The writers who cover the Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers gather to discuss hot topics, stories we’ve published and ideas we are working on. We also talk about comments left by readers, viewers and listeners. In this edition of the Maple Leafs Lounge, we chat about the Olympics, the farm system, Nick Ritchie, Michael Bunting and Kurtis Gabriel. We saved the most contentious issue to the end, responding to comments from readers who want Kyle Dubas fired as the general manager.
Maple Leafs in the Olympics
NHL players will be at the 2022 Olympics. This agreement was made during the return-to-play negotiations a year ago but officially confirmed last week. I wrote an article when the first announcement was made identifying Maple Leafs who could be there. The list includes John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly for Team Canada. William Nylander will represent Sweden. But, as I told the panel, there will be a brutal sight to see, “of course, get ready for it; Auston Matthews will be with Team USA. It’s all exciting until you think of that. I’m not sure if I could handle Auston Matthews beating Canada for the gold.”
Peter Baracchini is excited to watch, “we wanted best on best. We wanted to see a McDavid versus Matthews. We wanted to see the rivalry between Sweden and Finland again, and we wanted to see Canada versus Russia, all the stuff that makes hockey great.”
But now the speculation starts around who will make the international teams. Alex Hobson says there are two other Maple Leafs who should not be ignored. “I don’t know why no one is considering Jake Muzzin or T.J. Brodie. For the entire time I’ve been watching the Maple Leafs, the defence has always been an issue. It’s always the number one talking point. This is the first season I can remember where nobody had anything bad to say about the Leafs’ defence… all of it was because of Jake Muzzin and T.J. Brodie.”
Maple Leafs Farm System Ranking
Baracchini, who works double duty for THW as the Head of Draft and Prospects, released his farm systems rankings. He put Toronto in the middle of the pack, at 17, “overall the depth that Toronto has, they’ve got an ample amount. Nothing that screams top ten or maybe even top 15 worthy for me because there’s a lot of development that needs to happen.”
His rankings have been met with positive and negative reactions, “the system is still looking pretty good. Some are saying it may lack depth. I don’t see it because they’ve got a certain amount throughout every single position minus the goaltending – that is still a question mark.
Getting to Know the New Guys
The writers did deeper dives on three new players in the organization. Jim “the Old Prof” Parsons wrote about Nick Ritchie, Alex Hobson looked at Michael Bunting, and I penned a couple of stories about Kurtis Gabriel.
Parsons has been hearing a lot from Boston Bruins fans about the addition of Ritchie. The writer is confident Ritchie will actually be an improvement in some areas over Zach Hyman. “Offensively, he’s a might be an upgrade on Hyman. He can’t match him defensively. He can’t play the penalty kill; he has never played the penalty kill but what he does is he stands in front of the net and creates havoc. It’s the net-front presence that has Parsons believing he could play in the top six and shovel in the “garbage” goals.
Hobson wrote an article about who may play on the top line with Matthews and Marner. He thinks Michael Bunting is a prime candidate for the job. “I see a guy who took less to come to Toronto and took less to come to play for his hometown team under the impression that he is going to be able to challenge for top-six minutes. He’s about the closest thing that the Leafs have to Zach Hyman.” Hobson says Toronto will benefit from Bunting’s ability to be a pest. “I think he’s got some sneaky goal-scoring ability with the proper opportunity, and I like his edge. So I really do think there’s potential for him to slot it on that top line down the stretch.”
I learned so much about Kurtis Gabriel that I wrote two stories about him. Any fan of the franchise should get excited because he lists Wendel Clark and Darcy Tucker as his favourite Maple Leafs. I also learned that his new teammate, Nick Ritchie, put a scar on his face. But it’s also the off-ice actions of the 28-year-old that make him a story worth telling. He will continue to have the Pride Tape on his stick, one skate designed with LGBTQ+ and the other with Black Lives Matter.
Parsons thinks Gabriel’s addition will be beneficial on and off the ice, “one thing that hasn’t changed for the Leafs is that community focus. That focus has been strong with this organization for a long time.” We call Parsons the Old Prof for a reason. He is a university professor, and his background leads him to conclude this about the players, “I used to say that university profs should be public intellectuals. Well, hockey players should be community-focused.”
Is Dubas on the Hot Seat?
We always appreciate the feedback on our articles and our shows. We discussed fan comments about Kyle Dubas. Many suggest the general manager should’ve been fired already. The writers have differing points of view on the subject. Many defend Dubas and remind readers that it wasn’t that long ago that this organization was a disaster. However, people at the top are judged by wins. The team is winning in the regular season but has failed repeatedly in the playoffs. We had such an in-depth discussion, I had to write another article on the topic.
Please leave comments, questions or topics suggestions. The writers will be happy to discuss your ideas on future episodes of the Lounge. We truly value your feedback.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.