Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Spezza, Campbell & COVID News Update

As the Toronto Maple Leafs take some time for rest, rehab, and practice getting ready to play the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, in this edition of News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the news surrounding Maple Leafs players and the team. As fans know, the team was supposed to play the Calgary Flames last night, but the Flames are suffering COVID-19 crisis. As a result, that game was postponed.

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However, the most recent news about the Maple Leafs isn’t that good. Word this morning was that both John Tavares and Alex Kerfoot were put into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and that practice today had been canceled. How this impacts tomorrow’s game has yet to be determined. I’ll share more news as I get it.

The Maple Leafs practiced yesterday on the campus of the University of British Columbia as they prepare for a rejuvenated Canucks team that has won six games in a row under new head coach Bruce Boudreau. 

Last night I watched the Canucks’ game and the team looked different and more confident than they had looked previously. They beat the Sharks in San Jose by a score of 5-2.

Bruce Boudreau Vancouver Canucks head coach
Bruce Boudreau, Vancouver Canucks head coach (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The game could be a good one. Both teams are carried by their goalies. Thatcher Demko is almost unbeatable on a breakaway or during a post-game shootout. And, Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell is exactly what we’ve come to expect. He’s arguably been the most important player on the Maple Leafs’ team this season.

Item One: Jason Spezza Is Eligible to Play on Saturday 

Word came down this morning that Jason Spezza’s appeal was successful. His suspension was reduced from six to four games after his appeal to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Spezza was initially suspended for six games by George Parros, the NHL Department of Player Safety, on December 7 for retaliation against the Winnipeg Jets’ Neal Pionk for Pionk’s knee-to-knee hit on Rasmus Sandin. Sandin remains out for a few more weeks. 

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In a previous post, I speculated that Parros had given Spezza a six-game suspension because it could be appealed. First, six games were heavy enough to act as a deterrent; but, six games were also large enough that it allowed Spezza to appeal. At the time, I guessed the suspension would be reduced to three games. I was wrong: it was reduced to four.

The reduced suspension makes Spezza eligible to play against the Canucks. On the season, Spezza has scored seven goals and added four assists (for 11 points) in 26 games. 

Item Two: No Surprise, Jack Campbell Starting on Saturday 

Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell will get the start against the Canucks. The game, as I noted above, pits two of the NHL’s best goalies against each other. However, the game also has a different tone than it might have had on the schedule a month ago. 

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Earlier in the season, the Canucks were in a nosedive. Now they’re a team that, with a win, could even its season’s record at 15-15-2. The Canucks are tied with the Nashville Predators with the longest current NHL winning streak at six games. Who would have thought that just a month ago?

With Campbell starting the Saturday game of the Maple Leafs’ back-to-back, it’s likely Petr Mrazek will get the call in the game against the Seattle Kraken on Sunday evening. It will be the first time the Maple Leafs play in Seattle.

Item Three: Why Campbell Should Be a Vezina Candidate

I usually don’t spend two separate points on the same player, but it’s hard not to be effusive about Campbell’s play in goal. He deserves to be considered a Vezina candidate for a number of reasons. I can’t imagine he won’t be. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Against the Edmonton Oilers, the Maple Leafs were outshot by 11 (36 to 25 shots). Campbell was also facing two of the greatest current NHL scorers – Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Campbell held the fort and the game never seemed in doubt. In short, he consistently plays lights-out hockey and allows the team to free-wheel because they have confidence that he’ll be the last line of defense. 

If anything, Campbell’s play is improving every season. Since he came to the Maple Leafs during the 2019-20 season, his numbers have gotten better. In addition, and this matters to me, Campbell is a class act and a great representative for the team. His teammates like him because he’s such an encourager. He makes everyone in front of him play better just not to let him down.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Given the Maple Leafs’ recent success, is it possible that two players have flown under the radar? I don’t seem to mention them as often as I could, with everything else going on. But William Nylander and John Tavares are playing better hockey than I’ve seen them play since I’ve been covering the team.

Sheldon Keefe; John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe talks to captain John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Nylander has scored six goals and collected nine assists (for 15 points) during his last 10 games. He’s now up to 13 goals and 18 assists (for 31 points) in 30 games. He has 14 power-play points.

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The 31-year-old John Tavares has done even better over his last 10 games, with five goals and 11 assists (for 16 points). He now has 13 goals and 19 assists (for 32 points) in the 29 games he’s played on the season. 

Both these players are contributing to the team’s success thus far. May they continue. Hoping Tavares is fine for tomorrow’s game.

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