Yesterday, during a 40-minute video conference call, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas was interviewed by reporters. One thing he was most pleased about was that when his troops reported back to Toronto, their fitness level was high. He noted that the organization – during every Zoom call they had with players – stressed the importance of remaining in good physical shape so players will be ready for both the speed and grind they will face as they push through the 19 victories they need to win the Stanley Cup.
Although Dubas didn’t mention the Stanley Cup by name, he did say that “we want to make a competitive push” and enumerated 19 as the goal.
In this post, I’ll share some of Dubas’ comments from that interview. I will also share what we know about the postseason roster and one player who wasn’t named to the Maple Leafs roster – Pontus Aberg.
Item One: Auston Matthews Is Ready to Play
The Maple Leafs roster has been back in town for at least a week getting ready for the postseason and Auston Matthews is among that group.
In a post late last week, I wondered why news about Matthews had been so rare. I had scoured the Internet looking for information about his recovery, but it was almost as if he’d fallen off the face of the world. So, Dubas’ announcement is great news.
As Maple Leafs fans know, Matthews tested positive for COVID-19 while he was working out in Arizona. However, the latest news is that he’s been placed on the roster and is ready to play.
However, that’s about all we know, since the medical field knows so little about COVID-19 recovery. Does having the virus impact mental and physical abilities? Could the effects haunt one through life? Those questions remain up in the air. We can only hope that Matthews – or anyone else who’s recovered from it – will lead a normal life.
Although Dubas spoke in depth about other issues, his shortest answer to any question was about Matthews’ fitness to play.
In fact, here’s the question and answer verbatim:
Question: “Auston Matthews is, obviously, on the roster. Is he in Toronto and is he eligible to skate tomorrow?”
Dubas’ Answer: “Auston is fit to play and was on the roster that was released this morning, yes.”
It makes me wonder if anything is up. However, maybe I’m being too analytic here. It will be good to see him tearing up and down the ice, stripping pucks from an opponent and turning the play the other way.
Item Two: Maple Leafs Announce Their Postseason Roster
Every NHL team was allowed 30 skaters and unlimited goalies during training camp ahead of the postseason, but were required to move to 28 skaters before entering the bubble. Because the Maple Leafs have 30 skaters at the moment, two will be removed from the list by Aug. 1 when Phase 4 begins in Toronto.
The Maple Leafs roster includes:
Auston Matthews, Adam Brooks, Alexander Kerfoot, Tyler Gaudet, Denis Malgin, Jason Spezza, Frederik Gauthier, John Tavares
Kenny Agostino, Zach Hyman, Ilya Mikheyev, Kyle Clifford, Pierre Engvall, Nicholas Robertson
Kasperi Kapanen, William Nylander, Egor Korshkov, Mitch Marner
Travis Dermott, Teemu Kivihalme, Martin Marincin, Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, Calle Rosen, Rasmus Sandin
Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Justin Holl, Timothy Liljegren
Frederik Andersen, Jack Campbell, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Joseph Woll
Andreas Johnsson is not on the RTP roster because he’s recovering from knee surgery. He could be added before Phase 4 begins. Ian Scott is also not on the roster and is still recovering from hip surgery that kept him out for the entire 2019-20 season.
The following players have an NHL contract with the Leafs for 2019-20, making them eligible for the RTP, but did not make the roster: Max Veronneau, Jeremy Bracco, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Miikka Salomaki, Garrett Wilson, Kalle Kossila, Pontus Aberg, Matt Lorito, Joseph Duszak, Jesper Lindgren, and Kevin Gravel. Does this mean that Bracco’s time is up with the organization?
Item Three: Nic Petan Has Been Cleared to Play
In news on Monday, there was a change to the training camp rosters. Nic Petan was assessed as ready by the Maple Leafs’ medical staff. He participated in Phase 2 and was cleared to play this morning. He was added to the roster and defenseman Mac Hollowell was removed.
Item Four: Pontus Aberg Is Not on the Postseason Roster and Is Headed to the KHL
Given how well Pontus Aberg played with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, it might have been a surprise when he was left off the Maple Leafs’ training camp roster. He would have been a depth player, but given his successful NHL postseason experience with the Nashville Predators, he might have had a chance to play. In fact, during the 2019-20 season, he’d been one of the team’s injury recalls and played five games with the team this season.
Aberg was left off the roster because he signed a one-year contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. After the suspension of regular-season play, there were rumours he was offered a KHL contract, but it wasn’t clear which club. Now we know.
The Predators chose the 26-year-old Aberg during the second round (37th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Not only was he a promising young forward with offensive upside, but he was also a difference-maker during the 2017 Playoffs when he helped lead the injury-plagued Predators to the Stanley Cup Final.
Since that time, he’s bounced around the NHL. During his NHL career, he played 132 regular-season games. This season, he played well in the AHL, scoring 20 goals and 44 points in 55 games for the Marlies. We wish Aberg good luck in the KHL.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I suppose we all do what we have to do in life. In theory, being in a bubble makes sense because it’s the best way to keep everyone involved in the NHL’s postseason safe; however, it’s a huge sacrifice for players and staff.
It struck me while reviewing the transcript from Dubas’ video conference how much these teams are giving up to be able to play. Specifically, Maple Leafs staff members are heading into the “bubble” on July 26 and might not see their families for about two and a half months.
Dubas noted that he and his wife Shannon have a two-year-old son who he won’t see during a time when a father and his son would normally be bonding. Like any father, Dubas hinted at how wonderful it’s been seeing his son every day and he’ll miss that.
What to say to that? Good luck trying to reach the Stanley Cup Final so you won’t be able to see your family for a long time? As I’ve noted so often, it’s a crazy season.