No one feels sorry for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In fact, there’s no doubt there are some smiling around the NHL about the team’s recent struggles on the ice and with injuries. Really, given what’s happened to the team this season, it’s amazing the Maple Leafs are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The team can’t seem to catch a break – unless you are thinking of John Tavares’ finger.
As the Maple Leafs wait to play the really hot New York Islanders (9-0-1 in the team’s last 10 starts), there’s been a lot of news and rumors within and about the Maple Leafs organization. In this post, I will try to keep fans up-to-date with some of what’s emerging from the team.
Item One: Hutchinson Is Waived
I might have been wrong in previous posts about goalie Michael Hutchinson, excusing his poor record on the fact that he was deployed in less-than-favorable situations (his only starts this season have come in the second half of back-to-back games). On Nov. 11, the day after he gave up five goals in a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Maple Leafs placed Hutchinson on waivers. Hutchinson hadn’t won a game all season (0-4-1) and suffered a 4.44 goals against average (GAA) and an equally bad .879 save percentage (SV%).
Hutchinson came to the Maple Leafs in a trade from the Florida Panthers last December. And, he was pretty solid last season covering for starter Frederik Andersen in the five NHL games (with a 2-3-0 record, a .914 save percentage, and 2.64 GAA) he played with the team. When Andersen returned, Hutchinson was demoted to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies where he had a 14-7-1 record, a .910 SV%, and 2.70 GAA.
Prior to Hutchinson being waived, the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan suggested that it might be time for the Maple Leafs to give Marlies’ goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo a shot to earn the job as a backup with the big club. He noted that, because the contracts were so close in dollar value, such a move would basically be a wash between Kaskisuo and Hutchinson. He also speculated that coach Mike Babcock’s job could be tied to the success of the team’s goaltending. (from: “Goaltending an issue as Leafs lose despite season-high 57 shots on goal” – Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 10/11/19)
Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star agreed with Koshan that Babcock’s job security as Maple Leafs head coach might be tied to the success of the Andersen and then-backup Hutchinson – or, now, whoever that backup might become.
Anderson’s record of 9-2-3, with a 2.62 GAA and .916 SV%, is solid enough. However, the Maple Leafs obviously must guard the amount of regular-season games Anderson plays if he is to be sufficiently rested for the upcoming playoffs. That said, as McGran notes, the team must actually make the playoffs before it can prepare for the playoffs.
McGran’s predicts that, if the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs, Babcock is toast. Finally, he reminded that Hutchinson was general manager Kyle Dubas’ choice and not Babcock’s. When speaking about the backup position, McGran noted that the 26-year-old Finnish Kaskisuo has a 6-1-1 record, with a 2.13 GAA and .928 SV% with the Marlies. (from: “Babcock’s job, Andersen’s load, tied to Hutchinson” – Kevin McGran, The Star, 11/11/19)
Item Two: Is Spezza a Good Problem to Have, or Just a Problem?
The conversation about Jason Spezza simply won’t go away. During Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines report, Chris Johnston shared ongoing rumors surrounding the Maple Leafs and Spezza. From Johnston’s perspective, Spezza will become the odd man out when the team activates Zach Hyman sometime this week.
Spezza has been a healthy scratch for three-straight games, and Johnston speculates that Dubas and Babcock are conversing constantly about where (or if) Spezza fits within the organization. However, all things being considered, that conversation might have changed with the news that Mitch Marner’s injury will keep him out for about a month. If it were not for Marner’s injury, it looks as if Spezza might have been waived. As I noted in a previous post, Spezza has a no-trade clause in his contract but he can be waived.
Item Three: Marner Is Out for a Month
Speaking of Mitch Marner, the news isn’t good. The ankle injury he suffered in Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers will sideline him for a minimum of four weeks. After four weeks, Marner’s injury will be re-assessed by the Maple Leafs’ medical staff.
The Leafs might put him on LTIR as a way to save cap space. However, whatever the team does, Marner’s injury is a huge blow to the Maple Leafs season. He’s both an offensive (four goals and 18 points in 18 games) and a strong defensive player.
Item Four: Kaskisuo Feels He’s Ready to Play at the NHL Level
The Maple Leafs next game is against the Islanders on Wednesday, and the rumors are that the team will call up Kaskisuo from the Marlies to back-up Andersen for that game. Although Kaskisuo has yet to make his NHL debut, he told TSN last month he believes he’s ready to make the leap.
At the time, the Marlies’ goalie noted, “There’s only one way to find out. Put me in the game. But, yeah, I feel like I’m confident I can play at a high level. The AHL is a good league, but the NHL is a step up. It would be a dream come true and just working toward that every day.”
Item Five: Nylander Is Getting Hot
After basically being benched last week, William Nylander scored two goals in Sunday’s road loss to the Blackhawks. In fact, about the only thing he didn’t do well in his more than 20 minutes of ice time was in the faceoff circle, where he didn’t win a draw in four attempts.
Suddenly, Nylander has three multi-point games in his last four (with four goals and six points). His last two-goal game was on April 2, 2018, against the Buffalo Sabres.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
As I noted, the Maple Leafs have a game against the Islanders. But, before they hit the ice, some decisions need to be made. I, for one, am anxious to see what tomorrow brings.
I feel bad Hutchinson didn’t have a good run with the Maple Leafs, and I would be sad to see Spezza leave after turning down other offers to come to play in his hometown.