In spite of the fact they are one of five teams within three points of each other in the Atlantic Division standings and just two points behind second-place Montreal, the Toronto Maple Leafs have to look at their 13-13-4 record and their path to a playoff berth with some concern.
The club embarks on a difficult four-game road trip against the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues on Saturday and through Western Canada (Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton) next week trailing the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot by five points, having played more games (30) than Buffalo (29), Tampa Bay (26), and Florida (27), and the same amount as the slumping Habs, who won 2-1 over the Rangers in New York on Friday.
Toronto has still been unable to find any consistency after switching from Mike Babcock to Sheldon Keefe, and were forced to deviate from their usual practice of playing their backup in one of back-to-back games, playing Frederik Andersen against Colorado on Wednesday after a poor showing in Philadelphia. GM Kyle Dubas gave backup Michael Hutchinson a vote of confidence earlier this week, but that may just be a front to keep other NHL clubs from raising their asking price.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said on Friday that the Leafs may have interest in someone like Rangers 23-year-old backup Alexander Georgiev or Penguins backup Tristian Jarry, while the names of Kings backup Jack Campbell and Ducks veteran Ryan Miller has also been mentioned in recent speculation. Whoever Dubas has targeted, there may be a time aspect in any potential deal.
The NHL holiday trade freeze begins on December 20 and ends on December 27. The Leafs play three games in four days in that seven-day window (at New York on the 20th, at home against Detroit on the 21st and an afternoon game vs. Carolina on the 23rd), and the front end of a back-to-back (in New Jersey on the 27th) after the three-day Christmas break. If Dubas is going to make a move, it would likely have to be in the two weeks preceding the trade freeze to help them through their busy schedule.
After December, Toronto has only four back-to-backs left for the remainder of the season.
The Leafs recalled forwards Pontus Aberg, Nic Petan, and defenseman Martin Marincin on Friday after winger Andreas Johnsson was placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) with a leg injury. Aberg practiced alongside Auston Matthews and William Nylander on Friday before the club flew to Missouri. John Tavares missed practice for personal reasons and there has been no update indicating his status for Saturday.
The preliminary rosters for most of the participants in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic later this month have either been announced or will be in the next few days.
Leafs 2019 third-rounder Mikko Kokkonen was named to Team Finland’s initial group last week. Team Sweden named only five defensemen to their preliminary roster, which is an indicator that they expect Toronto prospect Rasmus Sandin to be made available for the tournament.
The question yet to be answered is whether forward Nick Robertson will be selected for Team USA early next week. Robertson was selected 53rd overall by the Leafs at the 2019 Draft, was impressive at the World Junior Summer Showcase last summer, at the Traverse City Rookie Tournament in September, and led the OHL in goals before suffering a broken finger in early November.
Robertson returned to action on Thursday, scoring his 20th goal of the season in a 3-2 victory over London. With Team USA not getting first overall pick Jack Hughes and other eligible players like Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee for the tournament, the 18-year-old may have a good chance of making the squad.
*******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.*******