Toronto Maple Leafs: Was This Season Too Good to be True?

John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports) /

In Game 1 of the 2021 NHL Playoffs, it all came crashing down for the Toronto Maple Leafs

If you told me five years ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs would have Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, John Tavares, an actual defensive core, and two of the top points-getters in the NHL, I honestly believe my cause of death would be suffocation from laughter.

Fast-forward to the team today, and that is what the team has at their disposal. Toronto can score like crazy, hold their own defensively, is relevant physically, and has the leadership to guide them.

There isn’t much that the Toronto Maple Leafs needed to put them over the top to win the Stanley Cup. Now, after Game 2, the team faces a huge problem.  In the second period of Game 1, second-line center John Tavares took a knee to the head. He was knocked unconscious, put on a stretcher, and immediately taken to the hospital.

I sincerely wish the best for John and hope he gets back to 100 percent as soon as possible. Luckily, Tavares avoided any structural damage, and considering how it looked, his diagnosis of a  concussion, while terrible, seems lucky in comparison to our worst fears. I’m thankful that his injury is not as bad as it seemed.

His knee got banged up before the brutal hit, and that alone will keep him out of the lineup for at least two weeks. How bad the concussion was is unknow at this point.

Replacing Tavares

For the rest of the team, they are down a leader, mentor, and go-to guy. There is no doubt it will have an impact on the locker room. Let’s hope the other veterans on the team can make up for that.

On the ice, Tavares was more than reliable defensively while being a top threat offensively. He still managed to put up around one point per game during the regular season with 50 points in 56 games.

Nick Foligno stepped in for Tavares in Game 2 and wasn’t bad. On his wings were Alex Galchenyuk and William Nylander. During the game, Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza played shifts as head coach Sheldon Keefe tried different lines for different situations.

The best bet in my eyes was putting Jason Spezza in. He racked up 30 points in 54 games, won 57 percent of his faceoffs, and had an on-ice offensive zone percentage of 58 percent during the regular season.

Despite that, I love Keefe mixing up the lines based on what he wants to play at that moment. Foligno adds a physical defensive presence, Spezza adds an offensive edge, and Thornton gives them some size and is a playmaker.

This hole can’t be patched up

Regardless of what Keefe does, nothing will replicate John Tavares. He is an irreplaceable player that is elite on both ends of the ice.

It takes away what general manager Kyle Dubas had been trying to emulate for some time, two dominant lines. Teams can sometimes shut down one line full of stars, but good luck shutting down two. Now, the Leafs are back to one dominant line led by Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Toronto won Game 2, so we know they can still play well without their captain; however, how will the team play against teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Las Vegas Golden Knights? To beat them, the Leafs will need two dominant lines.

While Toronto’s depth is impressive, it’s not enough to overcome the loss of Johnny T. Tampa won the cup with their captain, Steven Stamkos, playing only one game in the playoffs, so there is hope. Then again, I don’t think the Leafs are as good as the Lightning were.

The season may be too good to be true. The regular season was great, but things have already started to fall apart.

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I hope the Toronto Maple Leafs can keep things rolling, but no amount of depth will make up for their star players. While I hope the Leafs can make it all the way, losing John Tavares does hinder their chances. Missing him can be what holds the team from winning the Stanley Cup.