Sweater No. 3 is carrying something of a curse for the Maple Leafs.
After wearing last year and making it Justin Holl’s most difficult as a Toronto defenceman, the sweater was passed to John Klingberg, whose first five weeks have been largely forgetful.
While every Swedish Leaf has had a wonderful time in Stockholm the past few days — reconnecting with family and friends during the NHL’s Global series, Klingberg is making only token appearances at practice. He’s getting what coach Sheldon Keefe called “aggressive” treatment for an unspecified injury, possibly to do with his hip surgeries eight years ago, that has hampered his skating and contributed to his minus seven and 12 giveaways, second among team defencemen to full-timer Morgan Rielly.
Klingberg lasted about 10 minutes in Saturday’s workout. Asked if extended time off could be in the cards, Keefe said “it’s certainly getting to that place.”
“He played the game last weekend (a win over Vancouver) and I thought played pretty well,” Keefe told the travelling media. “But he has been uncomfortable and with the time off (travelling to Europe and him not playing) they tried to use it (for therapy). They still think that will help and pay off for him, it’s just taking him longer to bounce back.”
Klingberg said early in the trip that he’s “kind of hit rock bottom the past few weeks” trying to play through it.
It’s frustrating for the Leafs as well, after investing $4.15 million US in the 31-year-old this season following his decent playoff with the Minnesota Wild and was showing promise in camp as Jake McCabe’s partner. He was brought in specifically to improve artillery on the power play, but that hasn’t been realized yet, while his admittedly average defensive game has been exploited by foes.
Now out a week, the hazy status of his injury and Keefe’s quotes sound like a preamble to putting him on injured reserve. Perhaps not to the extent of goalie Matt Murray (who has undergone bilateral hip surgery) and defenceman Jake Muzzin (neck and spine issues), the two combining for more than $10 million in cap relief in the final year of their contracts. But any savings on Klingberg still leaves Toronto in need of another defenceman, even with Conor Timmins likely to return next week in one of the back-to-backs in Pittsburgh and Chicago.
That said, call-ups William Lagesson and Simon Benoit have stood up well as the Leafs try not to overload 40-year-old Mark Giordano.
Talk of a trade with Calgary for Nikita Zadorov, who had said he wanted out, or a Flames veteran such as Chris Tanev has eased after their club went into Saturday against the Islanders on a streak of 4-1-1.
There was much debate about how much the Leafs would miss the stay-at-home Holl in the long run by not re-signing him. While the improved Wings like Holl so far at $3.4 million for the next three years, playing more than 16 minutes a night, in their first regular season head-to-head with the Leafs on Saturday, Holl was on the ice for the tying power play goal by William Nylander and the winner by ex- Wing Tyler Bertuzzi.
HARD LEFT TURN
Without right-shooting Klingberg, the injured Timothy Liljegren and Timmins, the Leafs keep getting by with six lefties on their blueline.
“It’s never ideal asking three guys to play their off-side,” Keefe said. “Just the way you see the ice and the angles you can accept passes, make passes. All of those things change and sometimes we don’t have a great enough understanding of how hard that is for a lot of guys.
“I thought McCabe did a good job yesterday, coming off an injury (adjusting left to right). But he picks his spots well.”
The Leafs meet the Wild at 2 p.m. local time Sunday at Avicii Arena. It’ll be hard for Toronto to top Friday’s three-goal rally with franchise leading scorer Mats Sundin’s surprise pre-game appearance to read out the starting lineup and Borje Salming’s son Anders dropping the puck between the late defenceman’s two teams, but a win would send them home three games above .500.
Of course, they were thrilled at the end of Keefe’s speech about the Swedish connections to Leaf history, when he introduced the rarely-seen Sundin. The lineup had three countrymen, plus Rielly and Sundin’s great friend Tie Domi’s son Max.
“He was messing with me before the game,” laughed Max. “He said ‘who knows, you might be starting’. Super special to hear him announce my name.”
WE HAVE A SITUATION HERE
Our friend Ken Campbell of Hockey Unfiltered has been highlighting a new ranking system called Situational Scoring.
Within it are vitals such as a player’s first goal in a game, as well as any goal that puts his team ahead at any stage — including overtime — any that ties a game at any time and a ‘comeback’ goal, scored when a team trails by two or more and becomes part of a series of goals eventually tying the game, regardless of outcome.
There’s also overtime and shootout winners and Campbell’s tweak of the league’s game-winning goal formula, defining it as a goal that puts that team ahead to stay.
The league leader in Situational Scoring as of Saturday morning is Nylander with 21.5. rankings, 2.5 up on Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes with Toronto’s Auston Matthews at 18.
Rielly came out after Saturday’s practice to meet a little Swedish girl with a No. 44 sweater and sign proclaiming she was named for the defenceman by her Canadian father. Rielly signed a stick for her and posed for a photo … Nylander participated in a Q&A with the public as part of fan festivities on Saturday, while Sundin and Detroit Red Wing alumnus Nicklas Kronwall handed out gift bags to street hockey players … Giordano says he would be open to trying a neck guard after the fatal skate blade injury to British league player Adam Johnson earlier this month … Keefe says the league-high six bench minors has been discussed among the Leafs, but disputed Friday’s call for too many men as two Leafs bumping into each other on a play that had no effect on the game … Those wondering if UFA winger Patrick Kane could become a Leaf will be noting his 35th birthday on Sunday.