Are you ready for the annual All-Star break, hockey fans? Well, it should be noted that some NHL teams certainly could use the upcoming break week to lick their wounds and trudge on with the rest of the season. For teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the All Star break may in fact be a detriment because things are starting to tick right now in southern Ontario and a break from the daily action grind may be a roadblock to further success. In all honesty, most of the players could simply use a breather right now and let those sore muscles and joints heal just a bit more since April is still a few months away. For the players honored enough to play in the All-Star game, it’s not as though they are going to kill themselves or each other in this classic matchup – All-Star games are supposed to be fun, right?
The Maple Leafs are sitting in a decently comfortable position right now in the Eastern Conference and are in the wild card driver’s seat at the moment with an overall 24-14-8 record and coming off of a big 1-0 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets in home. In previous years, why would any hockey pundit even mention the Winnipeg Jets in the same sentence as the venerable Toronto Maple Leafs but this year, there’s something different about those Wiinipeg Jets who are flying high in the Western Conference and with Kyle Connor back, they are almost a lock-in to go to not only to the Stanley Cup playoffs but advance at least one round if not more before the ice melts away this late spring. Still, there is probably not much optimism right now in this part of Ontario given the fact that their other quasi-local team in the form of the Buffalo Bills did another Leafs-like appearance in the NFL playoffs and off they go to the golf courses until next July. I think many hockey fans would just love to see Auston Matthews playing hockey in May or even early June and not have to find him at some charity golf tournament when the last teams standing are fighting it out for Lord Stanley’s cup.
Is Ilya Samsonov back or just backing himself into another wall?
Will the real Ilya Samsonov please report to the ice? The Ilya Samsonov who registered a 4-0 shutout against the Nashville Predators on December 9th aooeared to be a dominant force in the Leafs’ nightly lineup and a lock on being the now and future netminder in Toronto. However, the same Ilya Samsonov who then registered four losses in a row, including three in overtime, began to overshadow the potentially star-power NHL goaltender and replaced him with a questionable netminder with serious confidence issues. Samsonov has been warmly welcomed back by the Maple Leafs and has put on a bit of goalie clinic as of late including only giving up one goal in his last two starts, a .980 save percentage and a clinical shutdown of the Jets’ penalty kill on Wednesday night we he single-handedly stopped a two man rush and what could of and should have been a goal equalizer.
The pressures of playing in a fishbowl that is known as Toronto will test the toughest of NHL players and given the current trends towards openly discussing and treating mental health issues in this league, Ilya Samsonov finds himself in one of the most unforgiving hockey markets in North America. If he can overcome earlier setbacks and if he can learn from these experiences, then Samsonov has all the potential to become a really good goaltender in the NHL. However, whether or not the Leafs plan on keeping Samsonov or simply wanting him to improve to make him trade fodder before the trade deadline is another story.
Ryan Reeves – last of the Enforcers?
Where are you, Doug Glatt? Maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs were thinking that when they signed tough-man Ryan Reeves to a three-year, $4.05 million dollar contract last year in the off-season. Reeves is 37 years old and his bouncing around from the New York Rangers to the Minnesota Wild at mid-season did raise some eyebrows but his contract in the Big Apple was coming to an end so why not send off your aging enforcer to save come cap space? Reeves once again found himself in Toronto this season and quickly tried to live up to the hype but getting into a fight with a five-minute major penalty in his first game wearing the Maple Leaf sweater.
However, reality has set in and Reeves has scored exactly one goal an no assists in 21 appearances this season. In fact, Reeve’s playing time has dwindled and a recent stint on the Injured Reserve (IR) and despite the high hopes of bringing physicality and a leadership presence to Toronto, all Ryan Reeves has really brought is a very expensive contract with little for show for their financial investment. Sadly, Ryan Reeves will likely become more trade bait as the March deadline closes in and the Leafs will have to either wheel-and-deal his contract or bit the proverbial bullet and eat his contract given that other youngsters such as Pontus Holmberg seem to be intent on replacing Reeves in the nightly lineup. At any rate, Ryan Reeves looks more like a curious mismatch with the Leafs and thei front office experiment with the “enforcer” vision looks more and more like wasted salary cap space for this season.