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Timmins returns, Leafs sport neck guards, no Klingberg update: Maple Leafs Practice Notes

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
3 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs are slowly but surely making their way through an excruciating stretch of 12 days with only two games in between. With one more off-day ahead of a return to a normal NHL schedule on Friday, the Leafs are back in Toronto and practicing ahead of a back-to-back on the road this weekend. They visit Chicago to take on the Chicago Blackhawks for their second and final meeting of the season on Friday, and they’ll face Kyle Dubas’ Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this year. 
The Leafs’ lineup ahead of this weekend’s games looks strikingly similar to the one they’ve run over the course of this four-game win streak, as it should. But, there’s one small change on the back end, and it’s the return of Conor Timmins. 
The 25-year-old defenceman was a man possessed during preseason, notching a whopping six points in two games before a lower-body injury from a hit sidelined him for a couple of months. Timmins’ injury history has been well-documented during his time in the NHL, having never played more than 42 games in a single pro season, but he also displayed some serious offensive potential both in preseason and last year. The Thorold native tallied 14 points in 25 games for the Leafs before their trade deadline action pushed him down the depth chart. 
If Timmins comes back and performs even close to the level he did in preseason, it’s safe to say that it’ll put the final nail in the coffin of John Klingberg’s job. The point of the latter’s contract was to bring in a right-handed puck-mover, but his five assists in 14 games haven’t been worth his horrid defensive play nor his annual cap hit of $4.1 million. If Timmins can do the same job for a fraction of the cost and manage to stay somewhat healthy, I don’t see how they justify keeping Klingberg’s money on the cap. 
Speaking of him, Keefe was naturally asked about his status today but didn’t bring much of an update. Klingberg has been out of the lineup since the Leafs’ win over the Vancouver Canucks on November 11 dealing with a hip injury that has apparently been plaguing him for years now. Keefe said that the long plane ride didn’t help Klingberg on the way to Sweden, and it was reported that he held an emotional scrum about his situation and the uncertainty around his ability to play. 
Regardless of what you think of Klingberg’s on-ice play this season, you never want to see a player in this position. It’s clear that nobody’s more frustrated with the way the season has gone than he is, and at this point, recovering and getting to a point where he can enjoy life after hockey is ultimately priority number one, just like it was for Jake Muzzin when he got hurt at the beginning of last season. 
One final note to end on, and one that’s very encouraging to see, is that a couple of Leafs players were seen sporting neck guards at practice. Mark Giordano, Simon Benoit, and Tyler Bertuzzi all rocked neck guards today, in the wake of the accident that claimed the life of former Pittsburgh Penguin Adam Johnson a little under a month ago. William Nylander also commented on whether or not he’d try a neck guard. 
The Leafs’ 2:00 start against Chicago on Friday will mark their final afternoon game of the season.
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