SABRES (29-33-10) at MAPLE LEAFS (24-35-11)
If you are wondering how the Leafs rebuild is stacking up against any other then look no further than tonight’s match up between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres.
Just like the Leafs, it has been quite some time since Buffalo has been able to participate in the NHL playoffs. In 2014 Tim Murray was hired as Buffalo GM to right the ship. The Murray name has quite the pedigree in NHL circles. His Uncle Brian is GM of the Ottawa Senators and Uncle Terry is an assistant coach for the Sabres. Cool calm and collected are not traits Tim Murray learned from his esteemed Ottawa counterpart. This was apparent last July when the Buffalo GM displayed his emotion publicly after losing out on the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
Once again this year, Buffalo has positioned itself to claim the top prize in this years draft. Although the odds of Buffalo claiming the first overall pick are quite slim as of today. Last year’s second overall pick was college standout Jack Eichel. To say that was a good consolation prize is an understatement. Eichel has been a standout in his first NHL season and is among the leaders in rookie scoring. That was the second consecutive year that Murray had narrowly missed out on the top pick.
Surrounding Eichel is a cast of talented players that willl become the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come. Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly, Rasmus Ristolainen and Evander Kane are talented players that have arrived via trade or through the draft. Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson have carried the bulk of the goaltending duties.
So how is Buffalo’s rebuild different from Toronto’s? It appears that while Murray has used the draft to stockpile some talent he has also made several trades to bolster the lineup now. Kane, Lehner and O’Reilly are good examples. By all accounts, Buffalo wants to start winning sooner than later.
The Leafs seem to be taking a slower approach with more emphasis on developing talent in the minors and junior first. Collecting draft picks has been a key in the Leafs rebuild as GM Lou Lamoriello dismantled the team of a year ago. Many of the Marlies are now with the big club as has been so well documented since the trade deadline.
Two contrasting styles by two very smart hockey men. One thing these two teams have in common is youth.
If reports are accurate then the Leafs will insert Frederick Gautier into tonights lineup. This will make 11 players within the Leafs organization that will make their NHL debut this season. That is alot of raw talent for Leafs executive to evaluate. So while the wins are not there one only has to look at the game within the game to peak their interest. Leafs Nation is very good at judging their own. No season has been able to offer such an opportunity as this year.
One of the problems the Leafs have is what to do with Mitch Marner next season? It’s a good problem to have. The NHL and CHL have an agreement that a player under 20 can’t be sent to the AHL but must be returned to his junior team if not on the NHL roster. This applies while the junior team is still playing.
The CHL has an exceptional player rule in place. It allows a player with exceptional skills to allow a 15 year old to play junior hockey. John Tavares of the New York Islanders benefited from this rule.
Perhaps a solution is to apply the same concept to the NHL. Marner is way too good to be sent back to junior next year. However, he may not be ready for the NHL. An exceptional player application between the NHL and CHL would allow for Marner to be sent to the Marlies.
This will have minimal impact on junior hockey as an exceptional player rule would prevent a mass exodus from junior and keep the junior game at a high level of skill. Otherwise the Leafs will have to either keep him on the NHL roster, send him back to the London Knights or explore European options like Austin Matthews did this past season.
So once again tonight’s game should be an excellent barometer on how well the team is stacking up. It is not often that the Leafs get to play a team that is in a similar situation.
Happy Birthday to Tyler Bozak. He has been cleared for contact, has been practicing with the team and is expected back in the lineup maybe as soon as Monday vs Calgary.
Enjoy the game tonight.
.@SportChek Player Alert: The Leafs have recalled Frederik Gauthier and Josh Leivo on an emergency basis.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 19, 2016
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Michael Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Nikita Soshnikov
Zach Hyman – William Nylander – P. A. Parenteau
Josh Leivo – Frederik Gauthier – Connor Brown
Colin Greening – Ben Smith – Milan Michalek
Morgan Rielly – Martin Marincin
Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick
Rinat Valiev – Frank Corrado
Evander Kane – Ryan O’Reilly – Nicolas Deslauriers
Zemgus Girgensons – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno – Johan Larsson – Brian Gionta
Cal O’Reilly – David Legwand – Matt Moulson
Josh Gorges – Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe – Zach Bogosian
Mark Pysyk – Carlo Colaiacovo
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Gdiff (5v5) — -29
Gdiff (All) — -41
CF% (5v5) – 51.7
PP% – 14.6
PK% – 80.9
Gdiff (5v5) — -27
Gdiff (All) — -18
CF% (5v5) – 47.6
PP% – 19.2
PK% – 81.7