It’s official, ECHL approves expansion for Leafs farm club

This is a huge win! More teams in Canada is ALWAYS a good thing.

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In case you missed it yesterday, multiple reporters including Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that the ECHL was set to announce the return of professional hockey to the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland and today, the league made it official. 

The ECHL officially announced that St. John’s has been chosen as the location for the league’s next expansion team, set to take the ice next season at St. John’s beautiful Mile One Centre.

The yet to be named team will also become the Toronto Maple Leafs’ official ECHL affiliate, replacing the team’s current agreement with the Orlando Solar Bears. 

Of course, the Maple Leafs have a long history in the city of St. John’s, as well. The Leafs housed their AHL farm team, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, in the city for decades before moving them to Toronto as the Marlies back in 2005.

St. John’s last hosted professional hockey with the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets from 2011 until 2015 and as an affiliate of the Montreal Candiens from 2015 until 2017. The team is now defunct, but the team’s former chief operating officer, Glenn Stanford, is a major reason why St. John’s stands to get a new professional hockey team. Stanford and St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald are behind the group’s expansion efforts.

St. John’s will join the ECHL as only it’s second Canadian franchise behind the Brampton Beast, ECHL affiliate of the Canadiens. While it has not yet officially been determined, the team will likely be a part of the league’s North Division with the Manchester Monarchs, Adirondack Thunder, Worcester Railers, Reading, Pa., Royals, Wheeling, W.V., Nailers and Brampton, Ont., Beast.

Breaking: Leafs make two AHL call ups

The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced that they’ve recalled forward Andreas Johnsson from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in advance of tomorrow’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Additionally, the team also announced that defenceman Calle Rosen has also been recalled on an emergency basis.

Leafs fans have been calling for a Johnsson call up for awhile and there are some analysts who believe the 23 year old Swedish winger could be a potential replacement for pending unrestricted free-agent James van Riemsdyk, if JVR elects to leave the team this upcoming offseason. Overhyped? Maybe, but the smooth skating Johnsson does have an impressive AHL pedigree. In 54 games for the Marlies this season, Johnsson has an outstanding 26 goals and 54 points, good enough for the team lead.

He’s an intriguing prospect in the Leafs’ pipeline and represents a MAJOR draft score for former Leafs general manager Dave Nonis. Johnsson was selected in the seventh round (202nd overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, chosen behind players like Frederik Gauthier, Carter Vergaeghe, Fabrice Herzog and Antoine Bibeau.

It remains to be seen whether or not Johnsson finally makes his NHL debut when the Leafs take on the Stars tomorrow night, but you can bet that Leafs fans will be watching regardless.

As for Rosen, the 24-year-old defenseman has been recalled likely due to an injury or illness to Leafs defenceman Nikita Zaitsev. No word yet on the full extent of Zaitsev’s injury or illness, but he’s not expected to play tomorrow against the Stars.

Injury Report: Zaitsev out again?

Ask any Toronto Maple Leafs fan what the biggest weakness is on the team’s roster and you’ll invariably get one answer: defence. The Leafs boast a dynamic and deep offense with marquee players like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri carrying most of the load. Then there’s support from depth players like Tyler Bozak, Patrick Marleau, Zach Hyman and Connor Brown. In net, the Leafs have one of the league’s premier goaltenders in Frederik Anderson, even if he’s been slowed down a bit due to fatigue. 

On defence though, the picture isn’t quite as rosy. Sure Morgan Rielly is an absolute stud and Jake Gardiner can have spurts of good play (sometimes followed by boneheaded giveaways though…), but the Leafs lack a true #1 or even #2 defenceman. Some fans believe that sophomore Nikita Zaitsev could emerge as the team’s top defender, even if he plays a more “under the radar” game than Rielly and Gardiner.

The 25-year-old Russian has just four goals and 12 points in 51 games this season, following a 36 point rookie season from a season ago. This season Zaitsev has been limited to just 51 games mostly due to injury and, if nothing else, Leafs fans have been given a glimpse into what the team could look like without Zaitsev in the lineup and… it’s not pretty. Zaitsev, who usually partners with the more offensive minded Gardiner, does an excellent job of clearing the front of the net and effectively acts as a release valve whenever his defensive partners gets into trouble. In short, he’s a modern day defensive defenceman. 

But, since his return from a foot injury last month Zaitsev just hasn’t been the same. In fact, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said as much himself yesterday afternoon.

Ah… that explains a bit. If Zaitsev has been playing with the flu, it makes sense that he wouldn’t exactly be at his best.

No word yet on just how long Zaitsev will be out of the lineup, but it’s worth noting that the Leafs don’t play until tomorrow’s evening against the Dallas Stars. After that the Leafs travel to Buffalo to take on the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday then they host the Montreal Canadiens at the ACC on Saturday night.