The Toronto Maple Leafs still have Ilya Mikheyev on the team, if he likes it or not. The speedy Russian met with reporters after the first day of training camp. His English has significantly improved, as he confidently answered a number of questions. However, when asked if he requested a trade, he either didn’t understand or blatantly ignored the inquiry. Now, depending on which media outlet you follow, Mikheyev either denied the rumour or didn’t answer the question.
Earlier this month, Elliotte Friedman reported: multiple sources confirmed Mikheyev asked to be traded after the 2020-21 season. In addition, Friedman said the Maple Leafs had no interest in moving the winger and had big plans for him. Friedman is one of, if not the most trusted of all the NHL insiders. Here is the awkward exchange when Mikheyev was questioned about the trade request rumour.
Congratulations on your marriage, but that wasn’t the question. Not as awkward, but equally as offputting, Kyle Dubas was asked to confirm the rumour 24 hours earlier. It was one of the only times the general manager wasn’t smiling during his 20-minute media conference. “The answer to that is – Ilya Mikheyev is going to be on the team and going to be a big part of the team,” Dubas said with a hint of annoyance. “We’re looking forward to getting the most out of him. So, any questions on that, I would refer to Dan Milstein (Mikheyev’s agent).”
Maple Leafs and Mikheyev Have Work to Do
Maybe we are reading too much into the situation. Imagine if you handed in your resignation, and your boss wouldn’t accept it, or if you quit, then changed your mind and returned to work the next day. Things around the job site may be a bit uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that’s where the Maple Leafs and Mikheyev find themselves.
Perhaps Dubas took the request personally. The time he spent with Mikheyev in the hospital after his wrist injury has been well documented. Or, on the business side of things, anytime a player’s trade request is known, his market value goes down. Just ask the Buffalo Sabres and Jack Eichel.
Either way, Mikheyev is on the team – for now. But, this is the last year of his two-year deal. Dubas may have denied his trade request – if the request was even made, but it’s up to Sheldon Keefe and Mikheyev to make it work. The Maple Leafs’ head coach has numerous options on the wing, and the Russian will need to be much better than last season to earn his ice time.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.