As the calendar flips to March we find ourselves just 2 months away from the test of all tests for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 1st round.
And guess what? There are still too many unanswered questions.
Is the Campbell/Mrazek duo even close to good enough? To start this season Jack Campbell was putting in a Vezina quality goaltending performance, but now Leafs Nation has found themselves collectively hoping that he can turn things around and perform at that rate again in the playoffs. Petr Mrazek has had the opposite season. Injuries and poor play derailed his start to the year, but tonight he’ll start for the second consecutive game:
What seemed like a clear starter/backup situation before Christmas has now turned into a tandem/win-and-you’re-in type of scenario. Competition can be healthy but most teams like having a clear starter come playoff time.
Meanwhile, there doesn’t appear to be much clarity among the players that stand directly in front of the netminder, as the blueline has been shuffled around a lot since Jake Muzzin has gone down with his 2nd concussion of 2022.
For those keeping track, Timothy Liljegren had the chance to play alongside Rielly over the course of a couple of games, with mixed results. Going from the top pair to a healthy scratch is a steep drop off, but they need to get Dermott into the lineup at times and their right side is basically trash after T.J. Brodie, so here we are, watching as they shuffle everybody in the system onto that top pairing.
It’s amazing to me that we’re still talking about adding players to the right side after all these years, but I digress.
It’s my theory that the teams blueline target is Mark Giordano, a Toronto native and savvy veteran that would like another chance at a deep playoff run. He’s a left shot defender, so trying different lefties that are already on the roster with Rielly can give management an idea about how the team could stack their pairs down the road. While pairing Brodie with one of Rielly of Giordano might be the natural first thought, I actually see the Brodie/Holl pairing being the coach’s go-to shutdown pair with Giordano/Lyubushkin as the 3rd pairing. This would mean Morgan Rielly would get time with Liljegren, Dermott, or Sandin if Muzzin can’t return for the playoffs. If he does come back then Brodie returns to the top pair with Rielly and one of the younger defenders would likely sit.
Just a theory, we’ll see how it all plays out. Either way, I don’t expect the right side to be solved this year.
Lastly, the forwards are basically locked in as is, so until a player is added into the mix we shouldn’t expect much change. Outside of injury replacements, it’s the same old:
With that said there are a couple of things that are still in flux right now. Ondrej Kase does seem to need to sit for a game or two fairly often, so it’s tough to say how he’ll do when the playoffs start and the physicality ramps up. Expecting him to play every game if the team makes a deep run is probably unreasonable. Maybe that’s why there are Max Domi rumours circulating:
While Max Domi’s name was floated, it doesn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with the hints that Kyle Dubas has dropped over the past few weeks. Specifically, Dubas has said that they would prefer to add players with term to the roster. There are a few that the Leafs may have interest in, depending on what they’re looking for:
Gustav Nyquist: Nyquist is a skilled left winger with one more year on a contract that has a $5.5M cap hit. That’s a little rich for the Leafs, so some salary retention would be needed, but he does seem to fit with what the Leafs have historically added. He can help your penalty kill, powerplay and is typically a pass first player, which could be massive if he found chemistry with John Tavares and William Nylander, two players that are adept at scoring goals.
Jack Roslovic: I’m not a fan of Roslovic, but his name has been in the rumour mill and he has shown the ability to produce offense at times. He’s RFA at the end of the season,
Boone Jenner: This one is a pipe dream, but what a sweet dream it would be. Jenner is, without a doubt, the most ideal addition to the forward group that the Leafs could make. He’s having a stellar year offensively (23G, 43pts, 54GP) for his standards, is playing over 20 minutes a night and can help you in every situation. He’s a bull on skates and would come with a 4 year, $3.75M extension attached. He’s solid defensively, terrific offensively, plays a physical brand of hockey and can play anywhere in your top 9 in whichever role you wish. I’d pay a healthy sum for this Dorchester, Ontario native, but see no reason for the Blue Jackets to trade him in his first year as Captain of the team.
Notable mentions go to right shot defenders Andrew Peeke and Adam Boqvist, who could be fits for the Leafs. With both being young and cheap, there would appear to be little reason for Columbus to move on from them at this point in time.
Enjoy the game.
GO LEAFS GO!!