Toronto Maple Leafs (40-19-5) @ Florida Panthers (44-14-6)
Leafs Game #65
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Broadcast: SNO, BSFL
Place: Scotiabank Arena (now a smoke-free facility), Toronto, ON
Opponent’s Site: Litter Box Cats

The Panthers are the last team this season that hasn’t played any games against the Leafs. All three games on the now-modified schedule are in March and April, with the first tonight. This is a big deal because this season the Panthers feel like a team that has finally crossed over the line to be true contenders after spending the whole of the 2010’s trying and mostly failing to even get past the first round of the playoffs. Hey that story sounds familiar.

If anything, the Panthers have actually improved over the season. at least on paper. Even with their successful rise to the top of the standings, they were still big buyers at the NHL Trade Deadline, famously picking up Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux in a trade only one day after he had played his 1,000th game for his team. Giroux is of course still settling in on the Panthers, but he’s already had an assist, and is going to be as much of a threat on the ice tonight as he has been in his whole hockey career.

The Panthers could very well finish the regular season in first place by points across all 32 teams in the league—they’re currently second behind the Avalanche— but of course Leafs fans have learned the hockey gods often play cruel tricks on you, and success in the regular season holds no guarantees beyond that.

Other teams have clearly not learned that lesson.

Oh the Panthers also spent on getting Ben Chiarot, which, LOL.

Never the less, this is going to be a benchmark game for the Leafs. A win tonight is real evidence they can face down and defeat their toughest opponents. A loss is of course not the end of the world, but it will still look bad, especially after the result of last night’s game where they lost to the last place team in the league, and that following to losses to the near-last Sabres earlier this month.

Oh, and the Panthers also have two ex-Leafs prospects, who are both having career years right now. More on them in a moment. First, here’s the projected lines for tonight’s games.

Panthers Projected Lines

Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Claude Giroux
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Anthony Duclair
Mason Marchment - Eetu Luostarinen - Sam Reinhart
Ryan Lomberg - Noel Acciari - Maxin Maxim
OUT: Patric Hornqvist

Ben Chiarot - MacKenzie Weegar
Gustav Forsling - Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg - Brandon Montour

Spencer Knight (confirmed starter)
Sergei Bobrovsky

Leafs Projected Lines
(source: Jonas Siegel)

Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Alex Kerfoot
Pierre Engvall - David Kämpf - William Nylander
Colin Blackwell - Wayne Simmonds - Jason Spezza
OUT: Ondřej Kaše

Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
TJ Brodie - Justin Holl
Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren
OUT: Rasmus Sandin

Petr Mrázek - confirmed starter
Erik Källgren
OUT: Jack Campbell

This brings us to Carter Verhaeghe and Mason Marchment, the prospects drafted by the Leafs who are now famously stars for the Panthers.

Verhaeghe was sent out with a giant package of prospects over to the New Your Islanders back in mid-2015 for Michel Grabner. He has since made his way to play in Sunrise via Tampa.

He spent very little time in the organisation before being packaged up and sent off with four other prospects to the New York Islanders in a trade. It appeared that no one around the Leafs organisation back then had even an inkling there was serious talent to be developed there, never mind the kind or raw talent that would eventually turn into a first line NHL player, and I don’t mean another Mark Donk.

Verhaeghe is now at 21 goals and 27 assists in 63 games, which is about the same result so far this season as Michael Bunting, who kind of has the inverse story to Verhaeghe; a diamond the Leafs noticed in the rough, and brought him home to Toronto when the Coyotes cast him out.

But if you want to know about the decisions that lead to that, we already wrote the definitive post on it here:

The Carter Verhaeghe Story: from discarded Leafs prospect to a star in Florida

Mason Marchment has a much different story from Verhaeghe. While he was drafted at the same time, he stuck around the organistion for many years after the aforementioned GM change, and he had even more of those famously lavish Leafs development resources showered on him. I remember seeing him staying out with the crew after practicing at Marlies games, working with the staff on his JvR-style tip-ins, which he said was his favourite thing to practice. He was also famously one of Barb Underhill’s “more successful students” too, drastically improving his skating from gangling water-bug style to a much smoother form.

The Leafs changed his game so much for the better over the years, and he moved up the prospect ranks for several years straight. All signs pointed to him eventually getting a long term assignment on the Leafs roster.

In our 2019 Top 25 Under 25 I ranked him at 13, way higher than most who didn’t even have him on the list (credit to Hardev and Emily who also ranked him up there) and given the outcome of other Leafs on the list since that time (remember it’s an under-25 list, not a “prospects” list, so the top spots were taken by the likes of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Kapanen, etc...) I think that #13 accurately reflected he had some high value to the Leafs organisation.

What’s bizarre is how suddenly they gave up and moved him out, and didn’t even get much back in return, though it did lead to Arvind creating a famous PPP meme with his headline on the news.

Denis Malgin was the player who came back to the Leafs on that trade. He never seemed to have a reason to be here, and was quickly shuffled down and out of the lineup, and then his relationship with the team vanished to a point he bailed and returned back to his native Switzerland to play over there.

While the Leafs still technically hold Malgin’s NHL contract rights, there’s no indication he’s ever actually coming back from Europe to play in the NHL.

Now, I have no problem if Marchment asked for a way out because he knew there were teams that would play him in the NHL immediately, and for NHL pay, which was a lot more than what he would get on the Marlies, but you know he probably could be doing all that right now here in Toronto too given the issues the Leafs have had with some fourth line members not scoring anything at all in months, and the third line injuries that have piled up. It seems like it was unusually short-term thinking by Dubas that lead to the trade.

Marchment has shown now he has the kind of dynamism that’s needed to move up the lineup. No, he’s not a first line player, who could sit along side Matthew like Bunting does, but he has flexibility and skill to fill in higher in the lineup where needed. I wish he was still here.

It may be tinged with nostalgia, but nothing was more fun to see in person during that Marlies Calder Cup playoff run and win than the famous “Cinqo de Marchment” goal (credit to Todd Crocker on that call).

Also, has anyone else noticed he looks very much like Canadian pairs figure skating champion Paul Poirier? I immediately make the comparison in my mind every time I see either one of them. The World Figure Skating Championships are happening now, so I guess it’s unlikely they aren't actually the same person, but has anyone seen them in the same room at the same time?

The resemblance is uncanny.

With the Panthers you also need to watch out for tricky goals, like this one scored last night by video-review enthusiast Patric Hornqvist. It took the about seven minutes for NHL officials at the War Room in Toronto to confirm by phone to the referee on the ice in Ottawa that the puck actually does cross the red line here.

Finally, this game could be a sloppy one. Both teams are playing tonight on the segababa with travel; the Leafs played yesterday in Montreal, and the Panthers played yesterday in Ottawa. Everyone will be tired here, and it will probably not be an elegant victory for whichever team gets it. I’m expecting something like a 7-6 win.

Though perhaps it is fortunate they can even have this game at all, given how how a piece of equipment in Scotiabank Arena caught fire last night and forced the evacuation of the whole building. Fortunately, it was confined to one of the large auditorium speakers, and was easy to extinguish, though it produced a lot of smoke and the fire department actually had to come down while suspended from the catwalk under the roof to put it out.

So here we go, the Leafs first of three games this season, which is now 80% over, against one of, if not the best teams in the league.

In Friday’s FTB I included a poll for the outcomes of this weekend’s games. Here’s what you selected.

We know at least 42% of you got this wrong. We certainly hope people who picked “the Leafiest outcome” will be proven correct, and after losing to the worst team in the league last night, the beat the best team tonight.

For the record, in case you haven’t guessed already, I voted for the fifth option.

By the way, that doesn’t mean the Leafs will lose!

They’ll win it 4-3.