The Toronto Maple Leafs are exactly what they have shown us this year: a team that wins games when it gets half-decent goaltending, but one that is not even close to deep, and which has a horrible blue-line and no goaltending.
The Leafs are top heavy, but unlike last year, they are no longer the NHL's deepest team. The good thing, however, is that because they have five star players, they will win any game where their goalie plays well.
Overall this is a good thing because the Leafs have the hardest pieces to acquire -franchise players - and that means that if they figure the rest of the stuff out, even halfway, they'll be a top team.
However, one area which they continue to struggle is their top pairing.
Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie Are Really, Really Struggling
Rielly is an all-star this year, and he's 7th in defenseman points with 41. He's also 8th in 5v5 points so from a production standpoint he's having a great year.
Rielly, however, is losing his minutes, for the most part. He has a 49% puck-possession rating, which is bad when you play most of your minutes with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
The Leafs are winning Rielly's minutes by 2 goals at the moment, but his expected-goals rating is 47%. These are not acceptable numbers for a team's top pairing if they want to win the Stanley Cup.
In the last month, it's even worse, with Rielly having a 41% Expected Goals Rating since January 1st. (stats naturalstattrick.com).
Its easy to blame TJ Brodie for the top pairing's lack of success, but Rielly's numbers actually get worse with anyone else (though to be fair, who else on the Leafs can handle top pairing minutes? The rest of the players are all playing too high in the lineup as it is).
Rielly is great at what he does, but he's a crap defender. He is at his best when he feels free to make high-risk plays, but the team's conservative approach to offense and his ancient partner aren't doing him any favors.
As is news to exactly nobody, the Leafs need a better top pairing. Rielly on the second pairing or on the top pairing with a defenseman better than he is is dangerous and exciting. He's still a really good player, but the Leafs are asking him to do too much and aren't providing a good partner to try and do it.
TJ Brodie is too expensive for the third line and less than useless in his current role. At this point, his $5 million in cap space could easily be better spent.
The Leafs are 8-6 since January 1st, but those eight wins are extremely light, with four of them coming on a west-coast trip against the NHL's biggest losers, and another one against the Flames they had no business winning, as well as a 1-0 game against the Jets they'd lose 99% of the time.
2-12 could easily be the Leafs record since January with them playing the exact same in every game. The season could be over, but they've been lucky.
They won't continue to be if Morgan Rielly doesn't get some help on the top pairing. The worst part, is the team is so desperate for a goalie they can't really even worry about defense right now. (Or at least, they shouldn't be).