Because the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t play until Tuesday when they meet the Tampa Bay Lightning at home, I want to use this post to review some of the “odd” news and rumors surrounding the team that sometimes get moved to the back when games are being played close together.
Item One: Newcomer Denis Malgin Moved Up to the Top Line
When Denis Malgin came to the Maple Leafs from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Mason Marchment, it was a trade that seemed to slip under the radar.
In fact, I admit I knew little about Malgin other than he was a young player from Switzerland (which interested me because I had recently taught in Switzerland). It seemed he would become a bottom-six depth forward for the team, who believed he would be an upgrade on Marchment.
Obviously, general manager Kyle Dubas knew more about Malgin and had other plans. In Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, Malgin was jumped up to a line with John Tavares and William Nylander. Pierre Engvall had started with Tavares and Nylander, but that partnership didn’t last as the game progressed.
After the 1-0 shootout loss, coach Sheldon Keefe reported postgame that, “It really felt to me like the Tavares line was going to be the difference-maker for us. The best game John has played a while, Willie played really well. Made a change and put Malgin on that line and it really started to go.”
Malgin, who’s small for an NHL forward at 5-foot-7 and 177 pounds, hasn’t picked up a point in six games with the Leafs since he was acquired from Florida, and he’s only averaging about nine minutes of ice time. It will be interesting to see how Keefe uses him in the near future (from “Maple Leafs’ effort better but handed a goalie-dominated 1-0 shootout loss to Kings, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 02/06/20)
What does Malgin think about playing in Toronto? He noted after the trade, “When I was a little kid, I always wanted to play in Montreal or Toronto. Now I’m here, and I’m excited.”
Item Two: CBS Power Rankings
CBS Sports’ Pete Blackburn released his NHL power rankings for the week of March 5; and, in his write-up, he speculated about potential Hart Trophy candidates as the NHL’s most valuable players for this season.
He first named the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl who’s having an amazing season from a production standpoint. Blackburn then named Connor McDavid, who he called the most skilled player in the world. Who’s to argue? Third, he named the NHL’s leading goal scorer, the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak.
Finally, Blackburn named Artemi Panarin and Nathan MacKinnon as two players who’ve meant the most to their teams. He suggested Panarin’s season was the reason the New York Rangers have been a surprise in the Metropolitan Division and that MacKinnon has almost doubled the point total of the next closest teammate on the Colorado Avalanche – a team that’s playoff-bound.
As a commentator for the Maple Leafs, perhaps I’m biased; I was surprised he didn’t mention Auston Matthews – who’s in a race for the Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goalscorer. However, he does believe Matthews is the team’s most valuable player. Here’s a summary of his write-up.
Toronto Maple Leafs #12
(As a note, the team moved up five spots since last week, but might move back after the poor California road trip.)
Team’s Most Valuable Player: Auston Matthews
Blackburn believed Matthews has proven he’s one of the best young offensive players in the game, who’s in the thick of the Rocket Richard chase with a career-high 46 goals. I might add that Matthews has also improved his defensive game as well. Although according to Blackburn it’s been a “frustrating season” for Toronto, Matthews has developed into an elite scoring threat.
Item Three: Fantasy Hockey Top 200 Player Rankings
On Mar. 5, the NHL released the top 200 players on its Fantasy Rankings. The NHL’s list for the top five players were: (1) Pastrnak – Bruins right-winger; (2) Draisaitl – Oilers center; (3) McDavid – Oilers center; (4) Nikita Kucherov – Lightning right-winger; (5) Panarin – Rangers left-winger; and (6) MacKinnon – Avalanche center.
The Maple Leafs placed seven players in the top 200 fantasy players. High-scoring center Matthews was listed at #7; right-winger Mitch Marner was listed at #17; center John Tavares was listed at #31; forward William Nylander was listed at #59; goalie Frederik Andersen was listed at #60; defenseman Tyson Barrie was listed at #89 (he jumped 17 spots because he’s become the leader on an injury-riddled Maple Leafs defense); and, finally, forward Zach Hyman was #109.
Item Four: Maple Leafs Dubas Didn’t See a Long-Term Fix
In a sit-down interview with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Maple Leafs general manager Dubas explained why he didn’t make a big trade at this season’s trade deadline. As he noted, he couldn’t create a long-term fix that solved the team’s problems and simply didn’t want to make a splash just to make a splash. (from “LeBrun: Q&A with Kyle Dubas on the Leafs’ turbulent season, EBUGs and more, Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic, 04/03/20)
Dubas wasn’t interested in a short-term fix; and, throughout the trade deadline, the rumors were always that if he traded for a defenseman the player wouldn’t be a rental. Instead, he was seeking a player who came with term on his contract. Obviously, Dubas and most Maple Leafs fans think alike – the troubles on the team’s defense deserve longer-term care and aren’t a short-term issue that’s easy to fix.
Dubas revealed that rumors about potentially moving defenseman Barrie were accurate, but Dubas wasn’t offered what he thought the team needed as part of any return. As a result, he’ll accept the risk of losing Barrie for nothing in free agency.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As noted earlier in this post, the Maple Leafs play a tough team in the Lightning on Tuesday evening on home ice. The Lightning’s game against the Boston Bruins on Saturday was punctuated by on-ice fisticuffs, which suddenly helped fans realize teams are gearing up for playoff hockey.
Certainly, the Bruins and the Lightning will be in the playoffs. Whether the Maple Leafs make the postseason or not relies on their play over the next while. The Florida Panthers beat the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday 4-1, which reminds Toronto that a playoff berth must be earned.