There Is No "I" in "Toronto Maple Leafs" But There Is In "Identity"

New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

Hello Leaf’s fans, I have returned from my brief writing hiatus to discuss our beloved Blue and White again. Since I’ve been gone, a lot has happened. Injuries, Milestones, and even the flu have all impacted the “Buds”. Despite all this, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been the talk of the town in recent weeks.

Showcasing an impressive array of talent, prosperity, and jaw-dropping moments on the ice. With a plethora of thrilling games, the Toronto Maple Leafs boast a record of 16-7-6, good enough for 10th place in the entire NHL. 

However, beneath the surface lies a prominent issue: the team’s current struggle to establish a distinct identity among the top teams in the National Hockey League.

What's that old saying again? "There is no "I" in TEAM". Well, almost ironically, there is no "I" in Toronto Maple Leafs either.

There Is No "I" in "Toronto Maple Leafs" But There Is In "Identity"

The way I see it, the Leafs have had this problem in the past seasons (and we all know how those turned out). Once again, it seems as if the Leafs are like every fast food commercial. You know the kind. The burger looks all nice and juicy in the ad and makes you go to the store (let’s be realistic, you used a delivery service) but upon opening the cardboard box it reveals a disappointing car wreck with stale buns and grease soaking the interior. Despite their success, the Leafs are - at the moment - all style and no substance.

The major aspect contributing to the identity crisis is the team’s reliance on its star player's individual brilliance rather than working as a collective to achieve success. The Leafs undoubtedly have a roster filled with talented players, but, the absence of a well-structured team strategy can be observed at times throughout any Leaf game.  

The emphasis on individual skill has occasionally led to moments of inconsistency and vulnerability, especially in the defensive zone and special teams.

Sure, it’s fun to watch Nylander or Matthews (and even recently Marner) score buzzer-beater and highlight-reel goals. However, when it comes down to it if those stars don’t show up on any given night the Leafs struggle desperately. This could be a result of a few different factors such as lack of depth or coaching (I’m looking at you, Sheldon). The team as a whole - even the stars - needs to buy in and start working as a group to establish who they want to be as a team.

Now, I won’t be the person to say “Toughness and physicality are everything in the playoffs." Looking back though, that is usually the case. The Leafs have size, speed, and skill, they just have to learn how to use it. Recently, I have noticed Matthew Knies using his size and physicality to get more involved in plays or create offensive opportunities. I hate to say it, but the Leafs desperately need more of this “grit” throughout the lineup not just in their bottom six, but from their stars as well.

I understand that it is the regular season. The games they play now are essentially sharpening them up for playoffs. Nevertheless, this is still a crucial opportunity for the Leafs to establish themselves not only as an offensive and high-scoring threat but possibly even a physical one. The Leafs need to create a presence that is not tough but instead tough to play against. Finishing checks, back-checking hard, entering the tough areas, and establishing a net-front presence. Make teams dread playing you. 

In the immortal words of Tim Notke, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.". Time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to start working hard.

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If you agree with what you read, or you want to tell me I'm wrong, please feel free to visit my Twitter account (@ShowtimeWagon) and let me know. Happy Holidays everybody!