Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Young Goalies & Fan Expectations

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share the good news that John Tavares is ready (healthy) for training camp. Second, I’ll look at the Maple Leafs’ young goalies who performed during the top prospects’ games that were played in Traverse City, Michigan, this past week. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Robertson, Core Four & Trading Matthews

Third, I’ll look at the expectations that will weigh upon Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe as he prepares for his first full season coaching in the Atlantic division. Finally, I’ll share the news that, on this first day of autumn, Maple Leafs training camp has begun. 

For Maple Leafs fans, hockey is upon us.

Item One: John Tavares Is Ready for Action

Today, TSN’s Kristen Shilton tweeted that John Tavares is healthy for the beginning of training camp. Tavares had suffered an extremely scary concussion and knee injury during the Maple Leafs’ first playoff game in the ill-fated series-one loss to the Montreal Canadiens. The Maple Leafs, perhaps playing in shock, lost that first game and the went on to win three straight games. However, the team went into a tail-spin and lost the final three games to be ousted from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

As Shilton tweeted, Tavares noted that he didn’t “have any memory of the incident, but I didn’t have any symptoms, didn’t have any pain, leaving the hospital. I got back to myself pretty quickly. I progressed really quickly,” 

Tavares is looking for a bounce- back season. In the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, he scored 19 goals and 31 assists (for 50 points) in 56 games.

Item Two: Maple Leafs’ Goalie Play at the Top Prospects’ Tournament

Almost exactly a year ago, in his article in The Athletic, Corey Pronman reviewed what he believed were each NHL team’s biggest needs heading into the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. His suggestion for the Maple Leafs was that they should draft a goalie. (from “Pronman: Biggest need for all 31 teams in the 2020 NHL Draft, The Athletic, 15/09/20).

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A year ago, the organization’s two key goalie prospects, Joseph Woll and Ian Scott, were struggling. Woll had not played well and Scott had missed the entire season with an injury. This year, looking back, Woll will probably be sharing the net on the Toronto Marlies with Michael Hutchinson. And Scott just was part of the development camp and looked pretty good in the games he played there.

In fact, in a recent discussion after a post reviewing the first two games the Maple Leafs’ top prospects played, a reader with the handle gcmgome weighed in on the goalie play to suggest that it “wasn’t bad … not great, but encouraging.”

Keith Petruzzelli, Quinnipiac University
Keith Petruzzelli Quinnipiac University (Photo credit: Rob Rasmussen)

In those games, Scott split the net with Keith Petruzzelli. gcmgome noted that “it is important to keep in mind that this is prospect tournament hockey when assessing the goalkeepers.” During the games, because their first games of the season for all these players, “the goalies are forced to pick up the slack of missed assignments and other assorted defensive gaffs.”

Scott looked fine in his games and couldn’t be blamed for the goals. Better yet he looked strong and healed after his long layoff because of the hip surgery he had to undergo. It looks as if he’s back in the saddle for the organization. However, gcmgome’s assessment of Petruzzelli’s play was even more positive. Peruzzelli looked “good for most of his time on the ice; but, like Scott, didn’t put together a full 60 minutes of sharp goaltending.” 

Related: Maple Leafs: 5 Standout Performers from the Rookie Tournament

Also impressive was that both these young goalies are more prototypical of today’s new-age keepers. Scott is 6-foot-4 and Petruzzelli is 6-foot-5. However, as gcmgome noted, Petruzzeelli “seems bigger, dwarfing everyone on the ice other than Curtis Douglas.”

In the final analysis, gcmgome added that both “seem like very good prospects. Add Joseph Woll to the mix at 6-foot-4, and this troika of prototypical big modern era goalies seems very encouraging for the Leafs’ future.”

As I often note, thanks to readers for weighing in. I appreciate the added insight and will make it a part of my posts more regularly. 

Item Two: Sheldon Keefe’s Dealing with Fan Expectations

This will be Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe’s first full season coaching the team. He had about a half season coaching in the Atlantic Division during 2019-20 after he took over from former Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock. And, last season, he coached a pandemic-shortened season in the all-Canadian North Division. 

However, Keefe’s contract ends after this season. Although statistically, over the Maple Leafs 104-year history, he holds the highest winning percentage for any of the team’s 31 head coaches (at .660 – Pat Quinn has the second-highest winning percentage at .591), he’s still going to be on the hot seat. 

Ron Francis Pat Quinn John Ferguson Toronto Maple Leafs
The newest edition Ron Francis #10 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shows off his new jersey with head coach Pat Quinn and General Manager John Ferguson after a game at Air Canada Centre on March 9, 2004. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

With the two Zach(s) – Hyman and Bogosian – leaving, he’ll arguably have a more difficult coaching job this season. As a reader using the handle nor suggested in the discussion section of a recent post, Keefe’s “biggest hurdle will be fan expectations. What will the hockey mecca world of leaf nation consider successful?” Those seem to be the key questions facing the entire team this season.

As nor noted, Toronto fans are knowledgeable, create their own line-ups, and are willing to point fingers at any problems. Whatever Keefe does, nor suggested, better work or he will, with Dubas and Shanahan, be on his way out of town. 

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What would be a successful season for Keefe and the team? nor believes Keefe needs a second-place finish with a home-ice series win against an opponent like the Boston Bruins or the Canadiens to help the fans “finally” feel good praising the coaching staff, management, and players. 

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

Finally, nor said it well when suggesting that Keefe “inherits the last 50-plus years of frustrations.” nor’s final words, “Best of luck to him, he will need it.” 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs’ training camp is upon us. The team first goes through medical checkups and measurements. Tomorrow the media is allowed into the building. Then, the team will play its first preseason game on Saturday. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Kapanen & Conacher

The fun begins. Which players on the bubble will impress the coaching staff during these games and grab one of the few roster spots available? I’m getting more excited.

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