The Maple Leafs will recognize former captain Dion Phaneuf with a surprise pre-game ceremony prior to their matchup against the Nashville Predators tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).

Phaneuf and Leafs President Brendan Shanahan decided some time ago to coordinate the announcement of Phaneuf’s retirement — made official this morning — with a ceremony at the SBA, which meant biding some time due to the Covid restrictions over the past year and a half (Phaneuf last played an NHL game in April of 2019).

Brought here with the impossible task of carrying a deeply flawed team — a club steeped in a losing culture, one that lacked enough high-end centers, good defensemen, consistent goaltending, and competent management — Phaneuf took a ton of heat in a largely-toxic market atmosphere during his time as a Leaf. While his skating didn’t age gracefully later into his Toronto tenure, he delivered some memorable goals, hits, fights, and never shortchanged the team on effort. The peak Phaneuf moment in Toronto came when he scored this goal in Game 6 to force Game 7 vs. Boston in 2013:

More importantly, there isn’t anybody you could come across in the Toronto market who had a bad experience meeting or interacting with Dion Phaneuf in his time as a Leaf, and his impact on the community, particularly the one at Sick Kids Hospital, was immeasurable.

Brendan Shanahan is doing the right thing with this recognition — it’s important to turn the page and demand better of the franchise than the on-ice results it achieved in the Phaneuf era; it’s also important to occasionally pause and recognize a quality human being who took great pride in representing the organization as Captain during the extremely tough times that led us here.

Also don’t forget Dion waiving his no-trade clause to move to Ottawa in a trade that cleared the table for the Leafs to bottom out and start anew back in 2015-16, or his role as an early mentor to Morgan Rielly, who has grown into an exceptional leader in his own right.

Thanks, Dion. Enjoy your retirement and a well-deserved pre-game ceremony tonight.

As for tonight’s game, Sheldon Keefe is turning back to the Matthews-Marner / Tavares-Nylander duos he started the season with and largely stuck to all of last season. Keefe cited the lack of offense Matthews and Nylander were directly creating together even despite strong individual production of late. In a vacuum, it’s a reasonable enough justification, but we’ll have to see if he shows continued flexibility throughout the rest of the year if the big duo dries up as they did earlier this season. No doubt, Keefe prefers Matthews-Marner together and also likes Kerfoot on a line with Nylander based on the chemistry they’ve shown since last year’s playoffs. Nylander rejoining Tavares allows him to set that up.

On the blue line, Keefe will take Timothy Liljegren out of the lineup tonight citing the demands of the schedule and his newness to the league. It’s hard to track who the rules of load management apply to on this team at times, but there is no doubt keeping all three of Dermott, Sandin, and Liljegren active and engaged throughout the season is a worthwhile pursuit both in terms of their individual development and looking ahead to the playoffs, where the Leafs will need at least seven quality NHL defensemen at the ready.

Despite the absence of Filip Forsberg for the past two weeks, the Predators enter the game 8-1-1 in their last 10 and winners of three consecutive after a 1-4 start to the season. Goaltender Juuse Saros is on a run of .925 or better in seven straight starts, while Matt Duchene has been rejuvenated to start 2021-22 with nine goals and 16 points in 15 games. Roman Josi and Mikael Granlund are also both above the point-per-game mark.

The Predators residing in the bottom half of the league in expected goals share, shot attempt share, shot share, and scoring chance share while sitting top five in the league in PDO are all signs that regression is nigh, but John Hynes’ team is a confident bunch at the moment.

Game Day Media

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#20 Nick Ritchie – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#58 Michael Bunting – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#8 Rasmus Sandin – #23 Travis Dermott

Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#60 Joseph Woll

Extras: Kirill Semyonov, Timothy Liljegren, Joey Anderson
: Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek

Nashville Predators Projected Lines

#11 Luke Kunin– #64 Mikael Granlund – #95 Matt Duchene
#84 Tanner Jeannot – #92 Ryan Johansen – #26 Philip Tomasino
#13 Yakov Trenin – #10 Colton Sissons – #25 Mathieu Olivier
#47 Michael McCarron – #82 Thomas Novak – #28 Eeli Tolvanen

#59 Roman Josi – #57 Dante Fabbro
#14 Mattias Ekholm – #5 Matt Benning
#90 Mark Borowiecki – #55 Philippe Meyers

Starter: #74 Juuse Saros
#33 David Rittich

Injuries: Filip Forsberg, Alexandre Carrier