It’s tough to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I don’t know about other fans, but just as soon as I believe this team is turning a corner, there’s a locked gate. One good thing happens, and then a not-so-good occurrence quickly balances it out. For every step forward, there seems to be a step backward.
Furthermore, it no longer takes much to set my own spidey senses tingling. Something like three goals in a minute and a half in the 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday will do it every time. I still think the team has the horses to make the playoffs, even if some of them are a bit hobbled.
As the team gets ready to play two games in a row against a really tough Pittsburgh Penguins team, I want to help Maple Leafs’ fans stay up-to-date with the news and rumors surrounding the team.
Item One: Mitch Marner Playing Better than a Point-a-Game
Mitch Marner’s assist on Zach Hyman’s third-period goal gave him a three-game point streak. In those three games, Marner’s scored a goal and two assists. The young forward now has 60 points in 49 games and should easily crack the 80-point mark this season.
To my eyes, his play has improved on the defensive side. It’s striking that, for a player who weighs only 175 pounds, Marner plays such a physical game. Although he’s scoring at a higher per-game average than last season, because he’s missed so much time with his ankle injury in the early part of the season, he’s not likely to reach last season’s career-high of 94 points scored.
Item Two: Egor Korshkov Scores in NHL Debut
Egor Korshkov scored a goal in his NHL debut when he slapped home a pass from veteran Jason Spezza halfway through the third period. Korshkov was chosen as the Maple Leafs’ second pick (31st overall) in the same 2016 NHL Entry Draft when they chose Auston Matthews first overall. Given that the team could have picked Alex DeBrincat, who scored 41 goals last season with the Chicago Blackhawks, so far Korshkov’s seemed a bit of a slow starter.
However, Korshkov has played well in the AHL this season, scoring 14 goals and 21 points in 35 AHL games. He then proceeded to have a great NHL start, and he might see more action in a bottom-six role with the team.
What was so confusing about his call up was that he and Marlies’ teammate Mason Marchment came together. However, the Maple Leafs didn’t announce that anyone would be left out of the lineup. As a result, given the antsy nature of fans and commentators as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches, there was some speculation that a trade was in the works. That wasn’t accurate.
Item Three: Kyle Clifford Also Scores His First Maple Leafs’ Point
Speaking of getting his first Maple Leafs point, Kyle Clifford – who came from the Los Angeles Kings in the Jack Campbell trade – was credited with an assist on Korshkov’s goal. It was his first point in the six games he’s played since being traded. For the season, the 29-year-old has 15 points in 59 games this season.
Given his place in the team’s pecking order and the big ice time head coach Sheldon Keefe gives his top-six forwards, Clifford isn’t likely to score a ton with his new team.
Item Four: Zach Hyman Has Turned into a Scorer
We all knew that Zach Hyman was one of the better fore-checkers in the NHL, but it’s a bit of a surprise that he’s become such a prolific scorer. Hyman now has registered points in six straight games when he scored a goal in the loss to the Sabres.
Hyman is on a nice little streak, with four goals and three assists in six games. The 27-year-old power forward is now up to 33 points in 41 games this season. He needs only eight more points to match his career-high season of 21 goals and 20 assists (41 points) that he scored in 71 games last season.
Item Five: Jason Spezza Continues to Prove His Bang for the Buck
Veteran Jason Spezza got the primary assist on Korshkov’s goal. Hitting the score sheet seems to be happening regularly for the veteran, who’s proven he’s a solid addition to the Maple Leafs bottom-six. Spezza now has 22 points in 48 games this season.
The 36-year-old is only averaging 10 minutes of ice time per game, but he’ll soon beat his last two seasons with the Dallas Stars. In 2017-18 he scored 26 points (78 games) and in 2018-19 he scored 27 points (76 games). His nine goals this season are one more than he had in either of his last two with the Stars.
Item Six: Jake Muzzin Earning His New Contract?
Since Jake Muzzin’s come to the Maple Leafs, he’s been a contributor both on the ice and off. He’s become a dressing-room leader as well as a solid defenseman. Against the Sabres, Muzzin had an assist on Hyman’s game-tying goal. Muzzin now has 17 points in 49 games this season.
Item Seven: Muzzin and Maple Leafs Are Rumored to Be Close to a Deal
Speaking of Muzzin, the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby reported that the Maple Leafs defenseman had smiled when he announced he and his team were close to agreeing on a four-year contract. Although there’s no word about the terms, several rumors suggest that it will be in the $5.5 million per season range. (from “Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin says new contract is ‘close’”, Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 02/15/20)
Given complexities with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Maple Leafs would likely announce the signing after March 1. As Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported on his Hockey Night in Canada segment, the team cannot make an announcement sooner because it has to comply with a stipulation in the CBA.
As Johnston noted, “You can only commit so much salary to the season following the one you’re in, but that amount goes up by 10 percent on March 1. So it does seem as though the Leafs and Jake Muzzin are on the path here to reaching a contract extension, but I wouldn’t be surprised if everything isn’t signed, sealed, and delivered until after that date.”
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
All sorts of curiosity will follow the team as it strives to make the postseason playoffs. The team has an especially tough challenge when they play Sidney Crosby’s Penguins twice this week. Regardless of how strong the teams they play are, they need wins.
It’s my guess that the team must win 14 of the last 22 games to secure a playoff spot. It’s getting past the time when playing average hockey will do.
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