The Toronto Marlies’ odds of winning a second straight Calder Cup championship have drastically risen over the course of the last two weeks.
In the days leading up to the Marlies’ first round series sweep over the Rochester Americans, the Marlies appeared far from equipped to win back to back calder cups for the first time since the 2009-2010 Hershey Bears, let alone capable of advancing past the first round. But they went on to play spoiler to a deep Rochester team, thanks to the contributions that came from some of the Leafs’ most coveted prospects.
Although the Marlies’ commanding first round sweep certainly raised eyebrows around the league, it wasn’t enough to legitimize them as realistic cup contenders. Rather, it was the slew of transactions at the tail end of their duel with Rochester and in the subsequent days that followed, that really elevated the Marlies’ stock. Losing to the Bruins in game seven of the first round for a second consecutive season meant that just like the season prior, the Marlies would be getting gifted with some reinforcements for their playoff run. -A year ago, the Leafs sent Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott to the AHL for the Calder Cup Championship run.
Calle Rosen was the first to re-join the Marlies, arriving just in time to suit up for game three of the first round. Trevor Moore and Michael Hutchinson’s arrival would come two days afterward, in time to prepare for the Marlies’ pending second round series against the Cleveland Monsters.
Bringing back those three players is a game-changer for the Marlies.
“All three players are big reasons why we made the playoffs [and] significant pieces of our team,” Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters after the teams’ practice on Monday morning. “[They did] not just kind of parachuted in here, these are significant pieces of our team that really helps with chemistry and everything like that because the guys are excited to have them back and everything kind of falls in line from there.”
Adding two AHL all-stars in Rosen and Moore, along with an NHL-calibre goalie in Hutchinson has completely changed the complexion of the Marlies’ roster.
“Marlies are already looking really strong, adding any one of these pieces let alone all three is a near guaranteed boost to the lineup,” one current AHL forward pointed out to The Leafs Nation.
Moore games is going to mean Moore problems for the Marlies’ opposition.
“He’s going to be a fucking NHLer,” one Western Conference NHL player told The Leafs Nation. “He’s just kind of scratching the surface of what he can be at the NHL level.”
In the purest sense, Moore is a gamer.
We saw it during the Marlies’ 2018 Calder Cup championship, when the finished fourth in playoff scoring with 17 points in 20 games, while also seeing hefty amounts of time on the power play and penalty kill. And in the Leafs’ first round series against Boston, in which Moore dressed for all seven contests, we saw it again. Despite averaging a mere 7:46 minutes of ice-time during this years NHL playoffs, Moore found ways to make an impact when called upon. He was hunting down pucks with the same sort of tenacity that helped him dominate in the AHL playoffs, finished the fourth most checks of any Leaf (14) and scored his first career playoff goal in Game 3.
Watching Trevor Moore (5’10”) demolish Chara (6’9”) is giving me life. pic.twitter.com/DR9bI7uDna
— e – maple trees (@mapletreeleafs) April 12, 2019
Moore was a dominating force in the AHL this season, recording 49 points in 36 games (0.84 points per game), putting him on pace for a 44-goal, 20 assist campaign (if he had played an entire 76-game AHL season). In January, Moore was rewarded with a two-year contract (77fK AAV) that kicks in next season.
“[The Marlies] get an elite player that can not only contribute to your offense but truthfully quarterback a huge part of your offense, which will only compliment to the depth and take the load off some of the other guys that have been great down the stretch and into playoffs,” said one AHL forward whose team did not qualify for the postseason.
Marlies lines at practice:
Moore – Mueller – Bracco
Marchment – Brooks – Carcone
Timashov – Engvall – MacMaster
Baptiste – Greening – Jooris
Ex: Clune, Molino
Rosen – Liljegren
Borgman – LoVerde
Sandin – Hollowell
Ex: Oleksy – Duszak
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) April 30, 2019
Skating on the teams’ top line during the teams’ practice on Tuesday, it appears Moore is going to be getting plenty of opportunity alongside two premier players-Chris Mueller and Jeremy Bracco. Moore’s puck retrieval skills, forechecking and blazing speed–and ability to enter the zone effectively–will certainly gel perfectly with the teams’ two top scorers. It’s as good of a first line that you can have at the AHL level.
After playing under eight minutes a night at the NHL level over the last little while, Moore’s will have an opportunity to dominate in the AHL and showcase, in high-stakes games, just how much he’s outgrown for the AHL.
After an up-and-down 2017-2018 season–which saw him struggle with the Marlies in the first half of the season and eventually play a prominent role for the Marlies during their playoff run–Rosen, took the AHL by storm this year.
“He’s probably the best d-man on the ice in any American Hockey League game,” claimed one forward who plays in the AHL’s North Division.
The smooth-skating defender is a jack-of-all-trades at the AHL level.
Rosen’s accurate shot and offensive instincts helped him produce a great deal of offence (46 points in 54 games this year) at even strength and on the power pay. Having recorded the fourth most points per game (0.85) of any AHL defenceman during the regular season, Rosen’s return will do wonders for the teams’ offence, however, Rosen’s strengths are far greater than just his offensive upside. He brings much more to the table.
Throughout the 2018-2019 regular season, Rosen consistently was matched up against the oppositions best talent, night-in and night out and was also a staple on the teams’ penalty kill. While the AHL does not publicize Time on Ice (TOI) stats, it’s a safe bet to assume that Rosen lead all Marlies’ defenceman in ice-time.
Rosen’s arrival gives the Marlies’ a great deal of depth on their blue-line, with three pairs that can move the puck well and defend all-the-same.
All signs point to Rosen skating alongside Liljegren on the teams’ first pairing, which, from a development standpoint, is massive for the Leafs organization that is hoping to see their 2017 first round pick in an NHL lineup soon.
Hutchinson’s return gives the Marlies the best problem a hockey team can have.
If Kasimir Kaskisuo hadn’t been as good as he was in Rochester, Hutchinson would have, without a doubt, slid right back into the starters role. But Kaskisuo was stellar in the first round–1.32 GAA, .960 SV%–meaning the Marlies, currently, have not one, but two starting calibre goalies. Now, it’s really hard to foresee Kaskisuo playing this well the rest of the way and who better to be breathing down his neck for the crease than a goaltender like Hutchinson.
Hutchinson, who was summoned by the Leafs ahead of the playoffs amidst Garret Sparks’ struggles, has been solid for both the Marlies, and the Leafs, this season (.914 NHL SV%, .910 AHL SV%). He’s got a multitude of AHL playoff experience, having helped the St Johns IceCaps reach the Calder Cup finals in 2013.
Re-gaining stability between the pipes is huge for the Marlies, as we saw how much the lack of solid goaltending at the beginning of the year— when the Marlies averaged 3.71 goals against per game in their first 32 games—-hindered the Leafs’ AHL affiliate.
Now, the Marlies are deep at the most important position, at the most important time of the year. That in, in itself, greatly improves this teams’ chances.