Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Thornton, Matthews, Mikheyev & Nichushkin

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at two friends getting together for a birthday celebration in Las Vegas. I’ll also look at the interest the Maple Leafs’ invitation to trade the negotiation rights to Russian forward Ilya Mikheyev might have spurred.

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Third, I’ll look at a quick rumor that links another Russian winger, the upcoming UFA Valeri Nichushkin from the Colorado Avalanche, to the Maple Leafs. Finally, I’ll share a thought that, with the Edmonton Oilers’ somewhat successful Stanley Cup run this postseason, the Oilers are a destination of sorts for NHL players. Rumors are that Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell is on the Oilers’ wish list.

Item One: Maple Leafs Rat Pack Meet in Vegas

Although Joe Thornton and Auston Matthews only spent one pandemic-shortened season (2020-21) together as teammates, apparently they’re good friends. Both met in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena to hang out and watch UFC 276’s five-fight main card.

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The 2022 NHL Hart Trophy-winning Matthews and the probably soon-to-be-retired Thornton also had another reason to party. Yesterday was also Thoronton’s 43rd birthday. 

Thornton played last season with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers, although it seemed he sat as much as he played. He only saw the ice for 34 games, scoring five goals and five assists (for 10 points). 

However, when he was asked about retirement, Thornton didn’t have an answer. The Panthers were swept in the second round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning. As he noted at the end of the season, “I have no idea, I haven’t put any thought into it all, It happened so quick, it took me by surprise, so I’m sure I’m going to talk with the family and see what the plan is next.”

Item Two: Ilya Mikheyev Interest Bigger than First Thought

On Canada Day, I reported Elliotte Friedman’s tweet that the Maple Leafs had let other NHL teams know they would be open to trading the early negotiating rights to Ilya Mikheyev. Apparently, that invitation got some response. In an episode of Insider Trading, TSN’s Chris Johnston reported that “as many as half the teams” showed at least some interest in acquiring Mikheyev this summer. 

Related: The Best Free Agent Signings in NHL History

Johnston also reiterated that Mikheyev was looking for a deal “in the $4 million range” or higher. According to the report, Mikheyev fits what teams believe they need these days. Those are what the article calls “premium middle-of-the-lineup players.” And, that seems to be how the speedy Russian winger is seen outside of Toronto.

The article went on to note that both the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning utilized such players (Artturi Lehkonen or Nick Paul, as examples) well during the postseason. Although we don’t know yet, the success of the two Stanley Cup finalists might have spurred a sort of bidding war for Mikheyev. 

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Obviously, if this is accurate, Mikheyev’s market value will climb. Is it possible he’ll be able to pull a contract even as high as $5 million? If what Johnston hears is accurate, that’s good news for Mikheyev and his agent. As always with most ex-Maple Leafs’ players, I wish him well wherever he lands.

In his 32 Thoughts post today, Elliotte Friedman linked Valeri Nichushkin’s name to the Maple Leafs. Specifically, Friedman dropped a number of names when he noted: 

Related: The Worst Free Agent Signings in NHL History

“Another situation to watch remains Rasmus Sandin. All I’ve heard is this is a trickier situation than the Maple Leafs hoped or wanted. Valeri Nichushkin is exactly what they need, but we don’t know if he’ll be available. Maybe Max Domi fits. Completely irresponsible whopper of a long-shot prediction? They take a look at Giroux, but it means someone big goes.”

Valeri Nichushkin Colorado Avalanche
Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The 27-year-old Nichushkin is eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 13. He put together a career-season in 2021-22 by scoring 25 goals and adding 27 assists (for 52 points) in 62 games. He also played well during Colorado’s Stanley Cup victory scoring nine goals and six assists (for 15 points) in 20 playoff games. 

In fact, all that happened with Nichushkin suffering a broken foot in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Apparently Nichushkin couldn’t get his skate on without medical help.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Is there a chance that Maple Leafs’ starting goalie Jack Campbell might end up with Zach Hyman in Edmonton? With the Oilers’ success – especially led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl this postseason – the prairie city might be seen as a possible landing spot for players interested in finding postseason success.

Related: Can the Maple Leafs Find a Jack Campbell Clone?

With the goalie situation in flux, Campbell could be seen as a tipping point in further Edmonton success. We’ll see how that goes in about 10 days.