This offseason and preseason have been quite different for the Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s been lots of news and rumors surrounding the team, however, there have been very few conversations actually about the on-ice hockey product. First, the drama was with Mitch Marner’s negotiations; then, more recently it’s been Auston Matthews admitting to disorderly behavior during the offseason at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Then, somewhere in the background, the Maple Leafs come out and dominate the Montreal Canadiens in two straight games where their goalies each threw a shutout against the opponent. The team is starting to look really good. Is anyone noticing?
I know it’s only preseason, but for Maple Leafs fans who really ONLY want to watch the hockey part and would rather dispense with the drama, it promises to be a fun season.
In this post, I will share some of the news and rumors I have been hearing over the last couple of days.
Item One: Tavares Will Be Named Maple Leafs Captain
There was some speculation about the team naming a captain over the past week or so, but on Sept. 26, former NHL Maple Leafs executive and now media hockey commentator Brian Burke reported on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver that “his information tells him” that Tavares will be named the next Maple Leafs captain.
If so, I had started to suspect as much last week when Tavares flew into St. John’s, Newfoundland, to start the team’s training camp. Even before Matthews’ trouble with the law and embarrassment to the organization by his behavior, I believed head coach Mike Babcock had hinted that his choice was Tavares. Obviously, I admit I was only guessing based upon the way I heard Babcock talking about his players.
I admit that I don’t have a pony in this race, although I believe both Marner and Matthews have recused themselves from consideration after this summer’s
The real issue is that, if the organization was never going to name Matthews captain, it’s dithering around – given the way events have unfolded with Matthews – made them look either too strategic or disingenuous about covering up organizational issues rather than making the decision that best suits the team.
If I were the making decisions for the team on this issue, I would make no formal announcement and simply, as the team enters the arena for their first game, have someone – whoever the new captain will be – skate in first for a solo lap around the ice wearing the “C” on his jersey. Then, I would note that the plan all along was to announce the captaincy as part of the first game of the season. Do the hoopla after the first game.
There’s still more coming on this, and it’s too bad that this prolonged conversation will be a distraction for many fans from what is happening on the ice – the team looks really good.
Item Two: The Maple Leafs Announce Roster Cuts
The Maple Leafs announced a series of cuts to its roster, sending six players to the Toronto Marlies camp that just began this week. The players sent down were forwards Nicolas Baptiste and Colt Conrad and defencemen Joseph Duszak, Mac Hollowell, Jesper Lindgren, and Kristians Rubins.
Really, there were few surprises in these moves. All these players were either on AHL contracts or were waiver-exempt if they had signed NHL contracts. Personally, however, I thought defenseman Hollowell might stay a bit longer. I believe he’s a good prospect.
Item Three: Trevor Moore Earning Babcock’s Praise
This has been a solid preseason for Trevor Moore, but it didn’t start that way. However, things changed in Saturday night’s game in Buffalo and continued with his recent play against the Canadiens.
Playing the Sabres, Moore scored a blue-collar, shorthanded goal, created havoc all over the ice, and looked again like the Mighty Mouse who destroyed 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara with a check during last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs against the Boston Bruins.
In the game against the Canadiens, Moore was promoted to Alexander Kerfoot’s line and he scored his second preseason goal by tapping-in a Rasmus Sandin shot.
Although Babcock had little to say to Moore about his previous, less-productive outings, Babcock smiled as he noted: “I welcomed him back after last game (Buffalo).”
Babcock continued to say that Moore was what he hopes Dmytro Timashov could become. So far, Timashov hasn’t done much scoring; however, Babcock did say such players “can penalty-kill, they can transport the puck, they can be heavy down low, they can get it back for the good players, they can play against really good players, they play with pace, and they seem to always be ready to go.”
Really, there’s a lot in that quote about how Babcock sees the team as a separation between good players and “others.” It also says lots about what Babcock expects from his depth players and even his top-six forwards. Doesn’t it sound exactly Zach Hyman’s game, except Hyman has learned to score?
In fact, Babcock has always counted on two “worker bees” to kill penalties and chase down the puck. One was Connor Brown, but he looks destined to play a top-six role with the Senators. The second was Hyman, and his ACL won’t be healed until November.
Item Three: Is Babcock an Area of Concern?
Pat, the passionate Maple Leafs blogger who authors “Center of Leafs Nation,” made an interesting point about the upside and the downside of Babcock as a coach.
He noted, “For all the qualities that make Mike Babcock such a great coach, they also provide him a blind spot, if a particular game-plan isn’t working, he has shown a stubbornness to change on the fly. This refusal to change on the fly has come at the detriment of the team and its success not only in the regular season but more importantly in the playoffs.”
Pat goes on to suggest that he believes a possible coaching change has been talked about and that Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe is the “coach in waiting.” If the team has a swoon like last season, Babcock will be replaced because management realizes that he might get in the way of the team’s opportunities to progress further.
I suppose we’re all waiting to see what happens to Matthews and his legal trouble and to the naming of the captain. Personally, I’m looking forward to another game.