The Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp opens in less than a month. Anticipation has spilled over at the Maple Leafs Lounge. Each week the crew who cover the blue and white for The Hockey Writers gather to discuss hot topics, stories we’ve published and ideas we are working on. We also debated a comment left by a reader. It’s a reoccurring remark in Leafs’ Nation, and it has to do with Mitch Marner.
Are the Maple Leafs Contenders or Pretenders?
It’s clear on fan forums, social media and even stories on the Hockey Writers that the opinion is divided when it comes to the fortunes of the Maple Leafs for the 2021-22 season. Within hours of each other, there were two very different perspectives on the Hockey Writers. One writer believes the Maple Leafs will make the third round, while another thinks the team will struggle to get into the playoffs.
Peter Baracchini gave his prediction on the show, “I’m not expecting them to win the division; that’s going straight to Tampa.” However, Baracchini is also torn about what to expect from this team. “They (Maple Leafs) could fall in anywhere to that two or three, maybe even the wild card spot. It’s very possible given how there’s so much uncertainty right now, so many moves a lot of key players gone.”
Two Top Spots Up for Grabs
Whenever you talk about predictions around a hockey team, you have to consider line combinations. There are two holes in the Maple Leafs’ top six. The departure of Zach Hyman has left the top-line winger role wide open.
The winner of the training camp battle gets to play with two elite talents in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
“The last guy that did it got a gigantic pay raise,” I said during the show. Hyman signed for a seven-year deal worth $5.5 million a season with the Edmonton Oilers. He was making $2.25 million with Toronto. But, I continued, “this is a huge opportunity for somebody in that training camp to earn a position on that top line. Even the second line that is a no slouch either with (John) Tavares and (William) Nylander.”
There are several names people are pencilling into their own line-ups. Baracchini wrote an article about players to watch who may be able to get into that role. He looked at Michael Bunting and others, “you got to look down the line up too. Nick Ritchie will be battling for that spot. Can a young rookie, Nick Robertson, grab that roster spot? Probably unlikely, but that could go either way if he has a good camp and is on the roster. If not, time in the AHL wouldn’t hurt. Then you have to look at depth players like Ilya Mikheyev.”
Fan Frustration with Marner
We hear it regularly and read it in the comments sections of our articles – fans are still upset with the results of the playoffs, and they seem to blame Mitch Marner. A Maple Leafs fan left a comment on the last show voicing their displeasure with the young winger. They urged Toronto to trade him for a more physical presence in front of the net. This reader wrote that the media “gush” about Marner’s great plays but don’t mention the failed attempts.
Baracchini gets the dissatisfaction, “yes, we would like to see Mitch Marner shoot. We would like to see him score more goals. He got 20 this year. We want to see more accuracy, more attempts. Instead of being the set-up guy on the powerplay, get a little bit greedy. I can understand where the reader is coming from, I get the frustration, but I think if you trade him for the sake of trading him, it is not going to end well.”
I couldn’t speak for this reader, but I believe they want Marner moved from some quality pieces, as they suggest trading him while the stock is high. “When you look at this roster, it is not very smoothed out. You’ve got $10 million-plus players on the top end, and then you’ve got players under $3 million,” I said. “You get $10 million off the books you bring in two $5 million players. That would be very helpful for a very top-heavy team.”
We are always grateful to the readers, viewers and listeners of the Maple Leafs Lounge for leaving their feedback. Please leave a comment below and tune in next week to see if your comment is featured.
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.