Canada

Keefe looks for Maple Leafs growth after Nylander gets reprieve for being late to meeting

Maple Leafs winger William Nylander celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night. Nylander was in the lineup Tuesday against the Canucks, a day after he was late for a team meeting.

William Nylander got a reprieve on Tuesday night.

The Maple Leafs winger was in the lineup against the Vancouver Canucks, a day after he was late for a team meeting.

The first intent on the part of Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe had been to scratch Nylander because of the tardiness.

“Circumstances have changed a little bit since our initial decision (Monday),” Keefe said. “More importantly, the situation has allowed us to have some really good discussions as a team that will not only serve Will well, but also our entire group, in terms of the accountability to each other.

“There’s a responsibility as teammates that everybody has. That includes the coaching staff, and this time of year, most importantly, everybody has to be really focused and execute at a high level in everything, whether it’s meetings or whether it’s responsibilities on the ice. We all have to be held to a high standard and I think we’ve gone about it the proper way.

“It’s not about punishment, it’s about growth. That’s how we approach it. Our team is better when he’s in the lineup.”

The Leafs have run into injury trouble at forward, which helped force Keefe’s hand in keeping Nylander in the lineup.

Already without Zach Hyman, who will miss a minimum of two weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, the Leafs didn’t have Ilya Mikheyev, who is day to day with an undisclosed injury. Pierre Engvall and Adam Brooks dressed in place of Hyman and Mikheyev.

Fact is, there shouldn’t have been a reason for the Leafs to have the kind of accountability discussions to which Keefe referred. That sort of thing, one might have hoped, would have been engrained through the season, especially one in which boundaries are hardened in playing during the COVID pandemic.

Keefe acknowledged he was disappointed that with the playoffs on the horizon, he had to deal with a player and the issue of accountability.

“Of course,” Keefe said. “It speaks to the level of focus that we need and that’s why we responded the way that we did. We don’t just brush it aside. Everything is important always, but certainly even more so at this time of year.”

EDLER SPEAKS

Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler, whose knee-on-knee hit put Hyman on the sideline, addressed the incident.

Edler was suspended for two games by the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety.

“I’m trying to hit him and he cuts to the middle and I can’t get my leg out of there and we’re having a knee-on-knee collision,” Edler said on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, he gets injured on the play. I feel awful for him and I’m just hoping he recovers fast and he is back quick.”

On Sunday, Edler was at the end of a three-minute shift — an eternity in the NHL — when the play happened midway through the second period of the Canucks’ 3-2 overtime win. Edler said fatigue on his part was not a factor.

“If you’re on the ice for three minutes, you’re not fresh, but at the same time, I’m not using that as an excuse for anything,” Edler said. “I’m trying to step up and make a clean hit and when he cuts to the middle, I don’t have time to get my leg out of it.”

Edler was assessed a major for kneeing and a game misconduct.

JUNIOR VOICES

Leafs teammates Justin Holl and Alex Kerfoot sympathized with junior hockey players who won’t have played a game this season, especially those eligible for the 2021 NHL draft.

In major junior in Canada, the Ontario Hockey League took the brunt of the COVID impact, announcing Tuesday that it was abandoning plans to return to play.

“It actually makes me really sad,” Holl said. “Everyone is struggling through this pandemic and the consequences that it has, but really I feel bad for the kids and the people who only get a limited time to do whatever they’re doing.

“For OHL kids, you only get two or three years to enjoy yourself and those are really great formative years, so I really feel bad for kids in that situation, or kids playing college hockey who had their seasons cancelled.”

Kerfoot agreed.

“It’s tough for players at that age, losing a year of development, it’s tough for teams having to scout them,” Kerfoot said. “But you still got time to work on your body, work on your game and progress and that’s what it’s all about at that age. It really doesn’t matter too much where you get drafted, it’s about what you do in the next couple of years leading up to making the next step.”

The Western Hockey League won’t have playoffs once its 24-game schedule is done, while the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is forging ahead with a modified playoff format after managing to glue together a season in which no team played more than 43 games.

The 2021 Memorial Cup was cancelled last week.

MARLIES ON ICE

The Toronto Marlies have had their return to play put on hold.

Shut down since last Wednesday because of COVID protocols, which involved the postponement of three games, the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate will not be back on the ice soon.

The AHL announced on Tuesday that three more Marlies games — on Friday and Saturday in Belleville, and in Toronto against Belleville next Wednesday — have been postponed because of league COVID protocols and Toronto Public Health workplace guidelines.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

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