As I write this, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a 4-2 start, and are set to play the Dallas Stars.
By the time you read this, the Toronto Maple Leafs will either be 5-2 or 4-3, but I doubt very much anything I am about to talk about will change based on one game.
The Leafs record so far is decent, but it’s hiding a lot of problems. Problems that were apparent from July 4th when the Leafs more or less finished assembling their team for this year, but which have become much more pressing after just three weeks of the new season.
It’s amazing what Matthews, Nylander, Tavares and a goalie can get done. This team, when Marner starts to go, when they get anything from their bottom-six, or when they have a competent blue-line, could go all the way.
There is a chance that if the stars stay hot, and the goalie plays near the top of the league, that nothing else matters. However, we’ve seen this movie at least six times. Even a team that is built for the playoffs and has a great mixture of young and old, offense and defense, skill and grit – i.e last year’s post-deadline Leafs team – isn’t guaranteed to get it done.
So while it is technically possible that this current team could go all the way, you’d have to rely too much on getting lucky. If the Leafs want to give themselves the best chance to win the Stanley Cup, they have to address several glaring issues.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Record Hides Extreme Problems
- Roster Balance
First big problem is roster balance. You can’t play David Kampf on the third line, unless that third line is the perfect shutdown line. That ship sailed when the Leafs made the mistake of trading Pierre Engvall to the New York Islanders. While maybe not that popular, Engvall is an elite defender and paired with Kampf they are the rare non-elite players who can win their minutes vs stars.
There is no way the current roster can create a 3rd line that is defensive. That means it has to be able to score, and that means David Kampf can’t play on it.
But David Kampf is made completely useless by Ryan Reaves, and neither player can play above the 4th line. The Toronto Maple Leafs cannot have the NHL’s most expensive fourth line and consistently lose when it’s on the ice.
The other problem here is Max Domi. He can’t play top-six, and he can’t defend. That means that if he is on the team, you should try to build a scoring line that can dominate other team’s 3rd lines.
2. Depth Scoring
The Leafs have a lot of scoring, and sometimes the whole depth scoring things gets blown out of proportion. For instance, last year against Florida, the Leafs had incredible depth, and whether or not they scored, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Knies on the third line was an incredible proposition, but the fourth line was an offensive black hole, meaning the team lacked true depth scoring.
This year, with Knies eventually going to be a staple in the top-six, the team lacks any kind of quality depth scoring. Last year, at least until ROR and Knies entered the picture, the Leafs were content to just grind out minutes with their bottom six, which was defensively excellent and usually did win their minutes, but couldn’t be counted on for much offense.
This year’s bottom-six isn’t close to as defensively responsible as last year, and unfortunately the offense isn’t significantly better. Bobby McCann and Nick Robertson represent major upgrades, but it remains to be seen how they are going to fit them on the roster. (all stats naturalstattrick.com).
3. Bad Lines.
Calle Jarnkrok on the first line with Matthews and Marner? What are you even doing Keefe?
4. The Blue-Line Stinks
The Leafs blue-line has been bad, and predictably so.
Five of Six Leafs blue-liners are 30 years old (one is 40) and only Timothy Liljegren has any upside. (He’s playing great and has the best numbers on the team).
Additionally, the Toronto Maple Leafs lack an elite player for their blue-line and would likely need to upgrade the top end of their group in order to take the next step as a team.
The blue-line also lacks physicality. The only physical player is Jake McCabe and he’s been unbelievably bad.
John Klingberg and aforementioned McCabe have been absolutely horrendous. TJ Brodie hasn’t been much better. Giordano still looks like he can destroy third-pairing minutes at least, but how much can you count on the NHL’s oldest player?
Finally, there is no depth. Connor Timmins and Simon Benoit does is the equivalent of having a couple old Kleenex boxes as your backup shoes.
Even with these four problems, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a major threat to win this year’s Stanley Cup and should be one of the NHL’s top teams. That is because, as I stated at the beginning, Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Tavares and a hot goalie will paper-over a lot of problems. Fix the four obvious ones and this team will be unstoppable.