The Toronto Maple Leafs defence has been called a lot of things. Mostly it’s been called bad or at least not good enough. It’s still a stigma the team holds today. Their Achilles’ Heel may actually be back-up goaltending this season, although Michael Hutchinson played superbly Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings. In reality, the Toronto Maple Leafs defence isn’t that bad. In fact, they’re kind of good.
Toronto Maple Leafs Defence Is Good And Getting Better
While the Tyson Barrie trade is still debatable, Kyle Dubas undoubtedly traded from an area of strength to an area of weakness and that part still holds. Was it an equal value trade? Nazem Kadri is on pace for near 30 goals with the Colorado Avalanche and Barrie got off to a rough start this season but has seemed to improve since Sheldon Keefe took over behind the bench.
Barrie is on pace for only 33 points this season. That would be his worst since his first season in which he had zero points in ten games. Still, this team is better with Barrie than without, and Barrie will likely fully return to his old self in due time. He has eight points since Keefe took over, that’s a pace of 46 points in a full season.
Barrie regaining his offensive edge isn’t the only way he helps this team. His Corsi For is 56.1 percent this season and his relative Corsi For is 5.1. He may not be a world-class defender, but he’s not a liability, which is not something every player to don the uniform in recent years can say.
The Other New Addition
I suppose I can’t just exclude Cody Ceci from this article. He’s the other new addition to the team this season. He’s looked decent at times, but rarely does it seem he puts together a full 60 minutes. It may be ‘whipping boy syndrome’, but Ceci just isn’t worth the $4.5 he’s getting paid. Not when the team could really use that space in other areas.
Ceci has the worst Corsi rating of all defencemen in Toronto at 49.6. That’s better than five of his six years with the Ottawa Senators, but there’s no way to say he’s anything other than a third-pairing guy getting paid top-four money. That’s not a good fit for a cap-strapped team. Still, he’s got a better Corsi rating than both Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev did last year, and this year. If you want to feel better about Ceci, check Hainsey and Zaitsev‘s numbers this year.
Youth Getting Better Every Day
It’s hard to call Justin Holl young at 27 years old, but since he’s only played 48 career NHL games, it still fits. Holl has quietly turned into a valuable shutdown defender for the Maple Leafs. He’s paired with Jake Muzzin at the moment and the two have become a very reliable pair.
Holl is also a right-side defender. The Maple Leafs’ lack of a quality defender on the right side has been a sore point in Leafland for years now. Holl appears to be part of the answer. Between him and Barrie, the Maple Leafs are no longer desperate for a top-four right-handed defenceman. That’s a major improvement for Toronto from a couple of years ago.
The next wave of youth is still playing with the Toronto Marlies, but both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren have looked good this season. Liljegren has 16 points in 25 games while Sandin, currently on loan to Team Sweden for the World Junior Championships, has 12 points in 19 games. Sandin has two assists in six games for the Maple Leafs this season too. Both will be favourites to make the team out of training camp next season. More on that later.
Travis Dermott has been steadily growing into his role in Toronto. He’s playing bottom-pairing minutes and doing well, but there’s more to see from Dermott. He could probably be a top-four player on another team. One that doesn’t have Morgan Rielly and Muzzin ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s not as flashy as Rielly but can be a steady player that excels at getting the puck out of his own zone and up to the forwards. If he had more minutes and more time in offensive situations, his offensive numbers would probably be much better. He missed the first month of the season as well, which can be tough to recover from.
He’s not an overly physical player, but he’s been noticeable in recent games on the ‘heart’ front. He is currently responsible for half of the Maple Leafs fights this season, that’s one out of two for those keeping score. He also took a ten-minute misconduct penalty for banging his stick against the boards after the Red Wings scored on a questionable power-play opportunity last night. The refs took exception to him calling them out. That kind of spirit is something the Maple Leafs have lacked at times. They could use it now with no Kadri on the team. Dermott doesn’t seem the sort to be suspended halfway through a playoff series so he’s got that going for him too.
More To Come
It’s hard not to believe Dubas is looking to trade Ceci. There are cheaper players that can play as well as him on the third pair. There are better players out there making less money that can play as well as Ceci. It’s possible Dubas just can’t get rid of that contract easily. If he does, it frees him up to use that money to acquire another, better defenseman. Perhaps again trading from an area of strength, the forwards. There’s a lot of interest in Kasperi Kapanen apparently.
Briefly looking ahead to next season, the Maple Leafs will be in tough to re-sign everyone. Rielly is the only player signed for next season from the current Maple Leafs defence corps. Holl and Dermott will return, but the Maple Leafs will probably lose one or both of Muzzin and Barrie. They’ll definitely move on from Ceci and that will free up a lot of cap space for replacements. It also opens the door for Sandin and Liljegren, but that’s a lot of inexperience on the blue line. It all points to Dubas adding another, experienced player to the group. The only question is if he’ll be able to do it this season or will he have to wait till the off-season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs blueline is looking pretty good these days.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – OCTOBER 12: Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his third period goal with Tyson Barrie #94 while playing the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on October 12, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Toronto won the game 5-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Jake Muzzin strikes nerve with Matthew Tkachuk, earns retribution for Maple Leafs – Yahoo Canada Sports
World Junior champion. World champion. Olympic champion. Three-time Brier champion. The list of accomplishments for Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue is lengthy. There isn’t anything left in curling for him to win. He’s done it all. Now in the winter of his career, the 40-year-old, who’s preparing to head to Calgary next month for upwards of eight weeks to compete in a number of bonspiels, is heading back to class. Gushue is the early days of working towards his Masters of Business at Queen’s University. “I’m a sucker for punishment I think. It just felt like the right time,” Gushue said. “I don’t think I would have done this if the pandemic wasn’t here and didn’t have the curling season we’ve had.” Sitting around and thinking about things isn’t something Gushue particularly enjoys. He’s a perfectionist on the ice — early in his career he’d throw more than 100 rocks a day. That changed when curling great Kevin Martin told him to tone it down. So when there was some down time this past summer in the midst of an incessant pandemic, Gushue started to think about life after curling in a way he hasn’t before, and decided on going back to class. “I was kind of thinking post-curling career, whether that’s in a year in a half, five and a half years or nine and a half years, what do I want to transfer into?” he told CBC Sports from his home in St. John’s, N.L. “As a business owner right now, there were a lot of positives to doing this. I guess the downside is that for this next year I’m going to be pretty busy and have to get back to studying, which I haven’t done in 17 years. Gushue is co-owner with teammate Mark Nichols of Orange Theory Fitness studio in St. John’s. Out of his comfort zone All those years ago Gushue got his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Memorial University. It’s been a long time since he’s been in this type of setting. He’s certainly out of his comfort zone — in the rings and in the hack — and now fully immersed in the books. The only thing he’s finding some sort of resemblance to curling is the team aspect of the program. Gushue says about 50 per cent of the course is team-based learning. During their first meeting Gushue says some of his team members recognized him. Others didn’t, but quickly googled who he was. “Then the questions came,” he said, laughing. “It’s been interesting.” Gushue says his six other team members, many who are fresh off their first degree, have been a massive support system so far. The skip is used to calling the shots, confident in his every move. That’s not the case on this school-studying team. “I feel like I’m the weak link. I’d be fifth if this was a curling team. No disrespect to fifths,” he said. “I wouldn’t be throwing the last rock. Let’s just say that.” WATCH | Breaking down Calgary curling bubble: Brier schedule Gushue, like he does before any major competition, has mapped out what his Brier schedule and school schedule are, and how much time he’ll be able to put into his studies while trying to win a fourth national championship. In the beginning of the event he says he’ll probably put about two hours a day into his studies between or after games to end the day. The ideal plan for Gushue is to win the Brier, play in the mixed doubles national championship, play in the men’s world championship and then stay a little longer to compete in the two Grand Slam events — he then has to quarantine for two weeks when he returns to St. John’s. It’ll be a long haul but Gushue takes comfort in knowing he’s using that time effectively by working towards a master’s degree. “When I went into this I spoke to the director and I talked to him about my priorities in trying to get back to the Olympics,” Gushue said. “It shouldn’t conflict with any classes.” His classes are every second Sunday and Monday. Curling championships are played on Sundays. Gushue won’t say what championship event and classes could collide, not wanting to jinx it, but he insists they’ve talked about a plan should it come to that. “That’s a problem I’m willing to entertain.”
BBWAA rejects Schilling's removal request – TSN
Curt Schilling’s request to be removed from Baseball Hall of Fame consideration appears to be heading for rejection.
A day after the three-time World Series champion asked to have his name taken off the ballot for 2022 following his failure to reach Cooperstown for a ninth time, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America released a statement saying that such an accommodation cannot be made and is a violation of the rules set forth by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s board of directors.
Statement from BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell… pic.twitter.com/NoG1Z84TZV
— BBWAA (@officialBBWAA) January 27, 2021
The BBWAA secretary Jack O’Connell cited one rule in particular that would prevent Schilling’s wish from being granted:
“The duty of the Screening Committee shall be to prepare a ballot listing in alphabetical order eligible candidates who (1) received a vote on a minimum of five percent (5%) of the ballots cast in the preceding election or (2) are eligible for the first time and are nominated by any two of the six members of the BBWAA Screening Committee.”
Schilling appeared on 71.1 per cent of ballots, falling 16 votes shy of the 75 per-cent threshold. The BBWAA urges the board to leave the six-time All-Star on the ballot for his final year of eligibility in 2022.
The Hall of Fame assigned the BBWAA to be the electorate in 1936,” O’Connell said. “This association has abided by the rules for 85 years and shall continue to do so. The BBWAA urges the board to reject Mr. Schilling’s request.”
Schilling’s candidacy has been a controversial one because of the views espoused by the 54-year-old right-hander in retirement.
A staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, Schilling voiced support for the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, causing a number of Hall of Fame voters to ask if their votes for Schilling could be rescinded.
Along with Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will also appear on the ballot for the final time in 2022.
Schilling is not the first person to ask to have his name removed from the ballot.
In 2009, after falling a single vote short of Cooperstown, former MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller asked to be taken off the 2010 ballot.
“Many years ago, those who control the Hall of Fame decided to re-write history instead of recording it,” Miller said at the time. “The aim was to eradicate the tremendous impact the players union on the progress and the development of the game as a competitive sport, as entertainment and as an industry.”
Miller would finally be elected to Cooperstown in 2019, seven years after his death in 2012.
Tkachuk-Muzzin fireworks add new chapter to Flames’ growing rivalry with Leafs – Sportsnet.ca
CALGARY – On his knees at the final buzzer, crushed by the Flames’ second loss in a row, Matthew Tkachuk had hockey’s version of sand kicked in his face.
Standing a few feet away from the Flames agitator, Jake Muzzin turned and deliberately flipped the puck at Tkachuk’s chest, punctuating the Leafs’ 4-3 win with a big ol’ middle finger.
Given Tkachuk’s penchant for perturbing, there aren’t many players in the league who wouldn’t love sending a similar message his way.
Infuriated at the disrespect, Tkachuk sprung to his feet and immediately launched into the Leafs veteran, doing his best to square off with Muzzin while other Leafs and an official stepped in to separate them.
For his efforts, Muzzin was handed a meaningless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, while an enraged Tkachuk stormed down the tunnel to the dressing room, attempting to smash several water bottles along the way.
What a shame these two don’t play again until Feb. 22.
Not just because it’s now clear the Leafs really did take exception to Tkachuk’s fall on Jack Campbell’s back a game earlier after all, but because the two just engaged in a whale of a see-saw battle.
Now we know there’s some juice in this matchup.
All it really ever takes is a little familiarity with Tkachuk for an opponent to start digging in against him. The Leafs and Flames are now building that animosity, with a full seven games left in their season series.
Don’t forget who Muzzin played alongside for many years in Los Angeles – yes, the man who Tkachuk has had a very public, running feud with: Drew Doughty.
You can bet that Doughty’s evening ended with a text to his old pal that included a string of supportive emojis.
As bush and symbolic as a puck flip into an opponent’s chest is, it sets the stage for more wonderful theatre and storylines when the two next meet. That’s what this North Division could – and should — be all about: vitriol, animosity, payback and passion.
On Tuesday, the game itself was entertaining, and that can normally carry the day. But the NHL is in the entertainment business and few things in sport are more entertaining than conflict.
As far as the game went, the Flames pulled another first-period no-show, outshot 10-1 and lucky to trail just 2-0 thanks to their new nightly saviour, Jacob Markstrom.
The Flames flipped the script in the second, outshooting the visitors 18-5 to set up a third period in which they bridged their 3-2 deficit with a tying goal from Johnny Gaudreau, his second of the game.
Although league scoring leader Mitch Marner would eventually break the deadlock with a snipe from the high slot that won the game with eight minutes left, nobody was feeling it more than Gaudreau on this night.
As part of a solid start to his season, Gaudreau had his first two-goal game since Dec. 12, 2019.
Alas, as usually happens when the Leafs win, Toronto’s big boys were the difference. Marner and Matthews both had a goal and a helper to clinch a two-game sweep over a Calgary club that spent the bulk of both games playing catch-up.
“First period was awful for the whole team, other than Marky,” said Gaudreau, slumped in his chair.
“We just didn’t show up in the first. Not the way we’re going to win games.”
The Flames can take solace in the fact that for the third time this season they followed up a horrific period with a doozy. But there wasn’t much else to take away from a game in which Geoff Ward’s defensive demands were ignored with regularity.
“We didn’t start on time, that’s for sure,” said Ward. “We got outworked early and we were really porous. We looked like we’d never tracked before in our life. Everything we do has to come from the fact we can check. You can’t give up four goals in this league regularly and expect to win games. We have to be committed to being good away from the puck.”
But nobody will be talking about that on Wednesday, as the Flames make their way to Montreal to play the red-hot Habs.
They’ll discuss the pettiness of a puck flip, the possibility of payback and the reality that we may just get playoff-type hostility long before the post-season begins.
For that we can thank Mr. Muzzin and Mr. Tkachuk, who’s next time together in the sandbox is already being discussed.
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