Barring a late-season slump, the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division and host either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Boston Bruins in round one.
With the Leafs in a comfortable position, they can afford to be patient with superstar center Auston Matthews as he deals with an unspecified minor injury.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s home game against the Philadelphia Flyers (a 5-2 Toronto win), head coach Sheldon Keefe stressed that they’re focusing on “the bigger picture” in their decision to sit Matthews.
“We’re not just resting Auston in this case. He’s got an injury,” Keefe said, via Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “It just speaks to the fact that we’re looking bigger picture here.”
Toronto shares the fifth-best 2022 Stanley Cup odds at FanDuel with the Carolina Hurricanes at +1100. At Caesars, the Leafs and Calgary Flames share the third-best odds (+900), behind only the Colorado Avalanche (+350) and Florida Panthers (+550).
The Caesars Ontario sportsbook launched earlier this month, and residents of Canada’s most populated province can bet on teams like the Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto Blue Jays.
For what it’s worth, TSN’s Darren Dreger did say that Matthews would be playing right now if it were the postseason.
The 24-year-old has already set career bests in goals (58) and points (102). Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl has an outside shot of catching Matthews for the ‘Rocket Richard’ Trophy.
But if Matthews does return for the final stretch of the season, he should claim the trophy for a second straight year.
Simmonds-Giordano-Spezza Make Headlines With Crafty Goal
Jason Spezza’s late second-period goal in Tuesday’s win over the Flyers has the hockey world buzzing.
It was a highlight-reel goal assisted by former All-Stars Wayne Simmonds and Mark Giordano. The three well-respected veterans all turned back the clock on this one play to put the Leafs up 3-1.
But it’s not just the artwork of the goal that has the hockey world talking.
As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox pointed out, this goal was “the oldest scoring sequence” for the Maple Leafs since the 2003-04 campaign 18 years ago. Hall of Famer Ron Francis, playing his final NHL season, tallied a goal with assists from fellow Hall of Famer Brian Leetch and Calle Johansson.
Spezza will turn 39 years of age on June 13. Simmond turns 34 on Aug. 26, and Giordano celebrated his 38th birthday on Oct. 3.
Last year, Spezza put off retirement for (at least) another year by re-signing with the Leafs on a one-year pact. Simmonds agreed to a two-year extension, and Giordano was acquired from the Seattle Kraken ahead of the trade deadline.
The Maple Leafs will almost definitely have home advantage in round one. We’ll soon find out if the star-studded Leafs can deliver Spezza, Simmonds, and Giordano their first career Stanley Cup championship rings. The clock is ticking.
Jake Muzzin Should Return Soon
Standout veteran defenseman Jake Muzzin has missed the club’s last three games, but the Maple Leafs should get him back soon.
Muzzin suffered a concussion in Toronto’s Feb. 21 road game against the Montreal Canadiens and missed over a month of action before returning against the Florida Panthers on Apr. 5.
Muzzin would play three more games after that before getting sidelined again. But according to TSN’s Mark Masters, Muzzin is joining Toronto on their three-game road slate that concludes vs. the Washington Capitals on Sunday.
The 33-year-old has been a mainstay on Toronto’s blue line since being acquired in a 2019 trade with the Los Angeles Kings. Muzzin’s leadership and superb defensive play have made him a wonderful fit in the team’s top-four, providing ample support for star blueliner Morgan Rielly.
A 2014 Stanley Cup champion with the Kings, Muzzin has also provided the timely offense for the Leafs, with 80 points in 181 regular-season contests. He has three goals and 11 assists in 45 games this season.
The defense has been a weakness for the Maple Leafs over the last decade. But a healthy Muzzin, Rielly, Giordano, and T.J. Brodie will give Keefe one of the best top-four defensive units in the league.
If Muzzin can get healthy in time for the playoffs, the Maple Leafs will have a much easier time winning their first playoff series since 2004.