Talk about a decent road trip. The North Division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs swept their four-game trip through the Canadian prairies when they beat both the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames twice. The Maple Leafs now lead the second-place Jets by six points in the standings; and, the other prairie team – the Edmonton Oilers – are now seven points back in third place after they lost to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday evening.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the players’ success both in this game and on this recent road trip. Finally, with the trade deadline coming in a week, I’ll also discuss a rumor that the Maple Leafs are in the hunt for a goalie based upon Frederik Andersen’s iffy health over the remainder of the season.
Item One: Jason Spezza Get the First Goal of the Game
Jason Spezza opened the game’s scoring early in the second period to start the Maple Leafs’ on their eventual victory over the Flames by a 5-3 score. The 37-year-old forward has now scored both a goal and an assist during his last three games in limited fourth-line minutes.
He’s also trustworthy in the face-off circle and, although the Maple Leafs won only 29 draws and lost 37 last night, Spezza was the only Maple Leafs player to win more draws than he lost (6 won and four lost) on the night.
Item Two: William Nylander Hits the 30-Point Plateau for the Season
One can hope that the past two games are the start of more-successful second-line play from William Nylander, John Tavares, and Alex Galchenyuk. Nylander scored two assists in last night’s game to go along with the two assists he scored on Sunday. He’s now up to 13 goals and 17 assists (for 30 points) in his 39 games this season.
Nylander set up Matthews first goal and added the hockey assist on Tavares’ insurance goal in the third period. I have no idea whether Nylander thinks of Calgary as home or not, but he was born there when his father played for the Flames from 1993 through 1999. By the way, dad Michael scored 209 goals in his 920 NHL career and son William’s next goal will be the 100th of his 346 NHL career. It looks as if William is on pace to best his dad’s total in the next four or five years.
Item Three: John Tavares Scores 800th Point of His Career
Speaking of Nylander heading toward a milestone, John Tavares hit his 800th career point in last night’s game with a goal and an assist in the 5-3 win over the Flames. Tavares showed up on the scoresheet just when the team needed him. He had the first assist on Matthews’ power-play goal (which ended the power-play drought) and then scored the extra goal to make the score 5-3.
It was Tavares’ first multiple-point game in three weeks (since March 14 against the Ottawa Senators). In fact, he’d only scored a goal and an assist in eight games since. As I noted above, one can hope that the past two games are an example of the second line coming together. That would pay dividends for the Maple Leafs’ success.
Item Four: Auston Matthews Adds Two More Goals to Up His NHL-Leading Total to 27
Let’s call Auston Matthews’ wrist injury now officially healed. After going five games without scoring a goal last month, Matthews now has scored five goals in his last six games. The chase for 50 goals in 50 games is now a dream, but it’s good to see Matthews back to his sniper ways.
Matthews has now scored a goal in four of his last five games and has totalled four goals and four assists (for eight points) over his last six. His 27th goal was the game-winner. It was his ninth game-winning goal of the season to lead the NHL (the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and the Vegas Golden Knights’ Mark Stone both have scored seven game-winners.)
Item Five: Will the Maple Leafs Trade for a Goalie?
This is going to be an interesting week with the trade deadline only six days away. Certainly, rumors will pick up as the week ensues. It’s also a crazy and a scary season, given the impact of COVID-19 and all its variants. As well, the seven-day quarantine shapes decisions that NHL general managers might make.
The Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is no different. It’s been clear what the organization’s needs are – either a top-six forward or (with Andersen’s injury) goalie help. Dubas’ last missive was that he would wait to see how the team’s performance and health looked as it headed toward April 12.
Towards that end, hockey insider Elliotte Friedman told Sportsnet 590 that the Maple Leafs would make a decision on pursuing a goalie sometime during the week. Those two things fit together well – Dubas’ note about the team’s health and Friedman’s note about the possible pursuit of a goalie.
Frederik Andersen’s status is nothing less that uncertain – at least to the outside. Honestly, who knows where the Maple Leafs would have been this season without the emergence of Jack Campbell upon the scene as perhaps the team’s goalie of the future. Furthermore, that thought too must impact any decision the team makes as it moves forward toward what looks like an inevitable Stanley Cup run this season.
This season’s team is clearly one of the best the organization has iced in a very long time. But there is a next season coming, too. Campbell has won his first nine starts of the season and the team obviously (at least to me) has banded together to play both with him and for him. From my perspective, you cannot underestimate the importance of team chemistry moving toward a championship.
Still, Dubas and the organization must decide whether Campbell has the wherewithal to carry the team over the long journey to a championship. That’s a big job. It’s an especially crucial in a success-starved market like Toronto.
Over the long-term, the goalie position is in play for the Maple Leafs. As much as I think the organization and the fanbase appreciate Andersen’s contribution to the team over his time he’s been here, I don’t think it’s logical to think Andersen will be back next season. With the salary-cap upper limit flat, I think the Maple Leafs will use Andersen’s current salary to re-sign Zach Hyman for next season.
Because the Maple Leafs are bumping against the upper limit of the salary cap, Dubas likely doesn’t want to make a trade at the goalie position unless he has to. He’s in a position where every dollar counts. Plus, if Campbell is going to be the goalie of the future, it would be nice to see how he does in the playoffs.
What I think Dubas wants to do is to shore up his forward unit or his defense. But what he might have to do is fill in for Andersen if it’s clear he won’t be ready to play. Dubas’ decision pits the present post-season vs. the future. It also bets the present on the possibility that Andersen might be too injured to contribute.
Those are tough calls, and I’m glad that I’m not making them. Given Campbell’s season’s success and his status within the team, at any other time you’d just give him the chance to show what he could do. But that’s not the way NHL hockey works – especially in Toronto, where Lord Stanley has not been hoisted in many, many seasons.