With the Toronto Maple Leafs in town on Tuesday night, Josh Leivo will have a chance to prove his former club they were wrong for casting him away. It’s something he’s been doing all season with his new opportunity in Vancouver, but now he’ll get to do it in person.
Leivo had a difficult situation in Toronto. Despite being a third-round pick who posted good numbers in the OHL and then the AHL, he was never really viewed as part of the solution. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander were always the focus, but Leivo wasn’t even viewed in the same light as young depth players like Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, and Kasperi Kapanen.
He was drafted 86th overall in 2011, which was the Brian Burke era, and he turned pro in 2013, which was the Dave Nonis era. By the time 2015 rolled around and the Lou Lamoriello era began, Leivo had already put up 74 points in 110 AHL games over two seasons. Despite this, he was sent to the AHL for a third season as the Mike Babcock-led Leafs tanked for Auston Matthews in 2015-16.
Leivo would never be able to earn a chance with Babcock behind the bench. In 2016-17, he spent five games in the AHL, 13 in the NHL, and the rest watching from the press box. It was more of the same the following season, as Leivo got into 16 games while sitting and watching the rest. Even in 2018-19 after the Leafs lost forwards James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak to free agency and William Nylander sat without a contract, Leivo seldom got a chance from Babcock in the top-six.
Just over a year ago, general manager Kyle Dubas finally set Leivo free as the Leafs faced a roster crunch with Nylander returning to the team. He was shipped from Toronto to Vancouver in exchange for Michael Carcone and has since posted 34 points in 79 games for the Canucks.
Since Babcock was fired a few weeks ago, stories have been coming out left, right, and centre about how his players couldn’t stand playing for him. Despite Leivo spending the majority of his early NHL career in Babcock’s doghouse, he was tight-lipped on the situation, opting to take the high road when asked if his former coach played “mind games” with him while in Toronto.
Josh Leivo was asked if Babcock played mind games with him during tenure with #Leafs: "I'm kind of moved on from that. No more comments on that."
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) December 9, 2019
Instead, Leivo is focusing on the positives, which is an appreciation for his new opportunity in Vancouver.
“[Getting traded to Vancouver] saved my career,” he told Sportsnet earlier this season. Getting out of there and right away Greener showing trust and belief in me got me back to where I knew I could be.
“I think every league I’ve played in, I’ve kind of shown that I could produce. I wasn’t given the opportunity [in Toronto], but there were a lot of things going on there. They had new faces, a lot of skill coming in with the draft picks they got. I just missed an opportunity with that team and I was fortunate enough to get it on this team.”
Finally getting a chance to play consistently, Leivo has 16 points in 30 games, putting him on pace to shatter his career-high of 24 points he posted last year in his first full season as a regular NHL player. He also has some of the best underlying shot numbers on the Canucks so far this season.
Ironically, the Leafs look like they could use Leivo right about now as they’re rolling with an AHLer in Pontus Aberg as their top-line left-winger. Regardless, while he’ll likely never say it, you can bet that Leivo will be looking to do this again tonight against his former club…
- Tonight’s game against the Leafs marks the first time since 2006 the Canucks will host Toronto at 7 pm local time. Usually, the Canucks have to play their games against the Leafs at 4 pm local time in order to accommodate Toronto. The issue here isn’t the start time so much as it is bending over backwards for Toronto.
- With it being a game against the Leafs, there’ll inevitably be a bunch of Leafs fans in attendance. Justin Holl, another guy who got scratched a lot by Babcock, spoke about what it was like playing as the visiting team in an environment with a lot of Leafs fans in the audience. “I was scratched a lot last year, so I’d be working out in our road room and hear a really loud cheer. I’d wait for the horn and if there was none, it meant a Leaf goal.”