Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Thornton, Semyonov & Marner

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share the good news for fans of Jumbo Joe Thornton that he’s signed a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers to continue his Stanley Cup quest. I’ll also share information about Maple Leafs’ prospect Kirill Semyonov. Finally, I’ll look at Mitch Marner’s recent history with the team to suggest that he’s a strong player who’s carrying a ton of baggage within Blue and White nation.

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Item One: Joe Thornton Signs with the Florida Panthers

One way to know who a potential Stanley Cup contender will be is to follow where Jumbo Joe Thornton signs. He’s made no bones about it, he wants to win a Stanley Cup before he retires. We also know from former teammates that Thornton simply also loves playing hockey. He can’t seem to quit. And, for someone who isn’t yet twice his age, I say good for him.

However, he won’t be playing with the Maple Leafs during the 2021-22 season. Instead, he’s chosen to sign with an up-and-coming young team – the Florida Panthers. As a hockey commentator for the Maple Leafs, I will miss him. He added an element of humor and reality to the Maple Leafs’ locker room. I can only imagine that he also was a valuable teacher and mentor to younger players on the Maple Leafs roster, which – as everyone knows – was every player on the Maple Leafs’ roster. 

Joe Thornton Toronto Maple Leafs
Joe Thornton, former Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

In fact, during the 2020-21 season, the only older players than Thornton playing in the NHL were Zedno Chara (with the Washington Capitals) and Patrick Marleau (with the San Jose Sharks). 

I once contended that, even if Thornton never scored a goal with the Maple Leafs, he was worth having on the team at the NHL league minimum salary. Apparently, other NHL general managers agree with me (although maybe not about his lack of scoring) about the need for veteran leadership as part of a successful NHL roster. Obviously, one of those general managers was the Panthers’ Bill Zito, who announced Thornton’s one-year deal on the team’s official website: 

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“With more than 1,600 games played in the NHL, Joe will bring a wealth of experience to our locker room and lineup. His drive to succeed is unmistakable and we are thrilled that he chose to sign with our club and that he believes in what we are building here in South Florida.

Thornton’s contract will pay him the NHL league-minimum of $750,000. There were no bonuses and no incentives worked into the deal. Although Thornton was never noted for his speed on the ice, he still has great on-ice vision, a high hockey IQ, and tons of experience. He’s played 1680 NHL games and scored almost as many points (1,529). He has one of the great hockey minds in the game and has been a leading assist player. 

I wish him good luck with the Panthers. Who knows, it might be fun to see the Maple Leafs and the Panthers hook up in the Stanley Cup Finals. If they did, one of either Jason Spezza or Thornton would realize his life-long dream.

Item Two: A Look at Maple Leafs’ Prospect Kirill Semyonov

In May, the Maple Leafs signed 26-year-old Russian forward Kirill Semyonov to a one-year, entry-level contract. What makes Semyonov interesting to me is that he represented his KHL team Omsk Avangard in the 2019 All-Star Game and last season won it all in the KHL. In fact, he’s played the last four seasons with Omsk, and last season scored 10 goals and 16 assists (in 60 regular-season games) and added four goals and five assists (for nine points) in the 23 playoff games he played as his team won KHL’s Gagarin Cup. 

Semyonov will get a chance to crack the Maple Leafs’ lineup during training camp, but unless he has a tremendous camp isn’t likely to make the opening-day roster.

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During Semyonov’s 377 regular-season KHL games, the Omsk, Russia, native has scored 70 goals, and 99 assists (for 169 points) and 15 goals and 14 assists (for 29 points) in 65 playoff games. 

Item Three: Appreciating Mitch Marner, Despite His Baggage

In yesterday’s post, I spent some time talking about Morgan Rielly’s Maple Leafs’ career and offered that, despite thoughts to the contrary, he’s a really good defenseman. It had occurred to me that, again despite the Maple Leafs’ lack of postseason success, the team was blessed with really good players.

Today, I saw this tweet from the Editor in Leaf blog about Mitch Marner’s defensive analytics. Last season, Marner was fourth in NHL scoring; he was named as an NHL All-Star; and, this tweet shows that his defense was also great. 

He’s an elusive skater and a great playmaker. Over the past two seasons, he’s finished third in the NHL behind Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov with 52 primary assists. However, with Maple Leafs’ fans he carries a lot of baggage. Many fans want him traded because of his high salary-cap hit ($10.893 million) and because he didn’t produce well in recent playoffs.  

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Still, Marner has averaged 1.14 points-per-game over the last two seasons, which puts him ahead of his more-favored teammate Auston Matthews (who’s averaging 1.11 points-per-game). If the salary cap ever rose to make Marner’s salary seem more palatable and if Marner could lead the team in the playoffs, one might hope he’d be forgiven. 

What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?

By the way, I’ll wrap up this post quickly by suggesting that I’m not pointing fingers at anyone else with my note about Marner. I’m including myself in the statement: the bottom line is that Marner’s a good player. I have work myself to do to forget his past salary negotiations – even though I get it logically.

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I’m rooting for the team and for him personally to dump some of that baggage this postseason.

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