The Toronto Maple Leafs begin a difficult stretch against the two clubs chasing them for the North Division lead, starting with the opener of a two-game set against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
The Leafs reached the high point of their regular season with a three-game sweep of the Oilers in Edmonton at the beginning of the month, but lost six of the next seven games before winning their last two. The Oilers went 7-2-0 after the sweep, but have been idle the last seven days with three games in Montreal postponed due to two Canadiens players being placed in COVID protocol.
Jack Campbell (5-0-0, 1.18 GAA, .958 save percentage) will make his third straight start and head coach Sheldon Keefe indicated that the club will make no lineup changes from the group that played in the 3-2 win over Ottawa on Thursday, but will shake up the line combinations.
Joe Thornton will move back to the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Wayne Simmonds will shift to the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander, the checking line of Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall and Zach Hyman will stay intact, and Alex Galchenyuk will play with Alex Kerfoot and Jason Spezza.
Keefe had no update on the status of goalie Frederik Andersen, but indicated that the club’s medical staff was examining the Leafs starter and that a prognosis would be forthcoming. Andersen has not played since March 19 due to a lower body injury and is listed day-to-day.
The rental trade market got jump started on Friday with the Buffalo Sabres dealing veteran Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2021 third and fifth round draft pick. Staal was having a bad season with the Sabres, but gets a fresh start with the Habs, who were desperate to add some experience up the middle with youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi struggling at times.
The price paid by the Canadiens was quite inexpensive for a player like Staal, as Buffalo retained 50% of his $3.25 million salary in the deal. It is likely that the fifth rounder was payment for the salary retention (Toronto got a fifth from Chicago for retaining over $1 million of Robin Lehner’s salary last season).
GM Kyle Dubas said last week that the Leafs would prefer to shop for a rental in a deal for a top-six/top-nine forward before the deadline, so the low price paid by their division rival is a good indicator that the price for someone like Mikael Granlund, Ryan Dzingel, Nick Foligno, Alex Iafallo or other rental forwards would probably not rise to the level of surrendering a first round pick or a top prospect like Nick Robertson or Rasmus Sandin.
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