The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing fun hockey lately, but they really need to fix their defensive issues.
When you look back on the past decade of Stanley Cup winners, there’s one thing that they all have in common. Not only are they good at scoring goals, but they’re even better at defending them.
There’s a reason why the old saying “defense wins championships” continues to be said on a yearly basis, and that's because it’s true. However, some teams continue to ignore this, as they think they can outscore their issues, and the Leafs are currently that team.
When the playoffs come around, that could change, as I’d expect GM Brad Treliving to make a few trades, but at this current moment, the Leafs are fantastic at scoring goals, but pretty bad at defending them, which won't work in the playoffs.
The Leafs Won't Always Be Able to Outscore Their Defensive Issues
What’s been the Toronto Maple Leafs biggest issue when the playoffs start every year? It’s that they always seem to run into a hot goaltender. However, why can’t that be reversed and the Leafs be the team that all of a sudden has that hot goalie?
Well, it can, if they use some of their resources and make a trade to acquire some legitimate top-four defensive talent.
I looked at the past decade of Stanley Cup winners and studied two simple stats to see how Toronto compared: Goals For and Goals Against.
Sure, you could dive into some analytics or figure out a different trend to understand which team was successful in the playoffs, but I wanted to understand if teams could outscore their issues more than they could out-defend it. I assumed that teams who could win 2-1 games would be much more likely to win playoff games than those who were winning 6-5 games in the regular season, and that logic seemed true.
Leafs Need to Tighten Up Defensively
If you look back during the past 11 seasons, on average, the Stanley Cup winner finished 8th in Goals For and 7th in Goals Against in the regular season.
Toronto is doing what they need to do offensively right now, as they sit second in the NHL in Goals For, but when it comes to Goals Against, they’re slacking, sitting 16th in the league. There has only been two teams in the past decade who has won a Stanley Cup with that bad of a Goals Against Average, and they had Sidney Crosby or a deadly combination of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on their blue-line.
This is why the William Nylander discussion needs to be talked about more. At $6.9M, you have one of the best trade chips in the entire NHL, yet the team has been scared to trade him because of his offensive talent. Even if you take Nylander off this roster, Toronto would still be a top-8 team in Goals For and would be solid enough to make a playoff push, however they’re married to the core-four.
If the Leafs want to have their best chance at winning, trading Nylander should be their number-one priority as they could bring in one or, possibly two, legitimate defenseman to help this roster.
Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner is more than enough offensive fire-power up front, plus the combination of Matthew Knies, Calle Jarnkrok, Nick Robertson, Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi is fantastic secondary scoring. If those eight forwards aren’t enough to supply three goals per night, then you have a much bigger problem.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs want to improve their chances of winning a Stanley Cup, a Nylander trade for a few defenseman is a must this offseason.