In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report that Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keith has been re-upped to a two-year extension. I’ll also share the news that Pierre Engvall returned to practice on Thursday. Third, I’ll update Auston Matthews’ status after his wrist surgery and what that means for team’s hopes of having him begin the regular season on October 13 against the Montréal Canadiens.
Fourth, and finally, I’ll share the not surprising news that Rich Clune has been moved back to the AHL Toronto Marlies for yet another season in a leadership role with that team.
Item One: Sheldon Keefe Signs on for Two More Years
The Maple Leafs and coach Sheldon Keefe have agreed to a two-year contract extension. Keefe was entering the final year of his current contract in 2021-22.
As we noted in a previous post, that Keefe – whose reputation is as a meticulous organizer with an attention to detail – has never experienced a typical preseason, regular season, and offseason to do what he’s supposed to do best. This 2021-22 season, with its full training camp, a real preseason, and a full 82-game schedule, will be his first chance. He’s now has the ability to work with a roster that he’s helped construct.
The phrase that “They believe in him, but it’s a prove-me contract at two years, not five” is a key. Somehow, it also seems right to me. Since he became the Maple Leafs’ head coach, he’s led the team to a 62-29-12 record and has the highest winning percentage of any Maple Leafs’ head coach in history.
Item Two: Pierre Engvall Returns to Practice
Talk about a bad time to be injured if you’re Pierre Engvall. He’s been out with a wonky hip for almost the entire training camp, and it comes at a horrible time. Unlike Matthews, his place on the roster isn’t secure – at all. However, on Thursday he returned to the ice for his first practice in a while.
Engvall has been dealing with a hip issue during training camp. He tried to return on Wednesday but left the ice early. His return for practice on Thursday is a sign that he’s healing.
It has to be about the worst time for Engvall to be hurt. Every new player who shows well during training camp and during preseason games not only earns a roster spot with their performances but also potentially removes a roster spot that might become Engvall’s. Keefe noted after practice yesterday that he thinks Engvall might be ready to participate fully next week. However, that’s a ways away in the world of training-camp moves.
What happens to Engvall when he’s healthy? Given that it appears it will be an uphill battle for him to make the roster, might there be a trade afoot?
Item Three: Auston Matthews Is on Schedule, But …
That last word we have on center Auston Matthews is that there’ve been no setbacks in his regular-season return to the team. Although coach Keefe reported that Matthews’ wrist if progressing well, he won’t play in Friday’s Blue-White intra-squad game.
News from practice was that Matthews participated with the first group and skated between Mitch Marner and Nick Ritchie. That likely offers some insight into who’ll play where and it seems likely that, given his preseason success, Michael Bunting will line up on John Tavares’ left wing.
As a bit of an aside, although Josh Ho-Sang’s status seems (from the outside) far from settled, what an interesting line Bunting-Tavaes-Ho-Sang might become. The one time they played together, they had some jump. Obviously, this is not to forget right-winger William Nylander, who seems to be getting better and better every season.
In the case of Matthews, he seems to be progressing well enough that he’ll likely be available for the first game of the regular season. That said, the decision about him suiting up on Opening Night against the Montreal Canadiens on October 13 hasn’t yet been made.
Item Four: Rich Clune and Curtis Douglas Sent Back to the Toronto Marlies
In a move that’s no surprise, Rich Clune has been re-assigned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Clune is one of those players who’ll probably never play another NHL minute, but who’s an essential piece of the Maple Leafs’ organization. His three goals and one assist in 33 Marlies’ games last season don’t come close to showing his value to the Maple Leafs’ organization.
The fact that there’s a roster spot for Clune suggests how much the organization values what the aging hockey pilgrim brings to the organization. He’s only played 64 games over the past three seasons, but Maple Leafs’ general manager Dubas has built a long relationship with Clune and values his mentorship role. Clune fits the Maple Leafs’ ethos of building an organization around the characteristics of team-building, leadership, and strong character.
The Maple Leafs also sent Curtis Douglas to the minors on Thursday.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
After tonight’s Blue and White game, expect some cuts to be made. The blue and white game will be different. Coach Keefe noted that, following the first period, there will be a shootout. Following the second period, they’ll play three-on-three.
The third period will see the teams moved around, and will be all special teams. Keefe did say the obvious. The game will be an important one for players fighting for a spot, because their performance shows where they are in relation to the other players on the team.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf