The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games to end last season.
A key member of the Toronto Maple Leafs – Jake Muzzin – was absent from that game.
In a recent Sportsnet article, Luke Fox gave us a snippet of an interview that Tyler Toffoli did for an upcoming 31 Thoughts: The Podcast. I hope the Leafs were paying attention.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for the full interview, but I will repost the quote from the article for your reading pleasure.
“I think Muzz got hurt in Game 6, and I was like, ‘We’re going to Toronto. We’re winning Game 7.’ There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re winning. Because dude plays [20-plus] heavy minutes a night. He’s an incredible defenceman. It’s unfortunate he got hurt, but for us, it’s like, ‘Let’s finish Game 6, go to Toronto and win Game 7”
When I read this, my first thought was OUCH. That hurts. My second thought was yup, that about sums it up.
The reason why this quote goes so deep into the psyche of watching the Leafs collapse against the Habs, is because it absolutely goes against everything that we have heard from Dubas and Shanahan since the loss.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Tyler Toffoli
Dubas believes that his core 4 will win. Dubas believes in his cap structure. He believes in pure talent, even though the game of hockey teaches us over and over again that talent only takes you so far. Hockey has an “it” factor when it comes to winning. Teams that win big games, or a tough series, and yes, a championship; they all have that “it” factor.
Muzzin has that “it” factor. Muzzin was the guy that the Habs were afraid of. Muzzin was the guy that was in the heads of the Montreal players. Taffoli is a Stanley Cup winner and he won that Cup with Jake Muzzin in LA. He knows what it takes to win.
It wasn’t Matthews, Marner, or Nylander. It wasn’t Tavares going down in game 1. It wasn’t Campbell matching Price save for save.
According to Taffoli, the defining moment in the series was the moment Jake Muzzin went down in game 6. That was the moment Taffoli knew his team would come out on top.
The problem with this current Leafs core is not that they lack killer instinct. It’s not that they can’t play defense. It’s not that they can’t make a save. Believe it or not, it’s not the dreadful powerplay. It’s the fact that they just don’t have enough guys that can play “heavy minutes.” They don’t have enough guys that will welcome the pain, the grind, and get to work.
They don’t have enough Muzzin’s.
They added Nick Ritchie, but lost Zach Hyman and Zach Bogosian. That’s a -1 in heaviness differential.
Can Michael Bunting and David Kampf provide some minutes that the other team doesn’t enjoy? It’s possible. Personally, I think Kampf is going to surprise people and become a really useful player here, but is it enough?
Can Joey Anderson make the team and add some grit? I think so. He was my sleeper pick a couple of weeks ago. But, again, is it enough? I’m not sure.
This coming season may see Dubas go after a player like Nick Foligno at the trade deadline, instead of a player like Taylor Hall. Wait…didn’t we just…yes we did. Spending assets for a gritty player instead of a skilled player…again.
Unless this core really steps up and dominates games, and the defense stays healthy, it’s hard to argue this team is better than last year’s team. On paper at least, it’s a weaker team set to battle in a stronger division. It may be a struggle for 82 games just to make the playoffs.
Maybe that’s what this team needs. Maybe they need to learn how to fight before the fight, so to speak. Or at least learn how to take a punch and get back up. They need to be better at that. A lot better.
We know Muzzin will be there leading the way. We know he’ll be in the heads of the opposition. We know he’ll bring the “it” factor. The question is, how many players on this team are willing to step up and follow his lead? How many of these guys will embrace playing “heavy minutes”?
We’ll find out soon enough. Training camp is just around the corner. Talent alone will only get you so far. I would like to see the Toronto Maple Leafs get to the second round.