The good news is that the Toronto Maple Leafs still hold down a playoff spot as they sit third in the Atlantic Division with games in hand, the bad news is that this is arguably the worst season the team has had in the Auston Matthews era.
The disappointment of the Toronto Maple Leafs season can be targeted at General Manager Brad Treliving who assembled this team, but coach Sheldon Keefe has to take a good amount of the blame on how he coaches the team.
It is apparent in sport that coaches fall in love with certain players, which can cause them to overplay their favourites. In the past, Keefe has overused players such as Justin Holl and Alex Kerfoot, and the 2023-24 season is no different, just a change in players.
Keefe needs to recognize that these players aren't what he thinks they are and identify that he has blind spots.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Sheldon Keefe's Blind Spots
Former general manager Kyle Dubas signed the hometown defenseman to a four-year deal prior to the 2020-21 season and for the first two and a half years of the contract T.J. Brodie was outstanding.
Keefe would put Brodie in all situations and he was used to stabilize another struggling defenseman and it was rightfully so.
Brodie's best asset was that he would be able to use his superb skating ability to get out of trouble and could make a clean break out pass.
Unfortunately for the team, something happened in January 2023 and Brodie's game just dropped off the map. He has been no longer able to skate his way out of trouble and actually tends to skate back into danger more often than not. What would have been an easy two step and pass to get out of the zone at the start of his Maple Leafs tenure has now become more of run into trouble, followed by the puck staying in the defensive zone for an additional 45 seconds.
Like his entire coaching career, Keefe has been unable to adapt to a players decline and continues to put Brodie out in high leverage spots. While his play is getting worse, Brodie's ice-time is at the highest of his Maple Leafs career with only Morgan Rielly averaging the most ice-time.
Don't get me wrong on this one, Calle Järnkrok is an amazing piece on the Toronto Maple Leafs and I am not looking to get rid of this Swiss Army knife of a player.
Järnkrok is a great penalty killer, a decent forechecker and has a lethal shot, all of which makes him a great piece to the team especially at just $2.1 Million.
What Järnkrok is not good at doing is carrying the puck, making passes and winning one on one battles. Yet, despite these clear holes in his game, he is the primary puck carrier on the second powerplay unit and has recently become the sixth when the goalie is pulled.
While I would prefer to leave Järnkrok off of the powerplay, I can see an argument for having him as a slot option, what you can't do is argue that he is the player that should be receiving the drop pass to enter the zone.
The Swedish winger continues to get a lot of offensive opportunities while other players such as Matthew Knies is left on the bench watching.
In conclusion, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be a lot better if Sheldon Keefe recognized that two of his favorite players are hurting the team by being played in the positions/roles that he is forcing them into.