Toronto Maple Leafs: The Core Must Stay For More

Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports)
Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports) /

Another early playoff exit for the Toronto Maple Leafs doesn’t mean there should be a fire sale.

It is not easy being a sports fan, never mind being a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team gives us hope so they can make everything come crashing down. This past season is another example of it.

Another disappointing playoff performance has analysts and fans going into a panic. Everything that made the team successful is now a trade option. While entertaining the idea is not such a bad thing, the reality is.

Over the years, the Leafs stockpiled elite prospects, which have become crucial players to Toronto today. Among the team’s core are four homegrown players and one free agent.

Toronto Maple Leafs Core Is Excellent

Thankfully, discussions surrounding Auston Matthews and John Tavares haven’t come up; however, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly have emerged as hot topics, despite all appeals to common sense.  One positive though: The Nylander haters have been embarrassed into silence and nobody is trying to trade him anymore.

The duo of Marner and Matthews did fail to score, but it’s blown out of proportion. Having them put up over one point per game would be fantastic, but they got silenced by a top goaltender.

Having four and five points in seven games is not terrible. I agree that only one goal between the two of them is embarrassing. That does not mean Marner needs to get traded.

First of all, he is a pass-first player. Mitch does have an above-average shot and needs to use it more, without a doubt, but don’t expect him to keep up with Matthews. Instead, allow him to feed the puck to two goal-scorers and continue to encourage shooting once in a while.

Calling for Rielly makes no sense for the Toronto Maple Leafs, especially considering the defensive issues with the team in the past. His contract will expire soon, but you can’t ignore the impact he has on the team. He was among the team’s best players against Montreal, and he consistently puts up the results of an elite defenseman, even if most of his value comes from offense.

General manager Kyle Dubas put together a group of defenders that can cover all aspects of hockey. That may be defensively, offensively, or physically. Taking Rielly out of the equation leaves a large hole offensively and speed-wise.

Don’t change what’s working

Keep the core that has made the team successful during the regular season over the past couple of years. The loss of Tavares and defenseman Jake Muzzin played a crucial role in the collapse of the team. Why not look to that as the issue? The Leafs would  have been going to the second round if they could have scored one more goal over the last three games – so it’s not hard to imagine Tavares being the difference.

Tearing apart what has been working is not what will save the team. Instead, Dubas needs to complement the core that is in place.

Give the top line another lethal goal-scorer to complement Matthews and Marner. Allow Nylander to continue running a line himself. Be open to the possibility of splitting the core four forwards up into three lines. That must be experimented with before breaking down.

You go through years of drafts to select the players Toronto has on their team. Unless there is an immediate return (such as Jack Eichel), it is not worth parting ways with their stars. Instead, find supporting pieces and allow the stars to play to their best.

The pressure then comes down to head coach Sheldon Keefe. It is up to him to find ways to maximize the skill of the players on the team. It is up to Dubas to listen to Keefe on what the team needs. Overall, not much needs to happen for the team to continue its success.

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Does a colossal collapse in the playoffs once again suck? Absolutely. That does not mean you need to panic. The key pieces are already on the team. Hopefully, the team can find out how to use them the best.