Let’s start with the most important stuff right off the top – I’d like to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays spent with family, friends, and good food (and wine!).
As for the Toronto Maple Leafs — who are winners of six of their last seven and are finally reasonably healthy — let’s look at what they might be asking for from Santa as the second half of the season approaches.
Productive backup goaltending
No real secrets here. Frederik Andersen leads the league in total minutes played and is third in the league in shots against. He has played in 29 of 37 games. While the Leafs have made headway in the standings of late, they need Andersen to play a lot to make the playoffs. That said, they also need a rested Andersen to go anywhere in the playoffs. For three consecutive years, the Leafs have made the playoffs and Andersen has managed mixed results (although he did post a .922 save percentage in seven games last Spring).
This has consistently led to questions about fatigue and whether he was overplayed come playoff time. You generally play every other day in the postseason, and should the Leafs ever advance beyond the first round, the amount of hockey really adds up. Who knows, they might even need a game or two out of a backup in the playoffs (we’ve seen a number of teams call on theirs over the years).
A top-four defenseman
It’s unfortunate that this is still a need given they made a big trade for a defenseman in the summer and Justin Holl has emerged this season, but here we are.
The Rielly – Barrie pairing is fun when you’re playing Detroit and New York, but it’s hard to see them holding up in a playoff series against Boston, Washington, or Tampa Bay. The Muzzin – Holl pairing has been solid so far and there is little reason to think that won’t continue, so if they can find a defense partner for Morgan Rielly and push Barrie down next to Travis Dermott on what would essentially be an offensive-zone-faceoff-only pairing that’s dedicated to offense, it is the best they can do.
With some forwards starting to emerge amid injuries (Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, possibly Dmytro Timashov), does that make an Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen expendable to help address this need?
It has been a whirlwind start to the season in Toronto. It didn’t help that Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott were rehabbing from offseason surgeries followed by injuries to John Tavares and Mitch Marner. Alexander Kerfoot and Trevor Moore have also missed time, and now Andreas Johnsson is out. The roster has never been settled, and while no team is ever truly healthy, they didn’t even a chance to slot their players in as they really envisioned it at any point. It has been a constant game of musical chairs.
Then, of course, Mike Babcock was fired. That, too, was a whirlwind — from the firing itself to the stories that emerged after. It would be beneficial for everyone involved to just enjoy a drama-free run here for a bit, allow the team to get healthy, settle in (which they seem to be now), and play without distraction. This is still a very, very good hockey team when healthy and they are starting to look like it again.
If you wanted to add a stocking stuffer, I’d throw in a depth forward, too. When the Leafs are fully healthy, Engvall and Moore are bumped to the fourth line and then there is a collection of players vying for that other spot (Frederik Gauthier, Jason Spezza, and Timashov). I think a true defensive forward who they could use up the lineup at certain key times in games would be a nice fit there (similar to what the Penguins did with Matt Cullen or Chicago with John Madden at one point).
– In all three games this past week, the Toronto Maple Leafs started the John Tavares line on shift one along with Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl on defense. Sheldon Keefe has pretty much been doing this for weeks and it looks like this will be the Leafs’ go-to line to start the night and set the tone. It’s important to have consistency in that spot and a trustworthy unit that can get the team into the game. When Tavares was out — as well as Marner — the Leafs tried a few different combinations, including the Matthews line, and there were a number of occasions that they were dominated by the opposition on the first shift of the night. Now, with a relatively healthy team and a trustworthy defense pairing, the coaching staff looks like it generally knows who they are starting the game with. That said, you can’t give up a first-shift breakaway against the Detroit Red Wings.
– Checking ice time around the league, I was a little surprised to see that Morgan Rielly is 10th in total time on ice played (for players), so far this season. The next highest Leaf is Cody Ceci, who ranks 41st in the league. I don’t think many would argue at this point that Rielly is even the best (or most important, perhaps) defenseman on the team; it’s really the two defensemen getting the most responsibility each night. It would also be hard to argue that Ceci is within their top four most important defensemen.
That seems to be evening out a bit now as Ceci played between 19:14 and 20:06 over the past week. Against Calgary and Vancouver in back to back games last week, he was in the 16-minute range. Meanwhile, the Leafs look to be resting Muzzin where possible – he played only 19:58 vs. the Rangers and 17:39 against the Red Wings, but when Barrie went down against the Oilers and it was a tight game, he played 27 minutes.
– Zach Hyman is now tied for second on the team in shorthanded time-on-ice per game (Marner is first). I’ve seen a lot of commentary surrounding the Leafs special teams improving since the coaching change, but a large part of it is simply getting healthy and the personnel improving. Especially on the penalty kill, you can only really coach so much. Players have to know how to read what the opposition is doing in the zone, where to put their stick, how to position themselves, block shots, and so on. Hyman is strong in those areas. He had a great read on the penalty kill against the Rangers to poke the puck out for a breakaway opportunity; he knows how to pick his spots when it comes to whether or not to be aggressive while shorthanded.
– I didn’t think Hyman had that backhand goal in his bag of tricks, though. What a crafty little shot that was. It’s propped up a bit by his three-point night against the Wings, but he has 11 points in 18 games so far this season — is a 50-point pace — although he is shooting 18.6%.
– I pointed out the Leafs having a high forward in the offensive zone in a previous notebook; Ilya Mikheyev made another play there on a give-and-go with Holl leading to an Engvall goal. More than anyone, Mikheyev looks really comfortable at the top of the offensive zone.
It was also noteworthy to see him beat a goalie cleanly (against the Rangers) off the rush as his shot hasn’t generally been that dangerous from distance — if that starts developing, lookout. He has seven goals on the season, including an empty-net goal and a few rebound tap-ins.
– Good on Justin Holl for stepping in after a dangerous hit by Andreas Athanasiou. The game is over, it’s the final minute, and an opponent took a big run at a Leafs player. We’ve seen a few instances where the Leafs haven’t stepped in (including earlier in the week when Travis Dermott was boarded from behind against the Sabres), so it was nice to see it actually happen for once.
– I want to wish Josh Leivo a speedy recovery from a fractured knee cap. He was playing to a 43-point pace and was a solid top-nine forward for the Canucks. I have watched a good number of Vancouver games this season and they have consistently trusted him in big situations, particularly offensively whenever they pulled the goalie to make it a 6v5 situation. I also saw an instance where he was on for a 6v5 defensively, too. After Leafs traded him for Michael Carcone straight up with the coaching staff basically refusing to play him, he has become a legitimate NHL contributor elsewhere.
“It’s definitely a weight off your shoulders. Winning – there’s no better feeling than it.”
– Michael Hutchinson after notching his first win of the season
The nice thing about the win is, even though it came against Detroit, Michael Hutchinson legitimately earned it. He stopped a number of breakaways and it was a genuinely good performance. It’s a shame they couldn’t close out the shutout at the end. It’s nice Hutchinson got the win, but it would be even nicer if he gains some confidence from it and goes on a bit of a run (when he plays), too.
“It is the way that it goes. Some nights, guys are going to play more than others. Obviously, Willy had an outstanding game yesterday and produced a lot for us and was a difference maker for us. Today, it was other guys. That is the way it goes. That’s part of having a team and it is part of an 82-game season. You mix it up back and forth.”
– Sheldon Keefe on benching William Nylander
Well, he’s right and William Nylander did deserve to be benched. I’m curious how this will unfold as time goes on, though. Basically, every coach I’ve ever seen behind the Leafs bench has come out and benched a few players early, and everyone goes, “this is awesome! Players are finally being held accountable and treated fairly!” When that same player gets benched a few more times, inevitably, the narrative changes to coach X hates player Y.
That said, the nonchalant play of Nylander when he tried taking a puck off his skate — leading to a breakaway for the Red Wings — would drive any coach crazy.
“We had the [ping pong] table but it wasn’t really used a lot. So now it’s in the locker room every practice day. Right there [in the middle of the room]. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere, I think. You’re not really walking on eggshells as much.”
– Justin Holl on the culture around the team right now
Obviously, none of us were in the dressing room, but so many players on the team have spoken out with comments that suggest to varying degrees that the room was essentially toxic by the end of Babcock’s tenure.
Tweets of the Week
The last time a player was suspended for a play against a Maple Leaf was Andrew Ference in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Brendan Shanahan was the head of the @NHLPlayerSafety. There has been 225 suspensions in the 7 seasons since. 15 have been Maple Leafs.
— Earl Schwartz (@EarlSchwartz27) December 18, 2019
Interesting thread here. As noted in the replies, technically Matthew Tkachuk was suspended against the Leafs in 2017. The general point stands, though, and it’s pretty clear all the attention the Leafs receive in the media has a negative effect on them in this department.
The Kyle Okposo hit was similar to the one that got Zach Hyman suspended against Boston. He’s a repeat offender, but Nazem Kadri got suspended for four playoff games on a play that had a degree of danger that happens nearly every week in the league (Alexander Kerfoot was not that far from tearing significant ligaments in his knee on Saturday, for instance). I don’t really know the solution to this and this isn’t just a Leafs problem. The league has to be more consistent and accountable, though.
There are teams who wonder if they can pry Gardiner out of Carolina before the Feb. 24 trade deadline because of his usage on the Hurricanes (5th Canes D TOI)… Something to monitor in the second half. On other hand, nice depth/luxury to have for Carolina https://t.co/7y41nQDkXI
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 20, 2019
It has been interesting watching Jake Gardiner from afar this year. He was a lightning rod for debate in Toronto, extremely overvalued by some, and extremely undervalued by others. As is often the case, the truth lied somewhere in the middle of all the noise. In Carolina so far, he’s clearly a third-pairing defender and he’s on pace for under 20 points (which would be a career-low) after signing a 4×4 deal in the summer.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) December 22, 2019
First and foremost, I hope Anthony Mantha is okay. An injury always gets people fired up one way or the other (especially on Twitter). At the end of the day, though, when you throw a clean hit and are approached aggressively, all bets are off and you should prioritize protecting yourself.
There was a somewhat similar incident with Muzzin recently against the Blues where he crushed Jaden Schwartz (on a much better hit, in my opinion) and Brayden Schenn engaged him, but nothing of consequence happened because Muzzin didn’t want to fight. I’m just not sure what you can expect to happen when a player skates towards another and punches him in the face.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1. I think everything has to be taken in perspective when it is a game against the Red Wings, but we’ve been calling for a Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews reunion for quite some time in this space and that was a little preview as to why. As long as the Tavares line is going head to head against top lines (which will always be the case, basically), it makes sense to have Hyman on that line. He’s their best defensive winger. But his forechecking and grunt work does give Matthews a spark. I still think it would be interesting to see Andreas Johnsson paired with Tavares and Marner when he returns. Mikheyev’s play is giving the Leafs options on the left side as well.
2. I think it works out well for the Leafs that they have a back-to-back right after the Christmas break, playing New Jersey followed by the Rangers. That gives the Leafs a chance to get Michael Hutchinson right back into the net to see if he can continue to build off of his win and get himself rolling. Beyond back-to-back situations, they have to actively look for opportunities to put Hutchinson in favourable matchups to rest Frederik Andersen.
3. I think the faster we get over this idea of trying Kasperi Kapanen in the top six, the better. He’s a really nice player due to his speed, forechecking, and his shot. When he’s engaged physically, he’s very noticeable. But he is best suited for the Leafs third line at this point in time. I’d much sooner try any of Mikheyev, Engvall or Moore in the top six.
4. I think Frederik Gauthier just won’t go away — and good for him. He deserves kudos for that. Prior to the past weekend, he had played in the single digits (minutes wise) in six of his last seven, but he was over 10 against New York and Detroit. Keefe noted after the Detroit game that he thought he was going. I’m still unsure if he’s a full-time solution on the fourth line, but to his credit, he has managed to stay in the lineup and make some contributions. He deserves to be in right now.
5. I think the Next Gen Game is a great idea as a creative attempt to introduce new/younger fans to the game and the Leafs. There are three more this season, and it’s a worthy initiative. All for anything that attempts to grow the game.
Habs Headlines: The Canadiens defend decision to select Logan Mailloux – Habs Eyes on the Prize
Jessica Klimkait wins judo bronze to make Canadian history – CBC.ca
Having just lost the most devastating match of her career, a semifinal defeat to go for gold in the women’s under-57 kilogram judo event, Canada’s Jessica Klimkait wasn’t sure initially she could step back out on the mat for another match.
She was heartbroken. The world’s number-one ranked judoka in her weight class, Klimkait imagined a golden moment in Tokyo to end her first Olympic experience.
But there was still a medal up for grabs. It was not the colour Klimkait wanted but it still a chance to step on the podium.
Klimkait cried a bit. She talked to her coach. And then not long after she got back on the mat for her bronze-medal match.
Inside the hallowed Nippon Budokan near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Klimkait showed resilience, power and poise to battle back and win bronze for Canada.
WATCH | Klimkait makes Canadian history, captures Olympic bronze:
Bring on the cheers
Find live streams, must-watch video highlights, breaking news and more in one perfect Olympic Games package. Following Team Canada has never been easier or more exciting.
“Right now I’m going to be emotional about missing that gold medal but I think looking back I’m going to be proud of myself because the last two or three years have been extremely hard,” Klimkait said.
She defeated Slovenian Kaja Kajzer to become the first Canadian woman to land on the Olympic judo podium.
Kosovo’s Nora Gjakova won gold, while France’s Cysique won second. Japan’s Tsukasa Yoshina also won bronze as they award two third-place finishes in judo.
WATCH | Klimkait steps to the podium for her historic medal:
It’s Canada’s first medal in judo since the 2012 Olympics.
“I came here with gold in mind. That was the goal for me,” she said, fighting back tears.
“At the end of the day I’m just happy I was able to collect myself after that loss and come away with a medal.”
Stunning loss in semis
But about an hour earlier Klimkait’s Olympic gold medal dreams were dashed by France’s Sarah Léonie Cysique.
The referee handed Klimkait a third shido, or penalty, after a failed attack. That gave Cysique a stunning win.
“I’m a really offensive player. The only solution that I had was that I was trying to attack. I kept trying to attack. Some of them were not as great as they could have been,” Klimkait conceded.
Klimkait, 24, had to battle through four matches on Monday to secure the bronze, including the demoralizing semifinal.
“I just used all my mental strength that I could and kept it about trying to perform in the bronze medal match despite my emotions and some physical fatigue,” she said.
WATCH | Klimkait reflects on her historic medal for Canada:
Klimkait, from Whitby, Ont., has been carving a new path in the sport for Canada over the past number of years, alongside world No. 2, Canadian Christa Deguchi.
But it wasn’t a completely smooth journey for Klimkait in becoming Olympic champion.
Just before the pandemic hit in March 2020 and COVID-19 shut down sports around the world, Klimkait and Deguchi were months away from a fight-off for Canada’s lone Olympic quota spot, and then Klimkait suffered a knee injury.
The pandemic pause was a blessing for Klimkait as she was able to rest and recover. She told CBC Sports that if she wouldn’t have gotten the time off, she wouldn’t have been able to train properly and would have lost the fight-off – that would have ended her Olympic dream.
WATCH | Sport Explainer – Judo:
With only one Olympic spot available per country per event in judo, it had been decided that whoever of the two finished higher at the 2021 worlds would get Canada’s 57kg berth.
In early June, Klimkait defeated Momo Tamaoki of Japan by waza-ari in the world final, becoming Canada’s second world champion in the sport after Deguchi won in 2019.
Klimkait won the world championship and booked her ticket to Tokyo. Deguchi finished fourth.
“The last two or three years have been really uncertain for me in trying to qualify for the Olympics,” Klimkait said.
“I had to tuck the dream of the Olympics away and try to get better at judo for a while. I just did my best to be the best player I could and hoped that would be enough for qualification.”
WATCH | Klimkait wins judo world championship gold, qualifies for Tokyo:
It was somewhat of a full-circle moment for the Canadian judo program – Canada’s first judo medal was won inside the same Budokan venue at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo by Doug Rogers, taking the heavyweight silver.
It would take two decades before Canada would win another judo medal, as Mark Berger won heavyweight bronze at the 1984 Games.
Coming into these Games in Tokyo, Canada had won two silver medals and three bronze medals.
Canada hadn’t won an Olympic medal in judo for nine years.
But Klimkait has ended the drought in the same place judo became an Olympic sport.
“That’s been a goal and dream of mine not only to attend the Olympic Games but to be on the podium. Obviously the highest step on the podium would have been preferred,” she said.
“I still wanted to feel that pride even if it wasn’t gold.”
Habs draft pick Logan Mailloux’s sharing of intimate photo raises questions about accountability, experts say – The Globe and Mail
The decision by the Montreal Canadiens to select a junior hockey player who shared explicit images without his sexual partner’s consent – and had asked not to be picked while he works on improving his character – has provoked a backlash inside and outside the hockey world.
The Canadiens used their first pick from among dozens of National Hockey League prospects to take Logan Mailloux, an Ontario defenceman who played in Sweden last season on loan from his Canadian junior team, the London Knights.
Mr. Mailloux, who has turned 18 since the 2020 incident, was playing with SK Lejon in Sweden’s third division last fall when he sent images to teammates of the sexual encounter, along with information that identified his female partner.
He was charged with distributing a sexual photo without consent in Sweden and paid fines amounting to $5,300. When news of the incident broke in North America last week on sports site Daily Faceoff, Mr. Mailloux released a statement asking NHL teams to avoid drafting him. “I don’t feel I have demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege in the 2021 draft,” he said.
The NHL has no mechanism for players to withdraw their candidacy. Mr. Mailloux was passed over by all other NHL teams with picks in the first round before the Canadiens made their choice.
Tara Slone, co-host of the weekly Rogers Hometown Hockey on Sportsnet, said she was disappointed and disgusted by the Canadiens and team general manager Marc Bergevin.
“It’s sort of jaw-dropping. You start thinking things are improving and the needle is moving a little bit, and we take a bunch of steps backward,” Ms. Slone said in an interview. “I quite frankly found it baffling and heartbreaking at the same time. As a woman who works in hockey, I could not comprehend the decision.”
Ms. Slone said many of the men who run hockey “know they can get away with it and hockey trumps everything. It’s consequence-free.”
Elliotte Friedman, Ms. Slone’s Sportsnet colleague, said she was far from alone in her dismay. People around the hockey world, including him, “felt sick to their stomachs” after the pick, he said. “It put a stain on what was a really good week for the sport,” Mr. Friedman said on his podcast. Hockey media stalwarts from TSN, including Craig Button and Bob McKenzie, also expressed shock and dismay.
Farrah Khan, manager of Consent Comes First, a support organization against sexual and gender violence at Ryerson University in Toronto, said the Canadiens showed a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of consent in brushing aside the incident and the player’s wish to be left alone to sort out his issues.
She questioned what the Canadiens have in place to help the player. “We know there’s a problem with misogyny in sports. He is one player of many across sports teams that have caused sexual harm. What are the Canadiens doing concretely to address the issue?” Ms. Khan said.
The Canadiens did not respond to the question Sunday.
Mr. Bergevin, the general manager, justified the choice on the weekend, saying the team would be able to “provide [Mailloux] the tools” to address his behaviour. Assistant general manager Trevor Timmins said Mr. Mailloux meets with “a lady psychiatrist a couple times a week” and will be welcomed to training camp before the next season. The team has a plan, he said.
“We feel he is sincere in his redemption quest,” Mr. Timmins said. “We believe in giving people second chances.”
Mr. Mailloux told reporters Saturday he will try to take advantage of resources offered by the Canadiens. He also said he has apologized several times to his victim. “At this point I hope she knows I am sincere about this. I am really sorry,” he said.
The victim in the case wrote to The Athletic site last week to say Mr. Mailloux’s apology was a three-line text, and she didn’t believe it was sincere. “I do not think that Logan has understood the seriousness of his behaviour,” she said. “All I wanted was a heartfelt apology for his behaviour.”
Ms. Slone of Sportsnet said the Canadiens failed to take the victim into account in their selection. “There isn’t much attention paid to her side.”
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