Toronto Maple Leafs: Highlights, News, and Trade Rumors
It’s already been topsy-turvy 2019-20 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the season isn’t anywhere close to finished. Amidst the highs and lows, Toronto Maple Leafs tickets are still among the hottest tickets in town with the team being top-5 in the NHL in average attendance. Even with a wide portion of the season left to play, let’s take a look at all of the ups, downs, highlights, and Toronto Maple Leafs trade rumors that tell the story of the team’s 2019-20 season thus far.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Before the official start of the 2019-20 season, the Maple Leafs made headlines by naming center John Tavares the team’s captain. Tavares is the 25th captain in the long history of the franchise, although the position had been vacant for more than three years. It was a little surprising to see Tavares given the captaincy ahead of just his second season with Toronto after signing a seven-year deal with the Maple Leafs the previous offseason. However, Tavares is an Ontario native and during his first season with the team, he led the Maple Leafs with 47 goals while also chipping in 41 assists.
Nobody can accuse the Maple Leafs of not being ready for the start of the season. Toronto beat Ottawa 5-3 on opening night in front of the home fans at Scotiabank Arena to start the season off with a bang. The Maple Leafs followed that up with a 4-1 road win over Columbus two nights later. Despite some setbacks in the days to come, the Maple Leafs also scored early-season wins over the Red Wings, Wild, and Bruins, giving them five wins in their first nine games to get the season started the right way.
The month of November was not kind to the Maple Leafs. Despite starting the month with three straight wins, things quickly turned south. Toronto endured a six-game losing streak in mid-November, including an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Penguins. In fairness, four of those six losses came on the road. However, that’s not a viable excuse, especially after the team got off to such a promising start in October.
Before the Maple Leafs could put a stop to their six-game losing streak, head coach Mike Babcock was relieved of his duties. Babcock was fired on November 20 after a little more than four years at the helm for the Maple Leafs. At the time, Toronto was 9-10-4 and struggling to find consistency. On the heels of three straight first-round playoff exits, Babcock hadn’t built up enough slack with the organization to survive a six-game losing skid.
Babcock was replaced with Sheldon Keefe, who started the season in charge of the Toronto Marlies, the AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs. Keefe joined the Marlies the same year that Babcock took over the Maple Leafs. During that time, the Marlies won 200 of their 320 games and made the playoffs in all four of Keefe’s seasons, including a Calder Cup trophy win in 2018.
Keefe becoming the new head coach turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for the Maple Leafs. Toronto immediately won four of five games after Babcock was fired. Things picked up even more after the calendar flipped to December. Between December 7 and January 4, the Maple Leafs won 11 of their 13 games. The Maple Leafs became arguably the best team in the NHL during that span, catapulting them up the standings in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference and making the playoffs a realistic goal for Toronto in 2020.
Get Some Backup
One concern facing the Maple Leafs if they want to make a potential playoff push is their situation between the pipes. Starter Frederik Andersen has been a huge part of the surge that started in December. However, Toronto hasn’t been able to rely on backup Michael Hutchinson. The Maple Leafs will no doubt be connecting to several goalies in the rumor mill ahead of the February 24 trade deadline. However, the Maple Leafs don’t have a lot of money to spend. They have to take a chance on a less-experienced goalie or trust that Hutchinson can improve his form the second half of the season and provide a capable backup for Andersen.
Where’s the Defense?
In addition to finding a backup goalie, most of the Toronto Maple Leafs trade rumors relate to the team finding help on defense. San Jose’s Brenden Dillon has been mentioned as a possible solution for Toronto’s defensive needs. However, the Maple Leafs are short on cash, so adding Dillon would require cutting salary elsewhere. Toronto would likely have to part ways with players like Andreas Johnsson, Cody Ceci, and Kasperi Kapanen to free up enough cap space to make a major addition. Making a significant addition before the trade deadline could also require the Maple Leafs to trade away a promising prospect like Rasmus Sandin, which could hurt Toronto over the long run. There is also speculation that the Maple Leafs could stand pat at the trade deadline and hope that the spark Keefe has lit is enough to carry them the rest of the season.