The Toronto Maple Leafs hoped to be a finely tuned machine by this point in the season, but with a 22-14-8 record (prior to last night's game) they are looking more like a jalopy heading for the scrap heap.
Today I’m going to use the analogy of a race car to assess the state of the Toronto Maple Leafs as they approach the pit stop of the Feb 1-3 All Star weekend.
First, the forward group is the engine, where all the power comes from. When running well, the Leafs engine is more than powerful enough to win the Stanley Cup race. Auston Matthews is on pace for a 70 goal season. William Nylander is among the top-10 NHL scoring leaders. Mitch Marner will once again flirt with a 100 point year.
The supporting cast up front is not firing on all cylinders, and could maybe use a tune-up. John Tavares is scoring less but putting up similar adcanced stats to his previous seasons. Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi look good one night, then disappear the next. Matthew Knies has come down to earth somewhat, Calle Jarnkrok is solid but not special and David Kampf has regressed. The other quasi-Marlies are not going to be the difference between winning and losing.
Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Get It In Gear
The Toronto Maple Leafs defence is the transmission of the car. Despite all the horsepower up front, it doesn’t translate to results on the road without the transmission. The forwards can’t do everything. Someone needs to prevent the opposition from spending long shifts in Toronto’s end, facilitate the movement of the puck quickly up ice and keep the cycle flowing in the offensive zone.
Ideally, the trade market would allow the Leafs to completely replace their transmission (with the exception of Morgan Rielly), but that’s not happening, especially in the middle of the season. Top defencemen are rarely available, and when they are, the cost is steep. The Leafs will have to settle, at best, for a couple of repair jobs.
All season long, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been filling every defensive roster spot not belonging to a guy named Rielly with a rotating cast of no-longer-cans (hello Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie) and never-really-coulds (Jake McCabe, Simon Benoit, Conor Timmins, and William Lagesson, come on down!). The jury is still on lunch break regarding Timothy Liljegren.
One can argue which of these spare parts should go back on the shelf, but it’s very clear that the transmission on this team requires an immediate upgrade.
This brings us to the brakes of the car, the goaltenders. When the brakes don’t work, the car crashes. When the beleaguered Ilya Samsonov (aside – if someone plays so poorly that he clears waivers and gets sent down, does that mean he’s de-leaguered?) has been in net, the Leafs have had no brakes. Crash, bash, smash.
Martin Jones has been like driving with worn out brakes. He might slow down the opposition, but the stops just aren’t there.
The injured Joseph Woll has been the only Toronto goalie that has provided the necessary stopping power for this team to succeed. It’s unlikely that the Leafs will be able to procure a #1 stopper at this point in the campaign. The best (only?) hope is that Woll returns at some point from his high ankle sprain ready to play at the level he showed to begin this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe can only drive the car he’s been given. Until chief mechanic Brad Treliving orders up some replacement parts and makes some modifications, this machine is destined to backfire all the way to the finish line.