Yesterday, March 25, the NHL reported that the Scouting Combine, the NHL Entry Draft, and all NHL Awards would all be postponed. That announcement reinforces the fact that North America is basically on lockdown from sports or any other social gathering.
About the most interesting recent news in the world of the Toronto Maple Leafs is that 26-year-old defenseman Morgan Rielly is dating retired Canadian Olympic figure skater Tessa Virtue. And that’s straight from the mouth of Maple Leafs teammate and assistant captain Auston Matthews. The Leafs assistant captain confirmed the relationship after Rielly and Virtue made their first public appearance together at the Blue and White Leafs Event in January.
For hockey fans that might not know who Virtue is, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Virtue and her partner Scott Moir became the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history after the duo won gold medals in both the ice dance and team events and became the first figure skaters to win five career Olympic medals.
However, there are news and rumors from the hockey world that impact the Maple Leafs. In this post, I want to help fans keep up with those items.
Item One: KHL Gargarin Cup Cancelled & Players Freed From Contracts
On Wednesday, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) announced that it had cancelled the Gargarin Cup Playoffs. That announcement effectively spells the end of the KHL season, which means any hockey players who had contracts in that league are now freed from the final year of those contracts to sign other places. The end of these contracts comes almost two months earlier than usual.
For the Maple Leafs, or for other NHL teams that are bumping into the upper limit of the salary cap, adding inexpensive talent is a must. Over the past few seasons, the Maple Leafs are a club that has created good relationships with the Russian league and has built a bit of a pipeline for players. The team’s signing last season of fan-favorite Ilya Mikheyev is simply one example.
The Maple Leafs not only did well by signing winger Mikheyev last summer, they also showed they were a caring organization – starting from the top. When Mikheyev was injured in December, Dubas himself (he credits his wife with the idea) basically hung out with the injured young Russian for days in the hospital. Dubas noted that Mikheyev was a big soccer fan.
News of that attentive treatment echoed all the way back to Russia. The result of Dubas’ kindness likely means that – all else being considered – the Maple Leafs organization should be high on other Russian players’ lists of preferred destinations. With the NHL salary cap likely staying flat at $81.5 million next season (it could also go down given the lost revenue because the NHL suspension of play), the organization’s positive reputation might turn out quite well for the Maple Leafs who need – as many other teams also do – cheap talent.
As shown above, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun tweeted that players who were drafted by NHL teams (for example the Montreal Canadiens prospect Alexander Romanov) could sign contracts with the clubs that hold their NHL rights and play when the 2019-20 season resumes. However, unrestricted free agents wouldn’t be able to play until the beginning of the 2020-21 regular season.
Although that might be the ruling, I see little chance of a Russian influx on NHL teams if the season resumes. First, NHL team rosters are set and second, many players have used the suspension to heal from injuries. Oddly, an NHL resumption might see teams able to ice their best rosters of the season.
Item Two: Bauer Hockey Making Masks for First-Responders to Fight COVID-19
Thanks to Bauer Hockey for quickly moving to change its production. Word was that Bauer, the company that makes the skates of Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, has begun work on a visor that offers greater protection for health care workers working on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19.
Related: Ranking NHL Teams By Goaltenders
Changing a company’s production to join in this battle isn’t a small thing, and when I read such news, I feel I should share it. Here’s hoping that, when this “thing” is over, Maple Leafs fans will support companies who jumped into action on behalf of all of us.
Item Three: Kyle Clifford Wants to Re-sign with the Maple Leafs
Rumor is that Kyle Clifford’s agent contacted the Maple Leafs to express his client’s desire to re-sign with the team for next season. That feeling is mutual because, according to Clifford’s agent, Toronto wants him back as well.
In reviewing his short time with the Maple Leafs, it wasn’t as if Clifford had great success; however, his strong body of career work matches the needs Dubas sees for the team. Specifically, it doesn’t hurt to have muscle in the team’s depth. I’m sure Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe feels the same way.
When the team traded for backup goalie Jack Campbell in a trade that sent feisty Trevor Moore to LA – who I admit was one of my favorite players on the team – there seemed to be a feeling that Clifford was a “throw-in” to even up the salary-cap numbers. Obviously, this recent news suggests that isn’t the case.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
It’s really unclear what will happen next in NHL news. Things seem to be slowing down before they speed up, and that’s probably good news. That said, news continues to emerge and I will try to keep searching the Internet for it.
Be well and, where you can, enjoy spending time with your family at home.