Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Storylines Going Into Tonight’s Game


Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Storylines Going Into Tonight’s Game

1. Centre of Attention

Toronto Maple Leafs’ centre man Nazem Kadri will be out of the lineup yet again Thursday night against the Florida Panthers. Kadri is serving his fourth and final game for his illegal headshot on Oilers forward Matt Fraser.

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“I’m not happy about it, but what are you going to do at this point? Obviously it wasn’t my intent to injure the player and I hope he’s doing all right,” Kadri told reporters last Wednesday after the league announced the suspension.

This is Kadri’s second suspension within the month of March alone. His first suspension was a team mandated one. On March 11, Maple Leafs’ President of Hockey Operations, Brendan Shanahan, announced that Kadri would miss two games as a result of being absent from a team meeting.

Kadri’s absence from tonight’s game will surely be felt. In the three meetings between the two teams this season, Kadri has two goals and two assists. Tyler Bozak, Trevor Smith, Leo Komarov and Sam Carrick will try to fill the void down the middle of the ice tonight.

2. Stats suggest Panthers have edge

Based on the statistics extrapolated from the season series, the Panthers are the clear-cut favourite to walk away with the win tonight. Over the course of the three meetings between the two teams, the Panthers have out-shot the Maple Leafs 93 to 85.

As a result, the Panthers have generated 11 goals to Toronto’s eight in the season series. The Panthers have also flourished in the face-off dot against the Maple Leafs, having won, on average, 11 percent more face offs over their three meetings this season.

Additionally, the Maple Leafs are giving up an average of 3.16 goals against, which ranks 27th in the league. However the most abhorrent statistic of them all is that the Leafs are 6-26-3 in the New Year. The Panthers may be firing on all cylinders tonight against a Maple Leafs team with a porous defence at best.

3. Panthers eyeing final wild card spot.

Going into tonight’s game, the Florida Panthers currently sit five points back of the final wild card spot in the East. The Ottawa Senators have nudged their way into the eighth seed, due in large part to the stellar performance of their net minder, Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond.

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  • For the Panthers, tonight’s match appears to be a very winnable game for them. The Leafs are having an abysmal season as a whole, but their recent 1-8-1 stretch has been magnified by the Toronto fans and media.

    With a Panthers win, they will be a meager three points back of the Senators for the final playoff spot, with eight games remaining in the regular season. Granted, the Senators do have one game in hand. In my opinion, the playoff race in the East is just as compelling as the playoff race in the West. We’ll see how things unfold.

    From the Maple Leafs perspective, a loss would be beneficial for the franchise as a whole, placing them in a better position to secure a top five pick in this June’s upcoming NHL entry draft. That’s where the true rebuild and transition phase must start.

    4. Panthers’ fountain of youth

    Personally, I feel that Toronto can take a page out of Florida’s playbook in terms of scouting and drafting. The Panthers are not the Panthers of old, in which the team missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons, between 2000-2010.

    Feb 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Philadelphia 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    With young top-end talent such as defenceman Erik Gudbranson, 23 (No. 3 overall, 2010), centre Nick Bjugstad, 22 (No. 19 overall, 2010), forward Jonathan Huberdeau, 21 (No. 3 overall, 2011), centre Aleksander Barkov 19 (No. 2 overall, 2013) and defenceman Aaron Ekblad 19 (No. 1 overall, 2014) the Panthers are poised to be competitive for years to come. It is still too early to tell, but they look to have some solid pieces in place that may evolve into the foundation of their franchise.

    A full-scale rebuild is about to commence for the Maple Leafs as early as the end of the regular season. Consequently, they are destined to be a sub-par team for the foreseeable future.

    Therefore, they will likely be picking at the top-end of the draft in future years. Toronto have to capitalize on their draft picks, not only in the first round, but in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds as well.

    Don’t get me wrong, if the Leafs are picking in the top five for the next three years, they must hit a home-run on the players they select, as the team should be gathering players with superstar potential. This is why Brendan Shanahan hired Mark Hunter to be the Director of Player Personnel.

    Having been the Owner, Vice-President and General Manager of the London Knights for over twelve years, Hunter is very familiar with the up and coming talent in and outside the OHL. He will play a pivotal role in which direction the Maple Leafs’ franchise is headed.

    5. Can newly signed forward Casey Bailey ‘bail’ the Leafs out of their losing ways?

    Former Nittany Lion and heavily coveted college free agent, Casey Bailey, is expected to make his debut tonight for the blue and white. After a 30-minute call with Maple Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan, Bailey, 23, signed with the team on Saturday.

    “It’s my dream to play in the NHL,” Bailey said, “and to have this opportunity, I’m so grateful and honoured.”

    The newly signed NHLer will look to help a disgruntled Leafs team break out of a six-game losing streak. The young forward from Anchorage, Alaska, is completely aware of the disparity between the NCAA and the NHL. “It’s the speed, the size, the quickness of the game, you have to make decisions a little quicker.”

    Those skills will be in full effect with the visit of the Panthers Aaron Ekblad (who is second in points by a rookie defenceman). Bailey proved to be an effective player for Penn State this past season. He tallied 22 goals and 18 assists in 36 games. The Leafs will be looking for him to make an early impact and aid the team in ending their latest slide.

    Next: Maple Leafs: Casey Bailey to Make Debut Against Panthers