Toronto Maple Leafs: Tough Enough to Win Without Grinders

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 22: Leo Komarov
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 22: Leo Komarov /

With the loss of their two biggest hitters, can the Toronto Maple Leafs win when the refs put their whistles away?

I have noticed of late that many followers of Editor in Leaf believe it was a mistake to allow both Komarov and Martin to leave the Toronto Maple Leafs. Uncle Leo left via free agency and was signed by Lou Lamoriello to a four-year contract at three million per.  Matt Martin followed Komarov to Long Island/Brooklyn via trade.  Many people criticized Lou for the signings.

During the 2017/18 season, Martin dressed for fifty games and had 147 hits. He did not dress during the first round loss to the Bruins. Komarov had 214 hits while skating in 74 games and played in the first two playoff games. Both losses. The Leafs got destroyed by a combined score of 12-4 in the first two games.  Babcock decided that speed and scoring trumped truculence and adjusted his lineup.

Despite this, following the comments I have read in many articles, fans believe the Toronto Maple Leafs just aren’t tough enough to compete for a championship. People say they are too small, and not tough enough.

Is this a fair criticism?

I don’t think that it is.  The stats are pretty clear about one thing: skilled players tend to have the puck more.  Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Roman Polak – all tough guys who bring a certain aspect of the game.  But does that aspect make up for the lack of skill? Does a higher skill level make up for a lack of toughness?

Has Kyle Dubas constructed a Toronto Maple Leafs team tough enough to win at playoff hockey? I think he has. I don’t think toughness is just hitting, but also the ability to be hit and keep going. Take Andreas Johnsson as an example of one tough little SOB, even though he doesn’t really hit or grind.  Game four, Conference finals against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. After a scoreless first period, Johnsson scored early in the second on a power play. While standing off to the side of the net, arms raised in celebration, Travis Sanheim, cross-checked Johnsson. To put an exclamation point on this nastiness, all 6’4, 210 lbs of mean tough Phantoms defender cross-checked him once again while Johnsson was prone on the ice. When play gets rough, Andreas Johnsson excels.

The referees call no penalty on the play. That is playoff hockey. How does Andreas Johnsson respond? If you recall my definition of toughness: “the state of being strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough handling.”

Early in the third period, Johnsson receives a short pass from the half-wall, spins, finds a seam between three Phantoms defenders. He fires a low shot far side before the goalie can adjust. The game, the series over. Johnsson uses his superior skating, shot and exceptional hockey IQ to score that goal. The Phantoms look shocked. It happened so quickly. He made a nothing play into a series-winning goal. That is my underlying theme of this entire piece. Flattened during his first-period goal celebration to series hero.

Kyle Dubas vision for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Andreas Johnsson and the rest of the Marlies skaters were slashed, hacked, cross-checked, interfered with and generally mugged every shift during the playoffs. Every game. Nevertheless, what they did was play smarter and harder than their opposition. They dug down to find ways to succeed. That is why the 2018 Marlies are Calder Cup Champions. Not because they were a team full of grinders, but because they had a team full of skill.  Kyle Dubas is building the fastest, smartest, most talented and toughest Toronto Maple Leafs team the league has ever seen. That toughness is exhibited Rielly and Gardiner taking hits to move the puck up the ice.  By Auston Matthews being the best 5v5 goal scorer in the NHL, but Mitch Marner not caring if he’s smaller than everyone else!   To be tough, you do not need to hit someone. Outscore and, outplay your opponent and no one will remember who hit whom.

Next: List of Potential Off Season Topics

It isn’t going to matter than Komarov, Polak and Martin are gone. Instead of hitting more people, the Leafs will just score more.

Thanks for reading.

Stats courtesy of,