Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Keefe, Mikheyev & Dreaming of Oettinger

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the news emerging from the team. Second, I’ll take a look at and comment on the news that Ilya Mikheyev’s agent is saying nice things about the Maple Leafs as an organization. 

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Third, I’ll look at what’s shaping up to be an interesting Stanley Cup Final because the teams who’ll vie for the NHL’s championship are built quite differently. What happens there might tell a tale about potential of playoff success for the Maple Leafs because of how the team has been constructed.

Item One: Keefe Is Now in the Top 10 for NHL Coaching Longevity

With Bruce Cassidy, Barry Trotz, and Pete DeBoer no longer holding NHL coaching positions, suddenly that moved Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe into ninth place on the list of the NHL’s longest-tenured coaches.

But, how long will coach Keefe be able to last with the Maple Leafs? Fans seem to think – and perhaps they are right – that he’s connected at the hip to Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas. And, if the team management listens to fans at all, those two seem to be on a short rope. There’s been some obvious distaste for how the team’s been run and should the team not do well next season, who knows?

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Coach Keefe led his team to a franchise record-setting 115-point season, but even then some fans believe that isn’t good enough. That kind of regular-season success means little to many fans. However, that kind of success will be harder to replicate in a powerful Eastern Conference where every playoff team totalled more than 100 points.

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Currently, there are seven NHL head coaching vacancies. It’s a job with ironically less stability with a single team but strong stability as a coach in general. While coaches seem to lose a job with one team, they often are quickly hired by another. Smart money suggests that’s likely to happen again this offseason.  

Item Two: Milstein Is Making Nice, Does Mikheyev Want to Stay?

Given Ilya Mikheyev’s trade request last offseason, I was surprised when news came that his agent Dan Milstein, who is reportedly going to speak with the Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas within a couple of weeks, is saying nice things about the team and the organization. Nothing may come of the positive language, but it also suggests that contract negotiations will not be antagonistic.

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As reported by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Milstein noted that the Maple Leafs’ organization was “world-class” and he appreciates how well the team has treated Mikheyev as a player. Still, when all is said and done, Mikheyev might have had too good a season and his salary demands might be too high for Toronto. He scored 21 goals in only 53 games after returning from surgery during the 2021-22 campaign. (from “LeBrun: Johnny Gaudreau, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Mikheyev and other pending UFA updates, Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic, 07/06/2022).

Item Three: What Happens in the Stanley Cup Final Matters to the Maple Leafs

As a Maple Leafs’ fan as well as a writer, I believe the organization has done a pretty good job of putting together a decent lineup season after season. I’ve also become more impressed with the team this postseason when I see how the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing as the tournament progresses. They are in tough against the New York Rangers; however, and one of those teams will emerge to play the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final.  

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The Rangers and the Lightning are more alike as teams than either of them are like the Avalanche. They both have elite goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning) and Igor Shesterkin (Rangers). The truth is that, if either of the Eastern Conference teams dominates the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s bad news for the Maple Leafs. However, should the Avalanche be able to beat either the Lightning or the Rangers, that’s better news for the Maple Leafs.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As much as I like Jack Campbell, even if we sign him and he plays well, he hasn’t shown that he’s in the same rarified status that either Vasilevskiy or Shesterkin inhabits. He could, but not yet. Just a wild thought. The Dallas Stars’ Jake Oettinger is an RFA in the offseason. One can dream, right?

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

I’m really interested in what happens with the snarly Russian Bear of a defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin, who the team got back in the trade for Nick Ritchie. I know that the rumors are that he’ll likely move on with another team because of the Maple Leafs’ depth at defense right now. That said, I’d love to see him re-sign with the team.

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Obviously, I can’t know what’s going to happen during the offseason and so many things seem to be going on behind the scenes with talks of trades before July 13, 2022, which is the beginning of the action. But the more I consider it the more I think that Justin Holl might be on his way somewhere else.

The end of July will begin a flood of hockey activity with lots to think about and write about. I look forward to it. It’s a fun time of the offseason.

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