After practice on Thursday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the passing of Börje Salming, Conor Timmins joining the team for his first practice, and Wayne Simmonds entering the lineup for tomorrow’s game against Minnesota.
Practice Lines – November 24
Lines at Leafs practice
Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Jarnkrok – Tavares – Marner
Aston-Reese – Kampf – Engvall
Kerfoot – Holmberg – Simmonds
Giordano – Holl
Sandin – Liljegren
Mete – Hollowell
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 24, 2022
How did the team process the news about Börje Salming before practice?
Keefe: I was aware in advance of the meeting with the players, but it is a tough moment. Our team was really touched by Börje and his family being in Toronto, honouring him the way the organization did, and sharing in the moment.
To have the news here today is incredibly sad. We feel deeply sad for his family, his fans, and everyone that he has touched. Such an incredible competitor. For myself, I learned even more about him as a player and the impact he has made on our organization and our community in Toronto.
Our thoughts are with everybody there. It is a difficult time to not be at home in Toronto with our fans. Our players really felt that a couple of weeks ago. It hits us much harder here today.
Did it catch you by surprise how soon it happened?
Keefe: It did for sure. It speaks to how devastating the illness is. That is why there is so much awareness and money trying to be raised to come up with solutions to it. It is devastating for sure.
We are grateful to have had the opportunity to share that moment we had with him in Toronto. Incredibly sad day here for us. There are opportunities for us to take the experience and have it be a positive impact on the group with the legacy, how you are remembered, and things like that.
The fact that we are so impacted here today tells you a lot about the type of person and player that he was.
It looked like you shared a moment on the ice with William Nylander and threw your arm around him. His family is very close to the Salming family. What did you say at the moment to him?
Keefe: We were discussing another matter, but it is very clear to me that for the Swedish players, in particular — you could see it in the room when the news came down from Kyle — it really impacts them more so. The bond that they have with Börje was a little more personal both in the connections that they had and also the impact that he had on Swedish hockey players, particularly coming into Toronto and the NHL as a whole.
I think those guys have a different perspective on it than the rest of us. Again, I think they were very appreciative of how the organization handled the ceremony and honouring him the way that we did.
Is there any update on Jordie Benn’s status?
Keefe: Yeah, he is going to go on the IR. We won’t know the full extent until we get some pictures and things like that. He has an upper-body injury that is going to keep him out week-to-week at this point. We don’t know quite how long. I would say week-to-week because it is going to be more than seven days, and beyond that, we are not quite sure yet.
What did you make of Conor Timmins’ first practice with the team?
Keefe: I don’t know if we can take a whole lot from today’s practice. It amounts to a morning skate for us, preparing you for tomorrow’s 1 p.m. game. To be honest with you, I wasn’t really watching all that closely.
In talking with him, he wasn’t on the ice for three days before coming in here. Our approach with him is getting him in and getting him comfortable. Obviously, we have a great need and there is a great opportunity on defense right now with the injuries we are going through. And yet we want to make sure we put him in a good spot to succeed both in coming into a new team and the fact that he hasn’t skated.
We will give him today, and he will get another skate tomorrow. He won’t play tomorrow. We will take it a day at a time from there.
Like I said to him, I think it is very clear that we have a great opportunity here both in the injuries we had prior to last night — there was a need to add another defenseman to the depth of our group — and more so now with Benn going out.
What can Calle Järnkrok give you in a top-six role?
Keefe: One thing he has shown, first of all, is that he is defensively responsible but also that he can score. If you get him the puck in good spots, he is going to put it in. He showed that in preseason. He has shown that in the regular season here.
His game, I think, is starting to trend in the right direction — his overall game, and yet within the period that we have played here, I think he still found ways to contribute to our team. He has scored big goals and contributed at five-on-five for us. He is a good penalty killer with good defensive habits. He gives you absolutely everything he has on every shift.
To that end, we wanted to give him that opportunity. We also just like how it shapes up the rest of the lines.
Is getting Wayne Simmonds into the lineup a direct result of the opponent you are playing tomorrow?
Keefe: Yeah, it is a big part of it. It is a big and physical team. At the same time, we have lost a lot of size and experience out of our lineup on defense, in particular. Our options there are limited at this point with having five guys out. Getting him in on forward is overdue. He has been sitting for a long time. I just think it makes a lot of sense, all things considered.
Are you going to split the goalies for the back-to-back here?
Keefe: We will take it a day at a time, but that would be the plan going in. Obviously, it is a 1 p.m. start, so it is a little bit different, but the travel is significant here. I don’t know how we ended up in Minnesota in the middle of all of this, but here we are.