In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, there’s good news to share. Zach Hyman was named the team’s Bill Masterton Trophy candidate, and John Tavares is determined to see how far his team can go in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Phase 2 of the Return to Play Plan also began this week, which means the team has started practicing in Toronto.
Here’s some of the latest news and rumors about the organization.
Item One: Zach Hyman Named the Masterton Trophy Candidate
As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox tells it, there was a time when Hyman’s University of Michigan head coach, Hall of Famer Red Berenson, took him aside for a little pep talk. Berenson recognized Hyman’s work ethic, drive, and love of the game and offered some life lessons.
Berenson’s message was clear: if Hyman was going to make it in the NHL it wasn’t going to be as a scorer. He had to focus on what he could control and his strengths. He could become an “elite penalty killer and an elite two-way player.” In short, he could be a grinder who scored.
Hyman listened. He agreed that he would likely never win the NHL’s scoring race, but he still wanted to play at the highest level. So, he concentrated on three areas he could control: 1. how hard he worked, 2. his manner at the rink, and 3. being in the moment.
Hyman told former Maple Leaf and current New Jersey Devils defenseman, Connor Carrick, in a recent podcast, “I worked my bag off, I had a positive attitude, and I kept getting better.”
Hyman added that he decided he was going to, “work harder than anybody in the gym to be one of the most fit players. And I’m going to do all the things some guys don’t want to do. I’m gonna go into the corners and get the puck back. And then, maybe, I’ll be able to score later on.”
That’s exactly what happened. He kept getting stronger, faster, and more effective. Former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock loved the guy, saying he was “the best forechecker in hockey.” Babcock also loved his toughness, and Hyman’s pain threshold had to be near the top of the list. He played half of their 2019 first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins with a torn ACL. That’s tough.
Hyman, now 28 years old, was drafted in the fifth round (123rd overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers. In 2015, his rights were traded to the Maple Leafs for center Greg McKegg and a conditional seventh-round draft pick in the 2017 Draft.
Hyman completed his four-year college career at Michigan and was a Hobey Baker finalist. He’s also a children’s author and has become, as teammate Auston Matthews calls him, “the Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5.” This season, Hyman tied Dave Keon’s franchise record of 12 career empty-net goals (in 302 fewer games), an indication of the trust his team has in him to protect late-game leads.
This week, Berenson lessons paid off again when Hyman became Toronto’s nominee for the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as voted on by the local Toronto chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Being nominated is a testament to the winger’s perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.
By the way, Hyman’s two sports-related children’s books are Hockey Hero and The Bambino and Me. Not ironically, the message that comes across again and again in these books is that we should never give up. He encourages young people to take chances because “you never know what can happen.”
In The Bambino and Me, Babe Ruth offers this message, “And if you fall you can always pick yourself back up and swing big again. And eventually, you’re going to hit that home run.”
The message sounds familiar. Thank you, Red Berenson, and congratulations to Hyman for being named the Maple Leafs’ nominee.
Item Two: John Tavares Is Trying to Write a New Ending to His Team’s Story
John Tavares scores like clockwork. In over a decade since he was the NHL’s No. 1 overall draft choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, he’s never scored fewer than 24 goals in a season and last season recorded his NHL high with 47. In his two seasons with the Maple Leafs, he’s been over a point-per-game player, with 148 points in 145 games.
As far as playoff success? Nada. Tavares has made the playoffs four times in his career, but his teams have only won one series. When general manager Kyle Dubas signed the Toronto-area native as a free agent and named him the Maple Leafs’ captain, the organization was hoping he and his team would crest the Stanley Cup mountain together.
Although this seems like an odd season for a playoff run, Tavares is approaching it the same as any other. He isn’t taking the opportunity lightly and he wants to lead his team deep into the playoffs. As he noted recently, “It’s what you play for.”
He admitted that the environment will be different and “something you’re going to have to embrace, a different type of environment, and a lot of unknown.” However, he’s longing to get back into competition. He was one of the NHL players on the committee to restructure the 2020 Playoff format and was pleased there was hope the Stanley Cup would be awarded.
Not ignoring the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, “Considering everything we’re going through in society [and] in the world, I think we should feel very fortunate. There’s no better motivating factor.”
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs are one of the most active organizations to begin Phase 2 of the NHL’s restart. This is because so many Maple Leafs players stayed in Toronto and others have returned to prepare. Almost 20 players began practicing on Monday and the organization has tested players for the virus so they can begin training in small groups. The team seems eager to embrace the remainder of the season.
Both Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen are expected to remain in Arizona, but word is that they’ve established a nice routine that includes both on-ice and off-ice workouts. The government-required 14-day quarantine remains an issue but the NHL is rumoured to be seeking some relief on that front. We’ll know soon.