Just this morning (May 28), Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares was interviewed by TSN’s Gino Reda and talked about his excitement for what might unfold in the near future.
Tavares noted, “I think guys are excited about getting back on the ice and getting back together. There’s still a few more hurdles with the quarantine, travel restrictions and some of those rules. Guys are still trying to figure out their plans and get a better sense of what’s coming down the road.”
In other words, issues still need to be worked out before anything starts in earnest. While these issues are being discussed, in this post, I want to help Maple Leafs fans stay more up-to-date about the rumours and news items emerging from the Maple Leafs organization.
Item One: Great News for Nick Robertson, Good News for Maple Leafs Fans?
The Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston tweeted on May 27, that 18-year-old prospect Nick Robertson would be joining the Maple Leafs expanded roster for the playoffs. Although he won’t likely see game action, hanging around the big club will be like a training camp for the youngster.
With that call, the Maple Leafs are showing the Roberston two things: first, that the 2019 second-round pick is an integral part of the organization who will be valued over the long haul; and, second, looking to his more immediate future, there’s a great chance he’ll make next season’s Maple Leafs roster.
Robertson had a fantastic 2019-20 OHL season for the Peterborough Petes, scoring 55 goals and 86 points in 46 games. Perhaps just having him around is good enough. Although I’m not head coach Sheldon Keefe or general manager Kyle Dubas, from a fan’s point of view, wouldn’t it be fun to see him earn a couple of shifts?
Item Two: Could the Maple Leafs End Up in the Draft Lottery?
In many posts I’ve written recently, I’ve noted that in this crazy NHL season, crazy things are happening. The fact that the Maple Leafs might end up in the NHL’s Draft Lottery is the craziest of all, and apparently, it’s possible.
A tweet from two hockey commentators from The Athletic noted that the draft lottery for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft would include the seven teams that didn’t qualify for the 24-team playoff tournament plus the eight teams that are eliminated during the qualifying round. That means, if the Maple Leafs lose to the Columbus Blue Jackets during their five-game play-in series, the team might have a chance at a high draft spot.
When the NHL decided to expand the field to 24 teams (instead of the usual 16) with 16 teams vying for a spot in the playoffs with a play-in round, the NHL also decided it wouldn’t be kosher to set the draft order based on the standings at the time the league suspended regular-season games on March 12. If they did, for example, and the great Carey Price stood on his head and goaltended his team to the Stanley Cup Final, we might have a crazy instance where the Cup champs also get the NHL Entry Draft’s first pick. It’s unlikely but possible.
The best solution to this “potential problem” was to put the losers of the play-in round into the draft lottery with the seven non-playoff teams. This is where it might impact the Maple Leafs. Should the team lose in the play-in round, they will then be included in the draft lottery. Although the odds would be extremely low of getting a high draft choice, if the Maple Leafs logo is drawn early, they could be in the top ten and wouldn’t have to give the Carolina Hurricanes their first-round pick this year.
When Dubas traded that pick to the Hurricanes as penance for getting rid of Patrick Marleau’s contract, Toronto made the pick “top-10 protected.” So, in a crazy world where the Maple Leafs are unlucky in the play-in round, they might get really lucky in the draft lottery and keep their first-round pick that was headed to the Hurricanes.
I told you it was a crazy NHL season.
Item Three: Why Tyson Barrie Might Just Stay with the Maple Leafs
To make a long story short, Tyson Barrie wants to play for a team that appreciates him and suits his style of play. He said that last week in an interview with TSN’s Kristen Shilton. Barrie, who’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2019-20 NHL season, isn’t sure where he’ll end up, but he’s pretty sure what he wants.
He told Shilton, “It’s a weird time to be heading into free agency” and that the Maple Leafs will try to make a playoff run because that’s “why they brought me in.”
About his intentions for next season, he stressed that the team he signs with must be a “fit” and listed his three criteria: first, he’s looking for a team that needs someone “like myself”; second, he’s seeking a team “headed in the right direction”; and third, he wants to play for a “good organization.” He believes there are a lot of “right organizations” that “tick those boxes.”
We don’t know what the Maple Leafs’ plans are for Barrie. However, when he notes that it’s a “weird time to be a free agent,” he is likely referring to the current salary-cap situation which is so up-in-the-air that it might be wise to hunker down and take a season to see what the post-COVID-19 world looks like. I’m thinking the Maple Leafs would be a great place to wait it out.
If fans have been watching the Taylor Hall situation, you get a sense he’s worried about his next contract. He’s already made it known that he values term over money and he is looking for a long-term deal with a team he can settle down with. If I was a UFA after this season, given the thick fog hanging over professional sports, I would worry about my next contract – even if I was an elite player like Hall.
I’m wondering if Barrie might be willing to sign a one-year, team-friendly contract that would allow him to play for a much larger deal after the salary-cap crunch of the pandemic is better understood. If he is, there’s no better place to stay than with the Maple Leafs?
There are reasons why Barrie should consider Toronto a good fit for a bridge season. First, his 2019-20 improved when Keefe became the head coach. Second, the organization values him, even with a flat salary cap (at best), because when Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, and Cody Ceci were out with injuries, Barrie’s veteran leadership toward the young defense, that was held together with duct tape, will be remembered; and his team kept winning.
Third, if Barrie wants to showcase his talents to the NHL world, Toronto is a huge media center. Finally, the Maple Leafs have the kind of young, elite core that might soon win a Stanley Cup. It would be nice to be on that train if it happened next season.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As I opened this post, I reported Tavares’ excitement to get back on the ice. However, excited or not, many crucial issues must be clarified.
How much time will players need to get back into shape before the NHL resumes games this summer? Will the NHL charter foreign players into North America? Even with hub cities, how will the NHL negotiate quarantine legalities, especially in Canada, where the provinces rightly prize the safety of its citizens over any resumption of professional sports?
Yes, there’s excitement but, no, the details haven’t been worked out yet.