Maple Leafs News & Analysis: Dubas and Matthews, Preseason Stars

As the Toronto Maple Leafs inch closer to the end of the preseason and the beginning of the regular season, as the old saying goes: “There’s good news and there’s bad news, which do you want first?” Let’s start with the bad news and then end on a positive note.

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In this post, I won’t so much discuss the police report that Auston Matthews had acted in a “disorderly” manner while he was home in Scottsdale, Arizona, but I will note some of the ramifications that were immediately felt by the team.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

I will end with a game review of the Maple Leafs second game against the Montreal Canadiens, this time on home ice. In this game, unlike the game in Montreal where the team iced a rag-tag group of mostly AHLers, the Maple Leafs line-up looked remarkably similar to their starting lineup on opening night. Interestingly, both results were the same – 3-0 shutouts.

Item One: Kyle Dubas Gobsmacked by Matthews Report

When I heard the news about the Arizona police report and the Matthews’ allegations, my first reaction was to rethink what seemed to be the Maple Leafs decision to not name a captain during the early preseason. Speculation among hockey commentators was that Matthews would be named captain, but the organization didn’t think it wise to name a captain until then-restricted free agent Mitch Marner was signed. The belief was that the naming Matthews captain might not sit well with Marner.

Ah-ha, I thought. The organization knew all along Matthews was in trouble with the law, and was waiting to see how the dust might settle before naming a captain. I was wrong.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews takes part in the Leafs & Legends Charity Golf Classic, September 11, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima)

So, on Sept. 25, Maple Leafs fans discovered that general manager Kyle Dubas was just as gobsmacked as everyone else when he learned of Matthews’ legal mess. [Gobsmacked is a word I first heard when I worked in Scotland, and it’s perfect for this occasion. Gob (mouth) and smack (hit) are used together to mean that a person is absolutely astonished or surprised. It’s perfect for this occasion.] By the way, Dubas learned of the news on Twitter, of all things.

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Dubas also noted that he was “very disappointed” about how he found out. He then said he “immediately” called Matthews and the two had an “honest” conversation. Matthews, without his usual swagger, agreed that not informing the team in May when the incident happened was an error in judgment.

Dubas, always a positive voice, found the lemonade when he noted that Matthews “was very honest about it. No denying anything. He was very honest with me about what had happened. I would have liked to have known before, but I’m happy in the moment when he could have ducked away or deferred that he was honest with me.”

Then, both Dubas and coach Mike Babcock suggested that the Maple Leafs would learn and improve from the incident. Specifically, Dubas noted, “When someone doesn’t meet the level of expectation that you have for them, or (they) have for themselves, it’s an opportunity for them to learn and to grow. And that’s how we’ll approach it.”

That’s a pretty clear statement about how Dubas feels Matthews treated the organization. He let them down, and he didn’t meet their expectations. Dubas’ final comment was, because he had to know the question was coming about Matthews being named captain, that it wasn’t time for that discussion.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Matthews scored in the Maple Leafs 3-0 victory over the Canadiens.

Item Two: Player Grades for the 3-0 Win Over Canadiens

For the second game in a row, the Maple Leafs beat the Canadiens. Trevor Moore (cleaning up the garbage), John Tavares (a typical Tavares goal – in close), and Matthews (a one-timer on a beautiful pass by Marner) each scored. Marner had two assists and looked strong all night. The Maple Leafs showed that they have three really strong lines that could dominate play against any team.

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All three lines were fast from the start, but Montreal goalie Keith Kinkaid had a solid performance (making 46 saves) with no offensive support at all. The good news for the Canadiens is that Kinkaid looked good, even against the offensive attack of the Maple Leafs. Should Carey Price not be ready to start the season, goaltending might not be the Canadiens’ biggest issue. The team simply didn’t play well enough two games in a row.

Rather than give a game review, I want to offer some player grades for the game – and for the preseason in general – under three categories. Which players were: (1) As good as expected – we knew they would be good, and they are; (2) Surprise players – those who have snuck up on fans, even if not expected; and (3) No longer surprises – players who surprised fans at first, but now we have come to expect a high level of play.

As Good as Expected:

  • William Nylander said he would dominate this season, and so far he’s been good to his word. In this game, he moved the puck up the ice and showed great passing getting it to his teammates.
Toronto Maple Leafs' William Nylander
Toronto Maple Leafs’ William Nylander (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
  • Frederik Andersen shut out the Canadiens, saving all 26 shots he faced. Michael Hutchinson shutout the Canadiens in the last game, making 38 saves. That’s excellent goaltending, but it’s never a surprise when Andersen’s this good.

Surprise Players:

  • Cody Ceci looked better than advertised when he was traded to the team. This is at least the second preseason game he’s looked good, so perhaps Dubas knew something fans didn’t. I think some fans are surprised by Ceci’s showing.
  • Martin Marincin can move well. Sure he made a mistake or two, and I have to admit that, when I read through the Maple Leafs lineup, I often just skip Marincin’s name. It might be time for me to pay more attention. It would be a good story should he make the club and become a valuable defenseman.

No Longer a Surprise:

  • Rasmus Sandin had another good night, and showed steadiness and drive both at once. He looks like a lock to make the team.
  • Ilya Mikheyev might become Babcock’s new project. It seems the old-time coach always needs a special player to work with, and this season Mikheyev might be that player. Praise for this young Russian has become redundant. Each game he plays better. The good news is that he has the three S’s – size, strength, and skill. He also has an edge to his game that’s something the Maple Leafs need more of.

Where We Are Now

The Maple Leafs looked stronger, faster, and were better passers than the Canadiens. This team has the potential to be really good, which we will see when the regular season begins.