In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll explore and comment on some of the news and the questions that have been floating around for a while – at least since the Maple Leafs were eliminated from this season’s Stanley Cup playoff run.
First, I’ll take a look at Nazem Kadri’s play in his team’s Western Conference Final against the Edmonton Oilers. He was instrumental in helping the Colorado Avalanche take a two-game-to-none lead over the Oilers.
Second, I’ll take a look at two players who – as my thinking progresses – are unlikely to be part of the Maple Leafs’ roster next season. While I cannot say I am excited by the prospect of losing both Jack Campbell and Ilya Mikheyev, my head (not my heart) tells me that re-signing either of them just isn’t likely to happen.
Item One: Not the Same Nazem Kadri We Watched in Toronto
Any Maple Leafs’ fan who watched the Western Conference Final Game 2 between the Avalanche and the Oilers has to come to two conclusions. First, Nazem Kadri is an elite offensive player. He’s playing at a different level than I’ve seen him play before. Second, this is NOT the Nazem Kadri we saw when he played for the Maple Leafs. He was good then, perhaps the best third-line center in the NHL, but he wasn’t this player.
The version of Kadri we watched last night still played on the edge. For gosh sakes, he removed goalie Mike Smith’s glove with his stick – of course, it was accidental – before the Avalanche’s fourth goal was scored in the third period. However, he played right up to the edge, but not over it. I kept waiting for him to explode (go off, might be a better phrase) and do something thoughtless that would get him suspended. He did not.
Instead, Kadri played with moxie and poise (I can’t believe I used that word with Kadri) and he seemed to engage the play with a completely different psychological make-up than he played with in Toronto. He might yet go off, but I don’t think so.
As I recall, when the rumors were swirling that he would be traded out of Toronto, he didn’t want to leave and promised he would clean up his playoff act to refrain from suspendable behavior that harmed the team. While I can see why the Maple Leafs traded him and don’t think it was a wrong call, he has landed well in Denver. I do believe he was good to his word – he’s changed his mindset and is playing in more control.
By the way, during this postseason, Kadri has now scored six goals and added eight assists (for 14 points) in 12 playoff games. He was THE difference (with Frankie, Czech backup goalie Pavel Francouz) in the game last night.
Item Two: Saying Goodbye to Jack Campbell & Ilya Mikheyev
Yesterday, I was happy to publish a post where I shared different THW readers’ thoughts about their favorite players. I had previously written a personal post where I shared what I appreciated about my own favorite Maple Leafs’ player – Jason Spezza.
To be completely transparent, one thing I liked about Spezza that I didn’t mention was that he was still performing well at his age. He’s a greybeard at 38 years old. Given that, for me, the age of 80 is approaching far too quickly, in a few words “I can relate.”
Spezza was not the only player I liked on the team, however. And, it looks as if two of my other favorites – Jack Campbell and Ilya Mikheyev – will not likely be on the roster next season either. Given the way that successful performance is rewarded in the NHL and the salary-cap structure that’s in place, it’s likely both Campbell and Mikheyev have played themselves out of the team’s ability to pay them. Some other team will want both these players and will be willing to pay them more than the Maple Leafs’ should (I believe).
I had mentioned Avalanche’s backup goalie Francouz when speaking about Kadri earlier. He’s relatively unknown but he’s played 61 NHL games, and he’s put together a record of 40-14-5, with a goals-against-average of 2.46, and a save percentage of .920 in those games. He’s paid $2 million for another season. He’s a good goalie who compares favorably to Campbell.
Campbell has played 142 NHL games, with a record of 74-42-15, a goals-against-average of 2.56, and a save percentage of .915. If you’re a Maple Leafs’ fan and have watched this management team work to find solid players (Michael Bunting, David Kampf, and Ondrej Kase) in the offseason, you have to know that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has identified a few possible replacements if he can’t sign Campbell for what either of them wants.
Perhaps the Maple Leafs can’t bring in an elite goalie, but I am sadly convinced they can find one as good as Campbell (perhaps not as likeable) for a far less expensive price tag.
Ilya Mikheyev is also a favorite of many fans and most likely head coach Sheldon Keefe. He has a motor that won’t quit and seems to have overcome his hands of stone. His speed and ability to read the passing lanes make him a threat even on the penalty kill.
Certainly, there are NHL teams who would covet him for their top-six and would be willing to pay him somewhere close to $4 million per season. He’s already asked for a trade one time in response to his deployment. That’s been quiet, but I can bet it hasn’t been completely forgotten.
All this said I have to think Mikheyev will land somewhere else. I only see other options for him other than the Maple Leafs.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As the offseason begins to creep forward, it will be interesting to see what moves the Maple Leafs make. The name Jake Muzzin keeps coming up in rumors and in my own thinking.
Is he healthy? Can he get healthy? Should the team work to trade his salary? Could they even do it if they tried? All these questions about Muzzin and others will rise to the surface. It will be a fun summer.
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