Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Rubins, Kral & COVID-19

Although the Toronto Maple Leafs have not been busy playing, general manager Kyle Dubas has been busy working. During the past day or two, he’s made several signings to help build his organization for whatever happens after the suspension of NHL play caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Keefe, Barabanov, Marner & Shanahan

The unusual downtime has offered teams a chance to review their roster needs and design a plan for moving forward. Also, this pause offers us a chance to keep up with news and to look back at the season.

In this post, I want to help Maple Leafs fans stay up-to-date with news emerging from the organization and take a glimpse at what happened during the season.

Item One: Auston Matthews Was the Most-Improved Player on the Maple Leafs

It’s tough to say that someone with Auston Matthews’ record of success could be the most improved player on the team; however, that was the case. Matthews’ play took a massive step forward this season, especially on the defensive side of the ice.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Offensively, Matthews also improved. At the time of the suspension of the season, he’s third in the NHL goal-scoring race with 47 goals in 70 games. That puts him one goal behind the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak and the Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin.

Career-wise, his 47 goals put him 10 goals ahead of last season’s mark when he scored 37 in 68 games. He’s not just scoring on the power play. Matthews is tied with Ovechkin at 35 goals for the most even-strength goals in the league.

Early in March, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan weighed in on Matthews’ all-round play. He noted that Matthews would probably always be in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy; however, he believed he should also be considered for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the top two-way player in the league.

Related: 7 Cool Things About Auston Matthews

As Shanahan noted, “I always thought when he came up that he was one of those rare players who had the ability to lead a league in scoring and also be its best defensive player.”

He added, “I can remember [former Red Wings teammate Sergei] Fedorov and in basketball with Michael Jordan. That’s putting him in some elite company.”

Although the Maple Leafs have some fine players, there’s no doubt that Matthews has been and probably continues to be the team’s centerpiece.

Item Two: Maple Leafs Sign Kristian Rubins To a Two-Year Entry-Level Contract

The Maple Leafs announced on April 1 that Kristian Rubins had signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs. The 22-year-old Latvian defenseman scored two goals and 14 points in 47 games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 2019-20. It was his second season with the Marlies, although he spent most of 2018-19 with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers.

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What’s interesting is that Rubins was never drafted. Instead, he joined the Maple Leafs organization on August 3, 2018, when he signed an ECHL contract. Until he signed with the Maple Leafs, he’d been playing on an AHL deal.

Item Three: Maple Leafs Also Sign Filip Kral To a Two-Year Entry-Level Contract

Dubas had a busy day on April 1 (I was tempted to say “No Fooling”) when he also signed Filip Kral to a three-year, entry-level contract. Kral, who’s from the Czech Republic, is an offensive defenseman who was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the fifth round (149th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Filip Kral of the Spokane Chiefs
Filip Kral of the Spokane Chiefs (Larry Brunt/Spokane Chiefs)

Kral has played three seasons with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, and during the 2019-20 season, he scored 12 goals and 37 assists (49 points) in 53 games.

Item Four: The City of Toronto Cancels All Mass Events and Permits Until June 30

On one hand, it shouldn’t matter to Maple Leafs fans as we hunker down at home trying to fight off the coronavirus, but if you read that the city of Toronto has canceled all mass events and permits through to June 30, please note that this does not impact NHL games because they don’t require a permit.

This announcement is part of a measured attempt to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it is a necessary response to the provincial emergency order that prohibits organized public events and gatherings of more than five people. Regardless of whether an activity is legal or not, I believe Maple Leafs fans should remain home; however, the legally, the ban was instituted for exclusively city-sponsored events such as festivals or parades, so it wouldn’t prevent the NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS or CFL from returning to action.

Related: Bill Barilko, the Tragically Hip & the Most Famous Goal in Maple Leafs History

That said, I would expect a provincial ban on mass gatherings will need to be addressed in regard to professional sports. Should the NHL return, it might mean that teams would play without fans in attendance.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

In the world of the Maple Leafs, it seems the busiest person has been the general manager. It will be interesting to see how Dubas stays at work building the team. Over the past few days, he’s signed two young defensemen and help on defense is something the team needs moving forward. We’ll see what he does next; however, his work in building the team seems to never stop.