Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk had some fun Tuesday.
They joined their Leafs teammates in a memorable practice at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the arena formerly known as Maple Leafs Gardens. For any NHLer, even if they were too young to remember the last game played there, there’s no denying the history and nostalgia of one of hockey’s most famous rinks.
Tuesday marked the 19th anniversary of the Leafs’ last game played at the Gardens, a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. And the Leafs staged an open practice for their fans at the old rink, which is now part of Ryerson University.
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But something is definitely different about this trade deadline, even if the talk is the same. It appears both players have more job security, based on their play and the roles they fill.
Van Riemsdyk leads the Leafs in power-play goals and, with 23 goals in all situations, is within reach of his career high of 30, set in 2013-14. The Leafs have several excellent forward prospects with the Marlies, including Andreas Johnsson and Miro Aaltonen, and others who have had opportunities with the parent club, among them Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo and Fred Gauthier. But none of them can fill van Riemsdyk’s role — a big winger who is strong down low, can tip in goals and be a threat on the power play.
Bozak, similarly, remains hard to replace. His production has fallen off, but he remains the club’s go-to faceoff man, with a 52.7 per cent success rate. It would be difficult to find a third-line centre with his experience and ability.
There’s been talk of an extension for van Riemsdyk, although the length of the deal could become an issue. Bozak, also in a contract year, could ride out this season and follow the money in the free-agent market this July.
As for the trade deadline, its old hat for both players.
“When haven’t I been (on the block) in the last few years?” Bozak said. “I can’t tell you how many years I’ve been getting told that I’m being traded . . . Maybe the first year you hear it, you kind of get nervous. But after it happens for a few years . . . I try to block that out in the end and focus on our team.”
NOTES: Patrick Marleau is the only player on the Leafs roster old enough to have played a game at the former Maple Leafs Gardens. Marleau, 38, played there twice, with the San Jose Sharks during the late 1990s, during his rookie and sophomore seasons. Leafs coach Mike Babcock coached Lethbridge University to the Canadian university hockey championship at the former Gardens back in 1993-94.