Maple Leafs News: Tavares, Dermott, Babcock, Kivihalme & the NHL Draft

This review of Toronto Maple Leafs news isn’t all good news. There are injuries to report; however, there were also more signings and preparations for the NHL Draft. Finally, general manager Kyle Dubas confirmed that Mike Babcock would return to coach the team for at least one more season.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Rumors: Babcock, Johnsson, Marner & Moore

As the old question goes, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” Let’s start with the bad news.

Item One: John Tavares Injured at World Championship

In a practice session getting ready for the World Championship, Maple Leafs centre John Tavares sustained an oblique injury. [For information sake, oblique are muscles near the rib cage.]

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask
Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares runs into Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

News was that Tavares would be returning to Toronto for further evaluation by the Maple Leafs medical staff. So far, the extent of the injury isn’t known, but bringing Tavares home so quickly sounds as if there’s concern that something’s up.

In further posts, I will try to find out more information about Tavares’ injury.

Item Two: Travis Dermott Will Have Shoulder Surgery

Tavares isn’t the only Maple Leaf player hurting. On May 9, Sportsnet reported that Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott would undergo shoulder surgery on May 10. According to the team’s press release, Dermott’s recovery is expected to take a minimum of six months.

That isn’t good news for plans to rebuild next season’s defensive corps. In an offseason where one of Dubas’ main objectives was to rebuild the team’s defense, now a key piece won’t be fully engaged until after the season begins.

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby Toronto Maple Leafs Travis Dermott
Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby is knocked down by Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The timeline projected for the 22-year-old Dermott’s recovery won’t see him returning to the ice until at least November. I’m interested to see if Dermott’s surgery might make Dubas reshape some of his original plans.

Item Three: Mike Babcock Will Return as Coach

Dubas ended any sort of empty speculation about who would coach the team by announcing this week that Mike Babcock will return as the Maple Leafs’ coach next season.

As Dubas told TSN: “We’re all in on Mike and Mike is all in on us. We’ve had productive management meetings as an organization, and Mike and I have had some really good meetings as well. Since the season ended, it’s our very strong belief Mike is the one to lead us, that’s the reality of it.”

Related – Leafs News & Rumors: Red Kelly, Matthews, KHL News, Babcock

I’ve learned over the past season as I have covered the Maple Leafs for THW that it’s important to listen carefully to any answer or conversation Babcock has with the press. He often reveals things you didn’t understand until later. Dubas, in comparison, always has seemed more transparent and straightforward.

What intrigues me with Dubas’ comment is what might be seen as an “us-them” position. Who is the “our” in “our very strong belief?” And, who is the “us” in “Mike is the one to lead us?” Perhaps it’s as simple as Babcock is one of the management team, but perhaps it’s not either. I find the wording of the comment a bit odd actually. Perhaps I’m listening too critically.

Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Hockey
Head coach Mike Babcock (C) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Dubas then went on to illuminate the cause for his reticence in conversations with the media immediately after the Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins when he wouldn’t confirm Babcock’s return.

He stated: “I think the way I look at that is [team president Brendan Shanahan] has to decide on me first, to do an evaluation of me, which I think any organization would be best to do. And then once that’s done, we evaluate everybody.” Dubas’ comments do offer a sense that Shanahan’s position is far from nominal.

Next season will be Babcock’s fifth of an eight-year contract he signed May 20, 2015. Although the team collected 100 points for the second consecutive season, it also couldn’t get past the Bruins in either of those years. That fact cannot sit well with Babcock, and I bet he’s itching to start next season soon. He doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who’s easy with relaxation.

Item Four: Maple Leafs Sign Defenseman Teemu Kivihalme

Earlier this week, the Maple Leafs signed KHL forwards Ilya Mikheyev and Egor Korshkov to entry-level contracts. In their third signing of the week, the Maple Leafs announced they had signed defenseman Teemu Kivihalme to a one-year entry-level contract.

Related – Leafs Sign Ilya Mikheyev: Babcock’s Help Swings the Deal

The 23-year-old spent the 2018-19 season with Karpat of Finland’s Liiga. In 60 games during the 2018-19 season, Kivihalme recorded nine goals and 21 assists for 30 points (ninth among Liiga defensemen in scoring). He also scored nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 16 playoff games (third highest for Liiga defensemen in the postseason).

Kivihalme was drafted by the Nashville Predators in 2013 (140th overall) but never played in the Predators organization. Interestingly, the young Finnish defenseman is a dual American-Finnish citizen because he was born in the United States and moved to Finland to play only after playing three years at Colorado College.

It’s interesting that his signing was announced the same day Dermott’s surgery was announced. Coincidence? Is this a signing Dubas would have made anyway?

Item Five: The Maple Leafs Draft Pick Order

Obviously, the Maple Leafs were not part of the Draft Lottery. In fact, they are choosing in position #22 during the NHL Entry Draft on June 21 and 22 in Vancouver. However, because the Los Angeles Kings obtained the Maple Leafs’ first-round pick in this season’s Jake Muzzin trade, the Maple Leafs won’t pick until the second round. Unless they trade up or down, the team’s picks are:

  • 2nd round – #53
  • 3rd round – #84
  • 4th round – #115 and #121 (from St. Louis)
  • 5th round – #146
  • 7th round – #204 (from Dallas) and #208

Although many Maple Leaf fans would think that the team has little hope of choosing someone strong with these picks, note that Andreas Johnsson was selected in the seventh round of the 2013 Draft and Connor Brown was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2012 Draft. Those are two good young players.

Item Six: The Toronto Marlies Advance

After a 6-2 Game 4 victory over the Cleveland Monsters, the Toronto Marlies have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team was led by forwards Mason Marchment and Trevor Moore (who each scored two goals in the Marlies victory) and goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo (who shut the door when he needed to).

Trevor Moore ; Jonathan Bernier
Toronto Maple Leafs Trevor Moore and Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

The Marlies played the minimum number of games to advance. Toronto has won six consecutive Calder Cup Playoff series (they’ve swept four of them) and has gone 22-5 in 27 games since the start of the 2018 postseason.

In the next round, their opponent will be the Charlotte Checkers, who come to the finals also having swept the Hershey Bears. It will be a tough series for the Marlies, because the Checkers were the best team in the league and, to most observers, seem almost unbeatable.

Related – Maple Leafs Marner Strategy: Bring on the Offer Sheets

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs still have important RFAs to sign and, although things now seem quiet about Mitch Marner, certainly negotiations are occurring. As well, the injury to Tavares carries some cause for concern. As a Maple Leafs fan, I’m anxious to know what the team’s medical staff has to say about it. As I noted, I will share more as I gain more information.