Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Anthony Petrielli joined Sportsnet Tonight to discuss the Auston Matthews contract extension, William Nylander’s progress, Tyler Ennis potentially returning to the lineup, and more.
Read the roundup below.
Nikita Zaitsev and Travis Dermott’s respective minutes
On potentially bumping Zaitsev out of the top four:
I am kind of wondering if he is going to be bumped out of the top four in the final few minutes, but they like him at the end of games for some reason. They have consistently gone with him, whether he is getting the last shift or the shift before. But we haven’t seen them too much with Jake Muzzin, who hasn’t played a ton…. He’s only played 19 or so minutes [against Ottawa] so I feel like they are just easing him in and that will kind of course correct itself.
It is hard to look at their group and not think, potentially, at the end, unless they don’t completely trust Jake Gardiner, that they kind of bump Hainsey up with Jake Gardiner, at least if the game is tied. But we’ve also seen them not really use Gardiner at the end of the day.
Zaitsev is one of the enigmas of the team where he is not productive anymore considering he plays so much and with good players on the ice all the time. No one is looking at him to score, but when you are playing with good players all the time like he is, there is a bare minimum there that you should be producing, and there is nothing there at all. That just speaks to his complete inability to move the puck. The tape-to-tape passes are just non-existent.
It is strange because he had a very productive rookie season. He wasn’t a true rookie because he was older, but he at least showed some production, and now it’s gone. I guess it was probably power play driven, but there is just nothing there when it comes to moving the puck.
He plays a ton. He is inconsistent, I guess, in his own zone, is probably a nice way of putting it. But Babcock seems to like him, and part of it is like, “Is he just playing him so they can hopefully move him?” That contract is definitely going to be problematic as the cap gets tighter. Or do they legitimately think he’s good? I would love to be a fly on the wall for a real conversation about that and not a post-game interview about it.
On whether Travis Dermott should be given more responsibility:
It depends on the situation. I think they are trying to mix it up a little bit, especially when they are down when he does start playing every other shift. They recognize that at least, which I think is a start. I was also keeping track and I believe he only saw one shift in the final 9 minutes of the game against Ottawa. I was kind of watching and thinking, “They don’t fully trust him, and you’re at home against the Ottawa Senators, and in the final 10, he’s basically not playing.”
Yes, I think he could play a little bit more, but I was sitting there watching and thinking, “This trade might hurt him a little bit this season. He might not be seeing a ton of ice time the rest of the way, especially if things get tighter.”
The thing is, he has quite a few gaffes. Him and Ozhiganov move the puck up the ice pretty well together, but they were on for quite a few goals and quite a few times where they were just straight up getting beat in the neutral zone. He is an aggressive player in the neutral zone — which is great, that is what you want out of him — but we’ve seen multiple times where he has just been completely burned on guys chipping it by him or stepping around him, whatever the case is. That kind of makes it tough.
I think he is going to benefit from Hainsey. Hainsey knows how to play the game. His body doesn’t get from point A to point B the way it used to, but we’ve kind of seen him help Rielly through and we’re kind of seeing that already now that he is down with Dermott. I think he is going to benefit there.
In terms of finding ice time, other than when they are down, or unless Dermott is having a really good game, I just wonder — as games tick down — how much he is really going to play. Probably not that much. And I don’t know if I trust him defensively too much at this point.
William Nylander’s Progress
On whether Nylander and Matthews should be reunited eventually:
I think he eventually should and I think he eventually will get there. But it is kind of working right now. Again, they have not really been playing strong teams lately, particularly when you have a week where you play Anaheim and Ottawa, but at the end of the day, when the games get tight and you are playing top teams, you are going to need those guys together. They are going to need to make things happen.
He is playing better for sure. His speed looks like it is back. Players, as the season goes on, you’ll always hear them say that they lose weight over the course of a season and they get lighter and faster. It is completely subjective, but he looked heavier when he first came here. He obviously was spending a lot of his time working out. I saw a photo of him when he came back and thought, “He looks jacked,” but he looked slow. He kind of looks a little bit more slimmed down and into game shape now.
He is starting to go around guys again. He is starting to actually make things happen with the puck with his speed. It is starting to slow down with his hands and he is not skying pucks over the net as much as he was a few weeks ago.
I know he joked about the break coming at a bad time for him coming off of the three-point night, but that was actually a legitimately bad time for that break to come for him. It is good to see him pick it up and get going from there.
I think it is just a matter of time until we see them together and I am interested to see how they play matchups. It depends on who they play in the playoffs.
I think he is definitely going to be good down the stretch here. He didn’t have a great playoffs last year, but the previous year when they played Washington, down the stretch of that whole “first time making the playoffs in a while” campaign, he was really, really good in the final 25 games. I thought he was their best player that first year when they played Washington — not in the playoffs, but in the final stretch of the season and I also thought he was really good in the playoffs.
Last year, not so much, but they are going to need him. The only thing I would pause on is whether he and Matthews are going to get back together. He is going to be good the rest of the year — he is a good player and he is going too figure it out — but are him and Matthews going to get back on the same wave length this season or is that a wait until next year thing? Right now, you’d like to focus on the playoffs, but at the end of the day, you’re looking at the cap and him and Matthews have to play together. You are not paying him $7 million to chill on the third line. You are paying him $7 million to go along your $11.63 million center.
Tyler Ennis’ Return
On who comes out of the lineup when Tyler Ennis returns or if he’ll be scratched to start:
I think he might have to wait until somebody gets hurt or something bad happens. I actually like what Ennis was bringing. Obviously, he is skilled and kind of helped that second power play unit, but I also thought he had some jam. He is not physical — not one is going to think he is taking someone’s head off forechecking hard — but he kind of gets in there and he’s feisty in a little-guy-that-is-trying, inspirational way.
I don’t see them taking Lindholm out because they like him on the penalty kill. He has a role carved in that pretty much guarantees him time. He does a pretty good job on the penalty kill, and they aren’t going to take him off.
That leaves Gauthier. To this point, the Leafs don’t really look sold on Lindholm at center enough to take Gauthier off center, who has been solid if unspectacular. Definitely solid and reliable. In order to get Ennis back in, they’d have to shift Lindholm to center, which they don’t seem to like to this point, and then Ennis would have to go on the left wing there.
That is a tough one to justify moving those pieces around just to accommodate Tyler Ennis coming back.
The Auston Matthews Contract Extension
On whether it’s concerning that he will be a UFA after five seasons:
I mean, Crosby signed a five-year deal and I believe Stamkos signed a five-year deal. Both those guys are still playing for their respective teams. I don’t want to sit here and say he is going to go right to free agency and leave. I don’t think that is going to happen.
But it kind of feels like they walked him to free agency a little bit and they didn’t really get a discount. He is getting paid, which is fine. I don’t think anyone can complain about the cap number, but there is no discount and the term is short, which those two things combined are a little bit disappointing for me.
If he is going to get paid, then get more term out of it. I know they basically said what happened is that he wanted 13 and change if he was going eight, so they are saying we did shorten it by doing this. I just don’t think there was much pushback on the negotiation. From what it sounds like, Matthews basically set his price and off we went.
On whether they should’ve paid up to get him for eight years:
In the Matthews bubble, it makes total sense [to give him the full eight years at $13+ million). But Dubas straight up said next year is going to be their most difficult cap year. I think they are probably legitimately worried about losing Kapanen. He seems to me like an intelligent offer sheet bet to make. The Leafs can’t afford him if someone offer sheets $5 million; it’s going to be really tight. They are going to have to make moves to afford that.
His production is slowing down and he’s got a way to go, but I’d feel fairly comfortable if I was another team in paying him $5 million, but that’s just me. I think that was a concern there. “Let’s get him short to make sure we keep the band together.” From that point, Marleau comes off the books and they can kind of work forward with that.
If they could’ve got Matthews for an extra two years for an extra $1.5 million per season, why not? That’s not hard to justify even with the Kapanen situation looming. I look at that cap and I’d be going pretty heavy at getting Zaitsev off the cap. I don’t think you can do it at this point this season, but in the summer, I think there is a move to be had there.