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The Heroes of 2020
Nick Robertson’s knee injury has triggered a world of hurt feelings on the Leafs.
While the club awaits an update on the rookie’s knee injury — coach Sheldon Keefe was not hopeful that a scheduled MRI would indicate a quick return — two veterans were placed on waivers to provide more flexibility with the taxi squad.
Centre Jason Spezza and third-string goaltender Aaron Dell will find out at noon on Monday if they’ve cleared waivers.
In the case of the 37-year-old Spezza, he’s already made it known he’d retire if claimed, having agreed last year to a sunset role in his hometown where his wife and four daughters are now moved in.
Spezza has played in all three Leafs games to date and, despite a season-low ice time of just under seven minutes on Saturday, he won all 10 faceoffs in the 3-2 win over Ottawa. That will get some notice around the National Hockey League, as will his minimum wage salary of $750,000 US.
A day after Keefe said he liked having three goalies on his 21-man roster for insurance purposes, the club risks losing Dell. A sudden shortage of stoppers around the league — including the Edmonton Oilers who are in Toronto later this week — could see Dell targeted, as he wouldn’t have to quarantine. A Dell departure would leave the Leafs with only one other veteran goalie under contract, Michael Hutchinson, who lost the backup role last season, was traded to Colorado, then signed back here after a playoff re-boot.
Dell hasn’t played yet, but backed up Jack Campbell on Saturday to allow Frederik Andersen to stay off the ice completely to prepare for the Winnipeg Jets’ visit on Monday night.
READY OR NOT
How ironic that the first significant injury to the Leafs is a member of Keefe’s ‘Stay Ready Squad’. The 19-year-old Robertson, in his regular-season debut, lasted two minutes and 20 seconds before his knee was pinned awkwardly to the boards when Ottawa’s Drake Batherson finished a check.
Keefe had begun calling the extras the Leafs carry his the ‘Stay Ready Squad’ — a term borrowed from Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash, a more inclusive-sounding term than taxi squad.
While the Leafs had Sunday off from practice, they’ll have to do some juggling with the roster emergency exemption plan, part of new rules that owners and players created around the restart of this 56-game season. They can swap out Robertson’s entry level salary for Alexander Barabanov (who was assigned to the taxi squad when Robertson was recalled) or one of those Leafs hoping to play their first game: forwards Travis Boyd and Adam Brooks or defencemen Rasmus Sandin or Mikko Lehtonen, should Keefe elect to dress seven blue-liners.
RIGHT SAID FRED
By late Monday night, those stirring the pot on a goaltending controversy with the Leafs will know if it’s boiling over or moved to the back burner.
Campbell’s tidy 17-save win on Saturday in Ottawa, after Andersen encountered some hiccups in his first two games, had the Dane’s detractors active on social media pushing for Keefe to come back with Jack against the Jets. But the rotation, which included getting Andersen a detailed personal workout on Saturday to be ready for Winnipeg, likely won’t be altered.
Andersen was frank that he needs to get better, but chalked up part of the goal count to a dearth of exhibition games. And his teammates put together a much better best defensive effort for Campbell, no brain cramps on line changes, no breakaways allowed and better penalty-killing, though Campbell, still had to make some clutch saves.
The notoriously slow-starting Andersen will get plenty of rope from Keefe, though a shortened schedule with its back-to-backs and three-in-four-nights will allow Campbell some starts to impress quickly.
BRING A SWEATER
If you’re sweating out when the Leafs are going to wear their third sweaters, those retro reverse jerseys with the late 1960s/Ballard logo hybrid, they’re being used on Jan. 30 at Edmonton and for three home games — Feb. 6 against Vancouver, Feb. 24 against Calgary and March 9 versus the Jets. The Toronto St. Patricks sweaters are back, too, March 14 at Ottawa and the 19th here against Calgary.
The Leafs have been out-hit in all three games so far, 95-45, and had more of their shots blocked than they’ve gotten in front of 62-33 … After taking a couple of bench minors for too many men in the first two games, Toronto was notably more careful to keep count of its on-ice numbers on Saturday in Ottawa … Now that Joe Thornton is on the board with his first goal, the oldest Leafs forward ever to do so, the team wants to get Wayne Simmonds a point, which would be his 500th in the NHL.
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