Leafs 6’4 monster may not make the team but I like the cut of his jib

The Leafs opted for balanced split-squads in their 1-3 preseason thus far. What the dual squads have provided, however, is a good tryout for some towering defenders including an impressive physical specimen named Kevin Gravel.

There are no guarantees for roster spots with the cap-crunched Toronto Maple Leafs, but for $700k defenseman Kevin Gravel the preseason is offering a chance for him to crack some skulls and impress to win a spot.

With the Leafs playing in Buffalo, the home of the noted scumbag Buffalo Sabres, the Leafs brought some extra artillery for physical protection on the back end. Kevin Gravel played 20:07 that night, trailing only Barrie and Muzzin for ice time. And, while Gravel didn’t jump out on the score sheet, he ended the night a +1 with a couple of PIMs and a block, too.

The real highlights from Gravel, though, came with the toughness and physicality be brought to the game. See in the clip below. Gravel jumps in to protect his goalie, Michael Neuvirth after former Senators draft bust Curtis Lazar tries to injure his way onto an NHL roster:

Immediate to react and with actual punches not just stick checking, Gravel instantly adjusted the attitude in the game. The standard was set; don’t come hacking if you don’t want your face punched. I’m all in on team speed and skill over physicality, but just file this clip under ‘things you love to see’ for the hell of it.

Adding to their scumbag reputation, Rasmus Ristolainen, a -41 defenseman last year (despite his 43 points scored) threw a lazy, knee-on-knee hit on new Leafs defenseman Tyson Barrie in open ice. Keep your head up, I know, but both players are making the team so, relax hardo, it’s preseason.

Anyways, while 6’4″ Ristolainen hides behind his teammate from 6’1″ skilled forward Kasperi Kapanen, Kevin Gravel took things in his own hands. The defenseman enacts Hammurabi’s Code – an eye for an eye – and swallows up Sam Reinhart before trying to crush him to death, à la the Mountain from Game of Thrones.

Could he challenge for a roster spot this year? Absolutely. Mike Babcock loves a big, physical defenseman who isn’t afraid to mix it up in front of the net and Gravel is exactly that. He looks metaphorically head and shoulders above Ben Harpur for the potential “big man” roster spot on the back end.

Will Babcock contradict himself and put Gravel on his off side to get some grit in the lineup? Only time will tell. Gravel has already played well enough to be in contention, it’s fully up to Marincin to now lose the job which is completely plausible.

ICYMI: Auston Matthews killed a man in preseason game

Preseason is preseason. Players are getting used to their new linemates, reacquainting themselves with old linemates, and getting up their fitness levels for the new season ahead. This fact makes the Auston Matthews homicide all the more gruesome.

Ottawa Senators fans who seem to think the imaginary points they’ve collected in the preseason will carry over into their likely basement-dwelling season, we put in their place last night despite winning the shinny match with the Leafs.

Why? Because Auston Matthews absolutely buried… *checks notes, goes on HockeyDB.com* Scott Sabourin on the ice last night. In a graphic scene shown below, Matthews effectively stole the soul out of this career AHLer, making him go viral for all the wrong reasons.

Thoughts and prayers.

After a few shady plays by *checks notes again* Sabourin, including a slew foot on Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews, the Leafs all but announced captain, stepped up to see who the Slap Shot extra was who was trying to make an impact. Much like I did, Matthews had to check the back of 49’s jersey to actually see who this guy’s name, and it didn’t seem like it rung a bell.

If you want to see fewer and fewer NHL players take the risk of playing in preseason games you can thank the collective efforts of grocery sticks like Sabourin who think injuring league stars like Morgan Rielly will earn themselves a career in the show.

Matthews and his slick bandito moustache won’t have any issues racking up kills this season, but an early preseason homicide sets the tone for the season. Rest in peace, Sabourin, Leafs Nation hopes whatever affiliate league that needs a little sandpaper on their bottom unit enjoys the energy you bring to the game.

Oh, and Matthews went off for two goals in the game including a batted in rebound and a post-and-in snipe on the PP. Kids off to a hot start.

Double-minor: Four Takeaways from the Leafs Pre-Season Opener

The Toronto Maple Leafs opened up their pre-season tour with a 3-1 loss to Ottawa out in Newfoundland. Despite the scoreline, the Leafs lineup looked good and dominated most of the game. Here are four takeaways from the game.

Jason Spezza was the Leafs best player

The Leafs oldest free-agent addition who came home to Toronto to play out his childhood dream showed that he has a lot more to offer than just a feel-good story for the team. While Spezza isn’t the quickest player, his experience allows him to close gaps with positioning and put himself in good positions to win and keep possession for the team.

Spezza is likely to start the season on the fourth line, used sparingly and in specific situations to maximize his value. However, should the Leafs need to move him up the line-up he provides an option in the middle of the ice, as a specialist, and on the wing.

Frederik Gauthier isn’t ready to lose his job

Colour me surprised, but Frederik Gauthier was an absolute force and difference-maker on the ice for the Leafs in this game! It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Gauthier would cede the fourth line center spot to Spezza when the Torontonian was signed, but the Goat didn’t play like a man who has lost his job.

Maybe he’s playing like a man who doesn’t want to lose his job? His speed was gears higher than last year and his physicality made him stand out against a young Senators team. He finished the game with two hits and three shots on net, clearly trying to make an impression on his coach early in training camp.

Uh oh, I love Yegor Korshkov

Yup, it’s (extremely) early, but I’m falling in love with Yegor Korshkov already. The 23-year-old Russian winger played alongside Gauthier and Timashov on an energetic third pairing and with his 6’4 frame, Korshkov paired well with Gauthier to make a physical unit.

He took whacks after the whistle, he got his elbows high in the corners, he boxed out the opposition, and he wasn’t afraid to go to the gritty areas of the ice to get the puck. I’m not one of the old school Leaf fans who want physicality over skill, but Korshkov could have me second-guessing myself here.

The team needs time to gel

In the end, this iteration of the Leafs lineup needs time to gel together as a unit and find their identity on the ice. The second lineup with the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and newcomer Alexander Kerfoot will take the ice tomorrow and will likely face some of the same issues that the Tavares-Marner-Barrie team did tonight.

Errant passes and unfamiliar teammates could have been the theme for the opening game of Leafs preseason, but the skill and speed of the Toronto players eventually did take over the game. Two flukey goals, one off of a Marner giveaway, ended up giving the Sens the win, but the Leafs’ positives outweighed the negatives in this game 100%.

More offer sheet bullshit with Mitch Marner

The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Mitch Marner to a 6-year $10.893 million contract, with the forward graciously leaving $107k on the table for a hometown discount. We all thought the bullshit would end with his signature but notable asshole Darren Farris continues to talk offer sheets.

The claim from Marner’s agent Ferris on TSN radio is that two offer sheets were on the table for Mitch. But, because Marner was fully motivated to stay a Maple Leaf, he declined both of them by not signing. This… this doesn’t make sense.

Kyle Dubas had cast doubt on the Marner offer sheet situation earlier this summer, basically warning teams that if they try to mess up the Leafs cap with a ridiculous offer they may just have to pay the compensation. However, unlike paid SportsNet analyst and resident “old-man yelling-at-clouds” Brian Burke, Dubas understands the cap and knew he could fit Marner in, regardless of the offers.

So, why not force Toronto’s hand and sign an offer sheet if you’re Mitch Marner, you know because you want to be a Maple Leaf? You get a quick resolution to the contract dispute and don’t have to sour the fanbase while threatening to miss games or training camp. It’s a win-win, right?

In reality, the offer sheets weren’t considered by Marner because they were almost certainly long-term deals, similar to what he eventually signed in Toronto, and it makes sense. What team is going to give up either four first-round picks (if the contract was over $10.5m) or two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and a third-round pick (contract value between $8.5 – $10.5m) for a three-year bridge deal?

We all know Marner wanted a short term deal, end-loaded to maximize his qualifying offer before hitting free agency. It’s exactly the reason why teams didn’t offer a deal like that to him – because any team that could afford to do it aren’t three to four years away from contending with Mitch Marner, especially without draft capital.

As far as I can tell, Ferris is going to the media and selling the story of declined offer sheets to try and win back the favor of Leafs Nation. It’s a shallow attempt; Leaf fans would rather hear that Marner wanted to maximize his value as a generational player over being spoon-fed shit like this fairy tale Ferris has crapped out.

Can we all just move on from this now and win a handful of Stanley Cups before the next contract situation pops up? Marner got a great deal by flirting with derailing the Leaf’s season, resulting in a good bit of personal business. Hopefully, the contract talk resides for a bit, now.

I’m already tired of hearing how much Morgan Rielly is going to make or is Woll/Scott are ready to replace Freddy Andersen as cheap cap options in a few years time.

Carlton the Bear has all but confirmed it: Auston Matthews is the next Leafs captain

Don’t let the Mitch Marner contract extension distract you from the real story here – the Leafs are announcing a captain soon and now, Carlton the Bear is factoring in.

Firstly, let me apologize for the obvious, glaring error in the previous blog (seen here). The video of John Tavares calling Matthews “Captain Matt’s” is from the All-Star game and not an announcement video leak. The picture with the stitching of the “C” was legit, though, so I’m not a complete asshole.

The moustache wasn’t there on Matthews and not recognizing that cookie duster is a newly christened Maple Leaf Cardinal Sin. Now, onto the juicy stuff. The plot thickens on Auston Matthews being the next captain of the Leafs with Carlton the Beat mixing in now:

https://twitter.com/junotheleafs/status/1172638763379503105?s=21

In a post with the caption, and I kid you not here, “Ahoy, Captain”, Carlton the fucking Bear has a hidden Auston Matthews jersey under his seat.

Shout out to @junotheleafs for the detective work here, Leafs Nation is a much more interesting place with people like you doing the work that you do in it; thank you for your service.

The question now becomes this: Are the Maple Leafs really this dumb? If John Ferguson Jr. and Ron Wilson were still running the show here then the obvious answer would be yes. However, Shanahan, Dubas, and Babcock are all business and don’t leave much unmeasured in the way of leaks.

I don’t think much is unmeasured by the Leafs front office so this, combined with the Matthews still image with the “C” stitching, could be the Marner contract smokescreen the team needed to get the deal over the line.

Marner is signed long term and now he and Tavares are off to Newfoundland to join Carlton and the crew for training camp. Enough is enough with the hidden images and gimmicks. It’s go-time and the Leafs are about to name Auston Matthews their next team captain. Get the sewing machine out.

Twitter Proof: The Toronto Maple Leafs have named Auston Matthews Captain

It’s over… It’s finally over! The Toronto Maple Leafs appear to have named a captain ahead of the 2019/2020 season, keeping true to their word.

Yes, the three-horse-race is over, it would seem, with a few telling tweets showing come rather conclusive evidence that Auston Matthews has been named the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. First, a video with John Tavares:

A bashful smile from Matthews is conjured from former New York Islanders captain John Tavares as he states “Captain Matts here will be leading the way in the Atlantic.” Could it just be a little playful jab at the captain situation in Toronto? Sure, but both players have artfully dodged any real answer to questions on it, so I doubt it.

The clip looks to be apart of the post-announcement video where the team’s PR team shows Matthews has the full support of his teammates and running opposition in the race for the captaincy.

Exhibit two is an image showing Matthews jersey from their promo shoots with what looks to be a white “C” on the right shoulder:

This picture is a bit more sketchy than the video, where you can clearly hear Tavares’ words, but I’m still buying in on this one. The “C” is visible and was possibly scrubbed to throw off onlookers and potential photo-takers on set.

So there we have it – the Leafs have a new captain in Auston Matthews. Can we shut up about him leaving in five years, now? Matthews will be a great leader, in my opinion, because he wasn’t handed this title. No, he’s earned it over his first few seasons and has likely learned from his teammates about how to lead a team.

The announcement should be imminent. It was rumored to be held off until Mitch Marner signs as to not add another wrench in the negotiations, but that seems to be out the window with these two tweets coming out as training camp opens.

Regardless, the search is over and Auston Matthews succeeds Dion Phaneuf as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next team captain, picking up the Mats Sundin mantle as the first-line center team leader.

The latest Zach Hyman injury update is the best sports tweet of 2019

Have you ever had your heart broken so you play extra emotional music to compound the issue, making it worse but also inspiring you to move on an get better? Because Zach Hyman has, and he is currently trying to glow up and move on after his injury-forced (temporary) break up with hockey.

The latest tweet from NHL writer for SportsNet, Luke Fox, proves the previous statement and again puts me in awe of Zach Hyman and his rehabilitation from an ACL injury:

No, Luke, you couldn’t make it up, and I wouldn’t believe you if you did. Is this the single greatest quote about the Leafs since the inception of Twitter on March 21, 2006? It very well might be; I certainly can’t think of anything that would top this.

I previously asked the very capital-J Journalism question: “Is Zach Hyman actually just Wolverine?” after he was on the ice ahead of schedule after offseason knee surgery. Now, however, a new question has arisen: “Is Zach Hyman is an emotionally charged man, ready to springboard off of the chart-topping success of Justin Timberlake to smash rehab schedules and take the NHL by storm?”

Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, this tweet is hilarious and awesome for the mental picture it creates of Hyman ripping home shots, cursing his mortal ligaments, and pushing himself to be a better man for the Leafs.

If I’m the Boston Bruins right now, I’m shaking in my skates.

Who is the Leafs new whipping boy?

It’s the hard-hitting question that we all need to be answered. With Jake Gardiner now gone to conference combatant Carolina, who is going to take the brunt of Leaf fans frustrations this season?

Cody Ceci

This is the natural answer to the question, as much of Leafs nation seem to think Gardiner’s money went to Ceci when he was brought in. This, in fact, is incredibly stupid and also plain wrong. Ceci’s $4.5m cap hit is a casualty of his arbitration rights out of an RFA deal.

Ceci was offered this one-year deal and accepted it likely as a chance to springboard him to a better, longer contract after trading in the tire fire that is the Ottawa Senators, for the booming Maple Leafs. The Leafs took him on only to get out of the long term deal Lou Lamoriello signed Nikita Zaitsev to (at the same hit).

Ceci, in the eyes of many Sens fans, became a defensive problem for the team after their bit of playoff success. In reality, Ceci was miscast in his role as a defensive leader (alongside Erik Karlsson). The Leafs should Phaneuf Ceci this season – put him in advantageous positions which should prop up his value, and hopefully, we’ll see what he can actually be as a player on a good team.

A lot of people see him as a direct replacement, albeit on the right side, for Gardiner, and while he may be cast in that role it isn’t a fair comparison. I bet Ceci surprises a lot of people, but he is prone to some bonehead play.

William Nylander/Mitch Marner

This one could/will flip flop depending on if and when Mitch Marner signs, but as of now, some of the more stubborn supporters of this team are going to continue to smash William Nylander for his hold out last December. Mitch will take this mantle if he does that same, even his he only misses training camp.

Nylander is poised to break out this season on Auston Matthews wing. His underlying stats last season prove that his slow, delayed start, didn’t hurt his production in the end, even if the goal totals weren’t crazy.

Marner is in for the same treatment, however, I wouldn’t expect him to be pushed to the third line like Nylander was last season. Some early-season production from Nylander, though, will quell a lot of rage, even if it garners some ‘see what a whole season and training camp for do for you, Nylander’ comments.

Money over the team will be the narrative for Marner if he holds out, if not the focus will shift back to Nylander until he produces.

Mike Babcock

I think this option will get a lot of love, especially if Auston Matthews ice time remains sub 20 minutes a night. Mike Babcock was a massive hire when the Leafs were starting their rebuild, but questions have been raised about if he’s the man to take the Buds to the next level.

The majority of criticism on Babcock is due to his inability to coach this extremely talented team past the first round of the playoffs. More ice time for Matthews in critical times? Leaning on “his guys” too much instead of more conventional options? Trying to shoe-horn a talented team into a defensive plan? All are valid critiques.

Kyle Dubas has stated that his coach isn’t on the hot seat this season, but we all saw through that facade pretty easily, didn’t we? Dubas can’t publically criticize his coach prior to the season starting, but we all know every GM has the ‘fire coach’ bullet waiting to get fired.

Time to put up or shut up for Babcock, because he’ll likely draw the most friendly fire from Leaf fans this season.

 

 

Maple Leafs Hot Take: Timothy Liljegren will partner with Morgan Rielly

Nothing like a hot take to bridge the gap between the offseason and the regular season, right? As far as hot takes go this one I guess it’s pretty hot, as SportsNet and TSN are reporting the exact opposite of it.

Oh well, here it is: Timothy Liljegren is still going to open the season beside Morgan Rielly.

This is more about Mike Babcock’s options, and Tyson Barrie’s recent comments then it is about finding the most well-suited partner for the should-have-been Norris Trophy winner last season. With both taken into consideration, it’s got to be all about Liljegren so let’s start with options.

Right-Shot Options

Kyle Dubas did a hell of a job reforming the Leafs D-core last season in an attempt to balance out the left-shot/right-shot defenders on the team. Of the players brought in, Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci top the list of high-end talent (Barrie is leagues above Ceci, I know) new recruits.

Morgan Rielly, as we all know, is an offensive beast. His skating opens up so many opportunities for himself and his teammates, while his shoot and passing stack up the points for him, 72 points last season to be exact. He did all of this with Ron Hainsey on his line, too, which makes it even more impressive. Hainsey wasn’t an offensive factor, but his responsible play allowed Rielly to jump up in attack more freely.

Barrie is a right-shot version of Morgan Rielly. For this exact reason the duo wouldn’t work, despite the excitement they would create as a unit. Ceci is more of a reclamation project than he is a top-pairing option, despite his dollar value and right-shot status.

That leaves Jordan Schmaltz, Justin Holl, Joseph Duszak, and Timothy Liljegren as in-house options to pair with Rielly. Schmaltz and Holl are destined for a time-share on the bottom unit and Duszak is great but too green to make the team just yet. That leaves Liljegren, the former first-rounder, as the defacto option.

Liljegren developed some terrific chemistry with Rasmus Sandin last season, a player who makes an impact with offensive contribution from the back end. Liljegren has been forced to develop into more of a two-way, defense-first defenseman, although his specialty is really outletting the puck. Sandin benefitted from Liljegren’s first pass ability last season, and Rielly will too come October.

Barrie wants blueline reunion

In recent comments relayed by TSN’s Kristen Shilton, Tyson Barries thinks he’ll be reunited with World Cup partner Jake Muzzin; “I love playing with Muz. I played with him at World Championships…when we won. He’s a pleasure to play with, a very poised, smart guy. He’s got a lot of experience and he talks a lot.”

It’s always nice when you can see successful players reunite in a new scenario. Barrie and Muzzin makes a lot of sense from a player perspective, and Babcock knows how the duo will play together. Shilton also reported that preliminary skates have Muzzin and Barrie paired up already.

Rielly has been skating with Ceci in informal skates, but allow me to dig myself out of this hole if I may. Quite simply, Liljegren will win the position over Ceci as training camp goes on. The obvious partner for Rielly to start is Ceci, I’ll admit that but there is no history with the players like Muzzin and Barrie, so this pairing is up for debate still (in my opinion).

Liljegren will pass Ceci for the same reason the Leafs were able to trade Dion Phaneuf without retaining any salary – Mike Babcock will pick each situation and minute Ceci plays to maximize his value on the team this year.

Outlook

I fully expect Cody Ceci to get every opportunity to play alongside Morgan Rielly this season and soak up the majority of minutes of training camp alongside the Leafs defensive leader. I also think Ceci winning this position would be the best-case scenario for the team this season, but that is unrealistic.

I’ve even gone on record saying that Cody Ceci is primed to be the Leafs most surprising player this year, but I think Ceci being surprisingly good would be an NHL-best bottom-pairing player who can play intelligently in limited situations.

Liljegren is one of the key parts to the future of the Leafs defensive core and is a homegrown talent. The time needs to be invested in the youth movement to prove the NHL pathway exists for prospects, and to provide some cap relief to a contractually uncertain team moving forward. Ceci may have the upper hand now, but Liljegren is my dark horse for Morgan Rielly’s partner come October.

Moustached Matthews lights it up at Leafs scrimmage today

We’ve got ON ICE Leafs clips, ladies and gentleman! The Maple Leafs informal, pre-preseason-pre-training camp skates are underway as of yesterday, and in day two Auston Matthews has shown up with a lip cozy and the same soft, silky hands he’s always had.

In the clip to follow, Auston Matthews is skating and sniping in a 3-on-3 Leafs scrimmage to start training camp. It’s hard to see who he’s playing against, but he appears to skin and embarrass Trevor Moore on a toe-drag before tapping in a tic-tac-toe passing play past Frederik Anderson.

He also finishes off a nifty dummy pass (Lemieux no-touch through the legs pass) five-hole on Anderson to finish up the mini highlight reel. The most important part of this clip is Matthews smiling moustached face after making his teammates look silly on the ice.

Mitch Marner and his contract talk have eaten up most of the headlines this offseason in Leafs Nation and it’s allowed Matthews to fly under the radar and enjoy a more sheltered break.

The American forward will play 1A/1B center with John Tavares this year and will look to jump back in on the 40 goal club again, if not in hopes of exceeding it in search of the Rocket Richard trophy. No debates, no hate, no hot takes. This post is all about the excitement headed our way with the NHL back and the reminder that Auston Matthews is absolutely disgusting with a hockey stick in his hands.

October can’t come soon enough.