Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Lehtonen, Kadri & More

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share the news that Auston Matthews came in second to Nathan MacKinnon in the voting for the Lady Byng Trophy. I’ll report another COVID-19 quarantine that impacts a Maple Leafs signee.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Further Thoughts About the Andersen Trade

Finally, I’ll engage a hypothetical situation that considers what long-time Maple Leafs’ favorite Nazem Kadri might tell Frederik Andersen about being traded.

Item One: Auston Matthews Finishes Second for the Lady Byng Trophy

The Lady Byng is one of my favorite trophies. After every season it’s presented to the National Hockey League “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” This season the Colorado Avalanche’s MacKinnon won the award with Maple Leafs’ Matthews coming in second in the voting.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs Elvis Merzlikins Columbus Blue Jackets
Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal on goaltender Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round on Aug. 07, 2020. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Lady Byng Trophy has an interesting history. The Trophy itself is named to honor Marie Evelyn Moreton (Lady Byng), who was the wife of the Viscount Byng of Vimy. Viscount Julian Byng commanded the Canadian forces at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and was the Governor-General of Canada from 1921–1926. His wife Lady Byng was an avid hockey fan and she created and donated the trophy to the NHL in 1924–25.

For the first few seasons, Lady Byng decided the trophy’s winners herself. Her first choice was Frank Nighbor of the original Ottawa Senators. As the story goes, during the 1924–25 season she invited Nighbor to Rideau Hall and showed him the trophy. She then asked if he thought the NHL might accept any trophy given to award its “most gentlemanly player.” When Nighbor thought it would, Lady Byng surprised him by awarding the trophy to him.

Related: Roger Neilson: Coaching Genius & Innovator

Some hockey fans believe the award goes to skilled players who play “soft.” Tell that to Wayne Gretzky, who won the award five times, or to Pavel Datsyuk, who won four times. Even the Maple Leafs’ Dave Keon won the award twice in the early 1960s. In 2020, MacKinnon ran away with the award with Matthews trailing.

Matthews led the Maple Leafs in scoring with 80 points (including 47 goals and 33 assists) in 70 regular-season games. He was assessed only four minor penalties. Other Maple Leafs players from the 2019-20 season also got votes. William Nylander finished in 26th and Mitch Marner 30th in voting. Nylander received a second and a third-place vote. Marner received two fourth and two fifth-place votes.

MacKinnon noted after winning the award, “I respect my opponents. I don’t want to be dirty. I also want to be trusted by the coaching staff that I won’t take penalties and things like that. I guess with my skating, I try to use my legs to stick check and things like that and not take unnecessary minors. But I never thought I’d win this award. Usually I get more minors than this. But obviously I’m very honored. Some of the best players ever have won this award, so it’s really cool.”

Item Two: Mikko Lehtonten’s Jokerit Team Has Been Quarantined after COVID-19 Exposure

Mikko Lehtonen’s start to his 2020-21 KHL season was impressive with three goals and an assist in two games, but it ended quickly. After a potential COVID-19 outbreak on an opposing team, the team’s season has been paused while Lehtonen and Jokerit (Helsinki) entered their quarantine.

Mikko Lehtonen
Mikko Lehtonen (Oleg Bkhambri (Voltmetro) / CC BY-SA –

Yesterday, the KHL announced that an upcoming game between Jokerit and Ak Bars would be moved to a later date after four positive cases showed up on the Neftekhimik team that Jokerit beat 6-0 Wednesday. Because the team was possibly exposed, Lehtonen and other team members will begin a 14-day quarantine and will undergo further testing before they’re allowed to return to play. Jokerit also announced that the team’s next four games would also be postponed.

For any Maple Leafs fans tracking the KHL, Lehtonen’s impressive start — although only two games — suggests his past season was no fluke and that he’s ready to play at the NHL level. Lehtonen became the second Maple Leafs player to have his season halted because of COVID-19 exposure. Mikko Kokkonen, the Maple Leafs’ third-round draft choice in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, was also placed into quarantine earlier this week when his Jukurit U20 team in Finland’s The Liiga was exposed to the virus.

Item Three: What Might Nazem Kadri Tell Frederik Andersen About Being Traded?

NHL hockey players are regularly traded; that’s part of the game. The definition of a trade is that it’s a transaction between teams that involves the exchange of a player’s rights from one team to another. In other words, if players wish to play NHL hockey, they are legally bound to play for the owner of their rights.

Related: Who is the NHL’s Top Goaltending Prospect?

The definition of “trade” lacks any emotion. In fact, a player’s feelings are not part of the considerations for a trade. However, if you think about it, how can personal feelings not be involved? For example, this past week Jake Allen was traded from the St. Louis Blues to the Montreal Canadiens.

On social media, Allen put out a long tweet,

That’s typically what players do. They stand up straight, act like good professionals, thank the organization they’re leaving, and then publically look forward to moving to their next organization.

However, every once in a while, you get a sense of what it’s like for hockey players to have to leave a team they really loved playing for. Last season, Maple Leafs fans watched how hard former-Toronto player Nazem Kadri tried to stay with the team. Kadri was eventually traded to the Colorado Avalanche during the offseason, but he did everything he could to stay with the Maple Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri
Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri speaks to reporters after a locker clean out at the Scotiabank Arena (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

General manager Kyle Dubas wanted to trade Kadri to the Calgary Flames, but Kadri nullified it because he had a contract clause that allowed him to do so. Only after he became convinced the Maple Leafs no longer saw him as part of their plans did he agree to be traded.

It’s not like Andersen hasn’t experienced being traded before. In 2016, he was with the Anaheim Ducks who traded him to the Maple Leafs for two draft picks. I’m sure Andersen had mixed feelings about leaving the Ducks and had close friends there.

This time seems different. Then, Andersen was in his mid-20s and John Gibson was the Ducks’ starting goalie. Andersen, who was a backup, moved to the Maple Leafs to become a starter and had a chance to play regularly. After five successful seasons, he’s gained the status as the go-to guy in goal. Being traded means he’s being removed from that status.

This week, it’s occurred to me how fickle hockey can be. Kadri joined an Avalanche team that might still be in the Western Conference playoffs except they ran out of healthy bodies and lost to the Dallas Stars. In retrospect, that trade seemed to end well for Kadri. Since his 2019-20 season is now complete, I wonder how he enjoyed Denver and playing with the Avalanche.

Currently, rumors abound that Andersen might be traded during this offseason. He’s been quiet about his emotions; however, he certainly has made good friends during the time he’s been with the Maple Leafs. Specifically, he and Matthews seem to be best buddies.

Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen celebrates with centre Auston Matthews. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

I wonder what Kadri might tell Andersen if they were to have a Zoom conference. Is Kadri happy he said OK and was traded to the Avalanche? What advice might he give Andersen?

I hope that if Andersen is traded he’ll land as well as Kadri seems to have.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Last week, an article by the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons shared rumors that Maple Leafs general manager Dubas has a growing reputation of putting out feelers for his players but asking “exorbitant” prices for them. Certainly, the Kasperi Kapanen trade seemed to bring a good return.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews Is Undergoing a Transformation

If that’s the case, is Dubas only “shopping” Andersen without a real desire to trade him? No one knows, but it won’t be long before we’ll see. As Dubas has hinted, he’s not finished building this roster yet.