The Toronto Maple Leafs boast some of the best offensive talent in the NHL, yet they appear destined for another first-round exit, if they even make the playoffs.
As it currently stands, the Toronto Maple Leafs have four players in the top 21 in NHL scoring. The only other team with similar stats is the Vancouver Canucks, but they have a defenseman within that ranking and also boast a goaltender (Thatcher Demko) who could win the Vezina Trophy.
While the Leafs may have beaten the Canucks in their last encounter, in a seven-game series, I would favor the Canucks due to the presence of a number-one defenseman and number-one goaltender, both vital to team success in the playoffs.
For the past few years, offense has never been an issue for the Leafs, but it has never been as good as it is this year, thanks to William Nylander.
Nylander picked a great year to have his best offensive season as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the year’s end. With 12 goals and 27 points, he ranks in the top six in both categories and has been the Leafs’ best player.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are Wasting Nylander’s Amazing Season
While Matthews may have more goals, his goals have come in bunches compared to Nylander, who has registered a point in all 17 games this year and seems to bring it every night. Nylander has always been a solid offensive player, but he feels different this year.
I feel like he’s more poised, less afraid to take the puck to the net, and has been unbelievable in open space. Nylander is also the cheapest of the four players, so if the team ever wanted to make a strong Stanley Cup run and improve the rest of the roster, it would be this year.
This is where I want to talk about wasted talent.
Toronto is currently third in the Atlantic Division with 22 points and is on pace to make the playoffs, which isn’t a surprise. However, this is the worst defense we’ve seen, and the offense can’t bail them out every night, especially in the playoffs.
From a goaltending perspective, I do think they can make a run with Ilya Samsonov/Joseph Woll, but they need to do whatever it takes to clear some salary-cap space and acquire two more defensemen, at a minimum, or they’re in trouble this year, and even worse next season.
Nylander’s contract is bound to rise by $3M and Matthews is going up $2M next year, which means that’s another $5M this team doesn’t have for their defense. So, with that being said, they’ll need to be even more creative next season with salary-cap space. Fortunately, Woll’s still going to be super cheap, and they can run with him as their starter, but this is the year where they need to do whatever it takes to win.
If they can find a way to put John Klingberg’s contract on LTIR and/or move Max Domi (sorry, Max), that would give them $7M to improve this roster. That’s more than enough cash to enhance the defensive core and give the forwards what they need to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
I’m sorry, but the Leafs don’t have a chance at a Stanley Cup until they fix their defense. Going 5-1 in their last six games is great, but it’s not sustainable.