Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Sundin, Ritchie, Kerfoot & Robertson

The Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Washington Capitals tonight. Both teams want to play better than they did in their last games, although the Maple Leafs came out with a win and the Capitals didn’t. The Capitals lost to the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 2-1 and have now lost two games in a row and three of their past five games. 

Sign up for our regular 'Maple Leafs Newsletter' for all the latest.

The Maple Leafs almost blew a 7-2 lead in the third period but held on to win a 10-7 game in Detroit against the Red Wings. It might be that the Capitals are looking forward to playing the Maple Leafs because over the past few games Toronto just hasn’t been able to prevent goals. 

Related: 3 Maple Leafs Who Probably Won’t Return Next Season

I wonder what the over and under is for this game. Recent history suggests it might be a hockey slugfest. Both teams have the ability to score. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at news emerging from the team as it prepares to meet the Capitals in the US capital city.

Item One: Mats Sundin Says Keep the Core Four

One of the biggest critiques over the three years I’ve covered the Maple Leafs is that fans believe Kyle Dubas is incredibly naive or ignorant. He and his organizational team have made decisions that run counter to traditional hockey “wisdom” about how to build a successful team and, particularly, what the salary structure for a team should be.

Mats Sundin, Toronto Maple Leafs
Former Maple Leafs star Mats Sundin (Mike Lynaugh Photography)

Some fans have been particularly vocal about what has come to be known as the team’s Core Four and the huge salaries paid to a small group of players. There have been pointed critiques at these salaries and louder calls for breaking up the $40-million core of highly-paid players. 

Unless the Maple Leafs have a breakthrough and actually win the Stanley Cup this season (and perhaps even if they do), those calls will become even louder next season when contract extensions come due. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since eliminating the Ottawa Senators (and a young Jason Spezza) in seven games in 2004.

Since that time, the Maple Leafs have had six general managers: John Ferguson, Jr., Cliff Fletcher (interim), Brian Burke, Dave Nonis, Lou Lamoriello, and now for almost four years Dubas. The fact is that none of these general managers have helped the team win a playoff round; however, the expectations are higher because the team keeps getting stronger.

Related: What Mats Sundin Meant to Toronto Hockey

One former Maple Leafs’ player who believes the organization is on the right track is Mats Sundin. In a recent interview, he reported that he doesn’t think breaking up the Core Four is the solution. Sundin noted that he “wouldn’t trade the core of the Toronto Maple Leafs for any other core around the league.” 

Sundin, who’s quite a bit more patient than most other Maple Leafs’ fans, believes that the Stanley Cup will come in the next few seasons by “(continuing to) keep building and keep improving.” He also noted he was “very, very optimistic of what management of the Toronto Maple Leafs has done to build this young core of great players.” (from “Maple Leafs legend Mats Sundin thinks Core Four should stay,” Postmedia News, Toronto Sun, 21/02/22).

By the way, Sundin is also rooting for Matthews to break his franchise goal-scoring record “as soon as possible.” Sundin scored 420 goals in 981 games with Toronto. 

Item Two: Can John Tavares Break Out of His Goal-Scoring Slump?

Speaking of the Core Four, one of its members is in a goal-scoring slump. That’s John Tavares, who hasn’t scored in his last 12 games. Tavares has also only been on the ice for seven goals in those games. On Saturday, he didn’t even record a point in the 10-7 win over the Red Wings.

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

Tavares now has dropped under a point-a-game average and has 48 points in 51 games. While the team’s first line has been awesome and has been carrying the team, it would be better if the second line were scoring as well.

Item Three: Nick Ritchie Is In His New Home, With Some Better News

I hope the recent trade works out well for both the Arizona Coyotes and the Maple Leafs. Yesterday, in his second game with the Coyotes, Nick Ritchie scored a goal and added an assist in a 5-3 loss to Winnipeg Jets. Those were his first points in a Coyotes’ uniform. 

Related: Ottawa Senators’ All-Time Team

It was also Ritchie’s first multi-point game of the 2021-22 season. He logged 12:37 minutes of ice time. 

 Item Four: Alex Kerfoot Is Having a Quietly Strong Season

Alex Kerfoot registered two assists against the Red Wings and now has more assists in a single season than he’s ever had before. In 2018-19 with the Colorado Avalanche, he’d had 27 assists. He’s now only six points shy of his career-best 43 points he scored in his rookie season of 2017-18. 

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even better, the skilled third-line player (who’s also been playing some second-line minutes) is doing it without any time on the man advantage. He only plays five-on-five and penalty-kill minutes. Still, Kerfoot has 12 multi-point games this season and is averaging 2.8 points per 60 minutes of TOI. 

It might be that he’ll become a salary-cap casualty next season, but he’s been solid for the Maple Leafs in the three seasons he’s been with the team.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As noted, the Maple Leafs play the Capitals tonight. I’m wondering if Nick Robertson will play. He didn’t look out of place in his recent game. However, I wonder if Robertson might be trade fodder. Is the organization showcasing him?

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs: Revisiting the Nazem Kadri Trade

Dubas has reported that the team is in “win-now” mode; and, it might be that a prospect like Robertson becomes a bargaining chip that would allow the Maple Leafs to bring in another player who could make a significant impact. (from “Robertson ‘wants to take the next step’ as he gets into Leafs lineup for first time in 10 months,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 26/02/22).