The Toronto Maple Leafs are back in full swing following an all-star break that saw both Auston Matthews and John Tavares take part in the festivities in San Jose. Now, with that behind them, the focus is back on the regular season and chasing down the Atlantic Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
While it’ll take some big wins by the Maple Leafs and a standstill on the Lightning’s production, the sole focus for the team now is their success going forward. With that said, the organization has had some key moments in the headlines as of late.
Rielly Reaching New Heights
For starters, one of the Maple Leafs’ most recent games against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 2 marked a big individual moment for defenceman Morgan Rielly. The Maple Leafs top blueliner tied his career-high in points that he set in 2017-18 when he had six goals and 52 points in 76 games.
Rielly has played in all 52 games for the Maple Leafs this season and has set career-highs in both goals and points in the process. Through the team’s first 52 games, Rielly has 13 goals – four more than his previous career-high set in 2015-16 – and 52 points. Assuming he can continue on this pace, he could finish the season with 82 points.
On top of that, Rielly is on the verge of finishing a season for the first time on the positive side of the plus-minus column. Not bad for the 24-year-old.
Hatty For Hollowell
Drafted by the Maple Leafs in the fourth round, 118th overall, in 2018, Mac Hollowell remains unsigned by the franchise. But maybe Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs should keep a closer eye on the 20-year-old defenceman.
As an assistant captain for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this season, Hollowell has recorded 19 goals and 58 points in 46 games – an average of 1.26 points per game. On Feb. 3, in a game against the Oshawa Generals, Hollowell notched his first career OHL hat trick as his Greyhounds came back to defeat the Generals 3-2 in overtime.
With the tallies, Hollowell tied Michael Quesnele for fourth on the Greyhounds all-time list for goals and now sits just 15 back of Craig Hartsburg for third and 25 back of Trevor Daley for second, according to Peter Kneulman.
“It’s definitely fun going into games knowing you’re going to be relied on in key situations,” said Hollowell in a piece by Brad Coccimiglio of SooToday.com. “I’m playing good hockey right now.”
Leafs, Matthews Proceeding With Negotiations
Is it possible that the Maple Leafs are trying to get a deal done with Matthews prior to the end of the season? It would surely help in focusing in on Mitch Marner once the season is over.
Well, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston the team and Matthews’ representation might not be focused on a max eight-year deal.
“The progress, interestingly revolves around a shared understanding that an eight-year contract isn’t the best way to proceed. There simply isn’t enough value to be found in a max-term deal at this time, for either team or player, and that in itself is a change from the logic that governed second contracts for Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jack Michael and Mark Scheifele,” writes Johnston.
“Leafs management and Team Matthews are instead drilling down on five- and six-year options,” he continues, “deals that would buy up his offensive prime and include either one or two UFA seasons while still leaving the player in position to cash in again at age 26 or 27.”
A shorter deal would help the Maple Leafs with what could a difficult cap situation in the coming seasons, but it would still deliver a healthy pay increase for the 21-year-old superstar.
While there’s nothing expected to be signed in the coming days, the fact that Matthews’ representation is expected to hang around Toronto for a few days and meet with Dubas, according to Johnston, it’s a positive for both the team and Matthews himself.
Maple Leafs’ Quick Hits
When the Maple Leafs held their Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Night against the Penguins on Feb. 2, they had more than just a big win up their sleeve. We’ve seen these videos before, but they always find a way to tear at our heartstrings. So, with the ceremonial puck drop set to go, the Maple Leafs helped Corporal Jeremy Hillson return to his family from Iraq and surprise them at center ice for an incredibly emotional moment.
The Maple Leafs’ Feb. 4 game against the Anaheim Ducks marked a big moment for newly acquired defenceman Jake Muzzin. Playing in just his second game since the acquisition, Muzzin rifled home a slapshot from the point to give the Leafs a 3-0 lead at the time. It was his first goal as a Leaf and his fifth of the season.
Updated: Shortly after this was posted, the Maple Leafs and Auston Matthews agreed on a five-year extension, with an AAV of $11.634 million.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.