The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that excels at physical hockey.
What? You thought the Toronto Maple Leafs were a bunch of wimps who constantly get pushed around and don’t have what it takes for playoff hockey?
Give me a break here, man.
It’s 2022, not 1998.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a perfectly built hockey team, and to the extent that they even need to add another player, they should be looking for a star player who is a game-breaker who will make them significantly better at winning hockey games.
Games, I might remind you, which are usually won by whichever team has the puck the most, and therefore throws the LEAST bodychecks.
Is there are dumber stat in hockey than bodychecks? Yes, actually – faceoffs, goals-against-average, plus-minus and giveaways are equally meaningless, but I digress.
The Leafs are already good at playing physical hockey, which I know because hockey is a physical game and they are among the best teams in the NHL, whacky and improbable playoff results not withstanding. But do they need to get tougher? Should they acquiesce to the wishes of a fan base that clearly loves OLD TIME HOCKEY?
Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Get Softer, If Anything
The Leafs most obvious path to improvement is to replace Justin Holl. If they do, the odds are that they will acquire a puck-moving star-level player, and not a checker. So, by definition, since their biggest need is to replace Holl, and since Holl’s replacement will almost certainly be smaller and less physical than Holl is, it is correct to say the Leafs need to get softer, not tougher.
Lot’s of talk around this topic centres around the playoffs. The Leafs are a good playoff team, contrary to popular belief.
As a young group with no business even making the playoffs, they threatened Legacy Teams like Washington (once) and Boston (twice) with upsets. Had Nazem Kadri kept his cool, the Leafs would almost certainly have won at least once against Boston.
You don’t push the eventual champs to the brink, two seasons in a row, if they physically dominate you. It is just not possible.
And don’t get me started about Columbus and Montreal. The Toronto Maple Leafs were massively upset in those series by teams they thoroughly destroyed. In the combined 12 games, the Leafs were the superior team, based on the statistical evidence, 11 times.
You cannot do that if you’re being pushed around.
The Leafs lost to Montreal because Tavares (injured, played for 2 minutes) Marner, and Matthews (injured, played, but could not shoot puck) combined for a single goal in seven games.
Did those guys lose because they were physically dominated? Would an enforcer have saved them? No. If they were healthy, would they have scored more than one goal? Yes, guaranteed.
Here is what happens: Fans have been conditioned for years to believe that physical hockey is the only real type of hockey. Therefore, when a team losses, and when that team has defied convention at every turn, people fall back on their conditioning and place blame were it seems it should fall, even if all the evidence contradicts such a position.
In conclusion, the Toronto Maple Leafs should place no importance on getting more physical for the playoffs. Timothy Liljegren is twice as good as Zach Bogosian ever was for the Leafs, and when they tried to get more physical last year by adding Nick Foligno, it blew up in their faces.
The proof is conclusive and irrefutable: Star players win hockey games, not checkers. You want to win the cup, trade for Claude Giroux or Damon Severson. If you want to do the same thing that hasn’t worked for 55 years, try to body check your way to the top. It’s really up to you. Don Cherry is literally wrong about everything else, why would he be right about this one topic?
Nothing is more overrated and retroactively used as an excuse in hockey as physical hockey. Did a team win? Credit how tough they were. Might as well credit their leaders for being the most leadery while you’re at it. Oh did they lose? Must not be tough enough.
It’s all nonsense. Skill wins hockey games. After that, Luck and injuries are the most important factors. The Toronto Maple Leafs are already the toughest team in hockey to play against, and that is because they follow up Auston Mattews and Mitch Marner with John Tavares and William Nylander. Being “tough” doesn’t really enter into it.