In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at three players who are headed to the team from other places. One of these players is known to Maple Leafs’ fans from an earlier tenure with the organization. As well, I’ll look at two players who left the team for other teams.
Finally, I’ll look at one general tendency that causes trouble for the team – and it comes from a place of success, rather than failure. Why does the team seem to lose players it’s developed? These are players like Ilya Mikheyev and Jack Campbell, who come to the team without much currency but leave with more.
It will likely happen again and again until the Maple Leafs get worse at what they do. (I’m being ironic.) It’s also why I seem to trust the Maple Leafs’ process more than most fans and many of my THW colleagues. (Plus, I’m almost always optimistic. It works for me.)
Item One: Victor Mete Signed By the Maple Leafs
Victor Mete, the 24-year-old defenseman who grew up a rabid Maple Leafs fan, is moving to the Maple Leafs. Yesterday, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas worked to fill holes in his defense by signing Mete to a one-year, $750,000 contract.
Mete, who’s not much for goal-scoring, played with the Ottawa Senators last season. He registered seven assists in 37 games. He earlier played with the Montreal Canadiens, so this will be his third stop with central Canada’s teams. He has a history of playing with Mitch Marner; and, while he hasn’t yet become an NHL regular, he skates like the wind.
Mete was an assistant captain with Team Canada’s gold-medal winning 2018 world junior championships, who was drafted by the Canadiens in the fourth round (100th overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He seems slated for a third-pairing role or as a seventh defenseman. He’s also a left-hander who can play either side.
Item Two: Veteran Defenseman Jordie Benn Signs with the Maple Leafs
Those Maple Leafs’ fans who thought that Zach Bogosian was a needed asset for the team should be pleased with the signing of Jordie Benn yesterday. Similar to Mete, the Maple Leafs signed Benn to a one-year, $750,000 contract.
Benn will become a depth defenseman with the Maple Leafs, as he’s done for other teams. Last season, he played with the Minnesota Wild and collected eight points in 39 games. But he’s best known for his steadiness on the blueline.
The 34-year-old will have played for six NHL teams when he takes the ice for the Maple Leafs. He’ll be a proven player, and it will be interesting if he plays regularly on the third pairing or becomes an option to fill in for injuries. I got to watch him play for a season with the Vancouver Canucks and he was a nice partner with Quinn Hughes. Similar to Mete, he’s left-handed but has experience and is comfortable playing either side.
Item Three: Denis Malgin Is Back from Switzerland
There’s something about Denis Malgin that the organization likes. He’s surfaced again to sign a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. I honestly thought Malgin was headed home for good when he signed a four-year deal with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland last fall.
Interestingly, the Maple Leafs signed the 25-year-old to a one-way, one-year deal. That seems to suggest that they have him pegged for a roster position and a crack at the team’s bottom six. Malgin looked like he rediscovered his mojo last season in the Swiss league when he scored 52 points in 48 games.
Item Four: Kristians Rubins Signs with the Senators
Yesterday the Ottawa Senators signed 6-foot-5, 227-pound defenseman Kristians Rubins to a one-year, two-way deal worth $750,000. Should he play in the minors, the 24-year-old will make a salary of $130,000.
Related: Today in Hockey History: July 15
Given the Maple Leafs’ need for defensemen and the fact that Rubins always seemed to be flirting with playing with the big club last season, it was a bit of a surprise when Rubins wasn’t qualified by the team. In the end, he only made three NHL games with the Maple Leafs. He spent much of the 2021-2022 season with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, where he played 58 games, scoring a goal and adding 10 assists.
Item Five: Ondrej Kase Signs with the Hurricanes
Ondrej Kase signed earlier this week with the Carolina Hurricanes, who seem to be stockpiling veteran forwards, for a one-year contract worth $1.5 million. As Maple Leafs’ fans know, Kase became a UFA (unrestricted free agent) after the Maple Leafs didn’t tender him a qualifying offer.
When he’s healthy, he’s an amazing addition. Last season in Toronto, he scored 14 goals and added 13 assists (for 27 points) in 50 regular-season games. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy and continue his career.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
While it doesn’t happen every time, the Maple Leafs’ scouting department has a bit of a Rumpelstiltskin ability. This offseason, Jack Campbell and Ilya Mikheyev (Kase, too, to a lesser extent) are examples of the team picking up players on the fringe and helping them become bigger (more well-paid) stars.
In short, the team tends to spin straw into gold. As a result, they turn players into “commodities” that grow out of the team’s reach to retain because it has limited resources. These players (if you want to see them only as resource commodities) then move on because their market value increases.
It’s probably why Maple Leafs’ players tend to get picked up off waivers consistently. It’s also important to note that it will likely happen again this offseason with at least David Kampf and Michael Bunting. They came to the team without a lot of value, but what NHL teams wouldn’t want them today?
Who knows, but Ilya Samsonov might put himself into that position this season as well. For me, it’s one reason that while many Maple Leafs’ fans seem to be angst-ridden about every move that the team’s management makes I don’t get too concerned. I’ve come to trust the process.
If I believed I had the ability to see into the future with 100 percent accuracy, I might quibble with their choices. Having such foreknowledge of the future is past my pay grade.
I leave it to team management and hope to enjoy the ride.