May 21 will be an important day for the NHL. Late on Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston tweeted that the NHL would call teams to review discussions about a return-to-play format that’s been proposed.
There are many issues to resolve; but, for now, getting the NHL’s collective “head” around an acceptable format might be the impetus needed to move towards a complex step two – figuring out such things as COVID-19 testing, cross-border travel, where to play, etc.
That’ll be tomorrow’s news. As we wait for word on the results of those discussions, in this post I’d like to help Toronto Maple Leafs fans stay more up-to-date about any news and rumours emerging from the organization. Specifically, in today’s post, I want to discuss decisions the team has to make concerning young Nick Robertson and the established Frederik Andersen.
Decision One: Of Course He’d Say Yes, but Is Nick Robertson Ready to Play for the Maple Leafs?
One of the great stories about Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson came from when he was a kid living in the Detroit area. He found out that then Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock lived nearby (in Northville, Michigan) and hatched a plan to trick-or-treat at Babcock’s house.
As Robertson tells the story, he dressed up in his Pavel Datsyuk sweater and went knocking on hundreds of doors. “I was running, knocking on everyone’s door. I’m like, ‘Are you Babcock?’ Then I’d run, knock on the next one: ‘Are you Babcock?’ Then, finally, I got him. I think I asked him about Datsyuk — that was my favourite player at the time.”
That’s the nature of being a kid with a purpose; and, from what we’re seeing, Robertson – who’s still a kid – retains that same sense of purpose. On May 19, The Athletic interviewed him and suggested that he is obsessed with everything hockey. He’s also still confident and ready to go. He wants to play for the Maple Leafs – now! (from “‘I’m ready right now’: Nick Robertson on why he can help the Maple Leafs today,” Joshua Kloke, The Athletic, 19/05/20).
With talk of a possible playoff format and with the farm teams’ seasons cancelled, there’s a chance that some players will make the NHL taxi squad or the roster as Black Aces. Robertson wants to be one of those players. Even if there’s little chance he’ll play in a playoff game, the chance to practice and hang out with other Maple Leafs players is appealing – like getting a chocolate bar from Babcock.
Could Robertson be a rider in a taxi squad the Maple Leafs might hack together? Although, the team would likely offer first priority to players like Ilya Mikheyev, who’s reportedly ready to return to play, is there a chance the young prospect might even get on the ice if the 2019-20 regular season resumes?
Robertson’s a left-winger, and that puts him in a group with Zach Hyman, Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, and Kyle Clifford. They’re a good group, but could it use a boost of offense? What about on the second power-play unit? The interview in The Athletic noted that Robertson was practicing shooting low because the rest of the net was in tatters from his constant practicing. No wonder he has a lethally accurate shot.
While Robertson is a long shot to make the Maple Leafs’ playoff roster, in this season of crazy, seeing him bear down on a goalie might be the kind of crazy that would excite fans. Forty-nine seasons ago (1971), a similar kind of crazy happened when rookie goalie Ken Dryden finished his collegiate season with Cornell University and then led the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in a crazy move by Habs coach Al MacNeil. So, crazy’s happened before.
Decision Two: Is a Frederik Andersen for Matt Murray Trade Possible?
Recently, there’ve been rumours that a Frederik Andersen for Matt Murray trade might be in the works. However, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox encourages Maple Leafs fans not to get too worried or too excited by that conversation.
Although Fox thinks that the Pittsburgh Penguins might trade Murray, he doesn’t think that Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas believes Murray is a better goalie than Andersen. In the end, he believes the team might want to wait to see what happens after this season (who knows where the salary cap will be?) before making any rash decisions about core players, and Andersen’s been a core player for several seasons.
If I was Dubas, Andersen’s relationship with Auston Matthews – they’ve been self-quarantining together at Matthews’ place in the Phoenix area for more than two months – would complicate any trade consideration. If they are bonding – they were also spotted together at Toronto Raptors games – holding onto that relationship would at least cross my mind.
Although I’m not convinced the Maple Leafs are committed to Andersen for the future, a decision about trading him won’t be easy.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
So many things are up-in-the-air for the Maple Leafs. In the absence of on-ice news, odd rumours keep popping up. In the same Andersen-for-Murray Sportsnet’s mailbag post, Fox was also asked about a trade involving Mitch Marner to the Dallas Stars for the great 20-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen. Fox rightly labelled that rumour from “Planet Make Believe.”
Still, such stories offer Maple Leafs fans a sense of the kind of rumours that are circulating. Who knows? Sometimes surprise decisions come from nowhere.
As fans wait for news about the NHL season possibly restarting, it will be interesting to see what other rumours pop to the surface.