In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report a training camp injury, note what players have returned to the ice, share a blast from the past about the new NHL’s dress-code policy, and give the latest news about young Nick Robertson.
By the way, I could write an entire post on Robertson every day; there is that much news and that much interest. The youngster has taken the ice and people’s imaginations by storm. I’ve been interested in the possibilities he presents for the team if he proves to be good enough to play regularly next season. I’m not alone.
Item One: Justin Holl Suffers Training Camp Injury
Pucks travel up to 100 mph during an NHL game. Getting hit by a flying one can do serious damage; just ask Justin Holl. Holl was left bloodied after Wednesday’s practice, but he should be back Thursday – although perhaps sporting a face shield.
Holl has a sense of humour and who knew? The defenseman plays with Team Andersen, and his team is trailing the training-camp scrimmage event. When interviewed after a recent scrimmage, he used the ever-present skill of NHL players during interviews who engage in clichés that say both something and nothing at the same time.
From Holl: “We expect more of ourselves as Team Andersen. Our backs are against the wall, just where we want to be.” I’m surprised he didn’t add, “We’ve got come out harder and play our game,” (from “After being away so long, Leafs getting their routine fix, Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 21/07/20).
Item Two: Both Timothy Liljegren and Andreas Johnsson Show Up on the Ice
Both Timothy Liljegren and Andreas Johnsson skated before Wednesday’s practice. It was the first time either has been spotted since the Phase 3 training camp opened almost two weeks ago. Johnsson’s knee surgery in February has kept him out of the lineup for months and he’d been rehabbing at home in Sweden. If needed and deemed “fit to play,” he could be part of the Maple Leafs’ lineup during the playoffs.
Liljegren didn’t participate during the team’s scrimmage, but he seems healed from whatever unknown malady or injury that kept him away from practice. He’d been deemed “unfit to play” on July 13 when Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return to Play Program began.
Item Three: Doug Gilmour on the Dress Code Policy
With NHL COVID-19 protocols tightening as the Toronto and Edmonton-based hubs open in less than four days, one thing that has loosened is the dress code. The NHL has been on the conservative side, requiring players to wear a jacket and tie to and from games, and tv networks have made a game of showing the players’ creative headwear.
Now things seem to be more open, and former Maple Leafs captain Doug Gilmour had some fun with the situation, as you can see from his tweet.
For geeky Maple Leafs fans like me who are interested in the team’s history, Gilmour was named the franchise’s 15th captain on Aug. 18, 1994. The prior captain was Wendel Clark, but he was traded to the Quebec Nordiques during the 1994 offseason.
Item Four: I Know, More on Nick Robertson
Every post I write seems to include a note about Robertson. One reason is that when head coach Sheldon Keefe is interviewed, every media person asks about him. He’s made an impression during training camp. Still, fans have no idea what the team will do with the rookie; no one in the know is saying. Perhaps that’s because no one is yet “in the know” – at least, not for sure.
Recently, Robertson was part of a line combination that included center Alex Kerfoot and right-winger Kasperi Kapanen. However, yesterday’s MorningPuck.com listed Pierre Engvall back on the left-wing on the third line. So, we’re not certain what gives.
Keefe noted: “I see the potential for that (Kerfoot) line to be tenacious and on the puck and that’s a big part of Nick’s game. With Kerfoot and Kappy, they haven’t had a practice together and I just wanted to see where that could go. A lot of it is just trying to give Nick as many experiences as we can.”
About Engvall, who was an extra forward behind checkers Kyle Clifford, Frederik Gauthier, and Jason Spezza, Keefe said, “I’m pretty comfortable with Pierre and the job he’s done in that spot.”
Yesterday, in a post-practice interview, Keefe was asked to comment about the way Robertson was able to get his shot off during scrimmages. He shared, “I think what has stood out is that he hasn’t been able to get it off very often. That would probably be the biggest difference (between the NHL and junior).”
One reason for this, Keefe noted, is that at this level there isn’t as much time. Players are also better at getting their sticks and bodies in the way. They play better positionally and the goalies are better.
Keefe outlined Robertson’s progress through the training camp: “In the first couple of scrimmages, he didn’t have a shot on goal. It has taken a little while to get up to speed. He seems to be getting more involved and getting more shots. He had a couple of good ones today. Being on the power play helped that.”
Finally, Keefe noted that Robertson’s ability to get his shot off “is a great weapon.” The coach also admitted, “It is unexpected, is the big thing.” So, it looks as if Keefe is as surprised as the rest of us at Robertson’s skill level.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
In the background of the excitement of training camp, whispers continue about the impact of next season’s flat salary cap. Conventional wisdom is that the organization will have to consider trading one of their core forwards. Someone posted as much again this morning.
I’m not of that mindset. Instead, I believe the flat salary cap means that the team’s contracts from this season also fit into next season’s salary-cap structure – same money, same contracts. That’s why Dubas is confident the organization can keep its core together.
Ilya Mikheyev needs to be signed, but I think the team will fill their holes with contract-friendly veterans and young prospects rising through the system. But, that’s a conversation for another time.