In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs Quick Hits, I’ll look at some of the news emerging from the team over the past week.
Quick Hit One: Maple Leafs Extend Sheldon Keefe
Last week, the Maple Leafs signed coach Sheldon Keefe to a contract extension. In the announcement of the signing, current GM Brad Treliving commented on Keefe’s accountability for the lack of playoff success. He also noted Keefe’s transparency, honesty, and responsibility.
Interestingly, that sets up Keefe’s playoff success as a final test for his success as a coach. Where does that leave Keefe’s coaching future after the 2023-24 season if his team fails again? Given Brad Treliving’s decision-making history in Calgary with the Flames, Keefe could be out in a heartbeat. Treliving fired Geoff Ward and replaced him with Darryl Sutter in one fast-moving day during the 2021 season.
Quick Hit Two: The Maple Leafs Considered Trading Nylander
There was news last week that the team had considered trading William Nylander but couldn’t find a deal they liked. Elliotte Friedman reported on those potential trade conversations.
Given Nylander’s impressive statistics, he won’t be that easy to replace. As well, Nylander has only ever expressed a desire to remain in Toronto with the Maple Leafs. The lack of a long-term contract for him doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Quick Hit Three: Topi Niemela Is a Unique Prospect
There’s no question that Topi Niemela is a unique prospect. Given his performance playing in Europe and at the World Juniors, he’s shown he has the talent to succeed in the NHL. He also had a record-setting performance in Liiga for U20 defensemen.
That said, Niemela does experience some challenges due to a lack of physical strength. His playing style relies on his smarts and his skills. This upcoming season, he’ll work on adding muscle and strength in his time with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He should be able to show if the expectations for Niemela’s progress and NHL readiness are accurate.
Quick Hit Four: Simon Benoit Signing Is Good for the Team
I keep reading about the signing of defenseman Simon Benoit. It suggests that he’ll be an addition to the team’s depth on defence. However, could he be more than that? Last season he was a second-pairing defenseman with the Anaheim Ducks.
Might his one-year contract turn into more? I have a feeling that he might be an under-the-radar signing that becomes something special. I think he could become a regular with the team. He has size and physicality.
Quick Hit Five: Maple Leafs Sign Jay O’Brien AHL Deal
Last week, the Maple Leafs signed Jay O’Brien to a one-year AHL deal. Given he was such a high draft pick (first round, 19th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers), could he turn into something more?
It will be interesting to see what he does with the Marlies. The Maple Leafs seem to be adding blue-liners to all stations within their organization. It is an area that needs some attention.
Quick Hit Six: Jordie Benn Signs with the Dallas Stars
Last season, veteran defenseman Jordie Benn played well enough with the Maple Leafs. However, they chose not to re-sign him. Fortunately, his younger brother Jamie will now get the chance to play with his bigger brother Jordie with the Dallas Stars. Good luck to the former Maple Leafs player.
Quick Hit Seven: Zach Aston-Reese Remains Unsigned
Zach Aston-Reese kept making impacts all over the ice. He was a hitter who led the Maple Leafs in on-ice collisions. Since he wasn’t re-signed by the Maple Leafs, he still hasn’t been signed by another team. Look for him to get a professional tryout offer (PTO) with another team somewhere.
Someone will want the pinballing ZAR. He has a playing style that few other players would emulate.