In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the news emerging from the team. Specifically, I’ll review Mitch Marner and Joseph Woll’s All-Star experience – Marner’s in the NHL and Woll’s in the AHL.
I will also look at some moves as the team readies itself to play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. Finally, I’ll take a look at the implications of having two young defensemen on the blue line as the postseason nears. Both Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin are talented but inexperienced.
Item 2: Joseph Woll Has Been Recalled to the Maple Leafs
Joseph Woll is back with Maple Leafs after being recalled from AHL Toronto Marlies under emergency conditions earlier today. This move means that Matt Murray’s ankle injury makes him questionable for Friday’s game in Columbus. Woll will serve as backup to Ilya Samsonov while he’s with the team.
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The AHL also had its All-Star Game over the weekend, and Woll represented the Marlies. He won the award for best goaltender in the Skills Competition, stopping 10 of 12 shots in three events, including eight of 10 in the Rapid Fire Challenge and seven of eight in the Pass and Score and Breakaway Challenges. He also made some huge saves for the North Division during the game. Woll just keeps on making impressive performances this season.
Item 2: Mitch Marner Named One of NHL’s Stars of the Week
On the Maple Leafs, Marner is known for his high salary (not so good with fans) and his impressive skills (really good with fans). During All-Star weekend and the 2023 All-Star Game championship, he broke the three-on-three record with six assists in two games.
Marner’s incredible passing skills made him one of the standout players and even prompted Detroit Red Wing Dylan Larkin to suggest that playing with Marner was one of the highlights of his weekend.
His six assists broke the previous record of five, set earlier by Ryan O’Reilly, Roman Josi, and Quinn Hughes.
Item 3: Timothy Liljegren Has Played Well, But Is He Ready for Prime Time?
Timothy Liljegren has had a great season so far. After being a healthy scratch during the 2022 Playoffs, he’s shown his development and has played many more minutes this season. He’s become a regular in the top-four and is averaging a career-high of ice time per game.
Liljegren has contributed 13 points in 41 games and has been engaged physically. He’s becoming an impactful two-way defenseman. However, a week ago today, against the hard forechecking of the Boston Bruins, Liljegren and his defensive partner Rasmus Sandin showed their inexperience and had a tough game.
Might that suggest the Maple Leafs are concerned their young defensemen could struggle in the playoffs? The twosome is talented, but will they be able to make reads under pressure? How risky will it be for the team to rely on them for heavy postseason minutes?
It’s risky to expect inexperienced defensemen to play heavy minutes. As the adage goes, NHL defensemen need around 300 games to settle into the league. The position is as much about learning to avoid mistakes as it is about talent and skill, and that takes time and repetition. To learn from mistakes, mistakes must be made, but it’s better to do that in the regular season than in the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs do not have many experienced defensemen. While 39-year-old Mark Giordano has had a great season, he can’t continue to log huge minutes every other night. Fans know that and have to be watching to see what general manager Kyle Dubas will do as the trade deadline approaches.
Fortunately, a number of solid defense-first experienced defensemen are on the trade market and won’t break the bank to bring in. I’m looking for Dubas to pick someone up as he did last season with Ilya Lyubushkin.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Speaking of Dubas, there’s a ton of speculation about just how much power he has to make decisions. Given what I know about how the organization works, I believe two things.
First, the Maple Leafs are not an autocracy. The power to decide is shared and not concentrated in the hands of a single person. Dubas does not have total control and authority – nor does he want it. Decisions seem to be made by the collective.
Second, when push comes to shove, Dubas pulls his team’s information together, makes a decision, and assumes responsibility for the fallout. He’s not what some fans call a “lame duck” leader. He’s not a puppet. I don’t see that in his actions or the actions of the organization.
If he falls and is not re-signed by the organization, it will be on his terms. Brendan Shanahan may share his philosophy but does not make day-to-day decisions like Dubas. I might be wrong, but that’s how it seems to me.