The Toronto Maple Leafs lost on home ice to the Dallas Stars by a score of 3-2 on Thursday night.
It was a setback the team clearly didn’t need, and means the team is sitting barely inside the playoffs as a result. It’s been an accordion of a season, with the Maple Leafs moving in and out of the line that separates teams in the playoffs teams that aren’t.
It was the Maple Leafs’ third regulation loss in its last six games, which makes the team’s record 30-20-8 for the season. There are 24 games remaining and I would guess the team would have to win 15 of those games to secure a place in the playoff picture. The team is also 2-3-1 in its last six games – they aren’t playing well enough.
On the credit side of the ledger, Auston Matthews is quickly moving towards 50 and perhaps 60 goals by scoring his 41st. And, the surprising and hard-working Zach Hyman scored his 17th goal in 39 games.
As the team gets ready to start a three-game road trip, I want to bring Maple Leafs fans up-to-date on the news and rumors emerging from the team.
Item One: Auston Matthews Is Tied for the NHL Lead in Goals Scored
Matthews scored his 41st goal of the season, which ties him with the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak for the NHL lead. One reason for Matthews’ increased scoring is simply that he’s playing more – that is, his ice time seems to increase each game he plays.
Prior to Sheldon Keefe being named head coach, Mike Babcock was reluctant to put Matthews on the ice for more than 19 minutes per game. Not so with Keefe, who skated Matthews over 27 minutes in the loss to the Stars on Thursday. The result is that Matthews has flourished.
Item Two: Frederik Andersen Suffers a Loss in His Return
Thursday was not Frederik Andersen’s best game of the season – he was back in net for the Maple Leafs against Dallas after missing the club’s previous four games. He’s had a successful season and needs only four move wins to reach the 30-win mark for the fourth year in a row.
Against the Stars, though, he didn’t make it – he stopped 16 of 18 shots he faced. Andersen’s fate could have been improved with more scoring in front of him, but the Maple Leafs simply couldn’t deliver.
Now that new teammate Jack Campbell has become a reliable backup option for Andersen, it will be interesting to see how Keefe will employ his goalie combination. Fans will soon see in the upcoming back-to-back this weekend.
Item Three: Should the Maple Leafs Trade for the Senators’ Dylan DeMelo?
Yesterday morning, the Sportsnet’s Hockey Newsletter arrived in my email inbox. In that newsletter, Rory Boylen discussed one trade that each Canadian NHL team should make. His call was that the Maple Leafs make a trade to get the Ottawa Senators’ Dylan DeMelo (from “One trade each Canadian NHL team should make,” Rory Boylen, Sportsnet Newsletter, 02/13/20).
Boylen suggests there are bigger trades out there for the Maple Leafs and noted specifically the Anaheim Ducks’ Josh Manson. However, he also believed such a trade would probably mean parting with either Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson.
And, because Johnsson was injured in Thursday’s Stars game and likely will miss considerable time, he presumably won’t be in the trade picture. However, with both Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci out for who knows how long and the Maple Leafs facing limited cap space, Boylen believed someone like DeMelo might be a player the team should look at.
First, DeMelo’s salary is only $900,000. Second, because he’s a pending UFA, he might not demand much in return. Third, DeMelo has value for the Maple Leafs because he’s a right-hand defenseman and a regular on the Senators’ penalty kill.
I’m sharing this rumor because I simply hadn’t thought of it, and it’s an interesting thought. I cannot imagine the Senators not making such a deal.
Item Four: Michael Hutchinson Was Placed on Waivers
With Andersen returning to the ice for the Stars game and newcomer Campbell becoming his more-reliable backup, Michael Hutchinson’s time in Toronto likely ended, as he was placed on waivers on Thursday. Although many fans have pointed their fingers directly at Hutchinson, not every loss can be blamed on him. On more than one occasion, he was left hanging out to dry by poor team defense. Still, as his record indicates, when Hutchinson played, the team was twice as likely to lose.
In his time with the Leafs this season, Hutchinson registered a 4-9-1 record, with a goals-against-average of 3.66 and a save percentage of .886. Given that lack of success, it would be surprising if he were claimed by another team. Hutchinson, unless there’s an injury to either Andersen or Campbell, has likely played his last NHL game this season.
Item Five: Is Jake Muzzin’s Extension Getting Close?
A rumor reported by hockey insider Darren Dreger suggests that the Maple Leafs will sign defensemen Jake Muzzin to an extension soon. Dreger reported that the team and Muzzin were closing in on a deal and should have a contract extension in place as early as (or even prior to) the trade deadline.
Dreger knows the Maple Leafs must consider their salary-cap space, so he suggests some “cap gymnastics” will come into play. As a result, the team and Muzzin are exploring different scenarios. Still, Dreger was quite confident Muzzin would be extended by the trade deadline.
Get the latest Toronto Maple Leafs news, rumors, commentary and analysis
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs now head out on the road for a back-to-back against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and then against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. They finish that brief three-game road trip on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
Fans should be interested to watch Matthews’ continuing quest for the lead in NHL goalscoring as well as seeing how Keefe deploys his goalies in the upcoming back-to-back. The team almost has to come home with at least four points if it hopes to continue its run for the playoffs. That might be a test.