Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Johnsson, Nylander, Timashov & Russians

The Toronto Maple Leafs finally beat a good team when they won an exciting overtime game against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night in Toronto. As they prepare for the team’s second game without captain John Tavares, who’s out with a broken finger, here’s some team news and rumors entering that game.

Related: Maple Leafs Team News: Tavares, Mikheyev, Toronto Marlies & Kapanen

Item One: It Looks as if Johnsson Will Be OK

Top-six winger Andreas Johnsson suffered a leg injury during the Bruins game when he stepped in front of an absolute blast of a shot from the Bruins’ Brandon Carlo. After he blocked the shot, it hurt him enough that he could barely make it off the ice.

But apparently it looked worse than it was (of course, I say that not being the one hit by a frozen puck) because head coach Mike Babcock reported after Saturday’s win that X-rays came back negative.

Babcock noted, “I think he’s going to be fine. The X rays were negative, we’ll see in the morning. He might not practice tomorrow but he’ll be back in.”

Andreas Johnsson; Kenny Agostino; Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Andreas Johnsson celebrates with left wing Kenny Agostino and centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

News out of Toronto on Oct. 21 is that Johnsson practiced this morning and will play at his usual position on Auston Matthews left-wing.

Item Two: Is Nylander in Babcock’s Doghouse?

Babcock seems to be still up-in-the-air about William Nylander’s play with the team. When he was asked how he felt Nylander played this season, the answer was “great.” However, Babcock couldn’t help getting in a dig as well. 

Related: Nylander & Spezza Shine for Maple Leafs in Loss to Blues

Babcock noted, “I think Willy would tell ya he’s feeling way better than he was at this time last year. I think he was on a beach in Sweden at this time last year. So just being at the rink is a step in the right direction.”

It’s an interesting comment, it seems to me. For a retired teacher like myself, if I were trying to motivate a young man to play hard for me (and the team) I simply wouldn’t risk raking him over the coals as Babcock did. I’m sure other tough-love fans might disagree, but I haven’t found snide or negative comments that motivating in the long run.

Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander Boston Bruins Matt Grzelcyk
Toronto Maple Leafs’ William Nylander controls the puck ahead of Boston Bruins’ Matt Grzelcyk (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Babcock’s history with Nylander since he’s come to the Maple Leafs is interesting. It seems that, if he makes a mistake – which is part of the nature of hockey, Babcock demotes him. We’ll see how this one works out in the long run.

Item Three: Are Salary-Cap Space Issues on the Horizon?

Sportsnet is reporting that defenseman Travis Dermott and forward Zach Hyman are almost ready to re-join the team. When they do the Maple Leafs must activate them. Suddenly, there’s a problem because the team will need to clear some roster spots to make that activation happen. That’s going to take some consideration for the Maple Leafs organization.

Related: NHL Rumors: Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Oilers, More

Currently, the Maple Leafs have $380,000 in cap space from LTIR relief. That’s too little to recall any single player. With 20 players on the roster, the club is also ineligible for a $0 cap hit Emergency Roster Exemption recall. So, what to do?

When you are bumping right up against the salary cap, there aren’t many options. Although it’s good news that new troops are coming, and it’s looking as if Tavares, Hyman, and Dermott might all come back about the same time, when they return the team will likely be forced to make four cuts to accommodate those cap hits.

Travis Dermott #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Travis Dermott #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Who would they cut? Nic Petan is available, so he’s likely gone. Kevin Gravel hasn’t played, so he’s a likely second cut. But, then who’s next? Jason Spezza and Nick Shore might have to go, although Shore seems to be finding a role with the team. Martin Marincin might be a cut on defense.

The point is that changes will need to be made, and quite soon.

Item Four: Dmytro “The Dynamo” Timashov Is Making a Hit

Dmytro Timashov is a little dynamo – or should that be his new nickname? Whatever, Timashov is making a point that a small man can play physical hockey. He might be only 5-foot-10 and weighing 190 pounds, but Timashov is banging around on the ice. It’s interesting to watch him pinball his way into more ice time.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Expectations for Johnsson & Kapanen in 2019-20

For my money, he’s a disruptive force on the ice because he harasses opponents and creates turnovers. His goal – the first of his NHL career – came after a great forecheck. He simply smashed the puck past the goalie. Although he’s always been known as a skill-player, he banging his way onto people’s watch lists. He has four points in six games in a fourth-line role.

Item Five: Maple Leafs Linked to Okulov

On a recent Sportsnet broadcast, NHL hockey insider Chris Johnston reported that the Maple Leafs have a potential interest in yet another young Russian skater – Konstantin Okulov. There’s no question that the success of Ilya Mikheyev has made Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas consider more Russian additions to the team.

Okulov has been catching lots of looks from NHL teams, but two Canadian-based teams – the Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens – are favorites to land the Russian free agent. In fact, the Maple Leafs seem to have an advantage over other teams; so, as a result, some teams have given up their interest in Okulov.

There must be something the Maple Leafs are doing that engenders such good connections between Russian free agents and the organization. In the case of Mikheyev, it was the relationship built over time between the young player and his new head coach. Whatever it is, if the current crop of Russian players is any example, keep them coming. By the way, Okulov had 20 goals and 31 points last season.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs play the Columbus Blue Jackets at home on Monday evening. The Blue Jackets are not a strong team on paper, but they are staying competitive. They come into Toronto after losing two straight games in overtime by the score of 3-2 (to the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Islanders).

It will be the second game without captain Tavares, and there’s no doubt that Babcock will play with his lines again. We’ll see who plays with whom.