Greg Moore’s first complete season behind the bench for the Toronto Marlies could only be described as a letdown.
The start of Moore’s coaching tenure was unfortunate — the former Chicago Steel coach spent two part seasons at the helm due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control (i.e. a global pandemic).
While there were some challenges that I will touch upon later, the 2021-22 campaign — technically, his third at the helm — has to go down as a disappointment. Not only did Toronto miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2011, but the team was also incredibly inconsistent — a Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.
Had the Marlies not owned impressive overtime and shootout records, the season would have been over long before a final-game defeat eliminated them from playoff qualification. Winning nine of 13 games requiring overtime and three of four finishing in a shootout was the difference between a winning and losing record. The final points percentage of .549 was the lowest by any Marlies team since 2010-11, and a total of 24 regulation victories earned are the third lowest tally in franchise history.
Toronto was more often than not playing catch up, as shown by their record up until the turn of the year. In 10 of those 22 games, Toronto trailed after 20 minutes. On six occasions, it was a deficit of two or more goals after the opening frame.
I struggle to remember watching a Marlies team that was out-shot and out-chanced on such a consistent basis, and for an organization that values puck possession so highly, that has to be a source of concern. Toronto was out-shot in all three periods of play during the regular season — a combined shot differential of minus 64, minus 78, and minus 105 through periods one, two, and three, respectively.
For the majority of the campaign, Toronto was heavily out-scored in the opening frame, although a surge of scoring late in the year meant they finished level with 73 GF and GA. The Marlies played their best hockey in the second period, with a plus goal differential of 13. The third period was Toronto’s nemesis; there were losses in tight games in the final frame, but also some spectacular implosions, including a 6-5 OT loss to Laval in which they led 5-2 through 40 minutes and a similar loss to Cleveland in which they also allowed three goals in the final frame. A combined goal differential of -21 in the third period tells the story.
Special teams were also a mixed bag. The power play fluctuated between toothless and unstoppable, averaging just under 20% for the season. The penalty kill was ranked 25th overall in the AHL at 78.3%. Compounding the issue with the penalty kill, Toronto was the 10th-most penalized team (short-handed on 277 occasions).
Were there mitigating circumstances for a disappointing season? We could point to Covid ravaging the team in December, resulting in a busy end to the season. A rotation of goaltenders due to injury and call-ups also did not help matters.
But the fact is that many teams navigated similar problems and found better ways to cope. The Belleville Senators are a case in point; Ottawa’s farm club lacks the high-end facilities or financial backing of Toronto, but they found a way into the playoffs with the aid of one of the top head coaches in the AHL (Troy Mann).
For an organization that places tremendous value on its prospects receiving a taste of post-season play and all it entails, the Marlies missing out on the playoffs (despite an extra spot available this season in the AHL) must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Leafs management.
The burning question heading into the summer: How did management view the development of prospects under Greg Moore’s tutelage — at the end of the season, GM Greg Hardy highlighted the strides taken by Curtis Douglas and Bobby McMann — and the lack of on-ice success during his tenure?
Moving into the 2022-23 season, Moore remains the head coach. The team under his command will have a vastly different look to it with a raft of changes and an influx of youth in what will surely be a make-or-break year for the Marlies’ bench boss.
Michael Hutchinson has departed for Vegas, while Ian Scott, sadly, retired from playing (We hardly knew you Ian, and injury deprived us of truly seeing if he could make it at the professional level). Toronto has a goaltending backlog, and it would be no surprise if trades develop or a player is loaned at some point in the season.
As it stands, Erik Källgren and Joseph Woll are the anointed Marlies tandem. That would only change if the Maple Leafs were to suffer an injury or choose to carry a third goalie.
That leaves another three goaltenders (all on AHL deals) who will all be looking to make a strong impression. Keith Petruzzelli impressed hugely at the ECHL level and did not let the Marlies down when called on last season. He was arguably overlooked on too many occasions when Moore opted to play the Hutchinson ahead of him despite the younger netminder outperforming the veteran. Petruzzelli is in the last year of his current contract, and I strongly suspect his season will begin as the #1 in Newfoundland.
Luke Cavallin and Dryden McKay are additions from the OHL and NCAA, respectively. Both can be expected to receive some playing time in the ECHL. Cavallin played some professional hockey in Italy during the Covid-impacted OHL season, posting a .903 save percentage in 10 games. In the most recent OHL playoffs, he was an integral part of Flint’s run to the Conference Finals with a .929 save percentage that was the best of any netminder to have played 10 or more games.
Dryden McKay enjoyed a storied NCAA career, winning 113 of 140 games for the powerhouse Minnesota State University. He recorded just five losses last season and finished his career with a combined save percentage of .932. McKay was the Hobey Baker Award winner for 2021-22, and while that isn’t a certainty to lead to success at the professional level, acquiring such a sought-after prospect is a nice coup for Toronto.
Six blue-liners will not be returning to Toronto next season: Joseph Duszak, Ben Finkelstein, Teemu Kivihalme, Chad Krys, Philippe Myers, and Kristians Rubins have all moved onto new pastures.
The trio consisting of Matt Hellickson, Noel Hoefenmayer, and Matteo Pietroniro re-signed on AHL contracts. At least two of the three will be reassigned to Newfoundland.
Carl Dahlström and Mac Hollowell are on NHL deals, but I do not foresee either making the Maple Leafs roster. The duo, along with Filip Král and William Villeneuve, look set to serve as mainstays on the Marlies defense.
They could be joined by prospects Mikko Kokkonen and Axel Rindell. It’s unclear where the Finnish pair will play this season, but there is an opportunity (as things currently stand) for them to log significant minutes in the AHL.
The remaining players are signed to AHL deals and include Michael Joyaux, Tommy Miller, Marshall Rifai, and Brennan Kapcheck. The first pair are signings from the NCAA who will likely end up in the ECHL along with Marshall Rifai. Kapcheck will probably begin the season with Toronto but could also end up in Newfoundland depending on reassignments/trades.
The Toronto Marlies forward group looks young in age at this tentative stage. A fair amount of firepower and experience has moved on from last season, so let’s begin with the departed.
Brett Seney, Josh Ho-Sang, Antti Suomela, Marc Michaelis, and Jack Kopacka have left, while Marlies captain Rich Clune announced his retirement. Gordie Green spent most of last season in Newfoundland and has signed with Toledo Walleye.
Dmitri Ovchinnikov is on loan to Sibir Novosibirsk for the year, which is a surprising decision given he adapted quite well during his first taste of the AHL last season.
Jeremy McKenna and Joseph Blandisi are currently free agents. It’s difficult to assess whether they will re-sign, but Blandisi had nothing but a positive impact in Toronto during a torrid time in their season after initially signing on a PTO. In my view, he would be a solid veteran addition to the Marlies roster (Update – September 9: The Marlies have re-signed Blandisi to an AHL contract for the 2022-23 season).
Prospects on entry-level deals include Mikhail Abramov, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Curtis Douglas, Max Ellis, Pavel Gogolev, Alex Steeves, Nicholas Robertson, Bobby McMann, and Pontus Holmberg. The status of Robertson and Steeves will remain unknown until late September/early October as both look to challenge for Leafs roster spots. That said, it would not be shocking to see either or both reassigned for the AHL, at least to begin with.
Of the players listed on ELCs above, Max Ellis and Pavel Gogolev are two players who could potentially find themselves in the ECHL. After a hot start to his professional career — which led to him earning the entry-level deal — Gogolev’s career has stalled with a lack of opportunity in the AHL, but maybe that changes to start the new campaign.
One notable player is missing from the above list: Nicholas Abruzzese. It’s not difficult to imagine him receiving significant time in the American League during this campaign. There will also no doubt be a veteran (or two) missing out on the Leafs roster who will be reassigned (waiver dependent). Joey Anderson, Kyle Clifford, and Adam Gaudette fit that bill. The latter is a new addition and is arguably the least likely to be sent down.
In regards to forwards on AHL deals, the eye is drawn to Logan Shaw, who was signed to a three-year deal — a highly unusual occurrence in the American Hockey League. The 29-year-old is vastly experienced with over 500 professional games under his belt and is my bet to be named the successor to Clune as the next Marlies captain.
Marc Johnstone, Zach O’Brien, and Orrin Centazzo are certainties to be pivotal players for the Growlers in 2022-23, with O’Brien again an All-Star at the ECHL level. Ryan Chyzowski split last season between the AHL and ECHL, showcasing a game built on a relentless work ethic and physical edge. He netted five goals in 23 appearances with the Marlies and has an outside chance of making the roster in a depth role.
The remaining seven players are all rookies and would appear destined for Newfoundland: Graham Slaggert, Jack Badini, Brett Budgell (St. John’s native), Brandon Kruse, Zach Solow, Keenan Suthers, and Nolan Walker.