Saturday night’s Toronto Maple Leafs win over the Ottawa Senators won’t be a significant factor in the NHL final standings. Yet the 6-3 victory did churn out a couple of interesting storylines worth reflecting on. The first is Mitch Marner‘s five-point night and the second is the Leafs proclamation that they were not interested in trading James van Riemsdyk.
Toronto Maple Leafs Win, Mitch Marner Has Five, JVR Staying
“Pretty cool,” Marner after receiving congratulations on the five-point night by actor Will Arnett.
There are a few reasons why Marner’s five-point night was special. Aside from the post-game comments from Arnett: “That was rad, man. Big Fan.” The most apparent is his confidence in shooting the puck. Long has Marner been pegged as a pass-first player. If opposing player know you’re going to pass, it makes their job a lot easier. Marner knows he needs to shoot more. He’s learning he can score more too.
He Shoots He Scores
On Marner’s first goal, Patrick Marleau is right beside him in the slot. It looks as though Marleau expects the pass, why wouldn’t he, and has to stop himself from getting his stick in Marner’s way. Two months ago, that would have been Marleau’s shot. Instead, Marner takes his own shot from the slot. It’s a high percentage scoring area that no one should be passing from when a shot is available.
There was no doubt that it was Marner’s shot to take on the second goal. But he has dished off great scoring opportunities in the past, looking for assists on easy tap-ins. It’s great to see a little selfishness in Marner’s game, although it’s not selfish to take the shot when it’s the best decision.
There was no hattrick for Marner on Saturday night, but it wasn’t from a lack of shooting. Van Riemsdyk’s 22nd goal of the season was thanks to a bad angle shot taken by Marner. How many times has Sidney Crosby scored on bad angle shots? He’s banked more goals in off heads than David Beckham. This one may not have counted as a Marner goal, but it is a goal scorer’s goal. A pinball wizard that did ultimately deflect in of Mike Condon‘s head. Check the 47-second mark of the reply.
Marner is suddenly taking shots in high and low percentage areas. That’s a good sign for the Maple Leafs.
Confidence Is High
Confidence is contagious. Marner’s increased shooting and the Leafs winning seven of their last eight are not coincidental. The Leafs have averaged 35 shots in those eight games. The low, at 24, against the Boston Bruins. Their only loss.
It’s not just the players that are confident. Mike Babcock wants reinforcements for the playoffs. He’s confident too. He may not get any substantial additions. However, it’s also looking like he’s not going to lose anything substantial. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson commented that the Leafs are not open to trading Van Riemsdyk after at least two teams inquired.
Future Of James Van Riemsdyk
If he’s not going to be traded this season, the remaining options are losing him in free agency or re-signing him. There’s a chance he could take a discount to continue playing in a city that looks to be on the verge of Stanley Cup contention. He’s played in Toronto for the past seven years. And there is always a personal factor. How much does he want to stay in Toronto? Most players will not take significant pay cuts to play in a certain city. JVR is not likely to be the exception.
If the team keeps him, it’s far more likely they’ll lose him to free agency. If they’re willing to do that, it means they’re confident he can be an impact player in the playoffs. There isn’t much doubt of that. The question is will he be an impact player for seven games or something closer to 20 plus. One can’t help but think having JVR for single playoff round isn’t worth his return at the trade deadline. If Lou Lamoriello is willing to keep Van Riemsdyk past February 26th, that’s saying much about how far he thinks the Leafs can go this year.
One path this team could take is to sell at the deadline, hope for the best in this year’s playoffs, and aim for consistent contention for the next few years. Lamoriello still has other pending UFAs that he could trade to off-set not trading Van Riemsdyk, who is the most valuable of the lot. He could trade Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov, but those are also players that can help this team in the playoffs.
With the announcement that they are not interested in trading their most valuable pending UFA, the Leafs are clearly interested in competing now. How they can do that and continue adding for the future is not clear. It’s not unimaginable that they can do both, but it can be risky. The team will have salary cap concerns before long, especially if Marner does develop a scoring touch. They’ll want to have players to replace lost RFAs and UFAs over the next five years. Now is the time to get those players.
One thing that is clear, this year’s trade deadline is going to be an interesting one for the Maple Leafs. Possibly the most interesting deadline day in a decade, even if they end up standing pat.
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