It’s easy for Toronto Maple Leafs fans to get lost in the one thing that is NOT happening this summer (Mitch Marner signing), and forget about how busy the summer has really been for the team. We’ve learned two things about general manager Kyle Dubas: first, he’s not afraid to make moves; second, he can be exceedingly creative in the moves he makes.
Dubas helped improve the blue line by acquiring veteran, right-shot defenseman Tyson Barrie. In addition, he picked up defensemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur. At the same time, he traded long-time Maple Leafs’ fixture Nazem Kadri and also moved Connor Brown and the anxious-to-go Nikita Zaitsev.
The move he made to free salary-cap space by trading Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes was smart and unexpected, and his trade with the Vegas Golden Knights for David Clarkson’s contract was also a creative use of the salary cap.
In this post, I will try to synthesize some of the most recent news and rumors emerging from the team. Specifically, it seems as if veteran center John Tavares has been speaking out about a number of topics. I’m wondering if he feels fans need some reassurance.
Item One: Former Maple Leafs Say Team Is Ready to Win the Stanley Cup
The great, Hall-of-Fame forward Frank Mahovlich, who was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967 when the team won its last Stanley Cup, is optimistic about this iteration of the Blue and White. Specifically, at the NHL Alumni Celebrity Golf Classic on Monday in Halton Hills, he said he feels that the team is close to ending its 52-year drought.
Mahovlich noted, “I thought they should have won the Stanley Cup last season.” He added, “I think they’ve got a good enough team to do it.”
If he’s correct, that would end a run of frustration that has seen the team qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the past three seasons, then bow out before they could get to the second round. As Maple Leafs fans know, the team lost in the first round to the Boston Bruins in 2018 and 2019, and to the Washington Capitals in 2017.
Mahovlich, who won the Stanley Cup four times with the Maple Leafs (1962, 1963, 1964, 1967) and then two more times with the Montreal Canadiens (1971, 1973), has enough Stanley Cup experience to be listened to when he speaks. His perspective is that the next step is “building chemistry, getting the fellows together and playing together a little more.”
He noted that the team has “so many good players” that it’s the chemistry that’s key. “Some teams get it, some teams don’t.” But he believes the team’s young core of players have learned some lessons during their playoff failures. Now, it’s applying those lessons that will make them reach success – or, vice-versa, lead them to one more season of failure.
Both Mahovlich and former Maple Leafs player Darcy Tucker, who was also interviewed at the Golf Classic, raved about 21-year-old Auston Matthews. Tucker believes Matthews, as successful as he’s been already during his first three seasons, has “only scratched the surface” of his potential. Tucker sees Matthews as easily capable of 50 goals and 100 points. Using an interesting metaphor, Tucker believes Matthews has “a ceiling that is just through the roof.”
Mahovlich agrees and said he started admiring Matthews after his very first NHL game, when he scored four goals against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 12, 2016. “He really opened my eyes.” Mahovlich added, “I thought he was great and he’s only gotten better. He’s got great balance, a great skill set, everything that a player needs to be successful.”
Both former Maple Leafs noted that the next step in the Maple Leafs’ progression was to become more “battle-tested come playoff time.”
Item Two: Tavares Believes Marner Will Work Out His Contract with the Maple Leafs
Tavares believes the “right thing will happen” in Marner’s negotiations with the team. Although there are less than five weeks remaining in the offseason, Tavares is confident Marner will soon sign with the Maple Leafs.
Tavares reminded TSN that Marner wasn’t the only restricted free agent (RFA) remaining unsigned. He believed there was time remaining for Marner to sign with the team and added, “that’s what both sides obviously want.”
As far as Tavares’ personal thoughts, “Mitch is obviously an important player for our team, just the type of guy he is as well. We really count on him, so obviously, we want to get him there for Day One of camp and get moving forward and continue to kind of build this thing and work toward the ultimate goal.”
As a note, training camp begins Sept. 13.
Item Three: Tavares Is Excited to Play with Maple Leafs Young Core Players
In another bit of news, Tavares said he’s expecting “big steps” from the young Maple Leafs core of Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas
Because there are so many new players on the roster, although Kapanen and Johnsson are young, Tavares believes they’ll become part of the team’s core group this season, and that excites him. Tavares thinks
He also feels they’ll impact the team both on the ice, but especially in the locker room by working with “all the new guys we have on board to really make them part of the group right away.”
Is this my imagination, but does such talk sound like a captain speaking? Maybe this will become the first time since Dion Phaneuf that the team names a captain. Might it be Tavares?
Speaking of Phaneuf, the 34-year-old currently remains an unrestricted free agent. If the former team captain signs with someone soon, might that team be his old Maple Leafs? Who’s to say Dubas is finished with his offseason surprises?