The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the New York Islanders 6-1 in John Tavares’ anticipated return to the Island on Feb. 28. It was the team’s only loss in their last five games. In fact, their single goal in the Islanders game was a recent anomaly. Over their last five games, they had scored 23 goals (almost a five-goal per-game average).
Obviously, Tavares’ departure for his childhood home in Toronto didn’t sit well with Islanders fans. Although Islanders’ management did a nice video tribute to Tavares, thanking him for his time in New York, fans booed him without mercy when Tavares saluted them after the video had ended.
Perhaps, as CBS Sports noted, the fans’ anger might have been more accurately directed toward former Islander general manager Garth Snow, who could have traded Tavares at the trade deadline when his team was out of the playoffs, but choose not to. The angry result was that Tavares went home to Toronto as a free agent, and the Islanders got nothing in return for their former star player.
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That the Islanders fans booed Tavares was not lost on Maple Leaf fans during the team’s 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday evening. Fans rose en masse to give Tavares a standing ovation when his name was announced during pre-game introductions. One fan held up a homemade sign that said: “Dear John, We do need you. We do care. Love, Toronto.”
Tavares responded emotionally to the public accolades and then went on to respond skillfully to the opportunity, as he contributed a goal and two assists to the Maple Leafs’ victory. As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox noted, in a nice piece about his return home to Toronto titled “Maple Leafs, fans remind John Tavares why he chose Toronto,” Tavares appreciated the fan’s consideration: “Tremendous people, not just hockey players,” Tavares said. “To give me a moment like that, it’s something I’ll always remember. It shows how tight we are in here.”
Other News and Rumors
Item One: Andreas Johnsson’s Attempted Signing
Andreas Johnsson has had a tremendous rookie season, and his 19 goals and 17 assists (36 points) in 58 games are strong contributions to the team’s success. His recent play has been even stronger with nine goals and five assists (14 points) in 14 games (a point-a-game pace). There’s no question that Johnsson is a player the team would like to sign for next season.
As Darren Dreger reported, the Maple Leafs tried hard last week to sign Johnsson, but his management’s preference was to wait because Johnsson has been on such a hot streak. As Dreger noted, “his patience will likely pay off.”
Pierre LeBrun weighed in on the same issue, noting that he didn’t blame Johnsson’s camp for waiting because the young Swede was piling up points playing with Matthews. Obviously, both Dreger and LeBrun agree Johnsson’s scoring will help boost his value in future salary negotiations. However, LeBrun warned that, if Johnsson’s team didn’t “play ball a bit on his next deal,” he would likely be traded.
Item Two: The Edmonton Oilers Really Wanted Connor Brown
In an earlier post on Jan. 1, I had speculated how nice it might be for the Edmonton Oilers to bring Connor Brown back to play with his old Erie Otter teammate Connor McDavid. Brown led the entire Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in scoring during the 2013-14 season with 45 goals and 83 assists (128 points) in 68 games.
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Apparently, the Oilers had similar ideas. Elliotte Friedman reported that the Oilers pursued a Brown trade prior to the deadline. Friedman believed the Maple Leafs’ target was defenseman Matt Benning.
In fact, given the other names rumoured to be offered for Brown (Jujhar Khaira and Zack Kassian), it seems clear that the Oilers were very interested in such a trade. Obviously, the Maple Leafs were not that interested, because Brown remains on the team.
Item Three: Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, and Travis Dermott Injuries
CBS news reported that Nazem Kadri had skated in practice on Mar. 2, but that he was not ready to play in the game against the Sabres. There’s no definitive word yet about his eventual return from the concussion he suffered on Feb. 19.
Dreger reported that, at the moment, Jake Gardiner would not undergo back surgery. Obviously, the Maple Leafs hope surgery is not required. However, if Gardiner’s spasms are not brought under control, there’s a chance he’ll miss the rest of the season. Apparently, Gardiner has been experiencing back pain for months, but the team is hoping rest and recovery will allow him to play again soon.
Finally, CBS News reported that Travis Dermott’s shoulder injury would require him to be out for four weeks. If that timeline is accurate, it brings Dermott back to the team near the end of the regular season and would allow him to play in the playoffs. Martin Marincin was recalled prior to the Islanders’ game to take Dermott’s place in the defensive pairings, and he’s played regular shifts since being recalled.
Item Four: Michael Hutchinson Wins on His 29th Birthday
In a Toronto Marlies’ update, Michael Hutchinson’s goaltending carried the Marlies to a win on his 29th birthday on Mar. 2. He stopped 34 of 36 shots for the Marlies’ win. Hutchinson, who had played five games as an emergency fill-in with the Maple Leafs during the first two weeks January when both Frederic Andersen and Garrett Sparks were injured, was moved to the Marlies when the Maple Leaf goalies returned to the line-up. In his 14 games with the Marlies this season, Hutchinson has a record of 8-3-1.
The Maple Leafs play the Calgary Flames on Mar. 4 in Calgary. The Flames lead the Western Conference with a 41-17-7 record in 65 games (89 points). The Maple Leafs are in third place in the Eastern Conference with a 40-21-4 record in 65 games (84 points). This will be the first of three games on the team’s Western swing, and the Maple Leafs return home to play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Mar. 11.