The only hope we have as Toronto Maple Leafs fans is that the team turns into the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Funny enough, there are a lot of similarities from this current Toronto Maple Leafs roster to the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins that should make fans excited.
For those of you who don’t remember, the 16-17 Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup, but it wasn’t easy. Winning a Stanley Cup is hard enough, but going back-to-back is almost impossible. Mix that with a ton of injuries and Pittsburgh faced every possible challenge you could imagine.
Fortunately for them, their core of Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin stayed healthy for the regular season and playoffs, and as a result, helped guide them to illustrious second straight championship.
It’s so funny how much Kessel’s career changed when he joined Pittsburgh. Despite being ultra talented, he was ridiculed during his time with the Leafs, but he was never meant to be a team’s number-one star. He was best suited in a supporting role and shined with the Penguins.
Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Follow in Penguins Footsteps
Back to the comparison.
The 2023-24 version of the Leafs defensive-core is terrible right now. Their top signing (John Klingberg) is probably out for the season and they’re currently playing three players who are AHL call-ups.
The same thing happened to the Penguins during their Stanley Cup run as their main defensive core was the following: Justin Schultz, Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole and Trevor Daley.
No offense to the six of them, but you could argue that none of them should have been a top-pairing defenseman on a playoff team’s roster, let alone one that went onto win a Stanley Cup. However, the six of them paired together for 25 games in the spring and got the job done.
They had the luxury of doing this because they had their top-three players (Crosby, Malkin and Kessel) all produce at essentially a point-per-game clip. Not only that, but they also had the luxury of two starting goalies, which is where another comparison comes from.
Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury split most of the regular season and playoff games, which was a true benefit to their team’s success. When one goalie faltered, the other one backed them up and it guided them to a Stanley Cup Final.
As it currently stands, the Toronto Maple Leafs technically have two starting goaltenders in Joseph Woll and Ilya Samsonov. Woll has the edge as the team’s starting goalie, but there’s no reason to believe that Samsonov can’t steal it back by playoff time.
Sure, you’d prefer to have one legitimate starting goalie, but I think the Leafs need to take a page out of Pittsburgh’s book and try to win by committee defensively and with their core-four offensively.
It’s a daunting task, as you’d prefer depth and true top-pairing defensemen but it doesn’t feel like the Leafs can pull that off at this rate. Hopefully the Leafs can follow the Penguins example and find a way to capture their first Stanley Cup since 1967.