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An 82-game season is an incredibly long year for the Maple Leafs and the NHL, but what if I told you the Marlies had a huge advantage playing down the road?
In just a few weeks, the NHL All-Star break rolls around. Toronto plays the Boston Bruins before the break on February 1st and then doesn’t play at Columbus until February 10th. It’s a week off for most Maple Leafs.
This has benefits, such as giving their top players time to heal some of the bumps and bruises accumulated over this long season. However, with players in the bottom six, there may be a desire to keep them ready to go once the team ramps up to play again.
That’s where the Marlies come in.
Two players in particular I would like to see sent to the AHL as the NHL All-Star break begins are Bobby McMann and Pontus Holmberg. It’s not forever – because their play at the NHL level has been phenomenal – but only for a very short time.
The Marlies play two games (Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 vs. the Rockets in Toronto) before the AHL All-Star festivities begin Feb. 5 in Laval.
With both McMann and Holmberg down — playing top minutes — the Maple Leafs could be fresh when they return to practice after the break.
One of the reasons why I chose these two players is because they are off waivers and Toronto can move them up and down as they please. We’ve already seen it once, most recently with Holmberg, where he was sent to the Marlies for conditioning after falling ill.
The 23-year-old had a goal and an assist in three AHL games, and was then called up to the Maple Leafs.
Now, while it may not be the greatest thing in the world, I believe a return to the AHL will help both young players. It may only be two games, but those games can be a confidence booster if a player feels like they’re struggling.
As for McMahon, if he doesn’t find his first NHL goal before the All-Star break, a return to the Marlies could be a good chance for him to get a feel behind the net again.
That could allow him to return to the NHL with a little more conviction in that area, though just watching him play I’m not sure he’s lacking any confidence right now.
There might be an advantage to sending Jordy Benn to at least play a few games knowing that he probably won’t join the Maple Leafs unless he gets injured.
The only risk is that he needs to be waived again, so is it worth sending him down to get in a few AHL games?
As for him, and the way he played with the Maple Leafs, I would say no. Although Benn is older at 35 years old, he still proves to be a very dependable defenseman at the NHL level. Unless a roster spot is needed, I’d say keeping him in the NHL is the right move.
But for McMann and Holmberg — since they’re off waivers — a few AHL games didn’t hit during the All-Star break.