Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Postseason Play, Robertson & Mikheyev

Although nothing is happening yet, decisions are being made. Yesterday, the NHL and the NHLPA (Players’ Association) agreed on structuring the 24-team format. The play-in round will take place between teams 5 – 12 in each conference. That round will be a best-of-five series. However, the conference quarterfinal, semifinal, final, and Stanley Cup Final will all be best-of-seven series. 

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If it happens – and it’s starting to look like it will – the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will take over two months to complete. For hockey-starved fans, that’s a menu to salivate over.

In this post, I want to share the postseason specifics that were agreed upon and look at two of the Maple Leafs’ young players – Nick Robertson (again) and Ilya Mikheyev.

Item One: Specifics About Postseason Matchups

As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and his colleague Elliotte Friedman tweeted yesterday, the integrity of the playoffs (winning 16 postseason games to hoist the Stanley Cup) was a priority for the players. However, such an extended playoff system might be tested if a second wave of COVID-19 hits North America in September as many health care professionals suggest it might. 

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As the play-in round is happening, teams 1 – 4 (the top four teams) in each conference will play a three-game round-robin to determine seeding for the first round; however, if there’s a tie, a team’s regular-season points percentage will be the tiebreaker. Teams will be reseeded after each playoff round instead of being bracketed. 

To share other aspects of the NHL’s release, the following specifics were agreed upon.

“Seeding” Format

In each round of the 2020 Playoffs, the highest remaining seed in each conference will face the lowest remaining seed; the second-highest remaining seed in each conference will face the second-lowest remaining seed, etc.

Round Robin Tiebreaker

Ties in the round-robin, that feature the top four teams from each conference, will be broken by regular-season points percentage. The determined seeding order for these teams will remain the same throughout the playoffs.

“Home” Ice

In the qualifying (play-in) round, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3 and 4.

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In the first round, second round and Conference Finals, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The team with the lower regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

Item Two: Nick Robertson Wins CHL Sportsman of the Year

On June 4, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) named Nick Robertson as CHL Sportsman of the Year. He beat out other CHL nominees Jakob Pelletier (of the Moncton Wildcats) and Seth Jarvis (of the Portland Winterhawks) for the award.

The CHL Sportsman of the Year Award is given annually to the most sportsmanlike player in the CHL. Winners are chosen from the winners of three previous awards – the William Hanley Trophy of the OHL (Ontario Hockey League), the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy of the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), or the Brad Hornung Trophy of the WHL (Western Hockey League).

The award, presented by Cavendish Farms, highlights Robertson’s reputation on and off the ice. It’s special that the Maple Leafs’ top prospect is both a prolific scorer (55 goals in 46 games) and recognized for his sportsmanship. The organization has a great young man in Robertson.

Nick Robertson of the Peterborough Petes
Nick Robertson #16 of the Peterborough Petes (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The 18-year-old is progressing well. Last week, he learned his season wasn’t over when general manager Kyle Dubas announced he would join the Maple Leafs roster for postseason play. Fans can expect to see an excited young player be part of the team’s mini-training camp that begins in July.

When Robertson accepted the award, he showed his level of thoughtfulness by saying,

“I want to thank the CHL for awarding me the most sportsmanlike player of the year. I just want to thank my organization the Peterborough Petes as well as the GM Mike Oke, head coach Rob Wilson, and my teammates. And, finally, I’d like to thank the fans in Peterborough for all of their support and making it an electrifying building every night. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy.”

He is aware of the context in which this award was given. People are battling and sometimes losing to COVID-19. It’s nice that Robertson’s focused on more than his success.

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By the way, other great NHL players to have won the CHL’s Sportsman of the Year include the Montreal Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki (2016-17), the Vegas Golden Knights’ Mark Stone (2011–12), the Edmonton Oilers’ Kris Russell (2005–06), and the Los Angeles Kings’ Jeff Carter (2004–05).

Item Three: Ilya Mikheyev: A Maple Leafs Feel-Good Story

When Ilya Mikheyev arrived in Toronto, no one knew much about the Maple Leafs’ latest KHL signee, except that Dubas and former head coach Mike Babcock had been tracking him for some time. No wonder, Mikheyev’s first NHL season exceeded almost everyone’s expectations: He played smart, he showed great hockey instincts, he was speedy and worked hard to dig pucks off the boards.

Until he suffered a horrifying skate laceration, he had a strong but up-and-down season. He started well in October, scoring four goals and six assists, went 18 games without a goal during midseason, and scored goals in four of his last six games before suffering his injury on Dec. 27. Mikheyev played wherever he was asked and showed success throughout the lineup.

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Also, he proved to be a character – in a likeable way – and quickly became a fan favourite. Even his time in a New Jersey hospital became one of the Maple Leafs’ feel-good stories of the season when, encouraged by his wife, general manager Dubas spent days hanging out with the young man, buying him personal effects, and watching lots of soccer together on television.

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The good news is that Mikheyev is healed for the postseason and, if all goes as planned, he’ll contribute. Although one Maple Leafs hockey commentator suggested he won’t be re-signed by the Maple Leafs next season, the big picture looks different to me. I expect the young Russian to become a key part of the team’s roster. However, much depends on where Robertson plays next season and if he’s as good as he seems to be.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Although I know there’s a 2019-20 NHL season to conclude, as a Maple Leafs fan, it’s hard not to look toward next season. Robertson seems to be all over the news, winning awards, being invited to the team’s roster for the postseason. I can’t forecast his NHL future, but it seems that the organization was wise to draft this young man.

So much depends on how good Robertson might be. If he’s a bust, the team returns to square one. If he’s good, that opens up many possibilities, because he’s valuable to the team both for his talent and his contract.

I have a feeling that Maple Leafs fans are as hungry as I am to see what this diminutive warrior – who’s also a great sportsman – is made of.