Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Mikheyev, Biega, Gabriel & Bunting

After the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4-1 victory last night over the Ottawa Senators, head coach Sheldon Keefe spoke to the media and shared that he believed the team’s preseason was a good one. In speaking about the Maple Leafs’ camp and preseason, he noted that he believed “we have had a really good camp and preseason. The effort was right there where we wanted it to be.” 

Keefe added that the last preseason game was the closest to what opening night’s lineup would look like. Given the team’s desire to look at a lot of players, the game was the first time a number of players had worked together as a group. And, while it took some time to get in synch, he believed the team “found our groove in that second period.”

However, one bit of bad news was that Ilya Mikheyev injured his hand and might be out for a longer time than first expected. That changes things for the team heading into the regular season. I’ll talk more about that injury later in this post. 

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As well, in this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some news about the last cuts on the Maple Leafs as the team pares down to its 21-player roster. Keefe did admit that some moves were salary-cap considerations entirely so the team could move under the upper limit of the cap. Still, for the players affected who had hoped to make the team out of training camp, it couldn’t have been good news.

Item One: Mikheyev Might Be Out for a While

The first report was that, after Ilya Mikheyev injured his hand during the first period of last night’s game, he might not be able to return to the game. However, at first no one seemed to think it was a serious injury. Later that night, the prognosis changed. Although Maple Leafs’ fans won’t know until Monday, it might be that Mikheyev could be out for a while with his hand injury.

From what I saw during the game, Mikheyev fell awkwardly and his hand buckled under him when he hit the ice. He slowly returned to the bench after that shift late; then, it was announced after the second period began that he wouldn’t return. 

Related: Unsalaried: The Era of the Two-Job Hockey Player

Talk about bad timing for the now-27-year-old Russian forward. After a curious offseason, where it had been reported he’d asked to be traded, the organization gave him a chance to compete for a top-six role. And, from what I saw, he both played well and went a long ways towards earning that spot. Then to be injured during the preseason finale – bad news! 

The last word we had was that coach Keefe said that it didn’t look like it would be a short-term issue. However, Mikheyev will be reevaluated today and more will be known about his status on Monday. By the way, today is Mikheyev’s birthday.

In the meantime, it would seem that both Alex Kerfoot and Michael Bunting will be options for that left-wing job on John Tavares’ second line. Keefe noted that missing Mikheyev would be “a big loss. He has had a good camp. He is a good player for us. He does a lot of things for us.”

Item Two: Maple Leafs Waive Defenseman Alex Biega

Although coach Keefe was impressed by the play of 33-year-old Alex Biega during training camp, he didn’t make the roster. Biega’s two-way contract allows him to be sent to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies if he passes through waivers. 

Keefe had nothing but praise for Biega, noting that “He’s a great veteran player. By all accounts, anybody I have spoken to or anyone in our organization before the decision to sign him is that he’s just the consummate pro, ultimate teammate, works extremely hard every day.” 

Interestingly, Biega shares a resume note with his teammate Kerfoot. Both played four seasons with the Harvard University Crimson and both were named team captain during their senior season. It isn’t my imagination that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas values highly-educated players on his roster.

Item Three: Maple Leafs Waive Winger Kurtis Gabriel

On Saturday, the Maple Leafs placed Kurtis Gabriel on waivers. In itself, that move wasn’t much of a surprise. The surprise for me was how good a player Gabriel seemed to be. No one can call him a smooth skater; however, he seemed able to move on the ice quite well. He certainly brings something different to the lineup when he’s playing.

It seems that the organization has plans for Gabriel after he passes through waivers, which he’s likely to do. I believe that Maple Leafs’ fans will see plenty of Gabriel in the mix this season. He might be a regular yo-yo between the Marlies and the big team. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As coach Keefe noted after the game last night, the team checked a lot of positives from its list during this preseason. In fact, to hear him talk, he was going through that checklist as he was speaking with the media. 

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

Specifically, he said: “We have a lot of depth. We have had a lot of guys who have had good camps. We have guys who are with the Marlies who had good camps. We have guys who are still with us that didn’t play tonight but have had good camps.”

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Menell, Gusev, Semyonov, Mikheyev Trade

The bottom line is that Keefe believes the Maple Leafs have good depth, perhaps more than they’ve had in a long time. How that depth plays together and converts to postseason wins is the question. As readers keep reminding me, nothing much matters during the regular season.

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