In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at how the new Maple Leafs’ defenseman Mark Giordano likes playing with his new team. It’s a small sample, but what are his first impressions?
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Second, I take a look at the success of another newcomer – defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin – and wonder whether the Maple Leafs will try to extend him during the offseason. He seems to fit the team’s needs and has become a member of the team’s culture already.
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Third, I’ll look at a new Auston Matthews’ venture. Given that he’s had so many hat tricks during his career, it seems like a perfect job to becoming the face of a company that sells hats.
Item One: Giordano Loves the Maple Leafs’ Style
Sure, it’s a small “n” – only one game. But how does new Maple Leafs defenseman and Toronto native like playing with his new team? The answer is that he seems to like it just fine. In fact, by his own admission, he “loves” it.
After the New Jersey Devils’ game, Giordano noted: “I loved the way we played. It’s an aggressive style and it’s fun to play.”
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He also praised his third-pairing partner Timothy Liljegren after the game. “For a young guy, (Liljegren), has got super poise with the puck, he makes really good decisions out there. You don’t really get a sense of how complete his game is on TV. I was really impressed with positioning and all the little plays you make.”
Item Two: Re-signing Ilya Lyubushkin to a Longer Contract
During the Devils’ game, another newcomer had one more solid performance. That was former Arizona Coyote defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin. He led the team with four hits and was a plus-2 playing with Morgan Rielly.
Lyubushkin has averaged just under 17 minutes of ice time per game since he’s come to Toronto. He’s been a steady force and his partner Rielly agrees that the big Russian’s play reminds him of former Maple Leafs’ great Roman Polak, who shared the same uniform #46.
When asked about the comparison, Rielly said: “I think that’s a good comparison. I didn’t put that together. (Lyubushkin is a) big guy who plays really hard. enjoys that aspect of the game, being physical stuff. I think if you watch a video, they definitely probably have a couple of things in common.”
Now what? The 27-year-old Russian makes $1.35 million on his current contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. It seems like a no-brainer for Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas to re-sign Lyubushkin to a multi-year extension.
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Lyubushkin seems to check a lot of the Maple Leafs’ boxes. Not the least of these is that he has a great partnership with Rielly, which allows T.J. Brodie to move to his natural side.
Item Three: Auston Matthews New Gig
Here’s something I didn’t know and learned recently. When Auston Matthews – and I assume anyone else – scores a hat trick, they get to take some of the hats home. Recently, Matthews noted that, after a hat trick on the Scotiabank Arena ice, “They let me take home some of the ones I really liked.”
Some of these hats, in Matthews’ words, are “pretty sweet.”
That makes sense because Matthews has a flair for fashion. Companies have seen that flair and want him to become a part of their team. Matthews just agreed to be the face of Lids, a North American sports cap retailer. He’s the first NHL player and first pro athlete from any Canadian-based team to form such a partnership.
Matthews noted that “It’s an honour for me. I’ve always been into hats; I think they’re a really big part of hockey culture.” (from “ ‘IT’S AN HONOUR’: Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews caps hat deal, Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 24/03/22).
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For Maple Leafs who might not know, Matthews was a baseball fan before he became a hockey fan. Growing up in sunny Arizona will do that. Matthews’ favorite hat was a Boston hat, but not the Bruins.
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Instead, it was from the Boston Red Sox. As Matthews noted, it might not have been “the first one I owned, but (it was) the most memorable because I really loved the Sox and David Ortiz was my guy when I wore it all the time.”
Matthews said that “I probably just wore it out.”