In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share the news that the team’s great duo of young forwards – Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner – just were voted to the NHL All-Star teams. Second, I’ll take a look at the rumor that goalie Frederik Andersen might be interested in returning to the team to share the goaltending duties with Jack Campbell.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Trading Morgan Rielly & Whining About Life
Finally, I’ll comment upon what – from a highly optimistic perspective – the value the Andersen rumor might have as a potential tipping point or indication about the nature and possible personality of this Maple Leafs’ team. Speculation obviously, but potentially accurate – who knows?
Item One: Auston Matthews & Mitch Marner Pull in A Big Award
It might be that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner – mostly Marner – are experiencing a bit of a tough summer under the intense scrutiny (and ire) of some Maple Leafs’ fans. However, any disdain within the borders of Blue & White nation is simply not shared by the rest of the NHL. Yesterday, the two young stars were awarded some appreciation from NHL’s Professional Hockey Writers Association by being voted respectively to positions on NHL all-star teams.
Marner gained the higher honor, being named as the right-winger on the first National Hockey League all-star team. Matthews was named the second-best center in the NHL, losing out to the Edmonton Oilers’ great Connor McDavid. Although the results of the voting were released this week, the vote was actually taken just after the ending of the 2020-21 regular season.
Matthews had an absolutely great season, but there was no chance he was going to supplant McDavid at the center position. Even the most ardent Maple Leafs’ fans would probably have voted for McDavid who, when his playing days are over, might be remembered as one of the best players in NHL history. McDavid almost doubled Matthews voting point total, winning the award with 498 points to Matthews’ 253.
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A look at their respective seasons suggests the difference in votes. Although Matthews led the NHL in goal-scoring with 41 and added 25 assists (for 66 points) in his 52 games, McDavid had 39 more points than Matthews (ending with 105 points, which is bumping into almost a-point-a-game better territory). It was an amazing season for both players, but McDavid’s was better.
Matthews also came in second in voting for the Hart Trophy, again losing to McDavid who gained first-place votes on all 100 ballots to make him the unanimous winner. Given that the Hart Trophy is one of the most prestigious individual awards in hockey and is given annually to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, that Matthews had 69 second-place votes notes the respect he’s gained around the league.
Marner, for the first time in his NHL career, was named to the first All-Star team. The Maple Leafs youngster edged out Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 306 to 297 points. Marner came in fourth place in NHL scoring with 20 goals and 47 assists (for 67 points) in his 55 games. In addition, he received a single fifth-place vote for the Hart Trophy.
Item Two: Is There a Chance that Frederik Andersen Might Be Coming Back
Frederik Andersen is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) on July 28 and the speculation is that several teams would be willing to pony up for his services. However, according to his agent Claude Lemieux, there’s a chance Andersen could return to the Maple Leafs. At least we know he’s interested.
Related: NWHL Roundup: Tinker Returns to Toronto, Off-Season News Notes & Rumors
Specifically, the rumor is that Maple Leafs’ management reached out Andersen’s agent recently to see if Andersen would be interested in coming back and Lemieux confirmed his client’s desire to re-sign. Although the rumor suggests that the back and forth was in its nascent stages and the two sides had lots of work to do on a contract, LeBrun found it interesting that Andersen wouldn’t mind returning to the team to share the net with Jack Campbell. (from “Cale Makar an offer sheet target; Seth Jones trade interest from Avs, Flyers, Blackhawks, Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic, 30/06/21).
It’s hard to know what this means; however, given that during Matthews’ exit interview where he shared how much “love there was in the room” between the players, is it too naïve to think that – at least on short-term deals – a few Maple Leafs’ players might do actually an impersonation of Jason Spezza and take a discounted salary just to keep the group together for one more run at the Stanley Cup because they believe in the team. Such an us-against-the-world mentality is only the stuff of movies – right?
That said, if Andersen might be willing to actually take a pay cut to stay with the team, could this revise the whole narrative? Spezza and Simmonds, minor players as they are, are back. If Andersen were to return – as Stan Smith noted to me in an email – might that mean that the team, as a collective, thinks it has a job left undone?
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
To end with the same theme of a team that might be returning, if the team is as close knit as many players suggest and comes back motivated to correct this season’s wrong – very interesting. Would Zach Hyman follow suit? Does that mean hanging in there with Morgan Rielly for another season? And, if so, does this mean that the team – specifically THIS team – comes back highly motivated?
Related: Zach Hyman Won’t Be Leaving the Maple Leafs or Toronto
As I say, this is the stuff of redemption movies – but then there have been some great redemption movies – “Good Will Hunting,” “Groundhog Day,” “Cinderella Man,” and even “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.” That would be a feel-good story now, wouldn’t it?