In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I want to share some of the notes I’ve been taking over the past few days. In these notes, I’ll comment on three key players for the Maple Leafs for this season and some of what I’ve noticed about them.
Obviously, to my mind, Auston Matthews is the team’s best player. His play regularly ignites the team in ways that other players cannot do – at least not game after game. However, this team is a team of different pieces with different roles and skills.
The only chance the Maple Leafs have of going far into the playoffs is if these pieces work together well. Below, I want to comment on Mitch Marner, Jack Campbell, and Michael Bunting and the part each has played in the season to date.
Item One: Thoughts About Mitch Marner’s Tough Season
It’s been a tough season for Mitch Marner, although it’s likely he won’t receive much sympathy from Maple Leafs’ fans. As a result, it was good to see him have a really strong game against the St. Louis Blues; and, fans have to hope it continues. The team needs him to be the best version of himself to have a chance for much postseason success.
Maple Leafs’ fans are a hard read sometimes. Whenever someone criticizes Marner for taking such a high salary in the contract he signed, I have to wonder what they would have done. If they were in his shoes, would they pass on his opportunity for a big contract?
Would they have settled for the $7.5 million or so they think he ought to receive each season; or, would they have pushed for $3 million more? Do they have jobs like I do where I get the going rate – just like everyone else – and it bothers them that others can live differently?
Over his career, Marner’s a point-a-game player with 381 points in 382 games. Marner has no control over COVID-19, nor was he expecting to get flattened by his own teammate Jake Muzzin during practice. It’s hard for me to be upset with or root against the young man. I can only assess his value to the team as part of the games that he plays. Thus, it was good to see him playing well. I hope it continues and he goes on a huge offensive run.
Item Two: Is Jack Campbell Showing Signs of Fatigue?
Over his past three starts, Jack Campbell has allowed 13 goals. Against the Blues, Campbell gave up five goals on 25 shots. Fortunately, over those three games, Campbell’s record has been 2-0-1. So the team is bailing him out.
I hope there’s nothing wrong with Petr Mzarek, because the team needs him to play more for two reasons. First, Campbell needs to stay fresh both mentally and physically. The last thing the team wants is a disaster during the postseason where Auston Mathews and Marner were completely emotionally and physically fatigued. Second, the team will begin to face more games in fewer days and the postponed games are rescheduled.
True, Mrazek hasn’t shown as well as expected, but I think he still has to play more. For me, that includes more than just back-to-back games, although those will become likely more important as the team begins to have rescheduled games pop up on its schedule. Like Mrazek or not, the team will need him.
Item Three: Michael Bunting vs. Zach Hyman
On the season, Michael Bunting has played 36 games for the Maple Leafs. In those games, he’s scored eight goals and added 15 assists (for 23 points). He’s also taken 28 penalty minutes and is a plus-4 on the season.
Related: Today in Hockey History: Jan. 18
On the season, Zach Hyman has played 32 games with his new club the Edmonton Oilers. In those games, he’s scored 11 goals and added 10 assists (for 21 points). He’s also taken 16 penalty minutes and is a minus-9 on the season.
So, one-for-one, which player is having the better season? Who knew that Hyman would likely play with Connor McDavid with the Oilers would have believed that, at this point in the season, Bunting would be outscoring him?
The other thing we couldn’t have known is that Bunting would be such a good playmaker and an assist distributor. He’s also far more irritating to his opponents in ways Hyman never was. The Oilers right now are having a tough season, and Hyman hasn’t been able to lift them. The Oilers are in trouble in ways the Maple Leafs are not.
Certainly, Bunting’s a complementary piece as well; however, his play on the first line has been solid. And, his goal on a set play with Matthews from a face-off was beautiful.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs play the Rangers this Wednesday in New York. Can Matthews keep his road goal-scoring streak alive? He’s now scored in 10 straight road games to extend the Maple Leafs’ franchise record. Should he score in New York on Wednesday, he would tie the NHL record with goals scored on the road in consecutive games at 11.
After what seemed an impossibility that Matthews could challenge this season for the Richard Trophy as the NHL’s highest goal scorer, he’s put on a huge push. He’s only a goal behind Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl for the league lead. If you’re an analytics fan, Matthews is leading the NHL in expected goals created at five-on-five (10.78).
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