Tampa Is Proof the Toronto Maple Leafs Are Built For Victory

John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot to learn from the new Stanley Cup Champions.

It’s been more than one full calendar year since the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the 2019-20 season. Now, finally, the sun has set on the season and new champions have been crowned. The Tampa Bay Lightning, long considered one of the best teams in hockey, have ascended Mount Olympus and entered the halls of hockey’s great ones.

Clearly, the Leafs as currently assembled have a lot to learn before they can even attempt to replicate this accomplishment, but if you look beyond the surface, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning actually have a lot in common, and Leaf fans should be optimistic for the future.

So, simply put, we have to ask the evergreen question “how does this affect the Leafs?”

Similarities and Differences

The Leafs and Lightning are both teams that are built on the concept of speed, skill and out-performing the opposing team where it matters most- on the scoresheet. Both teams feature several “undersized” forwards and, on paper at least, not the deepest defensive core.

In fact, the defense rosters of both teams are where they are most similar: two All-Star caliber players (Muzzin and Rielly for the Leafs, Hedman and McDonagh for the Bolts), young players who are still developing (Sandin/Dermott and Sergachev, respectively) and the rest of the players are spare parts who are barely above replacement level in terms of raw talent.

What Tampa does better, and ultimately, the factors that brought them to their long-awaited championship are a more balanced bottom-6 who contribute both on and off the score sheet, and Vezina-quality goaltending from one of the best young netminders in the game (the Leafs absolutely need to draft Yaroslav Askarov if they get the chance).

They also boast a killer mentality, by which I mean, the team never just lays down to die. One of their stars, be it Point, Hedman, Kucherov, or Stamkos (when healthy), always decides to take the team on his back and singlehandedly carries them to victory. Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman did this countless times throughout the postseason, despite routinely playing close to, or in excess of, 30 minutes a night.

And, of course, the final factor in which Tampa eclipses the Toronto Maple Leafs: they have the ability to be completely miserable to play against. Win or lose, their opponents usually leave with at least some reminder that they played the Tampa Bay Lightning. The emphasis is always on out-scoring the enemy, nobody wins a hockey game, let alone the Stanley Cup, by out-hitting their opponent (a fact that some fans seem to forget sometimes), but that’s what the fourth line is there for.

So, what lessons can the Leafs learn from the new champions? They don’t necessarily need an all-star right-handed defenceman like Alex Pietrangelo (though it certainly wouldn’t hurt their chances) to win it all. None of Zach Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk, Luke Schenn or Erik Cernak are guys who’ll turn the tide, they’re just decent (at best) role players, who know their job and work in the system the team has developed. Develop that physical edge and killer mentality. Use the pain of previous defeats and embarrassments to power through, and go get that ultimate glory that Toronto has been waiting 53 years for.

Oh and finally, this is the most important part:

So, as much as you may hate to hear it, the Leafs absolutely SHOULD NOT trade William Nylander for a random defenseman just because he shoots right. Tampa’s core has been together for years, it’s been over a decade for some of these guys, and they didn’t blow it up at any point. Patience is key, and as they say, the proof is in the pudding:

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Have faith in the vision of Shanahan and Dubas, let them grow into winners. Commit to what this team is, what they can be, and what they WILL be.