MAPLE LEAFS (17-20-9)
7:30 pm (TSN4)
Don’t look now, but as of Monday the Florida Panthers have a five point lead on the Atlantic Division and they still get to play the Leafs four times. Tuesday’s game marks the first meeting of the year between the two teams.
The Panthers as an organization are where the Leafs can only hope to be in a few years. They have a very young core built around Calder Trophy winning defenceman Aaron Ekblad and 20-year-old center Aleksander Barkov. The latter of the two signed a pretty team friendly 6-year deal on Monday. His cap hit will be $5.9 million for the next six years, which is pretty good for a quality number one centreman. The Panthers are setting themselves up for long-term success with great young players under really good contracts. They also have their monster second line centre, Nick Bjugstad, locked up until 2021 with a $4.1 million cap hit. They’ve even been selling tickets lately! It’s all coming up Panthers.
With recent reports suggesting Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello has been floating Jonathan Bernier’s name out to other GMs as available for a trade, it will be interesting to see if the team decides to showcase Bernier for the month leading up to the deadline. To go along with the reports on Bernier, there have been multiple suggesting that the Leafs would like to re-sign Reimer. Reimer is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and will most likely command a Devan Dubnyk type contract with the numbers he is putting up this season.
Mark Masters reports via twitter that James Reimer will start against the Panthers with Bernier getting the nod against the Lightning on Thursday night. While Bernier is working on getting his save percentage to .900, it is currently .899, Reimer is leading the league in that department at .937.
Nick Spaling is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after missing over a month with an injury. Remember him? Although Spaling isn’t exactly expected to be an offensive weapon, he hasn’t scored this season in 24 games and that has to be disappointing for both himself and the Leafs. Spaling is a pending unrestricted free agent and the Leafs were no doubt hoping his trade value would be higher than it is right now.
The Panthers are looking to win their third straight and continue building on their division lead. They are riding a goal differential of +23, which also leads the division. While 22-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau only has eight goals on the campaign, he leads the team with 34 points. He also leads the team in shots and is riding a low shooting percentage of seven percent. Ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr sits one point behind Huberdeau with 15 goals and 18 assists. This guy just defies logic at this point.
Veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo has also played a huge role in the team’s success. Luongo sits fifth in the league with a .930 save percentage and has posted four shutouts on the campaign. The polarizing goaltender has quietly found his game in his return to Miami after a controversial ending to his stint in Vancouver. In the three seasons since his return to the Panthers, Luongo has maintained a save percentage above .920 % in every season. Al Montoya has also been a very good backup this season, posting a save percentage of .929 while boasting a record of 7-2-1 in 12 starts.
Ex-Leaf alert: Dave Bolland hasn’t played for the Panthers since December 12th in Boston. He has four years remaining on his contract at 5.5 million per. Thank goodness the Leafs lost out on that bidding war.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Michael Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Shawn Matthias – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Joffrey Lupul – Peter Holland – Nick Spaling
Daniel Winnik – Byron Froese – Brad Boyes
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen – Vincent Trocheck – Reilly Smith
Quinton Howden – Nick Bjugstad – Logan Shaw
Corban Knight – Derek MacKenzie – Shawn Thornton
Brian Campbell – Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov – Aaron Ekblad
Steven Kampfer – Alex Petrovic
Gdiff (5v5) — -8
Gdiff (All) — -14
CF% (5v5) — 49.7
PP% — 16.1
PK% — 80.8
Gdiff (5v5) — +15
Gdiff (All) — +19
CF% (5v5) — 47.5
PP% — 15.4
PK% — 82.9