The Toronto Marlies are the primary development program for the Toronto Maple Leafs, so it makes sense to stay up-to-date with what’s happening within their AHL affiliate. This is especially true regarding the players the Marlies are signing because they might soon make their way to the Maple Leafs’ roster.
In fact, at the end of the 2019-20 regular season, nine players who “developed” with the Marlies were in Toronto including Travis Dermott, Pierre Engvall, Justin Holl, Zach Hyman, Martin Marincin, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Calle Rosen, and Rasmus Sandin. Frederik Gauthier was also included in this group, but he wasn’t qualified by the team.
In addition, because Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas must plan for a 2020-21 season that’s still in the shadows, he’s become even more creative in how he utilizes the Maple Leafs and the Marlies as a way to rest players and take advantage of the organization’s depth by setting up a revolving door between the two clubs.
In some cases, this would allow for greater movement – much of it waiver-exempt – between the NHL and the AHL teams and assigning contracts to the Marlies means they don’t count against the Maple Leafs’ cap.
Item One: Marlies Sign Scott Sabourin to an AHL Contract
Last week, the Marlies signed Scott Sabourin to an AHL contract. Sabourin is not a new name. In fact, he was one of the feel-good stories of last season when, after playing with eight different minor-league teams, he finally made his NHL debut at the age of 27. He played 35 games with the Ottawa Senators during the 2019-20 season, scoring two goals and four assists.
Sabourin has played in 308 AHL regular-season games with five teams (the Manchester Monarchs, Iowa Wild, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, and the Stockton Heat) and scored 77 points (37 goals, 40 assists) He could rise to take a spot on the Maple Leafs’ roster; but, having an AHL contract is limiting. Specifically, his contract does not allow him to be called up unless the Maple Leafs sign him to an NHL contract when he arrives in Toronto.
Item Two: Long-Time Marlie Richard Clune Returns to the Team
Richard Clune signed a one-year AHL contract with the Marlies. Clune scored three goals and four points in 16 AHL contests in 2019-20. Although the 33-year-old has played 139 NHL games during his career, he hasn’t skated for an NHL team since 2015-16.
Clune has been a good soldier for the Marlies and is valuable in an on-ice leadership capacity. During his five Marlies seasons as an alternate captain, he’s scored 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists) in 164 regular-season games. He’s a native of Toronto and helped the Marlies win the 2018 Calder Cup.
Since he was selected by the Dallas Stars in the third round (71st overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Clune has played more than 600 games at the NHL and AHL levels. He’s been a mainstay on the Marlies for several seasons, and it’s good to see him re-signed.
Item Three: Rourke Chartier Signs a One-Year AHL Contract with the Marlies.
Rourke Chartier is another depth forward general manager Dubas has signed. At 24 years old, he has played a lot of hockey; however, injuries didn’t allow him to play at all during the 2019-20 season. By signing Chartier, Dubas is taking a chance the young player can get his career back on track.
During the 2018-19 season, he split time with the San Jose Sharks and their AHL affiliate the San Jose Barracuda. He scored a goal in 13 games with the Sharks and six goals and 18 points in 26 games with the Barracuda. In total, the native of Saskatoon has played 121-career AHL regular-season games, scoring 74 points (30 goals, 44 assists).
Similar to several other Dubas signees, Chartier has a history of on-ice leadership. He played for the Kelowna Rockets when they won the 2014-15 WHL Championship and served as an alternate captain for two seasons.
Item Four: The Marlies Sign forward Tyler Gaudet to a One-Year AHL Contract
The 27-year-old Tyler Gaudet signed a one-year contract. Gaudet is not a new player with the Marlies. He played in 58 games during the 2019-20 season and scored four goals and 17 assists. He’s a long-time AHL player and, during his 356 regular-season AHL games, Gaudet has scored 43 goals and 86 assists (129 points).
Gaudet is a native of southern Ontario (Hamilton) and has NHL experience, playing in 20 career NHL regular-season games with the Arizona Coyotes, where he scored a goal and three assists.
Item Five: The Marlies Sign Defenceman Riley McCourt to a Two-Year AHL Contract
In signing Riley McCourt, Dubas might be looking for an uncut gem. The 20-year-old, left-shot defenseman went undrafted but has slowly risen through the junior ranks. Last season, he began to see success. McCourt played 63 games with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds and recorded a career-high 18 goals and 44 assists (62 points) which ranked fifth among OHL defensemen in scoring.
He, too, is a southern Ontario native (St. Catharines) and, during his five-season OHL career, he’s played 175 games and scored 30 goals and 87 assists with both the Firebirds and the Hamilton Bulldogs. He might be a fun youngster to watch because he’s showing some offensive potential.
What Might Be After the Marlies?
Dubas has inked all of these players to AHL contracts, largely for salary-cap reasons which allows the Maple Leafs to ascribe their contracts to the Marlies and not the Maple Leafs. Should any of them be called up to Toronto, they’d have to sign NHL contracts.
When next season begins to unfold – in whatever shape that might be – it’ll be interesting to see if any of these players or who will rise to the big club’s roster. There are always injuries, and Dubas has a way of stockpiling both younger and experienced talent in his organization as a way to help.
As noted, there are a number of Marlies grads who have made a big impact on the Maple Leafs, not the least of which are two current stars – William Nylander and Morgan Rielly.
Even in a condensed season, with rotation aplenty as travel and fixture congestion forced MLS clubs to rely on the depth of their squads, Toronto FC talisman Alejandro Pozuelo started all 25 of his club’s matches in 2020.
Pozuelo started the year on fire but didn’t quite live up to his lofty standards at the end of the season and failed to make an impact as Toronto lost to Nashville SC in Round One of the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
The finalist and favorite for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award revealed he was carrying an injury towards the end of the season.
“Physically, I feel good but in the last games I had some problem in my leg,” Pozuelo told media on a virtual press conference. “The last two or three weeks I played through an injury but nobody knew because we tried to force through the last month. This is not an excuse. I play a lot of games because I want to play, I felt good enough to play. When I don’t feel good, I say no. But I felt good (enough to play).”
Pozuelo had just one goal and no assists in his final six games, including the playoff loss, after eight goals and 10 assists in the first 19 games of the season.
“The MVP (award) is not important for me,” Pozuelo said. “We lost in the first round, we don’t feel good. We know we could have done more, we have more expectations in this team. The MVP is not important, I feel no good when we lose in the first round.”
Toronto persevered a difficult season, most spent away from home. With difficulties between the United States-Canada border with quarantine guidelines brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto spent the second half of their season playing “at home” in Connecticut. A number of players noted how difficult it was to be away from families but didn’t want to blame that on their disappointment in the playoffs.
“This season was tough for everybody, but we tried to do our job,” defender Chris Mavinga said. “It wasn’t easy but I think we did well. We didn’t do it in the playoffs, but we have to be proud what we did in the regular season, then learn from it so we can do better next season.”
Toronto are now focused on the offseason and returning strong in 2021.
“I want to play on a good team, I want us to have as many good players as possible,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “As many competitors as possible, a team that steps on the field and goes for it every single weekend. That’s all I want. When you look at the club’s track record in the types of players and personalities they’ve brought in, by and large, it’s been quite good.”
NEW YORK — The Baltimore Ravens’ bout with a COVID-19 outbreak has forced the NFL to postpone the team’s trip to Pittsburgh for a second time.
The league announced Friday the Ravens (6-4) against the unbeaten Steelers (10-0) will now take place on Tuesday night. The game was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving, then moved to Sunday afternoon after an initial wave of players on the Ravens tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Additional positive tests, a group that reportedly includes Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, have forced the Ravens (6-4) to prepare virtually all week.
The postponement forced the NFL to move Dallas’ visit to Baltimore next week from Thursday to Monday, Dec. 7. The unbeaten Steelers (10-0) will now have a short week to prepare for a visit from the Washington Football Team (4-7) on Dec. 6.
The game — if it happens — will be the second Tuesday game played in the NFL this season. Tennessee played at Buffalo on Tuesday, Oct. 13 following the Titans’ bout with COVID-19 in early October forced a reshuffling of the schedule that included moving Pittsburgh’s visit to Tennessee from Oct. 4 to Oct. 25.
One of Toronto FC’s biggest stars isn’t thinking about whether or not he’ll be named the league’s most valuable player this season. After all, while some other nominees are still fighting for Major League Soccer’s top prize, Alejandro Pozuelo and his teammates are already back home. “For me, the MVP, it’s not important,” the 29-year-old Spaniard said on a video call Friday. “I feel no good when we lose in the first round (of the playoffs).”Toronto appeared poised for a long playoff run after finishing the regular-season campaign with a 13-5-5 record, second best in the league. But the club’s year came to an abrupt end Tuesday when it lost 1-0 in overtime to expansion side Nashville SC in East Hartford, Conn.Three days later, the result is still “bitter,” and the players feel some guilt because they know they could have gone further, said goalkeeper Quentin Westberg. “It stays and it sticks and it’s going to be hard to wash off,” he said.The disappointing finish punctuated a long, hard season that saw Toronto’s players and staff face unprecedented challenges, from injuries and a condensed schedule to months spent on the road and games in empty stadiums. The uncertainty of 2020 has been difficult for everyone, said midfielder Jonathan Osorio, including professional athletes who saw seasons come to a screeching halt in March as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in North America. “You’re dealing with a lot of things that happen so quickly but so slowly at the same time,” he said. “It was tough.”TFC played just one game in front of fans at BMO Field before the hiatus. When play resumed, it was in a bubble near Orlando, Fla., with the MLS is Back tournament, followed by an all-Canadian nine-game series in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Then, in mid-September, border restrictions forced all three Canadian clubs to move south. TFC set up a temporary home in East Hartford.“You had to have a lot of patience this year, I think. It was tough,” Osorio said. “It was tough to get your body ready for games and then stop for long periods of times and then start again so quickly. An overall tough year for everybody.” A wave of injuries also impacted Toronto. Star striker Jozy Altidore and veteran defender Justin Morrow both missed time, and captain Michael Bradley was twice sidelined, first by an ankle injury and then by a knee sprain. Going through surgery, rehab and training was difficult, Bradley said.“It’s a frustrating year from a personal standpoint,” said the 33-year-old midfielder. “It was a crazy year. That’s not meant in any way to be an excuse. It’s just reality.”Pozuelo revealed Friday that he, too, had dealt with a leg injury through the final two or three weeks of the season. He did not detail the nature of the injury but said he and the club kept it quiet because he wanted to continue playing. “This is no excuse,” he said. “I play a lot of games because I want to play. And I feel good (to) play.”Pozuelo saw action in all 23 of Toronto’s regular-season games, and was on the field for the full 120 minutes of Tuesday’s playoff loss.He led TFC in scoring with nine goals and 10 assists, and was tied with two other players for most assists in MLS through the regular season. The MLS pandemic-condensed schedule, which saw most teams play two games a week, was hard on the athletes’ bodies, Pozuelo said.“In football, I learned that we cannot play every three or four days because we kill the players,” he said. “It’s difficult. It’s difficult to play every two, three, four days.”Now that the season has ended, Bradley is looking forward to training consistently and pushing himself physically. He said the off-season will be the first time all year that he’s been able to work out for more than four or five weeks in a row. “I feel good. I feel strong,” he said. The prospect of an indefinite off-season kept TFC centre back Omar Gonzalez up Thursday night. It’s hard to know how to prepare when you don’t know when you’ll play your next game, he explained. “We have to be ready to fight for another trophy at the beginning of the year, whenever it comes,” he said. “So we have to be ready. I want to be ready for my teammates, for my team.” After everything the club went through in 2020, being ousted from the playoffs in the first round hurts, Gonzalez said, particularly because TFC is a club that sets its standards high. But he hopes the season of adversity will hold some lessons moving forward. “It’s definitely a year that we’ll look back on and take a lot from,” Gonzalez said. “Because I think we have a lot of strong people on this team. And I think there’ll be a lot of growth from this year.”This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020.Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
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