If you’ve decided you simply won’t watch the inevitable train wreck that’s coming, there are many worthwhile things to do in place of hockey. Perhaps, when general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe are gone after this season, you’ll be back.
I’ll wish you the best at the end of this post.
Item One: The Change of Scenery Players
In the conversation section of a recent post in which I had reported that, after Nick Ritchie was traded to the Arizona Coyotes, he finally began to score, gcmgome noted that often when players have a “change of scenery” they perform better immediately. Careers can be rejuvenated.
Who didn’t think Ritchie’s career was over last season when he left Toronto? Then, speaking about Jimmy Vesey, gcmgome noted that Vesey was a college hockey player who (10 years ago now) had been drafted by Nashville in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft, who played four years at Harvard, who let his NHL rights expire, then was sought after by at least a dozen NHL teams as a free agent….including the Maple Leafs.
Who wouldn’t want a smooth-skating, former Hobey Baker Award winner with size and slick hands, who had just finished lighting up the NCAA? The Rangers eventually won the services of Vessey where he stuck around for three seasons, went to Buffalo for a season before he came to Toronto two seasons ago to take a chance at reviving a sagging hockey career with the Maple Leafs. For him, the “change of scenery” apparently didn’t work.
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Last season, the Maple Leafs picked up at least three players other than Ritchie who signed on with the hope of reviving their careers. Those who were largely successful were Michael Bunting and David Kampf. Ondrej Kase was generally successful and has moved to the Carolina Hurricanes.
This season, the Maple Leafs have at least five players who fall into the category of “working to revive a career.” They are forwards Adam Gaudette, Denis Malgin, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel and both goalies Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov.
How many must be successful to call it a good offseason for the Maple Leafs? Certainly, of the four players, it would seem the goalies would be key successes. If one – or both – could come through, great! But, it will also be interesting to see how the three forwards do.
Of those forwards, it would seem that Aube-Kubel is the player considered by the Maple Leafs as the most certain to find a spot on the team. Malgin is the player that’s hardest to figure out where he fits. Gaudette seems like a bankable hunch.
For me, watching a player try to revive a career is one of the neat things about hockey. As gcmgome noted, often changes of scenery can produce great results. We know that, every season it seems, a player emerges from the signings to land well and become a valuable addition to the Maple Leafs. Who will it be this season?
Item Two: Rich Clune Moves to the Front Office into Player Development
As quickly as Rich Clune announced his retirement from professional hockey, the Maple Leafs announced that he would be joining the Maple Leafs’ player development staff. Over the course of his NHL career, Clune had played 139 regular NHL games with the Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators, and the Los Angeles Kings. But it wasn’t his NHL playing career that has made him valuable to the organization.
Clune also played 256 regular season games with the Toronto Marlies in hometown Toronto. Yet, it wasn’t his AHL playing career that mattered so much either. It was the fact that he was simply an impactful person. He was one of those guys who made things better just by being there.
The Maple Leafs, as an organization, saw his value in 2020 when they named him the Marlies’ captain. In this time with the Marlies, his reputation is that he was a leader. It seemed that few players who made a pit stop with the Marlies on their way to the Maple Leafs’ lineup were not impacted positively in some way by their time with Clune.
You don’t let players with such talent or impact leave an organization when they quit lacing up the skates. The Maple Leafs didn’t.
That was true about Jason Spezza and it’s now true with Clune. Spezza moved to the front office to become a special assistant to general manager Kyle Dubas. Clune will move into player development to become a special assistant to Hayley Wickenheiser. Specific assignments haven’t yet been assigned it seems.
From my perspective it’s a great move by the organization.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
This has been an odd offseason for writing posts. I have never seen Maple Leafs’ fans so self-defeated (already) when it comes to the upcoming season. One fan wrote that the team had only put up 115 points last season, and it was obviously a disaster – actually, train wreck was the metaphor I believe.
However, in a recent post, reader and commenter Randy asked an interesting question framed this way: “It’s true the Maple Leafs lost to Tampa Bay in the first round. However, how many teams in the NHL would have lost to Tampa in the first round?”
Obviously, the question was rhetorical. Randy answered, “Virtually all teams! That never seems to get mentioned. (The) Maple Leafs went seven games and lost to the two-time Stanley Cup champs. Not so shabby! Florida never won a game!”
When I write such things in a post, I know it’s not what readers want to read. Fans might be correct. The team might be a train wreck. But I don’t know that yet. I want to watch the games and find out for myself.
That said, I have a feeling many “fans” won’t watch a game until April. Even then, because they don’t expect their team won’t be in the playoffs, they’ll miss the entire NHL season.
I get it. There are many worthwhile things to do other than watch the Maple Leafs. See you in 2023-24. Honest, I wish you well.