Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Refs, Campbell, Robertson, Keefe & More

After three days of the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp, there are consistencies. For example, young Nick Robertson is consistently popping up in commentary from other players. In this post, I’ll look at what backup goalie Jack Campbell says about Robertson. I’ll also look at some of the other training camp news.

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Specifically, the NHL came down on the Maple Leafs for – of all things – hiring referees to officiate training camp scrimmages. I’ll also look at one way the team is running training camp and comment about the rumor that head coach Sheldon Keefe’s inexperience is a problem for the team, as hockey commentators suggest. Finally, I’ll make a note about Cody Ceci.

Item One: Two Minutes to the Maple Leafs for Using Referees During Training Camp

Although no penalty’s involved, as Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports, the Maple Leafs went afoul of NHL policy when it hired referees to officiate team scrimmages. It was one way to make this summer’s unprecedented training camp more realistic, but it was nixed by the league.

Coach Keefe spelled out his philosophy: “Any time we’re doing any sort of scrimmaging, we’d like to have the officials involved if we can. Certainly the professionalism of the faceoffs and the way that things were called, we missed having them on the ice. Just the fact that you have four extra bodies out there, that in itself is different and I think it’s important.”

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Nick Robertson is making a splash during this training camp.

Keefe’s comment was made prior to the NHL ruling, and he makes sense. However, obviously rival teams noticed and complained. Perhaps rightly so; the move might be a health risk and the Maple Leafs were asked to stop.

This summer’s training camp is so different from others. It’s common to see officials used in preseason camps; however, because all teams are asked to operate under the strictest health rulings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a restriction that says only 20 non-playing staff can be inside a team’s facility at any time.

Although the Maple Leafs had confirmed negative coronavirus tests for these officials before they took the ice, the NHL reported that it “wasn’t comfortable” exposing players to anyone not covered by Phase 3 protocols.

The bottom line is that the team was instructed to stop using referees and linesmen immediately and complied. Keefe noted: “We had to make an adjustment and we’re perfectly fine doing that.”

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However, he suggested, “Apparently some people around the NHL are paying attention to our media reports here in Toronto.” In the absence of hired referees, Toronto Marlies head coach Greg Moore put on the stripes and acted as an on-ice official. He dropped the puck for faceoffs and, it was reported, he even called a penalty shot for a tripping infraction.

Item Two: Jack Campbell on Nick Robertson

One thing fans learned about backup goalie Jack Campbell since he joined the team is that he’s one of those guys who’s fun to be around. He’s got something good to say about everyone on the team. In fact, Maple Leafs hockey writer Terry Koshen of the Toronto Sun calls Campbell “effusive.”

This time, Campbell’s been watching Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson and, no surprise, he’s impressed with Robertson’s “mindset,” drive, and preparation, and he’s nothing but effusive in saying so.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

As Campbell noted, “We’re lucky to have him. He definitely looks like he is prepared and he is giving it his all to do everything he can to be here with us, and you can’t ask for any more of what he is doing.”

Campbell added, “I think the fans will really get behind him. We would love to have him on our team, whether that’s right now or whenever he cracks it. He is a great talent and a nice kid and works his tail off, so we’re happy to have him.” (from “Robertson bugging his Leafs teammates, but it’s all good,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 15/07/20)

Item Three: During Training Camp, It’s Team Andersen vs. Team Matthews

I think it’s rich that two friends who spent so much time together at Auston Matthews’ home in Arizona became captains of two teams that will battle throughout the NHL’s Phase 3 training camps for team supremacy. Throughout the camp, in an effort to create game-like scenarios as closely as possible, there’s an on-going best-of-five series between teams captained by Frederik Andersen and Matthews.

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Apparently there’s great attention to detail. For example, music is played during stoppages in play and a horn will blare after each goal.

Item Four: Is an Inexperienced Sheldon Keefe a Detriment to the Maple Leafs’ Chances?

If Maple Leafs fans search around the Internet, it’s not hard to find hockey commentators lauding Columbus Blue Jackets’ head coach John Tortorella. On that point, you have no argument from me. Tortorella’s an interesting guy, who also has had great coaching success. In many ways, he’s Mike Babcock-like, without being stuck in old-school stubbornness. He’s stubborn, but not like Babcock was – as in refusing to give his best players more ice time when the game’s on the line.

However, does Tortorella’s experience give his team a huge advantage? Perhaps that’s overstating the point. True, Keefe does not have NHL playoff experience, but he’s smart, detailed, and he’s been successful wherever he’s coached.

During his time with the Maple Leafs, Keefe has coached 47 NHL games with a record of 27-15-5. That’s a .625 winning percentage, and it’s no surprise. He’s always had a high winning percentage. Furthermore, no matter where Keefe coaches, his teams win.

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Specifically, with the Central Canada Hockey League’s (CCHL) Pembroke Lumber Kings, in 423 games, his team’s record was 303-96-4-10. (For Maple Leafs hockey fans who might not know, Keefe purchased the Lumber Kings, a struggling Junior A franchise in the CCHL, in July 2003.) During the time he coached that team, he set team records for most career wins and the team’s winning percentage.

With the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (from 2012-2015), Keefe’s record was 134-55-5-10 in 204 games. Finally, with the AHL Toronto Marlies (from 2015-19), his record was 200-89-22-9, He won a championship and made the playoffs all four seasons he coached the Marlies.

The 39-year-old Keefe knows hockey, both as a former NHL player and with an extensive history as a coach. Certainly, it would help to have NHL playoff experience. That said, given this long history of successful coaching, can anyone logically imagine Keefe is unqualified to lead any team on a long Stanley Cup playoff run?

That assessment just ignores the facts.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Many Maple Leafs hockey commentators have a hate on for beleaguered defenseman Cody Ceci. In fact, redundant comments express total surprise that Ceci and Morgan Rielly would be paired together on defense. Stern scoldings are given to Keefe that he “must not” play Ceci. To my mind, the comments are downright dismissive and border upon brutal.

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There’s a belief Keefe doesn’t know what he’s doing creating this defensive partnership or even playing Ceci at all.

This decision will be fun to watch. I’m not privy to Keefe’s thinking, but it’s tough for me to laud his coaching and then call him an idiot for playing Ceci. I will be watching to see what happens with this decision.