Finally, there’s solid NHL news about the Toronto Maple Leafs. One veteran has gone and one young prospect is just beginning his climb up the ranks. As well, there’s insight about one player who left and two who will suit up with the team this season. In this post, I will try to bring fans up to speed on some of the team’s news.
Item One: Gardiner Signs with the Hurricanes
Finally, Jake Gardiner found a landing place. The Carolina Hurricanes signed defenseman Gardiner, perhaps the top remaining unrestricted free agent (UFA), to a four-year, $16.2-million contract. Sadly, although $4.05 million is nothing for us, everyday people, to sneeze at, for Gardiner it seems that his value took a hit because he battled a back injury during the second half of last season. He only played 62 games in total, which is almost one-quarter of a season lost.
In Gardiner, a 29-year-old, puck-moving, speedy defender, the Hurricanes got a player who can really help their team’s power play unit. And, for the price of his contract, Gardiner seems like a steal. Many thought he might get up to $6 million average annual value (AAV) when he signed. However, he signed for the same money he made in Toronto.
As a commentator who covered the Maple Leafs, Gardiner became one of my favorite players. I’m glad he landed with the Hurricanes, in a smaller market with less-intense fans who might be less anxious to pounce on his defensive mistakes, which high-risk, high-reward defensemen are likely to make. He’ll contribute an exciting, fast-paced, offensive brand of hockey that fans should enjoy.
One question I have is whether something might be brewing with the Hurricanes, who now have one of the strongest defensive cores in the NHL with Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton (the best of the bunch), Justin Faulk, and Brett Pesce.
Pesce is often rumoured to be on the market, but I’m thinking it might be Faulk who the team would be willing to give up in a trade somewhere down the road. We’ll see.
Item Two: Matthews Will Miss Marleau the Most
Auston Matthews probably is tired – for many reasons – of being asked about Mitch Marner’s ongoing contract negotiations. He’s sitting pretty while friend Marner must be stewing. However, Matthews doesn’t seem tired of speaking about his former mentor Patrick Marleau who left the team after last season.
In an interview with CBC sports that covered many topics, Matthews spoke about the comings and goings of players on the Maple Leafs roster. He noted, “Unfortunately it’s the business part of the business where you see good guys, good teammates, good players having to go. The new guys are all going to contribute and help our team in different ways.”
Matthews admitted that the loss of Marleau hit him hardest because the 19-season veteran forward had taken both Matthews and Marner under his wing and treated them like “de facto” family members. Matthews admitted, “Our friendship obviously goes beyond just being at the rink. We’re all going to miss him.”
Matthews also told how the success of the city’s sister team the Toronto Raptors last season might inspire his own team to take the next step in its own evolution toward the Stanley Cup
The Raptors knew that feeling well and were thwarted year after year by LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. However, Matthews noted that the euphoria surrounding the Raptors’ NBA title win in June helped him imagine what a Stanley Cup would mean to the Maple Leafs. He noted that it was both wild and amazing to see.
Item Three: Nick Robertson Excites Fans at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament
Yahoo Sports Canada’s Stan Temming reported that 17-year-old Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson is showing two characteristics as he plays in the 2019 Traverse City Prospects Tournament in his home state of Michigan. First, he can shake off on-ice mistakes. Second, he’s fearless. In short, he’s showing both skill and attitude.
During Friday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues’ prospects, Robertson played on the left point of the team’s top power play unit. In one sequence, he took a pass from Teemu Kivihalme and hammered it past Blues’ goalie Joel Hofer.
Temming noted that Robertson’s hustle at both ends of the ice was impressive and made it appear that the youngster was, “competing for a spot on the Maple Leafs’ opening night roster during a preseason contest in late September.”
The take-away for Temming was that the 5-foot-9, 160-pound speedster has the skill and swagger required to play against older, larger competition.
Item Four: Cale Makar on Former Teammates Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot
The Star’s Kevin McGran reported that he had a chance to speak with Colorado Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar at the NHL Media Tour in Chicago. Makar’s strong play during the Avalanche’s playoff run gave his team the confidence that it could afford to trade Tyson Barrie to the Maple Leafs in the multi-player trade that landed Nazem Kadri.
When Makar was asked about his impressions of the two key players traded to the Maple Leafs (Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot), he admitted that his own team was losing two really great guys.
He reported that Barrie was, “a great character guy, whether it’s in the room or on the ice, he’s just a consistent presence everywhere. He’s a great guy. Everybody attests to that.” Kerfoot “was funny” and brought lots of experience from college. Kerfoot played at Harvard and was a Hobey Baker finalist. (from Mailbag: Why not play hardball with Mitch Marner?, The Star, Kevin McGran, 09/06/2019).
The first domino everyone predicted in the signing of restricted free agents has not yet fallen, and after the first week of September here we are. It will be interesting to see when – or even if – that domino falls.
Logic would suggest that, with a little less than a week left until training camp begins (Sept. 13), something would happen this week. That said, there hasn’t been much in these protracted negotiations that seems logical. Might this coming week be a dud as well?