The Leafs Aren’t A Contender and Shouldn’t “Buy” At the Deadline

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So many people are going to hate this opinion, but here it is nonetheless. The Leafs aren’t a contender and they shouldn’t buy assets for the playoffs at the deadline.

Despite the fact that the Leafs are 7th in the NHL in points percentage, this team simply isn’t in a place where they should consider spending assets on help, unless that help comes with a clear future with the organization.

I won’t bother to dwell on certain things, like the fact that the team has kept their opponents to 3 goals or less just twice over their past 12 games, instead let’s talk about the great debate happening all over Leafs nation right now.

“In your opinion, what position should the Leafs upgrade at the deadline?”

The fact that this doesn’t come with a clear answer is an indictment in and of itself. The fact that no matter what your answer is, you’re right, is reason enough to label the Toronto Maple Leafs “pretenders” and not “contenders.”

For starters we’ll talk about the fine fans that would like to see a forward added to the group.

After the Bunting/Matthews/Marner line, things get a little questionable with this group. William Nylander has been doing his normal disappearing act where, if he doesn’t find the scoresheet, he’s completely invisible on the ice. John Tavares just pushed his way past a 14 game scoreless drought and has turned in 2 goals in 5 games since. He hasn’t looked himself this season, but is still producing offense, yet he is still leaving a lot to be desired. Meanwhile, those two look to be in need of a new linemate, as Alex Kerfoot started the season strong but, like his linemates, has fizzled as of late.

The third line of Ilya Mikheyev, David Kampf and Pierre Engvall is a fine checking unit. They bring speed, defensive acumen and decent size to the ice. However, there isn’t a lot of goal scoring happening there. That could be forgiven considering all of them are on affordable contracts and play a safe game, but teams need depth scoring and they aren’t getting it elsewhere either….

The fourth line is atrocious. Jason Spezza is a man without a purpose. He isn’t part of a scoring line or with players that can cycle or maintain any type of pressure in the offensive zone. Instead, he’s been saddle with Wayne Simmonds, who has become a pure enforcer at this point, but not a very good one considering Rasmus Dahlin felt free to take liberties on Auston Matthews and after Matthews retaliated and earned himself a 2 game suspension for cross checking Dahlin to the neck, Dylan Cozens took things a step further and laid this hit on #34:

As you can see in the video, Michael Bunting did attempt to defend Matthews, but he, too, had his ass handed to him by Cozens. The response from the Leafs was nil, while Cozens had this to say afterwards:

A clear, clean, physical response to a dirty hit on a teammate is, simply put, how hockey is played and a sure sign that the team feels bonded together.

What the Leafs get is a beating after they take a beating and then the NHL suspends their stars. But I digress.

The Spezza line is completely useless with Simmonds on it, so at this point isn’t it just as well to drop that physical presence if it has zero effectiveness? By placing Ondrej Kase and another offensive weapon (Nick Robertson? Alex Steeves?) on his other wing, the team may bolster their scoring depth, but considering Spezza’s advanced age and that some of his best options at wing are rookies, how much scoring they can provide is up for debate. Instead, having Kerfoot demoted to that line, while trading for a legitimate top 6 LWer to play for Tavares and Nylander seems to be a great way to go.

Besides, over the past couple of playoff series, it’s the teams lack of scoring that has cost them the most. Great point, fans that want a forward at the deadline.

The defense crowd are my people though. They see a defensive group that is FULL of puck moving defenders that can’t keep the disc from the back of their own net in tight games. They’re often found running around in their own zone and can’t break up the cycle. It’s sad to watch, or funny, depending on which team you’re cheering for.

Jake Muzzin has the tendency to get injured as soon as the team needs him the most. Morgan Rielly has always been questionable at defending. TJ Brodie can defend but lacks the size and strength that you pine for in a rough playoff series. Justin Holl is good, but not great and is slotted higher in the lineup than he should be. The bottom pair consists of rookies (Sandin, Liljegren), players that tend to give the puck away via blind spin-o-rama passes at inopportune times (Dermott) and Ilya Lyubushkin….. a guy that hasn’t been here long enough to earn proper criticism.

They lack size and toughness and are working with 3 players that can be considered top 4 defenders on most teams, which means that they don’t stack up favourably when you compare them to the blueline’s on contenders such as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche.

Again, great points defense first fans, it’s tough to argue that the Leafs could use an upgrade on the blueline.

Lastly, it’s the goaltending crowd.

Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek have been firey hot garbage for months now and I can’t write anything more about that because I’ll only end up writing an array of expletives in caps lock.

Needless to say, you need good goaltending if you want to win a playoff round and excellent goaltending if you want to win the Stanley Cup, but the Leafs aren’t getting that right now.

You’re right goalie folks, the team should trade for a goaltender.

This has been an extremely long way of saying that if your team is in need of:

A) Forward help in the top 6 forward group

B) Defense help in the top 4 defensive group and maybe even a top pair defender

and C) A starting goaltender

then you’re asking a LOT from your GM at the deadline and your team is probably not a true contender.

Maybe it’s time to step back, consider other options and reevaluate the plan and vision, because the current outlook on how a team is supposed to be built is definitely not working.

Enjoy the game tonight.