Maple Leafs’ Rumors & News: Quinn Hughes, Jake Gardiner, John Tavares

It was almost like a home game for Jake Gardiner, except this time Garret Sparks was booed by a pro-Toronto Maple Leaf crowd on the Ottawa Senators’ home ice. Maple Leaf fans took out their frustration with an under-achieving team by letting Sparks know he was to blame for the loss to the lowly Senators.

Forget that the Maple Leaf goal scorers didn’t score when they had lots of chances, or that the team’s defense broke down to surrender odd-man breaks or open ice shots. Sparks, for his part, manned-up noting that, “The only reason I’m down is we played a great game, and we deserved to win.”

The fact is, Senators goalie Craig Anderson was making the stops that Sparks couldn’t. That was the difference in the game.

In the shadow of this loss and the team’s failure to clinch the playoffs (they still need one point), let’s look at some of the rumors and news surrounding the team.

Item One: Is the Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes Destined for Toronto?

Leafsnation reporter Hockeyfan wrote a clever article suggesting that, although it’s still probably a few years away, Vancouver Canucks rookie Quinn Hughes is likely to end up in a Maple Leafs uniform one day. Hughes made a splash in his Canucks debut and has given playoff-starved fans additional hope for the future of their franchise.

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Trade Nylander to Keep Johnsson & Kapanen

The article points out that, although Hughes was born in Florida and played for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, father Jim Hughes held a number of positions with the Maple Leafs. Those included the head of player development, a John Ferguson Jr. hiring; and, Dad worked with the team through Brendan Shanahan’s first year as team president. For the Hughes’ family, Toronto is home and the Maple Leafs the team.

Hughes also knows a number of current Maple Leaf players including William Nylander, who stayed at the Hughes’ household in his early days with Toronto. As Hughes says about Nylander, it’s “hard to find a better ping-pong player.” He added, “He was playing lefty and righty. He’s really good at it. It was fun having him. He’s a fun person.” He also credits Nylander’s habits of healthy eating and following a rigorous bedtime schedule as making an impression on him. Who knew?

Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander
Maple Leafs right winger William Nylander (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Anyway, for the Hughes’ family it “was all Leafs, all the time.” And as the article noted, which I would guess is tongue-in-cheek, Hughes is “already being rumoured to sign a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs at his earliest possible date, according to anonymous sources. Whether the Leafs will choose to offer sheet him or he’ll just sign in unrestricted free agency, all the signs are pointing to Hughes being a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

If that is true, it’s probably nothing for Canucks fans to worry about in the immediate future. As well, it just furthers the rumor that Maple Leaf general manager Kyle Dubas is banking on the fact that every young Toronto-is-home hockey player is destined to play for the Maple Leafs. So far, it seems to be working: ask Mitch Marner, Jake Muzzin, and John Tavares.

Item Two: Maple Leafs Call Up Calle Rosen

Maple Leaf defenseman Travis Dermott finally returned to the ice against the Senators, after being out since Feb. 27 with a shoulder injury. Jake Gardiner is looking to return soon, after being out since Feb. 25 with a back injury. However, the team announced that defenseman Calle Rosen has been called up from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He is expected to play until Gardiner returns from his back injury.

Coach Mike Babcock noted that he hopes Gardiner will play two games before the playoffs, which likely means he will return on Thursday against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Gardiner had not missed a game in the past two seasons and, although playing hurt most of the season, still has a plus/minus of plus-17 in 60 games. He also has scored two goals and 27 assists.

Related: Why Jake Gardiner Will Leave the Toronto Maple Leafs

Rosen scored 46 points (seven goals, 39 assists) in 54 games with the Marlies in 2018-19, and had four games of NHL experience at the beginning of the 2017-18 season.

Item Three: John Tavares Nears His Best Season Ever

Although John Tavares didn’t have a point in the team’s 4-2 loss against the Senators, he’s skating towards the best overall season of his career. He has 45 goals and 41 assists with three games remaining. He is tied with his season high set in 2014-15 of 86 points (38 goals and 48 assists).

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Tavares was the first-overall draft pick in 2009 by the New York Islanders and has been a star in his 10 NHL seasons. He’s never scored fewer than 24 goals a season, and he’s reached 30 goals four times. This season, his first with the Maple Leafs, he’s been on a goal-scoring tear. His next point will put him at his best career mark ever. He’s obviously been a good signing for the team.

Item Four: The Maple Leafs Miss Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott

On TSN radio, Ray Ferraro reported that he believes the Maple Leafs are nowhere near the same team without Gardiner and Dermott. During his interview, it was noted that Gardiner was the target of relentless booing by fans. However, now that Gardiner’s out of the line-up, the fans have come to see how crucial he is for the team.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Johnsson & Injuries

As Ferraro notes, the Maple Leafs have missed him. Gardiner and Dermott’s mobility helps the Maple Leafs break a forecheck, something the Boston Bruins do relentlessly. Ferraro added that he thinks the team plays too loose, gives up too many shots, and allows too much free ice to opponents. He’s not sure what will come during the playoffs, even if the pair are back on the ice.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Maple Leafs have a 13-10-3 record since Feb. 25, the last game Gardiner played. They are 32-16-4 when he plays. That’s a huge difference.

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs have four games remaining, and the team’s next step is to get in the playoffs. Tavares returns to New York to play the Islanders on Monday evening, and it would be fitting if he set his single-season scoring record against them. If you are a Maple Leafs fan, given his treatment by Islanders fans last time around, such a feat would remind you that something was right in the universe. Here’s hoping.