The Province


Two ex-Marlies had quite a week for Leafs. Can that become three?


It was a good week for Kyle Dubas and his Marlies graduates, and there could be a great one coming for the GM if the William Nylander situation gets settled.

At least there will be closure of some kind by 5 p.m. Saturday, preferably with a signing to announce for the Maple Leafs boss in what has been the longest, most tortuous contract spat of a restricted free agent in the salary cap era.

The story behind the five-month process has had everything from polar opposite positions on salary and term, to talking a long deal, a bridge deal and rumours the two sides were just a couple of hundred thousand dollars apart the past few days. Rookie exec Dubas and headstrong point man/father Michael

Nylander have been through clandestin­e meetings in Switzerlan­d, rampant trade speculatio­n, bets the Leafs can/can’t live without the kid and the astonishin­g, yet still possible outcome that the young winger sits the entire 2018-19 season.

Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, the only person the Leafs allow to vaguely comment on this strange stand-off, continues operating under the premise that Nylander will be a Leaf next month. But there’s still an empty locker at Scotiabank Arena and the clock is ticking.

Meanwhile, two of Dubas’ key farm team projects, Andreas Johnsson and Garret Sparks, rewarded their boss’ faith in them the past two games, and on Saturday night in particular against the Flyers. Johnsson’s hat trick and growing confidence shows he’s capable of keeping up with the Leafs’ flying circus, especially getting through a mean opposition. Sparks won head-to-head against

Calvin Pickard, one of the goalies Toronto put on waivers to keep him as Frederik Andersen’s understudy, and now has a record of 4-1 and a .924 save percentage.

“Kyle shows faith in guys who do things on a daily basis to instil that faith,” Sparks said of himself and Johnsson. “It’s not trivial placement of faith in certain individual­s, it’s the kind of people they are at the rink, how much they care about what they do.”

Saturday was Sparks’ second NHL shutout, after blanking Edmonton in his league debut two years ago.

“Hopefully, this (game) means I can just relax and play, not worry about what anybody’s saying. They always say ‘don’t read what’s being written about you.’ You can’t not read it.”


For Sparks, the Marlies and the media watching that night in Albany in May of 2016 there is no question Johnsson has paid his North American dues.

During Game 4 of an AHL playoff series, Dan Kelly of the Devils savagely flattened Johnsson in his second game just off the boat from winning an Swedish Hockey League title with Frolunda.

“He took one of the most vicious elbows in open ice I’ve ever seen,” Sparks said of Kelly’s act, good for a 10-game suspension. “Knocked him cold. He never let it scare him, never let it deter him. He recovered, he realized it’s a different game over here and he adjusted beautifull­y.

“Nobody has taken him out in this league yet. He’s had his other struggles along the way (no goals in his first 10 games), we all do. It’s part of being a young player. Obviously, he’s turned a corner and he’s only going to go up from here.”

Said Babcock: “This was a big step for Johnny. Now, can he turn it into something, get some rhythm in his game?”


There was interest in what small innovation­s the Leafs were going to incorporat­e into their power play on Saturday. Players had discussed some Flyers-specific changes they planned after a morning meeting and video session replaced on-ice practice. But the 0-for-10 unit the past five games didn’t get the chance, when for the second home game in a row, no penalties were called on either team.

Two clean sheets in a week for the Leafs and their opposition has not happened since February of 1946 and Toronto was already the least penalized club in the NHL before Saturday.


James van Riemsdyk’s sentiments about his six-year stay in Toronto, which appeared on the Players Tribune website, did not mention Babcock or his coaching staff, only that JVR appreciate­d the team levelling with him right away that they would not pursue him as a UFA. At any rate, Babcock went directly from Saturday’s post-game presser to the hallway where JVR was chatting with former teammates to shake his hand and wish last year’s 36-goal winger the best in Philly ... This season’s leading Leafs point man, Mitch Marner, says one of the things that impresses him most about Johnsson is that he’ll block shots. “That’s something you don’t see often with a skill player” ... With 160 points in 183 games, Marner has already nudged into the top 100 Leaf scorers in franchise history, sitting 96th overall, one back of Igor

Korolev, Bill Thoms and Babe Pratt.

 ??  ?? Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks is congratula­ted by teammates after picking up the shutout in a 6-0 victory over Philadelph­ia on Saturday night. It was Sparks’ second career shutout. — THE CANADIAN PRESS
Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks is congratula­ted by teammates after picking up the shutout in a 6-0 victory over Philadelph­ia on Saturday night. It was Sparks’ second career shutout. — THE CANADIAN PRESS
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