Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Thornton, Roster Moves & Mystery Forward

How’s this for different in this 2020-21 season? The Ottawa Senators enter tonight’s game coming off a win; and, the Toronto Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game coming off a loss. The Senators’ win came virtually in the last few seconds of the game over the Winnipeg Jets. The Maple Leafs loss came within the last few minutes of their game against the Montreal Canadiens. The Senators’ win halted a four-game losing streak. The Maple Leafs loss ended a four-game winning streak.

Tonight the Senators come into town to visit the Maple Leafs to open a three-game series. The game will be the first between the teams since they split two games in Ottawa at the beginning of the season on Jan. 15 and 16.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share the good news that Joe Thornton will be returning to the team’s lineup for tonight’s game. As well, I’ll outline some of the roster moves the team has made prior to the game. Finally I’ll look at the rumor that the Maple Leafs will add a “mystery forward” to their team.

Item One: Joe Thornton Will Play Tonight

Everything points to Joe Thornton playing with the Maple Leafs tonight after missing 10 games with a broken rib. His return is actually quite a bit quicker than the four weeks that were first predicted when he was injured about three weeks ago. Yesterday, during Sunday’s practice, Thornton took his place with partners Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the Maple Leafs’ top line.

Because Thornton has missed the required number of games after being moved to long-term injured reserve, he’s eligible to play in tonight’s game against the Senators.

Thornton’s return means that there will be movement on the roster and within the team’s on-ice lineup. In fact, today’s CBS Sports’ depth chart shows Thornton as Matthews’ left-winger and Zach Hyman as second-line center John Tavares’ left-winger. That probably means that Ilya Mikheyev moves down to the third line with either Pierre Engvall or Jimmy Vesey as Alex Kerfoot’s left-winger.

The 41-year-old Thornton, who was the NHL’s 2005-06 MVP, has scored two points (one goal, one assist) this season playing mostly with Matthews and Marner.

Item Two: Travis Boyd Moved to Taxi Squad

The Maple Leafs moved Travis Boyd to their taxi squad on Sunday. Although Boyd keeps moving up and down from the team’s active roster, he’s essentially been the team’s fourth-line center when both Thornton and Wayne Simmonds were out with injuries. 

Boyd has contributed this season in limited minutes. He’s scored four points in seven games. It’s anyone’s guess what Thornton’s move back into the lineup will do for Boyd over the longer term.

Item Three: Nic Petan Moves Down the the Taxi Squad

The team reassigned Nic Petan on Sunday to the team’s taxi squad. Similar to Boyd, Petan has moved between the active roster and the taxi squad; and, similar to Boyd as well, he’s usually been in the lineup during February games. He’s scored an assist in four games in limited action.

Item Four: Alexander Barabanov Moves to the Active Roster

As always with this season’s dynamic taxi squad, someone’s on the move it seems. On Sunday, the Maple Leafs promoted Alexander Barabanov to the team’s active roster.

Unlike the team’s other “frequent flyers” Boyd and Petan, Barabanov hasn’t found much playing time recently. He’s only been in three of the last eight Maple Leafs’ games. He’s also looking to score his first NHL point.

Item Five: Scott Sabourin Moved to the Active Roster

Scott Sabourin, who was signed to a two-way contract on Feb. 7, was also promoted to the team’s active roster on Sunday. He hasn’t made his Maple Leafs’ debut yet. 

Scott Sabourin Ottawa Senators
Scott Sabourin, when he was with the Ottawa Senators (Courtesy Ottawa Senators)

Sabourin’s attraction is that he provides some physicality that the Maple Leafs have missed with Simmonds out with a broken wrist. Last season with the Senators, he scored six points and had 74 hits in 35 games. Given how few hits the team had against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, I’m wondering if Sabourin might stand a chance in the lineup.

Item Six: Defenseman Martin Marincin Recalled and Placed on Taxi Squad

With Sabourin, the Maple Leafs also recalled Martin Marincin and placed him on the team’s taxi squad.

Martin Marincin Toronto Maple Leafs
Martin Marincin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Item Seven: Adam Brooks Sent to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies

On Saturday, the Maple Leafs sent Adam Brooks to the Marlies. Brooks will probably spend most of the season in the AHL now that it’s getting ready to begin; however, he did score his first NHL goal on January 23 in the only game he’s played this season. 

Item Eight: Who’s Elliotte Friedman’s Mystery Forward?

A rumor has been circulating that the Maple Leafs are interested in a “mystery forward.” But who might that player be? 

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The Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has reported a few times that the Maple Leafs are looking to improve their roster by adding to it. And, on Tim and Sid, Friedman noted: “I think Toronto is going to add. I think there’s a winger they’re interested in. I wrote his name down on a piece of paper.”

Some speculations for that mystery forward include the Calgary Flames’ Sam Bennett, the Los Angeles’ Kings’ Alex Iafallo, the Vancouver Canucks’ Tanner Pearson, the Nashville Predators’ Vikton Arvidsson, or the Philadelphia Flyers’ Jason Zucker. 

Although Friedman is much more in the loop than I am on these things and I appreciate his insights, I think the contracts of some of these players militate against the Maple Leafs’ logical interests. In addition, I don’t think the team is willing to move Kerfoot. (But perhaps that’s just because I wouldn’t if I were in charge.)

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Saturday’s game against the Canadiens was interesting, to say the least. The team should have blown the Habs away during the first period; they simply overwhelmed them. However, during the second and third periods, that same Maple Leafs’ team didn’t show up. 

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Marner was quoted after the game, “I think we got away from our game plan, composure in our D zone, staying on too long for offensive chances. That one sucks to slip away but just got to look forward to Ottawa next.”

One telling statistic is that the Canadiens outhit the Maple Leafs 46-16 during the game. Hmmm.