Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Spezza, Domi & Harpur

In this news and rumors post, I will share what I’ve been reading and hearing. Will Auston Matthews leave the Toronto Maple Leafs? What will Jason Spezza bring to the team? How does Max Domi compare the Toronto market with the Montreal Canadiens market? And, will Ben Harpur add some grit to the roster?

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Gardiner, Marleau, Gilmour, Prospects

Item One: Will Matthews Leave Maple Leafs in Five Years?

In a sort of who-would-ask-this-question-now moment, Brian Burke weighed in on Matthews’ contract. His take? Matthews is likely to be out of Toronto when his current contract is up in five years.

Specifically, Burke said he believed it was crazy that the Maple Leafs signed Matthews to a five-year term as a way to drop the annual average salary-cap hit, but that would make him an unrestricted free agent when the contract’s term was completed.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews, Centennial Classic (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Burke didn’t mince words, saying: “I believe he’s out in five years.”

Obviously, the next question was “Why do you think so?” For Burke, the tax advantages of NOT playing in Toronto made the difference. Specifically, he pointed to the fact that Matthews is from Arizona, where it’s cheaper to live. The combination of cheap and home would be irresistible.

Item Two: Tyler Seguin Will Miss Jason “the Nerd” Spezza

Spezza signed on cheaply for whatever role the Maple Leafs will ask him to play. Right now, that seems to be third-line minutes, second-unit power play time, and being a veteran leader on a team filled with young stars. Although at 36 years old his skills are diminishing, it isn’t as though he can’t add value to the team.

Related: Maple Leafs Welcome Spezza to New-Look 2019-20 Roster

He will also be missed in Dallas with the Stars. Specifically, Tyler Seguin will miss having Spezza around. As Seguin tells it, Spezza was his sounding board when the two played together during the last five seasons. The older center was both coach and a confidant to the younger Seguin.

Spezza was, “the first guy I text or call when it comes to hockey,” Seguin admitted. When the 36-year-old signed with the Maple Leafs on a bargain-basement salary (actually the league minimum) for the 2019-20 season, he was able to live his childhood dream of playing in his hometown of Toronto.

Obviously, Seguin appreciated Spezza tons. He reported that Spezza brought character, leadership, and being a “nerd” to the team. Seguin noted, “He’s great in the locker room. I’m going to miss him.”

Ben Bishop Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars
Ben Bishop and new Maple Leafs player Jason Spezza (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Oh, by the way, after earning more than $88 million in his career, Seguin wasn’t surprised Spezza signed for $700,000 in Toronto. He joked: “I don’t think he needs any more money … he’s made enough.”

Seguin’s final words on his friend and mentor Spezza: “He’s a guy who just loves the game, loves making players better.” And, “He’s going to be great for the Leafs.”

Related: NHL Rumors: Maple Leafs, Flyers, Flames, Oilers, More

Item Three: Max Domi Evaluates Maple Leafs Fans

Max Domi grew up in Toronto because his dad, Tie, was a Maple Leafs player for 12 seasons and 777 games. Although he calls Toronto his home and rooted for the team when he was a kid, it isn’t his home as a hockey player. Domi played his first three seasons with the Arizona Coyotes but was traded to the Canadiens for Alex Galchenyuk prior to the 2018-19 season.

This past week on an interview with TSN, he made it clear how fortunate he believed he was to be playing in Montreal. He put it simply: “If you’re playing in Montreal, you’re the luckiest dude in the world.”

Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens
Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He added that there was a big difference between the Canadiens fan base and the Maple Leafs fan base. As he noted, “Toronto’s got their fans and the Leaf Nation is pretty big, but there’s nothing even close to Montreal and their fans down there. The fan base for the Montreal Canadiens is second to none.”

When asked why, Domi had an easy answer. “They’ve won 24 Stanley Cups. That’s all that needs to be said, really. Sorry. It’s a pretty simple answer.” Ouch, Maple Leafs fans.

By the way, father Tie’s best season with the Maple Leafs was in 2002-03 when he scored 15 goals, 14 assists, for 29 points in 79 games. Max is, obviously, more of a scorer than Dad was. With the Canadiens last season, he scored 28 goals, 44 assists, for 72 points in 82 games.

Item Four: Ben Harpur Brings Toughness to the Maple Leafs

TSN reporter Kristen Shilton tweeted information about one of the newest Maple Leafs, defenseman Ben Harpur, and what he brings to the team. As she says, and I agree, toughness is a quality that the Maple Leafs need much more of.

Not that he was the biggest guy in the room, but when Nazem Kadri was traded to the Colorado Rockies a lot of grit went with him. That grit wasn’t always used sagaciously, but the little guy from London, Ontario, wasn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates. Who’s left to do so?

As Shilton suggests, the answer might be the 6-foot-6, 222-pound Harpur. He isn’t flashy, but on the current Maple Leafs roster he’s rare. He’s also wise enough to know that will likely be his place on the team if he finds a roster spot. Mason Marchment also has tons of grit and determination, but who’s to say this is the year he makes the big club?

As Hurpur noted, “My game is being solid defensively first. I’ve been relied upon a lot to use my size and my reach, so if I can use that to my advantage, that could be something that’s attractive to [the Leafs]. I think also being a presence on the ice, [not that] I’m going to go looking for [fights], but I’ve proven in the past if it does come to that point I can stand up for myself and stand up for my teammates.”

Ottawa Senators Ben Harpur Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Former Ottawa Senators defenceman Ben Harpur and Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

The 24-year-old Harpur was traded to the Maple Leafs in the package that sent Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and Michael Carcone to the Ottawa Senators for Cody Ceci, Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a third-round draft pick in 2020. Fans shouldn’t expect a lot of offense from Harpur — he has scored one goal, and six assists, for seven points in 103 career games. However, he’s one of those guys who, if he should score a goal, might become a fan-favorite to the point where Scotiabank Arena might erupt.

Related: Predicting the Maple Leafs’ Bottom Defense Pairing

Expect Harpur to kill penalties. Last season with the Senators, he averaged the second-most shorthanded minutes per game for the team.

What’s Next?

As I was writing early this morning, an announcement buzzed on my phone that it might be time for the city of Toronto to have a second hockey team. If there’s any substance to that rumor, that’s going to be an interesting discussion over the next while. Or, it simply might be that hockey commentators are suffering from a lack of news. However, it’s a thought.

More to come.