In general news today, Pierre LeBrun reported that the NHL and the NHLPA have decided their original date of the first of January is simply unrealistic and have officially given up starting the NHL’s 2020-21 regular season that quickly. Instead, the NHLPA has asked about a mid-January start, and now the two sides are considering either a 52-game or a 56-game schedule.
We’re unsure where these negotiations will land, but both sides would prefer the 56-game choice. What we do know is that those charged with making a decision have come to the agreement that playing a full season simply isn’t possible.
As LeBrun notes, completing the season by the end date of July is important:
“Sources suggest the NHL is adamant about wrapping up the Stanley Cup Final by early July, ahead of the summer Olympics. In part, because TV partner NBC is broadcasting those Olympics; but, another important part is wanting to get back to the normal schedule cycle ahead of the 2021-22 season.” (from “NHL pushes season start to mid-January, intends on playing 56 games,” Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic, 04/12/20).
In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I share news about the restart; I’ll note that Nick Robertson might be headed to Edmonton to play for Team USA in the World Juniors; I’ll note Mikko Lehtonen’s arrival in Toronto; and, I’ll look at the wild (I believe) rumor that William Nylander might be on his way out of Toronto.
Item One: Nick Robertson Could Be Heading to Edmonton for Team USA
After the Maple Leafs were ousted by the Columbus Blue Jackets during the qualifying round of the 2020 postseason, Nick Robertson made the tough decision to stay in Toronto instead of moving home to the USA to be with his parents. While in Toronto, he’s been working out to prepare for the 2020-21 NHL regular season, whenever that might begin, and getting to know his teammates better.
Early this week, Robertson was named to Team USA’s National Junior Team’s preliminary camp roster. The Maple Leafs’ made it clear Robertson would be available for Team USA for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, but with a big “If.” That if is whether the NHL’s regular season would be up-and-running.
The Maple Leafs stated that Robertson would stay in Toronto if the NHL is back to business; however, if it’s not he’ll be on his way to Edmonton in a couple of weeks (around mid-December) to prepare for the tournament.
Item Two: Mikko Lehtonen Is Quarantined in Toronto
Mikko Lehtonen has landed in Toronto and he’s in the middle of his quarantine process. Lehtonen had been playing with the KHL’s Jokerit Helsinki but was released from his contract so he could come to North America to start his NHL career. In May, the Maple Leafs signed the highly-successful defenseman to a one-year, entry-level contract.
Related: ‘Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe
As it stands, Lehtonen is mostly stuck in his apartment. However, in under six days, his quarantine will end and he’ll be able to explore his new home and begin to prepare for the 2020-21 campaign. Although he’s in quarantine, he’s working out. (from “New Maple Leafs defenceman Mikko Lehtonen (Joe Thornton’s biggest fan) won’t have to wait much longer, Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 2/12/20).
Interestingly, Lehtonen already tested positive for COVID-19 in late October. Specifically, on Oct. 23, his Jokerit club reported that four team members had tested positive for COVID-19. At that time, the players weren’t unidentified; however, in mid-November we learned Lehtonton was one of those players.
About coming to Toronto, Lehtonen “wanted to come early. There’s always a lot of new things when you move. I want to meet everybody before the camp starts. I think the Toronto Maple Leafs wanted me to come earlier, too. That was the plan. I’m happy for that. I can’t wait to meet everybody.”
As the title of McGran’s article suggests, Lehtonen is most eager to meet Joe Thornton, who he considers a legend. I’m sure that will work both ways because Thornton has to appreciate a good defenseman as well; and, Lehtonen arrives with the reputation of being one of the best defencemen who isn’t yet in the NHL. During the 2019-20 KHL season and until he quit in 2020-21, he led all KHL defensemen in scoring.
Item Three: Could William Nylander Be on the Move?
Sometimes rumors just keep popping up and, although they seem not to make sense, they simply won’t go away. I happen to believe there’s little truth to this rumor, but word is that William Nylander might be on the move.
Recent rumors suggest that the Philadelphia Flyers are pursuing Nylander. In itself, there is a sense of truth to the logic. The Flyers have liked Nylander for a long time. When Nylander was an RFA in 2018 and contract negotiation with the Maple Leafs seemed contentious, there was a report the Flyers might extend him an offer sheet. Recently, rumors the Flyers remained interested in Nylander popped up again when a HockeyBuzz post reported that “a source told him” the two teams had been talking about moving Nylander for a “top defenseman.”
When I first read this rumor, my mind went to Shane Gostisbehere in part because of rumors the Flyers were trying to trade him, and the salaries sort of made sense. However, I’ve more recently heard that the defenseman in question might be 24-year-old Manitoba-native Travis Sanheim, who was a first-round draft choice of the Flyers in 2014.
Eklund noted, “Fletcher has ALWAYS loved Nylander, to the point that a deal almost occurred that would have sent Nylander to the Wild just minutes prior to Nylander signing his deal with the Leafs a few Decembers ago.”
Part of most rumors rings true. The Flyers could use offense and Nylander could score 30 goals each season. That Sanheim’s salary hit for this season is $3.25 million also makes short-term sense on the face of it.
What doesn’t make sense is that the Maple Leafs have (a) said they were done making moves this offseason, (b) steered clear of trading any of its Core Four – including a vague promise Dubas made to Nylander that he wouldn’t be traded, (c) to get value for value in a one-on-one trade (Nylander is valued more highly and something else needs to be in the mix), and (d) to deal with the fact that Sanheim’s contract expires after this season and doesn’t fit Dubas’ desire to trade for players with term.
There it sits. For my money, I can’t believe the rumor has merit. In addition, from the way the organization is acting, I believe they like their team like it is. Dubas, for example, is clearly challenging his team publicly to play harder and smarter. Reading between the lines, I absolutely think this is THE season the organization is setting up for a long Stanley Cup run.
I think internally the entire organization believes this season might be the one.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As I noted at the beginning of this post, an announcement was made about the 2020-21 regular season. That announcement makes sense to me and, for the first time in weeks, I have an inkling of belief there will be a 2020-21 NHL regular season.
I look forward to more specific negotiations about what that looks like. More must be tweaked; however, the pandemic controls any decisions about the NHL’s situation.
This morning, I read in the Boston Globe that front-line infectious disease experts have become physically exhausted and mentally dejected as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens. This has been a horrible year in so many ways; and, really, as much as we all want hockey to play a “regular” season again, it’s no surprise a full season won’t happen in 2020-21.
Forgive me for straying off a hockey post into life, but I encourage us all to hang in there to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible. With apologies to Shakespeare (line 1 of Richard III), let’s hope this is the last winter of our discontent.