The Toronto Maple Leafs lost in the first round of the playoffs.
For the third straight year, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
When you say it like that, it sounds terrible, but the Leafs are progressing towards being one of the NHL’s best teams, and it’s important to contextualize their three losses before drawing sweeping conclusions.
This past season for instance, they lost to the Bruins but:
- Kadri was suspended
- Dermott and Gardiner were both playing hurt
- Boston scored seven power-play goals in seven games (that’s a lot).
- The Leafs outplayed them at 5v5
- Mike Babcock screwed up
Seven games is a short series and anything can happen, and as the Leafs proved, the best team doesn’t always win.
You can’t help it if a team goes on a power-play bender, and you can’t help it if two of your best defensemen are hurt. But the coach’s errors could have been helped.
Yesterday, when Babcock spoke about Matthews “earning” more ice time, it was frustrating because it completely lacked substance. Auston Matthews is your best player, whatever he did to become your best player was how he “earned” his ice time.
That kind of nonsense is frustrating because it sounds good and people eat it up. But how can the player who was drafted first overall and who has outscored Alex Ovechkin’s early career totals need to earn anything?
He already did. In the first game of his career where he scored four goals.
So when Matthews was on the bench while the Toronto Maple Leafs were down two goals in game seven, was that because he hadn’t earned it yet? When Marleau – who scored less than Frederick Gauthier on a per/minute basis was only skating for one less 5v5 minute per night, who, exactly, earned what?
Mike Babcock might be a great motivator and leader in private. In public he comes across in folksy clichés that don’t mean anything.
What I would have liked to hear is Babcock say “Kyle and I sat down and he showed me how little Matthews played compared to his peers, and explained how, extrapolated over 82 games, it might have given us home-ice advantage if we played him more.”
If you’re a 28 year old with a history of injury comparable to Joffrey Lupul, then load management is for you. If you’re a 22 year old in the prime of your career, then you should be getting as much ice time as you can handle.
I’m not saying the Toronto Maple Leafs should run Matthews into the ground – they have a deep team and they don’t need to – but there is no excuse for having him come in around 50th in ice time when he’s a top two or three player in the world.
A couple minutes per game will make a huge difference, since NHL games are won and lost almost exclusively by your star players.
But more than that, I would have liked to hear Babcock set an example by saying something meaningful – something like “In a series we probably should have won anyways, I can see how utilizing your best players could be the difference. I didn’t do that and it’s on me.”
Or failing that:
“Auston Matthews is one of the best players in the world, and I’ll play him accordingly.” Anything but talking about earning it. He’s a 22 year old millionaire who can do what he’s good at better than all but three or four people on this earth.
He $$$$$$$$ earned it.