The beginning of 2019 has been rough to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that was running away with points for the first 3 months of the season, has now hit a wall leading them to drop 7 of their last 10 games. But Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas says he isn’t concerned with how the team is playing right now:
“I think especially with our group being a younger group where the core of the guys is young, it’s just a great opportunity for them to show how they can lead the group out of it and develop their own leadership.” (x)
Dubas cancelled practice on Tuesday, January 22nd in favor for holding a press conference. Sidenote: One of my personal favorite quotes from the day is “I have a real smartass answer to give you, but I won’t tell it.”
Dubas touched base on all the big topics concerning the Leafs at the moment: their current losing stint, Auston Matthews‘ and Mitch Marner‘s contracts, and what’s going on in the front office as the trade deadline nears.
As mentioned before, Dubas isn’t too worried about the recent games that have been lost, he’s more focused on this season as a whole. Definitely a positive thing to focus on, seeing as the Leafs are 2nd in the Atlantic Division but there’s always room for improvement. When asked if he’s comfortable with where the team is at as the deadline approaches, Dubas didn’t say that everyone was safe. In a direct quote, Dubas said: “The way they’ve hung in and handled those things, if you look where we are at in the standings overall, you still have to be very happy with that. I think they’ve earned the right for us to explore ways that we can continue to make the team better.” (x)
Dubas later goes on to talk about how when it comes to trades, he’s not focusing on the rental business. The organization is more focused on finding a player that can help the team for years to come but they’re not going to shy away from potential pick-ups.
Of course, when the deadline is brought up there’s always a player the media asks about to test the waters. Today, Toronto media brought up Jake Gardiner. Gardiner has been picked on by media and fans for (at least) the past few weeks regarding some hick-ups he caused in games. When asked what he thought, Dubas noted that right now he’s more concerned about Gardiner’s health (placed on IR 1/20 with back spasms) and how he should get more credit than he’s given:
“Jake is a player that has the puck a lot. When you play hockey and you have the puck a lot, and you try to be creative and you make skilled plays, from time to time, they’re not going to go your way. ” (x)
Last but probably the most talked about, Matthews’ and Marner’s contracts. Both players are coming off their entry-level contracts and the question isn’t really if they’re going to stay, it’s more of how much are each going to get signed for. The Leafs have quite a few good forwards coming off their entry-level contracts (not counting Mitch and Auston): Kasperi Kapanen and Par Lindholm. So trying to piece together how to keep all of these players (or new ones if there’s trade) under the Cap isn’t going to be easy.
Mitch Marner is having an amazing season, with 19 goals and 42 assists for a total of 61 points. Meanwhile Matthews has hit a slump, he hasn’t scored since January 5th (7 games ago) and has only picked up 3 points since.
During practice the other day head coach Mike Babcock threw together the line of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and Patrick Marleau (road dad) onto the ice to see what they were made of. Babcock quickly added that the line may not last but they need something to get them going and with Matthews in his slump and Marleau going pointless in the last 11 of 12, maybe adding Mitch “Ray of Sunshine” Marner with those two will bring in the points. Auston Matthews had said:
“Maybe you get a little pep in your step playing with other guys that you don’t usually get to play with, so hopefully we ignite something here.”
These contract discussions are going to take a while, not as long as William Nylander I hope, but it’s going to be a stressful and interesting ride.
Overall, despite this losing stint for the Leafs there seems to be a bright future alone the horizon for this team and hopefully a playoff run that makes this rocky season with it.
Featured Image: Sportsnet