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Ayr's Clifford 'over the moon' to be back with Leafs

The Leafs play the Kings Wednesday
Kyle Clifford Leafs 2020
Photo from @MapleLeafs on Twitter

The ghosts of Kyle Clifford’s NHL past are colliding all at once.

One week after being reacquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, everything is sunny in the life of Clifford.

The bottom-six power forward is back in Los Angeles — where he began his pro career and won a couple Stanley Cup rings — and was officially recalled to the Leafs after a weekend of conditioning with the AHL Marlies.

After getting hit with COVID symptoms and waived by the St. Louis Blues after just two pro games (and one assist) this season, Clifford’s $1.3 million salary ($1 million cap hit) was scooped up by Kyle Dubas for future considerations.

The Blues saved real money. The Leafs brought back a real dressing room favourite, a veteran presence, and a standup guy the GM has believed in since the Soo.

“A welcoming call from Kyle. I was over the moon, excited to be back here,” Clifford said during his lone meeting with Marlies reporters. “Unbelievable city. It’s home. So, it makes it easy. It’s a no-brainer.”

Clifford registered four shots in his two games with the Marlies and didn’t score a point — but that’s not really the point.

The 30-year-old Ayr, Ont., native is back on his hometown club, eager to crash and bang and inject a veteran bottom six with even more desperation and experience.

"A tremendous add for our team and organization," coach Sheldon Keefe said.

Prior to arriving in Toronto — where he put up three points in 16 games as a 2020 deadline rental in the Jack Campbell trade — Clifford had hit the ice just twice in the past three weeks, set back by the virus.

Dubas had tried to re-sign the gritty left wing in 2020, but Clifford understandably took the security of a two-year, $2-million deal with the Blues.

Losing traction in St. Louis, Clifford was willing to temporarily leave his young family in Missouri to rejoin friends and skate out the year with a surging Leafs squad.

“They’re going to stay in St. Louis for the rest of the year. So, it’s going to be a long year. I’ll miss them. But my wife’s doing a good job down there. She’s taking care of the fort,” Clifford said.

“Honestly, I’m just excited. I didn’t want to leave; I know they didn’t want me to leave either. So, I’m thrilled to be back.”

Clifford skated as an extra Tuesday in L.A., replacing Joey Anderson, who was returned to the AHL.

He wore No. 43 this time. In his first tour as a Leaf, Clifford wore No. 73.

You can watch his recent appearance on Rogers Hometown Hockey here.

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