The Toronto Maple Leafs meet the Buffalo Sabres again tomorrow in the outdoor Heritage Classic game. It will be the NHL’s 35th outdoor game and should be interesting for more than one reason.
First, it will be Hamilton, Ontario, just down the road from Toronto and just up the road from Buffalo. Second, it comes on the heels of a 5-1 drubbing of the Maple Leafs by the Sabres ten days ago on March 2. Third, Petr Mrazek will be back in goal for the Maple Leafs and that’s proved to be an adventure.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at this game and some of the other news emerging from the team as it tries to get back into the win column.
Item One: Jack Campbell Has Been Put on the Injury Reserve
Jack Campbell was placed on IR (injured reserve) yesterday with a rib injury. The first word on that injury was that he would be out “at least” two weeks. The 30-year-old former backup goalie has had an interesting season.
Campbell started so well that he was named to the NHL All-Star team. Then he went into a bit of a funk in the net and has struggled mightily. Over his last 10 games, Campbell has put together a 4-3-1 record, a goals-against-average of 3.96, and a save percentage of .877.
With Campbell on the mend, veteran Petr Mrazek and rookie Erik Kallgren with share the goal for the team. Obviously, everyone in the Maple Leafs organization hopes Mrazek will rise to the task; however, the other night against the Arizona Coyotes, Mrazek was pulled in the middle of the second period and Kallgren came in. Kallgren played well.
Item Two: Petr Mrazek Draws the Start on Sunday
Mrazek gets another chance at redemption when he goes against the Sabres on Sunday. On Thursday, as noted he was pulled after playing only 31 minutes after he allowed the Coyotes to score four goals on 12 shots. The team’s coaching staff has given him another chance.
Mrazek avoided the loss on Thursday when his team came back to tie the game and then lost in overtime, but his statistics plummeted even further with the poor showing. He now has a season’s record of 10-5-0, with a goals-against-average of 3.44, and a save percentage of .884.
Mrazek, who like Campbell is a 30-year-old, also is seeking redemption after he gave up five goals on 31 shots in the 5-1 loss to these same Sabres less than two weeks ago. Now that Campbell is out with the rib injury, Mrazek has a chance to play over the next few games. The entire Maple Leafs’ organization would breathe a sigh of relief if he could find his game. He has the reputation of being able to go on an almost unbeatable streak if he gets hot. We’ll see.
Item Three: Jason Spezza Gets a Chance Again After Sitting for Two Games
Jason Spezza knows the score. He obviously would like to play every game, but he also gets it that the team wants to see younger players have a chance to show well. Furthermore, part of him probably appreciates a rest. He’ll be back in the lineup Sunday against the Sabres.
Spezza has scored 10 goals and 10 assists (for 20 points) playing exclusively in a fourth-line role (with second power-play minutes) in 52 games this year.
Item Four: Kyle Clifford Is One of the Guys
Kyle Clifford keeps sitting out game-after-game, and he’s been a healthy scratch more often than he’s played. However, he’s obviously one of the guys on the team.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Already I’m seeing Alex Kerfoot’s name being thrown around by various hockey writers as a trade deadline move. Although it could happen and there are many teams that might jump to get him, I’m not buying it will happen this season.
In part, I believe Kerfoot will stay on the team because he brings a 200-foot game to the organization. Second, it would be tough for the team to find anyone so able and versatile who could fill in for an injury. Third, although his salary-cap hit might not be palatable into the team’s future, at the moment this team is in “win-now” mode. Kerfoot helps toward that end.
Kerfoot is also a good player. On Thursday against the Coyotes, he scored a big goal and had two assists. He’s knocking at the door of his career-best season. He has 10 goals and 32 assists (for 42 points) in 58 games.
His best season was his rookie year with the Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18 when he scored 43 points. That season he also got lots of power-play time, which isn’t the case this season. He’s doing his scoring five-on-five and as a mainstay of the penalty-kill unit. He doesn’t get much coverage except – as I noted – as a trade piece; however, he could have a 60-point season this year.
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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