The Leafs suffered a 3-2 loss at home last night to the stingy Dallas Stars, but the game wasn’t the only thing the team lost. Andreas Johnsson suffered a knee injury that will reportedly not be a short-term issue.
Johnsson awkwardly collided with teammate Kasperi Kapanen in the first period and left the game favouring his knee…
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) February 14, 2020
Losing Johnsson is yet another blow to a Leafs team that has struggled mightily with injuries this season. There hasn’t really been a point in 2019-20 in which the Leafs have iced their ideal lineup.
Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott were out at the start of the season, John Tavares got hurt in mid-October, Mitch Marner got injured right when he returned to the lineup, Ilya Mikheyev suffered his hand injury in December, and Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin both got injured in January, while the former is still out of the lineup. Johnsson also spent a month on the shelf earlier in the season.
While losing Johnsson isn’t as big of a deal as losing somebody like Marner, Tavares, Muzzin, or Rielly, it’s still an unfortunate blow to the Leafs’ depth. It’s also another frustrating blow for Johnsson, who hasn’t been able to build on his breakout 20-goal season last year due in part to injury.
Another wrinkle here is that Johnsson was widely speculated as a player Kyle Dubas could use to upgrade the team’s blueline ahead of the trade deadline. With the deadline less than a couple of weeks away and Johnsson now likely to miss significant time, Dubas has probably lost one of his most important trade chips.
Mason Marchment seems like the obvious candidate to come up from the AHL to replace Johnsson in the Leafs’ lineup. He just recently had a streak in which he scored six goals in three games for the Marlies and has been pushing hard for an extended look at the NHL level. There’s also Nic Petan, who had an unimpressive showing with the team at the beginning of the season, and perhaps Jeremy Bracco, who has yet to be given an opportunity in the NHL.
In his fourth game with the team, we saw Kyle Clifford get into his first fight as a member of the Leafs…
Fighting obviously isn’t a major part of the Leafs’ game, as the team only has three other fights so far this season (Justin Holl, Travis Dermott, and Zach Hyman), but Clifford adds a different element to this team. According to Auston Matthews, Clifford’s scrap gave the team a much-needed spark when they were down 2-0 in the second period.
Auston Matthews calls Clifford fight a "turning point"
"That's when we got the momentum back on our side. That's something we've missed here the last couple years. He's made an impact … a guy that plays with an edge & plays physical & you saw that tonight, he got us going"
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 14, 2020
While the Leafs didn’t end up winning the game, Natural Stat Trick’s game chart indicates that the team started to see better results at even strength after Clifford’s fight. Matthews also got the Leafs on the board a few minutes after with his 41st goal of the season, setting a new career-high…
In other news, according to TSN’s Insider Trading, the Leafs and Jake Muzzin are getting closer on a contract extension.
Muzzin, of course, is one of three veteran defencemen set to become a free agent this summer, along with Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci. While the Leafs have an internal replacement for Barrie with Timothy Liljegren, there isn’t anybody who can step into Muzzin’s role as a top-four shutdown defender.
It won’t be cheap to get him signed, but it’s a lot easier to just keep the Muzzin you already have than go out and look for a new one. Finding a defenceman as good or better than Muzzin in free agency also obviously won’t be any less expensive and finding another player in a trade will again cost the Leafs a wealth of assets.