Toronto Maple Leafs Biggest Off-Season Move Will be Patience

TORONTO, ON-Toronto-DUBAS.The Maple Leafs announced today the promotion of Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Brendan Shanahan was on hand for the announcement..May 11, 2018. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON-Toronto-DUBAS.The Maple Leafs announced today the promotion of Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Brendan Shanahan was on hand for the announcement..May 11, 2018. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be in a tricky spot this off-season.

While it’s true that the new Playoff format gives the Toronto Maple Leafs a potentially easier path to the Finals, the fact is that after a four month mid-season break, these should be the most unpredictable playoffs ever.

While the Leafs might get lucky and give us something fun to celebrate, the odds are that they won’t win (Even whoever the best team actually is will fail to win the Cup more than 60% of the time).

When that happens, there will be the usual hand wringing, and most people will want change for the sake of it, regardless of how good the team actually is, and how long it figures to be good for.

So what do the Leafs do if they don’t win this year?

The answer is simple, but it will require strength.

The strength to ignore the critics and stay the course.

Toronto Maple Leafs on the Right Track

Two of the best centres in the NHL.  (Matthews, Tavares).

Two of the best wingers in the NHL. (Nylander, Marner).

By far the best third line in hockey (Johnsson-Kerfoot-Kapanen).

One top-ten blue-line stud (Rielly).

One elite shut-down pairing (Muzzin-Holl).

An all-star goalie. (Andersen).

It’s hard to argue that that is one of the best foundations in the NHL.

Add in the fact that the team has zero bad long-term contracts, and that we didn’t even mention the likes of Hyman and Dermott (two guys using the cover of five or six star players to post near-elite numbers) and you can clearly see this team is ready for something special.

Critics will point to two things, both of which are based on tradition and reputation, and which have nothing to do with reality.

One is that the team isn’t tough enough.  We should put that garbage to bed forever.

Teams that focus on skill are the new norm.  Tough guys and size are useless unless they also come with a ton of skill.  Old-school Leafs fans bemoan the new philosophy, but their tears only seem to give Kyle Dubas more powers, and praise be to that.

The second is the team’s defense.  This isn’t even a real problem, but people have been conditioned to think it is.  The Leafs, under Sheldon Keefe, had the 5th best expected-goals percentage in the NHL.

Expected-Goals is a stat that  uses all un-blocked shot-attempts (Fenwick) and shot location to determine how much a team should score, if you take the randomness of goalies and luck out of the equation.  It is far better at predicting the future than any other stat we have, including actual goals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs play in such a way that they take risks to score and keep possession of the puck.  This leads to the occasionally ugly goal, but don’t forget that tightening things up defensively leads to a reduced chance of scoring.

Successful hockey strategy about the combination of offense and defense, not the strength of either alone.

When you combine offense and defense, and account for luck, the Toronto Maple Leafs are 5th in the NHL.  They did that during a 47 games stretch with their new coach, which included 1) learning a new system 2) Morgan Rielly missing 23 games 3) Jake Muzzin and Rielly both missing at once from nine games 3) No Ilya Mikheyev or Andreas Johnsson.

The Leafs also made significant upgrades in their defensive play after changing coaches, and if they dress a healthy lineup, that can only get better.

So the bottom line is this: the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t need anything.   They have Nick Robertson, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren ready to break into the league and provide three years of dirt cheap contracts each.

So the primary goal for the summer will be to just remain patient. The team doesn’t need to sign free agents, or make any trades.  They just need to figure out what they are doing with Spezza, Clifford, Malgin and Dermott, all of whom can be replaced internally if necessary.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs need nothing but time.  They have the NHL’s best roster and eventually, you are going to see that is true.