TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has been busy over the past couple of weeks with players coming and going. With the 2020-21 season set to start somewhere in the next couple of months, many teams are bolstering their roster early, so they’re not left scrambling.
Here are the latest moves by the Baby Buds.
Forward Richard Clune has become one of the most respected men in the AHL and has served the Marlies’ locker room since the 2015-16 season.
Clune missed 45 games last season with an injury. But, in his 16 games with the Marlies, the 33-year-old potted three goals and an assist.
— Zack Power (@SinBinMarlies) December 8, 2019
Having Clune around the team gives many of the young players confidence to play a better game. Having a player like Rich Clune gives the organization a veteran presence, which bodes well in any locker room.
Investing in a player like Clune is something Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas is more than willing to do, despite playing only 31 games in the past two seasons.
There’s no doubt in my mind that fans will see Clune in a player development role after he hangs up his skates.
The Rourke Chartier Route
Centerman Rourke Chartier didn’t play in the 2019-20 season after a concussion that left him in limbo. This means it has been over 19 months since Chartier played a professional hockey game.
The 24-year-old Chartier was drafted in 2014 in the fifth round by the San Jose Sharks. He’s played 13 games at the NHL level, but has spent the majority of his career at in the AHL with the Barracuda where he’s bagged 74 points (30G, 44A) in 121 games. He collected 216 points (110 goals, 106 assists) in 230 games with the Kelowna Rockets (WHL), serving as alternate captain from 2014-16 and capturing the WHL Championship in 2014-15
The Saskatoon native’s concussion problems stem back to 2017, where he took one too many hits from right winger Matt Frattin in a game against the Stockton Heat. With a multitude of head injury problems, the Marlies are taking a gamble on Chartier’s success.
If he can shake the rust and stay healthy, expect to see him play somewhere in the Marlies lineup. With the ECHL starting before the AHL, Chartier’s first looks could be in Newfoundland playing in the ECHL on a test-run basis.
All Aboard the Experience Train!
I spoke on experience earlier, and another AHL’er set to bring more knowledge for the 2020-21 season will be forward Tyler Gaudet. A 27-year-old Gaudet scored 21 points in 58 games as a reliable center. The last season, on his two-way contract, he banked $250,000 on his payroll. This time around, the deal is a straight-up AHL contract that is valid for the 2020-21 season.
Kaskisuo Out, Dell or Hutchinson In?
Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Admirals picked up former Marlies starter Kasimir Kaskisuo. Just hours after the Marlies lost Kaskisuo, the Maple Leafs inked netminder Aaron Dell to a free-agent deal. A few weeks later, the Maple Leafs signed former Marlies goaltender Michael Hutchinson for $1.45 Million.
All right, let’s start with Dell. The question is, what happens next for him? The Albertan hasn’t played in the AHL since the 2015-16 season. With Dell’s deal (one-year, $800,000) coming in just over the NHL salary minimum ($750,000), AHL starts could be in the cards. Whether or not the 31-year-old will clear waivers is the next question.
Dell would be expected to start ahead of Joseph Woll and Ian Scott. Either one of those goalies are expected to stay in the AHL, but with Woll’s experience in the AHL, he’s could be penned in as the Marlies number two.
As for Michael Hutchinson…well, I’m not sure Toronto learned their lesson. Hutchinson is a guy who can play well; there’s no doubt in my mind. But NHL media pressure on Hutchinson in Toronto proved almost too much for him, with the Ontario native going 4-9-1 in 15 games played with a .866 save percentage and a 3.66 goals against average.
Playing for the Maple Leafs has proven to be no easy feat for some. Former Maple Leaf and then Calgary Flames center Matt Stajan said it best in an interview with The Hockey News in 2014. The aftershock from Toronto earthquakes can be felt in Calgary:
“Obviously there’s a lot of attention, even out West, on the Leafs, so it’s well-documented, for sure. You definitely feel for those guys.”
Last season, Hutchinson proved that he is almost too good for the AHL lights, publishing a 0.943 SVS% and a 1.98 GAA in his four games with the Marlies. Sending Hutchinson back down to the Marlies is an option for Toronto, but that could depend on what they see in training camp.
Things are laid clearly in the sand. For Hutchinson, can he escape the pressure of playing for Toronto and return to the numbers he had while in Colorado and Winnipeg? While with the Avalanche, he posted a 0.910 SVS% and a 2.75 GAA in the playoffs through four games. Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, Hitchinson published a save percentage above 0.903 in his four seasons with the Jets.
In the end, with Hutchinson’s contract cashing in at $1.45 million, it looks more so like NHL backup money than AHL starter.
Last season in the NHL, Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell had their names in the blue paint, but what happens now is a fair question.
As For Those Missing Pieces?
With anything in this sport, there’s going to be missing pieces. Additionally, there’s a genuine possibility that some of these players may just want to go to Europe and not want to come back. The Marlies have lost at least seven players to free agency and trades, not to mention who has gone from the Newfoundland Growlers. Here’s a small list of what’s missing from the Toronto fleet.
|Traded or Signed Elsewhere||Unsigned Free Agents||Loaned to Europe|
|Pontus Aberg||Max Veronneau||Kristians Rubins|
|Jeremy Bracco||Garrett Wilson||Egor Korshkov|
|Jesper Lindgren||Matt Lorito||Filip Hållander|
|Kasimir Kaskisuo||Denis Malgin|