Some things are stewing in the NHL pot. On Monday, the NHL’s Board of Governors held a conference call to discuss a range of issues, including the possibility of staging the NHL Entry Draft in June before the completion of the 2019-20 regular season. However, according to TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun, no decision was made about the 2020 draft.
LeBrun tweeted that an announcement might not be made until next week. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had emailed LeBrun that, “We think it’s more important to get the right decision than to get a quick decision.”
With these discussions in the wind, in this post I’d like to help Toronto Maple Leafs fans stay up-to-date on any news and rumors emerging from and about the organization.
Item One: Maple Leafs Sign Defenseman Mikko Lehtonen
On Monday, May 4, the Maple Leafs officially announced they had signed former KHL defenseman Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year entry-level contract. Lehtonen led all KHL defensemen with 17 goals, 32 assists, and 49 points last season while playing 60 games for Helsinki Jokerit.
Make no mistake Maple Leafs fans, this is a great signing for the team. Unless there’s a huge surprise, the 26-year-old Lehtonen will immediately assume a roster spot on the team’s blue line for the 2020-21 season. At the same time, because general manager Kyle Dubas signed him to an entry-level contract, that offers the team – even in a time of not knowing where the upper limit of the salary cap will eventually land – great flexibility. It’s likely the signing makes both Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie expendable this summer.
Finally, Lehtonen might have been the best defenseman in the entire KHL (he was named a KHL All-Star), which further makes this a huge signing for the team during a time when it really needs to re-shape its blue line. Now they can do that re-shaping in a time of salary-cap crunch.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted that, although Lehtonen did play right-defense for Finland at last year’s World Championship, Travis Dermott probably has the most experience and aptitude to switch.
Lehtonen comes with pedigree. He played for Team Finland at the World Championships in 2017 and 2019 (was named the tournament All-Star in 2019 when his team won gold), played for Team Finland’s 2018 Olympic team, and won gold at the 2014 World Junior Championships.
Item Two: Wendel Clark Speaks about Former Maple Leafs Coach Pat Burns
For die-hard Maple Leafs fans, Wendel Clark – the tough-as-nails Saskatchewan farm boy who took the city of Toronto by storm – has always been a favorite in the team’s history. In a great interview last week by Sportnet’s Luke Fox, Clark talked about a wide-ranging number of subjects over his career with the team. Although I will only report a single part of that interview here, I invite fans to follow the link and enjoy Fox’s article.
During the interview, Fox asked Clark about playing for equally-tough Maple Leafs head coach Pat Burns. Fox asked Clark what strings Burns pulled as a coach.
Clark answered: “He was a tough cop. It was gonna be his way, and he was gonna force you to do things — even though everybody on the outside didn’t know you were forced to do it. Everybody had to do what he wanted to do, and he got everybody on the same page.”
Clark also noted: “A lot of times we’re all sticking up for each other because you’re mad at Burnsy. That was part of his coaching – he knew that would make us closer as a team, right? It’s all part of him putting in a structure that he wanted, and he did it every year.”
Finally, Clark added: “He started in Montreal, then Toronto, then Boston, then Jersey. He coached the same way in every spot. He had a game plan, and he had us as a very hard team to play against. We were all on the same page from ’92 to ’94.”
By the way, in the 1991-92 season (the season before Burns came as Maple Leafs coach), the team’s record was 30-43-7 (67 points), and the team finished 5th in Norris Division. In 1992-93, Burns coached the team to a record of 44-29-11 (99 points), and the team finished 3rd in Norris Division. In Burns’ next season (1993-94), the team’s record was 43-29-12 (98 points), and they finished 2nd in Central Division. Clark was captain on all those teams.
Item Three: Jack Campbell Simply Loves Playing in Toronto
A few weeks before the NHL trade deadline, Maple Leafs general manager Dubas pulled the trigger on a trade that brought backup goalie Jack Campbell from the Los Angeles Kings to the Maple Leafs. That was Feb. 5; and, shortly a month later Campbell was on his way back to his California home to wait out the NHL’s regular-season suspension.
In a recent conference call, although his first weeks with the Maple Leafs were a whirlwind, Campbell reported he’s loved being part of his new team. He especially lauds the organization, calling it “fantastic.”
Campbell noted, “I’ll always be grateful for L.A. and the opportunities they gave me to establish myself in the league, but I mean, getting traded to Toronto, it’s the hockey mecca of the world. What a fantastic organization, top to bottom; the fans, the management and, number one, my teammates. I just really enjoyed getting to know everybody.”
He admitted that, when he saw fellow goalie Frederik Andersen and teammate Auston Matthews on Instagram, he experienced FOMO (fear of missing out). As Maple Leafs fans probably have read, because Andersen was unable to return home to Denmark, he’s staying with Matthews in Arizona during the quarantine. (As an aside, can you imagine the bond Andersen and Matthews could have when this self-quarantine is completed?)
Campbell also said, “I love those guys (Andersen and Matthews). They’re awesome. We’ve been texting once a week or so, just staying in the loop, and it looks like they’re having a good time. Those two guys are pretty similar, they love spending time outside playing sports.”
They better also find some things to do inside as well. It’s been exceedingly hot in the Phoenix area – tomorrow the temperature is going to be +42 C. It’s air-con time.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
There was a lull for a while, but when Dubas’ signed Lehtonen that was a major coup. He and his team are always working on something, and they seem to have better-than-average success making what they hope to happen actually happen.
It will be interesting to see what the organization is up to next.