Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Ritchie, Brodie, Knies & Mrazek

The Toronto Maple Leafs are scheduled to play the Colorado Avalanche on the road tomorrow. As they prepare for that game, in this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll try to help Maple Leafs’ fans keep up with any news or “speculated news” (rumors) that are emerging from the team.

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The big news from later yesterday is that Nick Ritchie was placed on waivers by the team. Now the wait is to see if he will be picked up by any other NHL teams. Second, I’ll look at the surprisingly recent offensive performance of T.J. Brodie, who has doubled his season’s point total during a recent four-game point-scoring streak where he’s popped in three goals. 

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Third, I’ll share an addition to the Maple Leafs taxi squad. Finally, I’ll share some news that Maple Leafs’ prospect Matthew Knies has been named by Team USA to the upcoming Olympic team.

Item One: Nick Ritchie Was Waived by the Maple Leafs

Yesterday, Nick Ritchie was placed on waivers by the Maple Leafs. He had played against the Edmonton Oilers after being a healthy scratch last Saturday in the game against the Ottawa Senators. On the season, Ritchie simply couldn’t pull up his scoring socks and had only scored a single goal and added seven assists (for eight points) in 30 games.

Nick Ritchie Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Ritchie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To say the team expected more when he was signed is an understatement. Ritchie came to the team with a reputation for showing some physicality, which he did. He totaled 65 hits in his 30 games played. But, he also had scored 15 goals in 56 games with the Boston Bruins last season and he wasn’t showing any of that scoring ability. 

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While that lack of scoring might be chalked up to just dumb luck, it was his lack of speed that sealed the deal in my books. I can’t imagine Ritchie wasn’t working hard because he seemed to be well-liked in the locker room and he had Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe explaining reasons why he could add value to the team. But his lack of speed was tough to miss during the Oilers’ game. He was noticeably behind the play when the Oilers’ Brendan Perlini broke free to score Edmonton’s second goal of the game to put them up 2-1 in the first period.

Ritchie also posted a minus-5 rating on the season and his analytics were poor. Now the question is whether another team might pick him up. The 26-year-old forward has played 380 NHL games, so who knows? The second question is whether the organization has given up on him completely or if they hope he can stick around for a postseason playoff run. He’s the kind of player the Maple Leafs have seemed to bring in at the trade deadline just in case.

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If the team loses him, it would instantly gain $2.5 million in salary-cap space. However, it would also lose a depth player. One note that Maple Leafs’ fan and my regular collaborator Stan Smith emailed me this morning was that Ritchie makes $1.7 million this season and $3.3 million next season. The fact that he is due to make $800,000 more than his salary-cap hit might play into any waiver decision. 

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The Leafs could look to trade him after he clears waivers as well. We’ll have to wait and see. 

Item Two: Will the Real T.J. Brodie Please Stand Up

T.J. Brodie has gone off script and now has scored in three straight games. Even more interesting perhaps is that he’s also added three assists and is now up to six points over his last four games played. That’s six points and a four-game point-scoring streak. 

T.J. Brodie Toronto Maple Leafs
T.J. Brodie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Until this scoring outburst, the 31-year-old puck-moving defenseman had only scored five points during his first 28 games. Adding up the numbers, Brodie now has 11 points on the season with a plus-13 rating in 32 games played. He’s doubled his point-scoring total in his last four games.

Item Three: Alex Biega Moved to the Maple Leafs’ Taxi Squad

Just this morning, the Maple Leafs reassigned NHL veteran defenseman Alex Biega to the team’s taxi squad. Biega played 14 minutes in his only game of the season, which was the New Year’s Day game against the Ottawa Senators. And, he looked steady and capable. 

Alex Biega Detroit Red Wings
Alex Biega, formerly with the Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Undoubtedly, the team is keeping him around for the road trip just in case there would be more COVID-19 infections or injuries to the defense. Although Biega might not play many NHL minutes this season, he’s a good player to have for an emergency. It’s hard to scoff at depth on the blue-line.

Item Four: Matthew Knies Has Been Selected to Team USA for the Olympics

Even if NHL players won’t be there representing their countries at the upcoming Olympic games, it doesn’t mean there won’t be Olympic hockey. And, what a treat for a group of players who might not have played otherwise. It looks as if one of those players is young Maple Leafs’ prospect Matthew Knies. Frank Seravalli’s tweet notes that Knies was selected to represent Team USA.

Knies’ selection suggests that Team USA is taking the chance to put together a young team for this Olympic Games. Knies, who’s only 19-years-old, is a 6-foot-3 forward playing in his first year at the University of Minnesota. He’s scored seven goals and added nine assists (for 16 points) on the season. 

As soon as Knies showed up at Minnesota, he was playing in the team’s top-six. He looks like a player. He’s second on the team in goals and third in points. He’s also physical, a strong skater, and plays solid defense. 

Congratulations to Knies for his selection.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

With Maple Leafs’ fans waiting to see what happens next with the Ritchie situation, it will be interesting to see how the team plays on its upcoming road trip. It will be a test. After the Avalanche on Saturday, they play the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday, and then head into St. Louis to play the Blues next Saturday night. 

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It’s likely fans will see Petr Mrazek play against the Coyotes in the team’s next back-to-back game. With the spate of games upcoming but not yet scheduled, Mrazek might become more integral to the team’s success this season than he has thus far.

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