I'm not normally one to guarantee things, but it seems pretty clear that the Marlies will win their division this season. Compound that with the fact Morgan Rielly is ready to join the club, and Matt Finn and Stuart Percy could be there in a few weeks, and the team is certainly getting a much needed boost to the club.
And that poses well for AHL affiliate to the Toronto Maple Leafs, as the NHL trade deadline nears. It seems much of the attention on the Leafs will be focused on what they do in terms of the abundance of defencemen the team currently holds, and whether current Marlies forward Tim Connolly (who has a dismal 9 points in 19 games) attracts any attention from a pro-club down the stretch. It's safe to say the Marlies will keep as close an eye on their current schedule as what the big club does come April 3rd.
Fans need to keep in mind that the Leafs come first, so any moves conducted in the NHL could in fact affect the Marlies both for the good and the bad. As we've seen so far this season, Nazem Kadri has stuck with the Leafs, Matt Frattin also made the jump, and defencemen Mike Kostka, who was on a point-per-game pace with the Marlies, has also stayed in the pros. Mark Fraser, a pivotal component of the team's aggression and physicality, is also no longer part of the picture. Needless to say, getting Morgan Rielly will be a blessing for a team that could also use more star power to attract their fans for their playoff run.
A silver lining is the play of Marlies captain, Ryan Hamilton, who recently scored a hat trick in a Marlies rout over the Rochester Americans. Outside of his performance, there have been a few disappointments for the Marlies this season, as noted by the less than stellar transition of players Greg McKegg and Brad Ross to the professional stage, and the ongoing lack of development for Carter Ashton, who the Leafs acquired from the Lightning's system for promising defenceman Keith Aulie - though, at this time, it's difficult to say which team won that deal.
On the plus side, goaltender Drew MacIntyre has been an excellent back-up for Jussi Rynnas, with a 0.938 SV% in nine games, and could prove to be the difference maker for the Marlies playoff run.
Passive hockey fans may be surprised by the Marlies effort and success this season, despite the departures of their key pieces making the hop up, but those that follow carefully will note that the team depends on each other as a whole. This is a team that wins based purely on a full sixty minute effort at both ends of the ice. If they can hold it together and add some scoring talent to the fold from their prospects, the team can certainly find the same success they had last year.
Here's hoping for an exciting finish for the Baby Buds.