Toronto Maple Leafs: The Enemy’s Insight – Regression

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 11: John Tavares #91 and Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skate towards the bench during an NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on October 11, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. The Leafs defeated the Wings 5-3. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 11: John Tavares #91 and Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skate towards the bench during an NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on October 11, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. The Leafs defeated the Wings 5-3. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are steamrolling the competition and boy is it ever making their rivals mad.

Welcome back to the FanSided Exclusive weekly series, The Enemy’s Insight! If you’re unfamiliar with what this series actually is, allow me to explain.

Each week, Omar White, Managing Editor of FanSided’s Montreal Canadiens site, Habs Eyes on the Prize, will ask me three Leafs-centric questions from the perspective of a Habs fan, and vice versa. And each week, I’ll be right here to answer them.

Without further adieu, let’s get started. What’s Omar jealous about today?

“What do you make of the Leafs offence so far? Is it sustainable?”

The Leafs, as a team, are shooting 15.4% at this point on the year. That is, for lack of a better term, insane. Ridiculous. Crazy. Ludicrous, even.

For reference, league average falls somewhere within the 10% range, meaning that Leaf-shot pucks have found the back of the net roughly 5% more frequently than those shot by an average NHL squad.

So no, I don’t foresee that to be sustainable. At least not enough to withstand an 82-game season. Which isn’t to say they’ll take a marked step back, either.

We’ll get to this later, but Toronto is far and away the most offensively dominant team in the NHL through the first five games of their schedule, and they’re doing it all without William Nylander, a borderline-elite offensive weapon. Much has been made of the team’s unprecedented power play potency, and rightfully so, but even that comes with the caveat of all 7 of their man advantage goals originating from a stacked first unit.

Guess who’s expected to quarterback the second unit upon his return? That’s right, it’s William Nylander. Suddenly, each unit becomes capable of lighting the lamp in their own right, and unit two’s positive increase carries the potential of offsetting unit one’s inevitable regression.

It’s primarily the five-on-five offence that will crater the hardest.

Auston Matthews‘ current shooting percentage has ballooned up to 52.9%, a mark so ridiculously high that it would land him in the top-20 among the NBA’s field goal percentage leaders from the 2017-18 season. So yeah, he’s bound to regress. And that’s even when ignoring John Tavares, the Leafs’ second-leading scorer, who’s shooting an equally unsustainable 28.6%. Safe to say he’ll take it down a notch as well

On the flip side, 13 different Leafs currently sit on 0% shooting, and that list includes perennial 30-goal man Nazem Kadri and money-in-the-bank 20-goal getter, Patrick Marleau. Pepper in some anticipated bounce-backs from Andreas Johnsson, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, and Jake Gardiner, all of whom are goalless, and that’s more than a few tallies in the bank.

As Matthews and Tavares fall back to earth, a host of snake-bitten Leafs will begin their rise to bridge the offensive gap.

Capping off my incoherent rambling; no, Toronto’s torrid offence will not sustain its current pace across an entire season. But it won’t enter into freefall either.

“Is Kyle Dubas still committed to his ‘We can and we will’ regiment, or will a time come when he starts to consider moving Nylander?”

I’m getting very close to muting the word “Nylander” on Twitter. You know, for the sake of my mental health.

William Nylander will get signed. It’s going to happen. There’s no “if” here, it’s “when”.

RFA contract hiccups, particularly regarding the second contract, happen all the time in the modern NHL. They’re a common occurrence and the only reason why Nylander’s has dominated the news cycle for what feels like a decade is that the Leafs, in their history, have never had a young player of his calibre before.

This is a unique situation to the franchise, and only to the franchise. The ensuing panic over his stalemate is simply a byproduct of the fact that no one inside the Toronto media has ever grappled with a predicament like this before, leaving them completely unprepared with how to handle it.

I’m not sure if you caught this during the game in Detroit on Thursday night, but a brief moment occurred when Andreas Anathasieou grabbed the puck, and the broadcast team just casually dropped how he, in his RFA year, didn’t come to terms on a second deal until October 23rd.

And that happened just LAST YEAR. As in, less than 12 months ago. Check the calendar.

Sure, Anathaseiou and Nylander are different calibres of player, but it nonetheless highlights exactly how these situations tend to draw out only to resolve themselves ALL THE TIME. For the love of God, this isn’t special.

Let’s recap all the facts, shall we? Kyle Dubas has said Nylander will get signed. Mike Babcock has said Nylander will get signed. Even Nylander has said Nylander will get signed. So, going off the corresponding data, it’s reasonable to assume that Nylander will, indeed, get signed.

Then there’s the salary cap.

Well, the numbers confirm that the Leafs can fit their big four under the cap. Dubas has confirmed that the Leafs can fit the big four under the cap. Therefore, I’m going to assume that the Leafs can, indeed, fit their big four under the cap.

Everyone shut up and enjoy the hockey. Please.

“Can Nazem Kadri score 30 goals again?”

That’s a good question, and the answer is entirely dependent on who Kadri ends up playing the bulk of his minutes with.

If he continues spending time in between Josh Leivo and Connor Brown, there’s a snowball’s chance in a steam bath of Kadri repeating his now-expected 30-goal pace. Kadri thrives, as most players do, alongside playmakers, a description neither Brown nor Leivo can reasonably identify with.

Just look what lugging around Leo Komarov did to his offensive output only a year ago. Leivo and Brown almost certainly won’t go far enough to hold Kadri pointless for over3 a month, but they won’t exactly ignite him either.

On the other hand, Nylander is set to make his return in the (hopefully near) future, and with the emergence of Kasperi Kapanen as a suitable weapon alongside Matthews on the top line, Nylander may find himself on Kadri’s wing to start things out. Swap out any of Toronto’s bottom-six options for the young Swede and offence is bound to follow.

Not to mention, Kadri has clearly cemented his role on the first PP unit, a luxury akin to being born to billionaire parents. Sure, you can go your entire life without working for a single minute and it won’t change the fact that you’ll still die rich regardless.

Honestly, with that unit on the ice, Kadri could lie belly first inside the crease and see enough pucks deflect in off his lifeless body to confidently flirt with his past totals.

And the best part of all? It doesn’t matter.

Kadri doesn’t need to put up his annual 30-spot because the Leafs simply have enough weapons capable of compensating. As long as he doesn’t murder anyone in the playoffs again, which still remains to be seen, Kadri can coast through the regular season with little to no ramifications.

Few teams, if any, can say the same.

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Thanks for reading!