Well, 9 games into the season and we’ve already seen several narratives appear. If the beginning of the Leafs season was a movie title it would be “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. Since the last time I did one of these the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone 2-3-1. Prior to the last two games they were 0-3-1.
Their two most recent wins aren’t anything to write home about. These are games your team should win 9 times out of 10. Obviously in Leafs Nation we are very reactionary. So as much as it’s good for the boys to get a couple wins and build some momentum, it seems very strange that a Stanley Cup Contending team needs these moral victories.
To be honest during the Leafs 0-3-1 stretch I had visions of the exact same team that blew a 3-1 series lead last season against the Montreal Canadiens. Mitch Marner looked worn and ineffective (but Leafs Twitter praised his presence on the PK), John Tavares looked like he was in rapid decline, Auston Matthews looked dominant yet wasn’t racking up points and Willy just sometime looks via the eye test looks like he’s not overly engaged.
Over the last two games the team overall has improved. But the Red Wings and Blackhawks are two teams you expect to beat handedly. The real test will be against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who despite missing multiple top 6 players always play hard. Without further ado, lets get into it.
Here are my Post Game Thoughts:
•Something I think we’re all noticing is that Toronto is lacking an overall identity. We’re simply just a team with 4 players occupying nearly half the cap and then a band of interchangeable parts trying to fit the missing pieces of the team. These tweets encompass Dubas vision perfectly:
I was on the trust the process and brain trust of Dubas&Co bandwagon for the longest time. I’ve finally realized this is a young GM constantly learning from his mistakes and trying to learn on the fly.
The departure of Nazem Kadri, no matter which side of the trade you were on, was a rookie mistake by Kyle Dubas. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but enough time has passed that we can fairly evaluate the success of a trade. It was a terrible trade. On paper this looks like a great trade, however on the ice it was immediately apparent it was a mistake.
The trade was Kyle Dubas idea of a version of the NHL that simply doesn’t exist. This was a gamble on high end skill and good offensive analytics. The trade failed to account for what Nazem Kadri brought to a team, which can’t be quantified by an analytic or chart.
Same logic accounts for the departure of Connor Brown. You trade away heart & soul players and walk into a negotiation with Mitch Marner where he gets free reign of what he wants. Normally GM’s point to the homegrown talent and the on-ice dynamic of the team and encourage a player like Mitch to take a discount to “keep the band together”.
•A huge bright spot for me as been the continuing emergence of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, who seems to finally be getting a chance to prove himself. Leafs Twitter often uses the term “rent free” online and this play lives “rent free” in my head.
Rasmus Sandin is currently doing everything I want Morgan Rielly to be doing. Morgan Rielly is of course more established and plays significantly more and harder minutes but on any given night I’m hard pressed to pinpoint who the relative rookie vs established vet is.
Him and Timothy Liljegren have shown an immediate and complementary chemistry together. I personally believe we’re watching a top 4 pair develop right infront of our eyes. Something we haven’t seen in years.
•Morgan Rielly re-signs for $7.5×8 years. I personally think this is a great deal. Essentially his raise is the guaranteed $1 million cap increase in the off-season and Phil Kessel’s retained salary coming off the books. I tweeted about what Morgan Rielly means to this team.
Do I think Morgan Rielly is a number 1 defensemen in this league? No. Firstly there’s only a handful of those guys in the league. Secondly he is not paid like one either. Pierre Lebrun also confirmed that Morgan Rielly left money on the table.
Morgan Rielly did something we haven’t seen in recent contract negotiations. He signed long term and took less than market value. As the cap rises over the next several years, the value of Rielly’s contract will increase.
•I’ve quietly liked Travis Dermott’s game all year. When he’s at his best, he’s constantly moving his feet and carrying the puck out of danger zones and moving the play up the ice.
•I’ve seen a lot of criticism about Nick Ritchie’s game and I get it. We thought maybe he could play a top 6 role where he gets downlow in the offensive zone and causes chaos infornt of the net. He’s yet to establish that part of his game yet. But he is a hometown guy and one of the tougher players in the league who will pay dividends come playoff time.
•Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza have also looked great on the 4th line this year. They’re scoring, cycling well, and providing veteran leadership.
•I’ve been admittedly very low on Alex Kerfoot and I always feel the need to compliment him when he plays well. It seems like he’s finally established chemistry on the 2nd line with Willy and Tavares and he looked great against the Red Wings.
•I’ve been driving the Pierre Engvall bandwagon for two years now. Now that his spot in the lineup his finally more secure, you can see he’s a valuable bottom 6 player. When he decides to play with a chip on his shoulder, you can see how his size and speed agitates other teams.
Author: Josh BeLeaf