The Toronto Maple Leafs kept their hot streak going by winning 4-1 against the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Eve. Instead of falling behind and then valiantly coming from behind, this time the team took a lead and held it. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Alexander Kerfoot, and John Tavares scored, with Matthews and Nylander each also adding an assist. Frederik Andersen was on his game and made 26 saves.
The Maple Leafs are doing something – well, almost everything – right recently and are 7-0-1 in their last eight games. In fact, the team has won 13 of 18 games since Sheldon Keefe took over as head coach.
As the team flies into Winnipeg to play the Jets, there are a number of news items and rumors surrounding the organization. In this post, I want to help Maple Leafs fans keep up with some of them.
Item One: Andersen and Matthews Make the 2020 NHL All-Star Squad
The Maple Leafs announced that goaltender Frederik Andersen and center Auston Matthews were named to the Atlantic Division team for the 2020 All-Star Game.
This is Andersen’s first All-Star nomination after seven NHL seasons. Andersen is first in the NHL in wins and shots against and second in games started. It will be Matthews’ fourth All-Star Game. Matthews has had a great season and has scored 27 goals and 21 assists in 41 games. Unless something odd happens, he’ll break the 50-goal mark for the first time in his NHL career.
Item Two: Sheldon Keefe’s Coaching Has Translated to On-Ice Success
The Maple Leafs are 7-0-1 in their last eight games and have won 13 of 18 games since Sheldon Keefe took over as coach.
What’s working for Keefe? As team captain John Tavares suggests, “I think we’re starting to have a really good feel of the way we want to play. We can still be better, but certainly, I think the things he’s implemented have really translated well with the skill-set of our team, the type of players we have and his message.”
Alexander Kerfoot talks about the team’s confidence: “Whether we’re up in a game, down in a game, we believe we can beat anyone, and we believe we’re going to find a way to win in any situation. When you got that attitude and that belief, it can go a long way.”
Item Three: Elliotte Friedman’s Talks about Jeremy Bracco
In a recent 31 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman shared an interesting story about Jeremy Bracco.
While Friedman was attending Game 7 of the Calder Cup Final in 2018 (the game where Toronto beat Texas for the championship), he ran into long-time and still-current Toronto Marlies’ player Rich Clune during an intermission. Clune wasn’t dressed for the game and, when speaking to Friedman, pointed to the person standing next to him and asked, “Have you ever met Jeremy Bracco?”
Friedman hadn’t, and Clune told him, “You’re going to see plenty of him.”
Bracco wasn’t an integral part of the Marlies roster during that championship run; however, he finished second in AHL scoring last season and is playing well this season. However, as Friedman notes, his NHL path has been “blocked by some elite, elite skill (on the Maple Leafs) and he wants to see if there’s a better opportunity somewhere else.”
General manager Kyle Dubas is good about accommodating players in this position, and he did so last season by trading Josh Leivo to the Vancouver Canucks. Friedman is curious to see what the market is for Bracco and wonders if he might become part of a bigger deal. He added that Ben Harpur and Dmytro Timashov had also asked the organization to check around for them to see if another team might offer them a better chance for more ice time.
Item Four: Justin Holl Signs 3-Year Contract Extension
Justin Holl signed a three-year, $6 million contract extension with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 31. Holl’s been playing regularly on the team’s bottom-four defense this season and has averaged 16:27 of ice time. He’s also set career highs with 10 assists and 11 points in 39 games.
Obviously, the organization is pleased with his play and has decided the 27-year-old Minnesota native will fill a role on defense for the next three seasons.
Item Five: Maple Leafs Have Five Forwards in the Top 100 Fantasy Forwards
I don’t write much about fantasy hockey, but I found it a testimony to the team’s skill level when I saw that five Maple Leafs’ forwards placed in the Top 100 of the fantasy forwards.
Those five players were center Matthews at No. 11, right-winger Mitch Marner at No. 13, center John Tavares at No. 21, right-winger William Nylander at No. 60, and left-winger Zach Hyman just squeaking in at No. 99.
Item Six: Rasmus Sandin’s WJC Injury Isn’t Serious
Rasmus Sandin left Dec. 31’s game at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship after he was slashed on the arm. He was taken for X-rays, and the good news is that those X-rays showed no break. In fact, he was back skating on Jan. 1 and will play in the next game.
Sandin’s status was confirmed on Jan. 1. Team Sweden meets the host Czech Republic in the quarterfinals on Jan 2, and the news is that Sandin will be able to play in the medal rounds. There’s a chance he will be recalled to the Maple Leafs when he gets back from the tournament next week. This season he’s scored 12 points in 19 games with the Marlies.
Item Seven: Maple Leafs Move Up in CBS’s NHL Power Rankings
The most recent CBS Sports power rankings saw the Maple Leafs move up four spots from No. 11 to No. 7. The note on that site’s rankings was interesting: “Try to avoid Boston in the first round at all costs. Then perhaps maybe consider not ending the season in the most gut-wrenching fashion possible.” The writer outlined the team’s angst well.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs play the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 2. The Jets had been struggling and are 2-5-1 in their last eight games. However, Kyle Connor scored a hat trick to help beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-4 on New Year’s Eve.
Should the Maple Leafs win, they would be 8-0-1 in their last nine games. That’s a hot streak, and it’s moved them into second place in the Atlantic Division.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf