The Toronto Maple Leafs are in Beantown to prepare for a game against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins tonight. The Leafs ended their four-game losing streak when they beat the New Jersey Devils in a shootout on Sunday, but the Bruins are on an entirely different level.
The Bruins went one-for-three in their California road trip, but that’s not exactly surprising because those California teams are really, really good. The Bruins are still 18-4-2 at home, employ probably the best goalie in the League right now in Tuukka Rask, and have beaten the Leafs the other two times they’ve played them this season.
In short, the Leafs are heavy underdogs in this game. As James Mirtle writes, their play since that 10-4 October has been at an atrocious, lottery-team level of futility. I’ll highlight a couple of key paragraphs from that piece:
Since they’ve deemed Randy Carlyle untouchable, the right play here for Nonis is to see how his team performs in the two weeks before deciding on a course of action. The Leafs have a tough Western road swing coming up, and if they continue to pile up losses, they’re not coming out of this.
That’s when management needs to give up the idea they’re going to rediscover their October magic and start looking at (a) getting something for free agents they don’t intend to bring back and (b) moving any dead weight they can foist on other teams.
That means trying to move the likes of Nikolai Kulemin, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson and even Dave Bolland, depending on the return. This team shouldn’t have any illusions of making noise in the playoffs because they clearly aren’t good enough. It’s best to try to sell some assets off, and if you end up with a top-five pick in June, that’s all the better.
Speaking of the Draft, NHL Central Scouting released their midterm prospect rankings yesterday. In a bit of a surprise move, Samuel Bennett scored the number-one spot for North American skaters ahead of Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart. You can see many of these players (but not Bennett, unfortunately) in the Top Prospects Game on Sportsnet Ontario tomorrow night at 9.
Shifting our gaze to another Atlantic Division rival, the Florida Panthers’ new owner intends to have his team spend up to the cap, which doesn’t usually happen in small, warm-weather markets. But as Ryan Lambert asks, will it really matter for a team that hasn’t been able to attract top free agents?