There’s a lot going on with the Toronto Maple Leafs, although that’s probably true for most NHL teams in these tumultuous times as we all engage the pandemic as well as we can. Not only is the NHL schedule being revised daily in response to the impact of COVID-19 on players and then – correspondingly – on fans, but even if an NHL player has been double-vaccinated it seems to not prevent a positive test for the virus. Fortunately, those vaccinations seem to be preventing serious illness.
As a result, the Maple Leafs just seem to have players come off the COVID-19 NHL protocols, but then – a few days later – a couple more players surprisingly test positive and enter these same protocols. The movement of players on and off the roster seems constant.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll try to help Maple Leafs’ fans keep up with these player movements and the constant flux to the lineup these movements cause. In the most recent news that came about mid-day on Friday, it was reported that both Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall had tested positive for COVID-19 and wouldn’t play tonight.
Those two positive tests cause lineup changes. In addition, there’s the case of Nick Ritchie who was put on waivers and cleared. What happens with him now? The answer in the near future is likely to be: not much of a difference.
Item One: Nick Ritchie Cleared Waivers on Friday Afternoon
Nick Ritchie cleared waivers on Friday. However, it seems that not much will change for him in the near future. Given the other changes in the lineup, the prognosis is that he’ll stick with the team and – as always – continue to be used in the same ways he’s been used before. Right now, it isn’t as if the Maple Leafs couldn’t use another forward with both Marner and Engvally testing positive for COVID-19.
Ritchie was on the ice for Friday’s practice and it looks like he will play on Saturday against Colorado. He skated on a line with David Kampf and Jason Spezza. The fact that he cleared waivers will provide the Leafs with some roster flexibility and potential cap savings.
Item Two: Mitch Marner Tested Positive for COVID-19
Mitch Marner has been placed in COVID-19 protocol after testing positive for the virus. Marner played in only two games after returning from the shoulder injury he suffered when he and Jake Muzzin ran into each other during practice. He came off LTIR (long-term injured reserve) on January 1 and has played two games since.
He didn’t record a point in the two games since his return. However, he has scored six goals and added 15 assists (for a total of 21 points) in his 26 games this season. Although that’s considered a good season for most NHL players, it’s far below what Marner has been producing over the past few seasons.
Fortunately, Marner has been experiencing minor symptoms, according to coach Sheldon Keefe. Although Marner is considered day-to-day, he’ll miss at least tonight’s game in Colorado. From my understanding, he’ll need to have two negative tests before he can return to play with the team.
Item Three: Pierre Engvall Also Enters COVID-19 Protocols
Joining Marner Friday on the COVID-19 protocols is Pierre Engvall. Engvall will also miss tonight’s game and possibly more as his body recovers from the virus. The 25-year-old winger, who had seemed to be in his coach’s doghouse last season for his lackluster play, has had a solid season teamed with third-line center David Kampf.
Kampf has been a great addition to the team and has shone in his shutdown defensive role. He seems to have carried Engvall with him and has allowed Engvall to leverage his size and speed in ways that add real value to the team.
Related: Today in Hockey History: Jan. 8
Engvall has registered four goals and six assists (for 10 points) on the season and has averaged 13 minutes of time on the ice this season in his bottom-six role. Maple Leafs’ fans should count on him to return to his regular role once healthy. Similar to Marner, Engvall is day-to-day.
Item Four: Marner and Engvall Will Be Replaced by Seney and Anderson
In the corresponding move to placing Marner and Engvall into the NHL COVID-19 protocols, the Maple Leafs pulled two players up to its taxi squad and perhaps onto its game-day lineup. Those two players were Brett Seney and Joey Anderson.
Both or either could see playing time with Marner and Engvall unavailable. Seney played in only one NHL game this season while Anderson appeared in two games. It’s unclear how they’ll be deployed, but the fact that Ondrej Kase remains unable to play could also impact their time on the ice.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As I’ve noted earlier, this road trip will be a welcome test for the team. They’ve been sort of cruising along and have won the games they should have against undermanned teams.
Now they are undermanned themselves, and it will be interesting to see how they respond. One critique of the team during last season’s playoffs is that they had it too easy during the 2020-21 regular season and hadn’t developed the resilience they needed for the difficult times that the postseason could bring.
Over the next four games, the team could likely gain some of that resilience.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf