With a nice 17-8-0 record, it’s not as if the Toronto Maple Leafs are failing to deliver on the hype so far this season.
Even so, we haven’t really gotten a taste of what kind of juggernaut this team can truly be, but that could all change if the Maple Leafs finally resolve one lingering problem and see a superstar shake off lingering injuries.
Yes, it’s looking like an exciting week for the Maple Leafs. Here’s why just about any hockey fan should share that excitement, or at least a healthy dose of fascination.
Matthews makes a comeback
To start, it sounds like Toronto will get that aforementioned superstar back from injury on Wednesday, as Auston Matthews is slated to get back in the lineup as the Buds face the San Jose Sharks. Matthews last suited up on Oct. 27, yet his numbers still look pretty splendid, as he generated 10 goals and six assists for 16 points in just 11 games, and that last contest was abbreviated by his latest, unfortunate injury.
The Maple Leafs were 8-3-0 after winning that Oct. 27 game against Winnipeg. With John Tavares and Frederik Andersen putting together excellent work in Matthews’ absence, Toronto produced a solid 9-5-0 mark without the American center, thus leaving them at 17-8-0.
Nylander, 22, has played two full seasons in the NHL, plus a 22-game run in 2015-16. He’s generated 20+ goals twice, and 61 points in each instance, giving him an impressive 135 points in 185 games. But how good is he, really?
If you spend any time on Hockey Twitter, you’ve probably seen people arguing about Nylander, whether the discussion turns to accusations of greed, being “carried” by Matthews, or – on the opposite end – bold proclamations regarding his greatness.
Long bar graphs/story short, it can sometimes feel a little vague to deem Nylander a “top-six forward,” so maybe it would be best to describe as someone who could fit into plenty of top lines around the league, and prosper along the way?
Combining Matthews, Marner, and Nylander with Tavares won’t be cheap, something the Maple Leafs are making quite clear. It will likely be worth the headaches, though, because that’s a scary group.
There also might be a silver lining to this long, drawn-out process, beyond Toronto potentially making the money work.
Gains for the supporting cast
With Matthews and especially Nylander out, other players have been asked to step up.
The most tantalizing development probably comes in the strong year for Kasperi Kapanen. Would he have received so many opportunities with high-end linemates if Nylander was around since Game 1? Judging by past seasons, the answer sure feels like “No.”
Kapanen’s really run with the opportunity, displaying speed and skill while collecting 17 points in 25 games. His 18.9 shooting percentage indicates that he might slow down a bit, yet Kapanen’s likely earned serious trust with Mike Babcock and others.
The Nylanders and Matthews of the league drive your success, yet sometimes it’s the growth of a player who could thrive or decline (possibly Kapanen, definitely someone like Brayden Point or Jake Guentzel) who can really make the difference in finding something special.
No doubt about it, the Leafs aren’t out of the woods. They still need to settle Nylander’s situation, and more strained contract talks await with Matthews and Marner.
Like just about any team in the salary cap era, they also must play well enough to make up for certain flaws. Putting a talented group on the ice doesn’t guarantee a deep run, and expectations are likely to be extremely high in Toronto if the Maple Leafs do get Matthews healthy and Nylander signed.
Success would be awfully sweet if that does happen, as the Maple Leafs could conceivably be the most dazzling team we’ve seen in some time. After all, good things come to those who wait, right?
“I have an open invitation on any front from Mac (Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish) but he recommended I take time off, and that’s what I’ll be doing. I will be coaching my son’s Initiation 3A team this winter, and my daughter wants to play, too. My son’s six years old. I’d like him to play novice, one level up, because he’s a pretty good skater, but we’ll see how it goes,” Smyth said. “I did get a couple of calls from Team Canada to help out, and I mentioned Mac. But I owe it to my wife and kids to take this year off.”
Smyth, who played 1270 games with the Oilers, Islanders, Avalanche and Kings, says he hasn’t got calls asking whether he’s reconsidered his decision to retire.
“I’m old and I’m washed up, I guess,” he joked.
Without a training camp to prepare for, Smyth is enjoying things he otherwise couldn’t do at this time of year. He has plans to see the Green Bay Packers play in Seattle and will head to New York where he’ll watch Derek Jeter’s final games.
After taking a year off, Smyth, who scored 386 goals and 842 points during his NHL career says he’s uncertain of what he’ll do.
“I don’t want to speculate … it’s been 19 years. Obviously, I want to stay in hockey somehow, but in what capacity? I have no idea,” he said.
Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy admitted that even he’s surprised that they captured the Central Division title. “To me, it’s the most surprising division championship that we have, I guess, in the Avalanche history.” (Denver Post)
Paul Maurice would like to stay on as the Winnipeg Jets’ coach, but he needs to talk it over with his family first. (Winnipeg Sun)
A look into the Red Wings culture that has led to 23 consecutive postseason appearances. (Detroit Free Press)
Being part of Ryan Smyth’s final game might inspire the young Edmonton Oilers. (Edmonton Sun)
Highlights from Detroit’s 3-0 victory over St. Louis:
Saturday’s 5-2 Edmonton Oilers win against the Vancouver Canucks meant little-to-nothing in the scheme of the 2013-14 season, but it meant a lot to plenty of Oilers fans. That’s because tonight served as the final game of Ryan Smyth’s career, as chronicled in a wide variety of ways.
Naturally, that included a tribute from the team before the big day:
And yes, as more than a few people speculated, more than a few tears from the retiring 38-year-old:
You could argue that the only thing the night was lacking was an ugly Smyth goal in front of Vancouver’s net, yet another than that, it was pretty much a perfect send-off for a winger who squeezed every bit of production and fanfare one could expect from a limited set of skills.