There was actual news this week from the NHL front office about the continuation of the 2019-20 regular season. In short, although games are still too far into an unforeseeable future, the NHL sent a memo to players announcing that they were effectively moving into “Phase 2” of a plan to get back to NHL action.
In short, there’s hope that practice facilities will open for players. However, for cities heavily hit by the COVID-19 virus, there may be additional delays.
Although such steps are nowhere near definitive, it is movement, which is positive for game-starved fans. While teams and players engage in conversations about what the NHL memo might mean to them, in this post I want to help Toronto Maple Leafs fans stay more up-to-date on other news and rumours coming from the team.
Item One: Injury-Filled Season or Not, Jake Muzzin Got Lucky
Although Jake Muzzin’s hand injury has since healed and been rehabbed, he had an injury-filled season in 2019-20. He missed six games because of his hand before the league went on hiatus on March 12. He also missed 10 games with a foot injury in early January. That’s significant time lost, and as a result, his 23 points were the lowest he’s scored since the 2012-13 season when he was with the Los Angeles Kings.
However, injuries or not, Muzzin’s long-term future is looking good because he was fortunate to have re-signed with the Maple Leafs before the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported on April 28, Muzzin has been grateful during this time, sharing the good health of his family and with more time to play with his one-year-old daughter Luna. He also used the Maple Leafs facilities to rehab his injury, which will get him closer to game-ready.
Perhaps more fortunate, on Feb. 24, Muzzin inked a $22.5-million, four-year contract extension. He’s now free of the additional stress of waiting to see where the 2020-21 salary cap lands – and it will either move backwards or stay flat in response to the lost revenue caused by cancelled games. Had he become an unrestricted free agent after the season, he’d likely be worrying how a difficult economy might impact his family.
Muzzin noted in a conference call that, “It’s bad. It’s the uncertainty of these things. There’s an unknown that, I think, would be in the back of your mind. Like I don’t know if these guys are going to get what they think they should get or if it’s going to be fine or if something’s going to drastically change and maybe you have to structure a deal differently. I don’t know.”
He added, “I think that would weigh on me and I think it’s weighing on some guys.”
Item Two: Scotiabank Arena Has Become Toronto’s Largest Kitchen
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the parent company of the Maple Leafs, has turned Scotiabank Arena into Toronto’s largest kitchen as a way to deliver 10,000 meals a day to front-line health care workers.
President & CEO of MLSE Michael Friisdahl announced that, although the arena is usually a place to cheer on the Toronto Raptors and the Maple Leafs, “Today, as the world deals with the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, our arena will serve as a place for people to come together and support our community when it is most in need.”
Friisdahl added, “In a time of crisis like we are experiencing, many different needs emerge, and we saw this as a chance to use our facilities and engage our people to serve our community.”
Second Harvest will help by providing fresh ingredients daily. They are Canada’s largest food rescue charitable organization that provides both environmental protection and hunger relief. Now MLSE and Second Harvest are networking to help fight COVID-19.
Item Three: Can Tyson Barrie Earn Another Maple Leafs Contract?
Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel wondered whether defenseman Tyson Barrie might be able to reclaim some value in Toronto if the 2019-20 season continues and he plays well in the playoffs. Siegel remembered that Barrie’s Stanley Cup Playoffs last season with the Colorado Avalanche was “impactful” and noted that Barrie led the team in ice time with 24 minutes a game.
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As Siegel explained, “Make a splash after the season returns and Barrie will boost free agent value that figures to be hurt by the stalled season and a year, personally, that fell below expectations. Maybe there’s even a world (unlikely as it seems) where he comes back to the Leafs,” (from ‘The 8 most intriguing Leafs to watch should the NHL season resume,’ Jonas Siegel, The Athletic, 04/28/2020).
I think, similar to all of us writing about the NHL or sports, Siegel is searching for something to write about. Yet, this seems like pure speculation. Most hockey insiders and fans believe Barrie won’t be back with the team next season, and I’m among them.
I admit I’m not as critical of Barrie as many because I think he and a bunch of young defensemen held the team together pretty well when Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, and Cody Ceci were injured. However, Barrie remains too expensive for the Maple Leafs’ salary-cap-directed payroll.
After last season, Jake Gardiner signed a lower-than-expected contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, and that was for the same $4.05 million he made in Toronto. Barrie is simply too expensive, especially if he boosts his value with a strong playoffs. He’ll earn another contract, but it won’t be with the Maple Leafs. Instead, I think Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin will play a larger roll on the team’s defense next season.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
Of the news and rumors I reported today, I am most pleased to report that the Maple Leafs are taking a lead in their community and working with Second Harvest to deliver 10,000 meals a day.
Good on MLSE for hiring their own chefs and food and beverage staff to turn the food preparation facilities and the arena floor into an assembly line for meal packages. Such actions go a long way to helping the community.