Welcome to the 2019-20 season review for the Toronto Marlies. Today we are going to take a look at the 15th season in franchise history, examining what went right and what went wrong for the Marlies.
Overall, the 2019-20 season for the Marlies was disappointing to say the least. The team was on pace to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Between injuries, NHL recalls and coaching changes, the Marlies went through it all this season. With the AHL finally cancelling the remainder of the 2019-20 season on Monday, it’s time to review the year the Marlies had.
If I had to pick one word to describe the 2019-20 Toronto Marlies season, I would probably go with ‘Transition’.
After the Calder Cup victory in 2018 and a surprise playoff run to the Conference Finals in 2019, the transition first started in the offseason. Kyle Dubas, the architect of those last two Marlies playoff runs was promoted to General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dubas would fill the void he created by hiring Laurence Gillman as his Assistant GM and also GM of the Marlies.
There was a lot of roster turnover with the Marlies in the offseason. Key players such as Chris Mueller and Vincent LoVerde walked as free agents, Calle Rosén, Michael Carcone and Andreas Borgman were all traded away and Colin Greening retired from professional hockey.
Kyle Dubas worked to restock the Marlies by signing Kenny Agostino, Pontus Aberg, Tyler Gaudet, Garrett Wilson, Kevin Gravel and Kalle Kossila to NHL contracts to provide depth for the Maple Leafs in case of injury. The team also signed Finnish defenseman Teemu Kivihalme to a one-year Entry-Level contract to add another piece to develop with the Marlies.
When the Leafs training camp concluded at the end of September, four key members of the 2018-19 Marlies team were set to start the season in the NHL. Trevor Moore, Dmytro Timashov, Michael Hutchinson and top prospect Rasmus Sandin had made the Leafs roster.
On the flip side, depth players like Agostino, Aberg, Gaudet, Wilson and Gravel were all cut by the Leafs and re-assigned to the Marlies. The Marlies would break training camp with 12 new faces on the team’s roster. Below is the team’s depth chart prior to the start of the 2019-20 regular season.
The Marlies had three different head coaches over the course of the season. Sheldon Keefe started out as the Marlies head coach, but was promoted to be the head coach of the Maple Leafs in late November. Following Keefe’s departure, his now former assistants AJ MacLean and Rob Davidson shared head coaching duties as the Marlies searched for an actual replacement. On December 1st, the Marlies announced Greg Moore as the team’s new head coach. Moore would make his debut behind the Marlies bench a few weeks later on December 21st against the Belleville Senators.
Under Sheldon Keefe, the Marlies soared out of the gate, recording a six-game winning streak to start the season and surged up the standings. By the time Keefe had coached his final AHL game on November 17th, the Marlies were on a three-game winning streak that his assistants would later extend to a season high seven-games. While the Marlies record under Keefe this season was impressive, there were definitely some areas of concern. The team was averaging an unsustainable 3.93 goals per game while also giving up a decent amount of goals against as well (2.93). The Marlies were a perfect 9-0-0-0 when they scored four plus goals under Keefe. In the games where the team scored three goals or less, they were a less impressive 2-2-2-0.
When AJ MacLean and Rob Davidson shared the coaching duties, the Marlies slowly started their descent back down to earth. As mentioned earlier, the Marlies won their first four games under the new coaching duo to extend their current three-game winning streak to seven games. After that, the team finished off this segment going 3-5-0-0. The Marlies goals for per-game decreased by just over a goal a game to 2.92, but the encouraging thing was the team’s goals against per game had decreased to 2.83.
On December 21st, Greg Moore made his debut behind the Marlies bench, defeating the Belleville Senators 7-3. In the 33 games that followed, the Marlies struggled tremendously, finishing 12-20-1-1 under Moore and falling from the top of the North Division to the bottom. The Marlies failed to play consistent hockey under Moore, posting only one winning streak (four games) and three different losing streaks, including a season low five-game losing streak in January. One encouraging thing though is that the Marlies generated 3.29 goals per game under Moore, a sizable increase from when MacLean and Davidson were at the helm. Defensively though, the team was a disaster, giving up an average of 3.94 goals against per game.
When I started to do research for this review, I was curious to see how players performed under each coaching staff and also who was missed by the team as the season progressed. Since this data is so specific to the Marlies, I had to track it manually. Below are player statistics under each coaching staff.
Kenny Agostino and Pontus Aberg delivered for the Marlies offensively this season, finishing first and second in team scoring respectively. Jeremy Bracco had a down year offensively but still managed to finish third on the team in scoring. Nic Petan proved that he is too good for the AHL but not quite good enough for the NHL, as he finished fourth in team scoring despite on playing 25 games.
Tanner MacMaster provided the Marlies with some nice secondary offense this season, recording 30 points and smashing his previous AHL career high of 17 points in the process. Scott Pooley established himself as an AHL player after his second recall to the Marlies in early January. Pooley recorded 11 points in those 23 games and seemed to earn the trust of head coach Greg Moore as the season progressed.
Egor Korshkov started off his rookie season on a five-game goal streak and recorded 15 points in the team’s first 22 games. Overall, I was impressed with Korshkov’s first season in North America. The biggest thing for him now is trying to find a level of consistency to his game. Korshkov rode a 10-game goalless streak from November 20th to January 3rd and will have to try and limit these kinds of streaks if he is to be a consistent threat offensively.
The 2019-20 season was definitely a rollercoaster for Adam Brooks. The high point of this season saw Brooks dress in seven games for the Leafs this season recording three assists. The low points saw Brooks miss significant time due to injury on two separate occasions. The clock is starting to tick for Brooks, but he is a guy who I would expect to be on the Leafs taxi squad should the season resume and to also get a long look at training camp next year.
Hudson Elynuik made the jump to the AHL this season, and while his offensive numbers were underwhelming, Elynuik made huge strides over the course of the season as the team’s fourth-line center. His skating improved and he earned the trust of Greg Moore down the stretch. Look for him to try and grab a larger role next season with the team.
The Marlies definitely missed Pierre Engvall after he was recalled to the Leafs for good in late November. At the time, Engvall was leading the way offensively with 16 points in 15 games and was starting to really put it all together and dominate the AHL.
On defense, Timothy Liljegren continues to takes steps in the right direction, leading all Marlies defensemen in scoring with 30 points, 12 more than the second place Teemu Kivihalme at 18 points. Speaking of Kivihalme, after a slow start to the season, Kivihalme really found his stride in the second half. When Sandin and Liljegren were up with the Leafs, Kivihalme stepped up and played the hard minutes for the team and did not look too bad doing so.
Kristians Rubins made the jump from the ECHL to the AHL this season and passed with flying colours, recording 14 points and was defensively sound for the team. He was rewarded with a two-year Entry-Level contract in April.
Out in Newfoundland, Joey Duszak and Mac Hollowell proved they were too good for the ECHL and earned recalls to the Marlies in the second half of the season. Duszak quarterbacked the Marlies top Powerplay unit while Sandin and Liljegren were up with the Leafs and recorded 18 points in 23 games. Hollowell got into 34 games with the Marlies and recorded 12 points. Both players are excellent offensively, but still need to learn how to defend at the professional hockey level if they want to get to the NHL.
The Marlies struggled to keep the puck out of the net this season, giving up a league worst 212 goals!
It was a trying season for rookie goalie Joseph Woll. After posting a shutout in his AHL debut, Woll’s level of play fluctuated throughout the year. Some of the highs included a 38 save shutout against Rochester in February and one of the low points was allowing 8 goals against vs. Belleville in March. Woll failed to string together a win streak of more than two wins this season, yet finished the season with an 11-16-3 record. With all this being said, Woll is only 21. Time is on his side here. It will be interesting to watch how he responds next year in his sophomore season.
Kasimir Kaskisuo finished 20th in the AHL in save percentage this season and while the Marlies featured a younger squad than in years past, Kaskisuo was unable to provide consistent stability for the team in net.
This season, the Marlies had 49 different players play at least 1 game for the team, which is down from the 60 the team used last season. With the Maple Leafs unable to rid themselves of the injury bug throughout the year, the Marlies lost many of their key contributors at various points of the season.
I think it is unfair to call the 2019-20 season for the Marlies a failure, given the circumstances and everything that went down. Coming in mid-season as a head coach is tough, especially when you are from a different league and also have the unenviable task of being the guy who is coming in after Sheldon Keefe, arguably the best coach in franchise history. I’m interested to see how the team performs next season when Moore and Laurence Gillman (hopefully) have an offseason to really put their mark on this team, not to mention Moore getting a full training camp to really establish his coaching style.
The injury bug that hit the Leafs this season has been well documented. I don’t think they iced their 100% healthy lineup once this season, coming close a few times around December before it was a free-for-all injury wise on defense to start 2020. Had the Leafs been able to stay relatively healthy like they had in years past, guys like Sandin, Engvall and even Liljegren would have spent more time down with the Marlies, which would have benefited them tremendously. All three mentioned above are top flight AHL players and when they were in the Marlies lineup this season, they soaked up the hard minutes and pushed other guys down into more appropriate positions in the lineup.
It will be interesting to see what the Marlies lineup looks like next season. The Marlies were able to add four new prospects into the pipeline for next season and the team should be able to count on improvements from the teams current prospects as they get a year older. They will also have prospect Filip Kral graduating from the WHL and SDA having the option to turn pro as well.