As Common and Mos Def once rapped: It’s the questions, y’all!
So, let’s get right to them.
How does the NHL’s long layoff and 24-team, return-to-play plan affect the Toronto Maple Leafs’ chances to contend? How desperate are the Leafs in need of an upgrade at third-line centre? Could another Nick Robertson be stolen in Round 2 of the draft? And what about trading Morgan Rielly and William Nylander to Columbus?
It’s the questions. Dig in.
How do you feel about the Leafs chances with everyone healthy except for Johnsson?
— Jeremy Ridgewell (@Jermz13) May 21, 2020
I like their chances.
Suddenly, I also like the Rangers’ chances and the Jets’ chances and the Flyers’ chances and the Stars’ chances and the Capitals’ chances.
“It’ll definitely feel like a new season almost,” says Washington’s star defenceman, John Carlson. “It’ll be a little funky. I think it’ll feel like a brand-new slate. Doesn’t matter if you were playing good or bad, we’re all gonna kind of be at the same level in terms of what we’re dealing with now.”
My opinion: The expected sloppiness of returning to meaningful action after what will be, at minimum, a four-month layoff favours the Maple Leafs’ offence-first approach. The closer to pre-season precision, the better.
Yes, they’ll have to survive Columbus to even reach the Round of 16, but doing so would do wonders for the collective confidence — and there will be no TD Garden ghosts to haunt them this time.
Few squads are better equipped to outscore mistakes than Toronto, and with all those weeks away from the ice, fans should expect mistakes aplenty. This makes for entertaining hockey, and if there’s one thing the Leafs do well, it’s entertain.
Teams don’t generally lock down their systems and perfect penalty-free hockey until the stretch. Perhaps most important: Goaltenders who haven’t been facing real shots will have to deal with four guys who already scored more than 20 goals apiece in a shortened regular season.
The Leafs’ youth and skill should serve them well in a quick restart. Having Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Ilya Mikheyev fully recovered is a wonderful boost. Frederik Andersen will be as well-rested heading into the tournament as Kawhi Leonard was. And the drive to improve during quarantine has been strong within the organization.
“I’m doing a lot of binging on the Toronto Maple Leafs,” said coach Sheldon Keefe, joking not joking. “We have to take advantage of every day that we have to work towards being better versions of ourselves for whenever we do get back to playing.”
How high up Dubas’ priority list is upgrading their 3C for next year? What do you think about adding a Nick Bonino? Veteran defensive centre. Cheap contract if Nashville retains a bit
— Jordan Maresky (@jordan_maresky) May 21, 2020
The top priority should be a top-four right-shot defenceman.
With the top two centres in stone and plenty of internal competition for ice time on the wings (welcome, Alexander Barabanov), centre depth should be priority No. 2 with regards to solidifying the 2020-21 roster.
In the wake of Nazem Kadri’s departure, neither Alexander Kerfoot nor Pierre Engvall won the job outright. Both struggle to win face-offs: Kerfoot won 46.9 per cent of his draws; Engvall won 39 per cent.
The easiest and most economical option would be re-signing veteran Jason Spezza on another one-year deal (he’s keen), and sticking with a 3C-by-committee approach, but I’m not convinced the Leafs want to give that much ice time to a 37-year-old in what will probably be a compacted schedule.
Bonino, who will be entering the final season of his deal at a $4.1-million cap hit, would be a wonderful upgrade, no doubt. He wins draws (52.6 per cent), he helps keeps the puck out of his net (plus-17), and he has mitts (18 goals in 67 games).
But what’s in for Nashville, a team that is not interested in a rebuild? Why would the Predators trade away their second-highest goal-getter and one of their few forwards who is living up to his paycheque? Why would a franchise dealing with cap issues of its own retain salary in such a deal?
I’m skeptical Dubas could offer a package sweet enough to rent Bonino for a full season.
That said, I do believe he’ll try to upgrade the third-line centre role on a short-term contract.
Who do you think the Leafs could select in this deep 2020 draft with their second round pick? Could they pull of maybe a second Nick Robertson?
— NHL Puck Zone (@realnhlpuckzone) May 21, 2020
Pulling 55-goal-scoring second-rounders in consecutive seasons is certainly a tall (impossible?) order, but Dubas has done it on his late initial picks in his short tenure.
While we highly doubt another Robertson (53rd overall) is in the cards, here are a few prospects who could still be on the board when the Maple Leafs make their first pick (around 50th overall): Daemon Hunt, D, Moose Jaw; Topi Niemela, D, Karpat; Ty Foerster, RW, Barrie; Michael Benning, D, Sherwood Park; Ty Smilanic, C, USNTDP; William Villeneuve, D, Saint John; and Ridly Greig, C, Brandon.