Pity those poor Toronto Maple Leafs fans who, on Tuesday night, watched the Arizona Coyotes score in overtime and immediately, in disgust, snapped off the television set and raided the fridge for a beer. They would have missed the Coyotes’ goal being waved off and then Kasperi Kapanen scoring 3:43 into overtime to help the Maple Leafs down the visitors 3-2. What a surprise later when tuning in Sportsnet Central for a recap of the night’s NHL scores.
The overtime win was an extra point the Maple Leafs desperately needed, and as good luck (or fastidious refereeing) would have it, the team took home the extra point on what, Kapanen noted, was his “go-to move.”
Kapanen also noted, ”That’s been working for me and I decided to try it and (hope) it’d go in. It did.” It was Kapanen’s 11th goal of the season and halted a 13-game goalless drought.
In this post, as the Maple Leafs wait to play the Dallas Stars at home on Thursday, I want to keep fans up-to-date on news and rumors emerging from the team.
Item One: Suddenly Jason Spezza’s Worth Something?
Most Maple Leafs fans can remember the kerfuffle surrounding the first home game of the 2019-20 season against the Ottawa Senators when crusty former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock held Jason Spezza out of the lineup using the “reason” that the veteran’s special teams’ play wasn’t yet up to par. In retrospect, that choice seems not only spiteful but also impractical. These days Spezza is no longer a healthy scratch as he was regularly with Babcock; instead, Spezza’s seen a resurgence under new head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Spezza has scored nine goals and 21 points in 45 games this season and has become a contributing depth forward, who’s valued for his leadership both on and off the ice. He’s also a skilled veteran, who can assume a large number of roles on the team. Given the team’s injuries, Spezza’s proved valuable – all for NHL league minimum.
During a recent interview with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Spezza was asked if he hoped to return next season to the NHL and with the Maple Leafs before he calls it a career.
Spezza’s response was positive: “I don’t see why not. If I can contribute down the stretch and the team has success,” he suggested.
What an interesting season for Spezza, who’s been called on “to reinvent myself a little bit.” Similar to so many other veteran players, he noted that he enjoyed hanging out with his teammates and actually going through the daily grind of being an NHL player.
I have no doubt the Maple Leafs would jump at the chance to have him back. First, from what I’ve seen, he’s a consummate pro and one of the good guys, who doesn’t even make so much as a ripple of trouble for management. Second, he’s so inexpensive that he offers the team a strategy to stay under the salary cap. Playing for the league minimum, he’s a productive fit who’s worth every cent of his salary.
Johnston added clearly, “Based on how this is playing out, there’s already a pretty strong case for keeping him in Toronto for another (season).”
Item Two: New Goalie Jack Campbell Has Won 2 of 3 Games
Recently-acquired goalie Jack Campbell stopped all but two of 37 shots he faced in the team’s 3-2 win over the Coyotes. He now has a 2-0-1 record in his first three starts with the Maple Leafs. Interestingly, all three starts have been overtime games so he’s actually helped the team take five of six points.
Campbell, who was picked up in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings last week, waxed on about his time with the team. He said specifically, ”It’s been incredible. I can’t speak enough about the character of the room. The guys are so welcoming.” He added, ”I was pretty nervous going into such a solid team.”
Item Three: Rumor Mill Suggests the Oilers and Maple Leafs Are Talking Trade?
Is a huge trade looming between the Edmonton Oilers and the Maple Leafs? According to hockey insider James Mirtle (who writes for The Athletic), something might be afoot. However, Mirtle believes this trade likely won’t occur at the trade deadline but something consummated during the offseason.
Mirtle suggested that the Maple Leafs are interested in Oilers’ defenseman Adam Larsson and young Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi, who’s resisted playing in Edmonton and has taken his game back home to Finland. In exchange, the Maple Leafs would send Kasperi Kapanen to Edmonton. To me, that deal makes sense because it fills holes for both teams.
Mirtle sees such a trade as both interesting and helpful to both teams and that, although it might be difficult to pull off before the trade deadline, that isn’t impossible. The Oilers need what the Maple Leafs have in excess – left-wingers. If they were able to get Kapanen from the Maple Leafs, the belief is he’d play on Connor McDavid’s line. That move would give the Oilers two strong lines. (from ‘Fifteen potential trade targets for the Maple Leafs before the 2020 deadline,’ James Mirtle, The Athletic, 02/04/20)
Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ 50-Goal Scorers
[In an aside, the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins line played a whale of a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night and took home all three stars of the game, registering eight points between them during the game in a 5-3 win.]
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs need to rack up some wins. They’re injured, but the team seems to be scraping hard. Goalie Campbell has given the team a gulp of Red Bull, and Zach Hyman seems to be emerging as the team’s beating heart with his scrappy, never-say-die attitude on the ice. He’s emerged as a bona fide star and leader.
I’m anxious to see how the team responds over the next few games, especially when starter Frederik Andersen returns from his injury. Could they be coming together at the right time?
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