This is it. This is your Toronto Maple Leafs playoff roster.
Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Alex Kerfoot-John Tavares-William Nylander
Pierre Engvall-David Kampf-Ilya Mikheyev
Colin Blackwell-Jason Spezza-Ondrej Kase*
Morgan Rielly-Ilya Lyubushkin
Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin*-Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin*-Timothy Liljegren
Jack Campbell*-Petr Mrazek
Spares: Nick Robertson, Kyle Clifford,Alex Steeves, Joey Anderson, Brett Seney, Matthew Knies, Nick Abruzzese, Carl Dahlstrom, Kristians Rubins, Teemu Kivhalme,Joseph Duszak, Erik Kallgren, Michael Hutchinson, Joseph Woll.
A couple trades were made and help was added. But in the end they’ll need some existing players to return and stay in the lineup and for players throughout the lineup to play to their capabilities.
Giordano is the biggest name and despite his age is a great add. Savvy, smart, with snarl, his addition was a necessity and extremely important.
Lyubushkin has been here for a bit and adds elements to the D the Leafs do not have. His added depth could prove extremely valuable.
Blackwell is a Swiss Army knife to help fill a few roles as a depth piece. More options can’t hurt as really there was a lack of it amongst the options with the Marlies.
It’s a very intriguing blend this roster. Obviously there’s skill. There’s probably more depth than in the past and they can skate with anyone. There’s versatility too. And there’s other combinations that could be in play in the last 20 games as they try and find the exact mix and balance for the playoffs.
Toronto spent 3 2nds, a 3rd, Travis Dermott and Nick Ritchie to acquire Giordano, Lyubushkin and Blackwell for their playoff run.
Thanks to cap constraints due to both their own doing and unforeseen circumstances such as the Pandemic, throwing in a lacking in assets to trade, the Leafs were in a bind to repair all their lineup and depth issues.
There’s questions still in goal. They need Campbell back to try an answer those questions. They could not afford to answer them at the deadline.
Are they big enough or physical enough on defence? Especially if Muzzin can’t play? There’s more bodies for sure but we’ll have to wait to see how it all comes together and whether they can sort out who plays with who and where. Teams will bring the heat on this D. They must get healthy and prove they can take the pressure and thrive in it.
And can the offence run through just 1 line? Will their 2nd line show up? They could not afford to acquire help in that regard and will rely solely on Tavares and Nylander figuring it out and their top line to continue to be unstoppable.
It was a tall task for GM Kyle Dubas to fill 3 or 4 big needs at this deadline. Unfortunately he didn’t or couldn’t foresee fast enough the play of Mrazek falling off a cliff or Ritchie not working out and needing to be moved. Those poor signings cancel out some of the good he’s added in Bunting, Kase and Kampf.
He also didn’t expect such drop offs in play by Muzzin and Holl and the injury to Jake made a perilous situation on D worse. Hence now the plethora of assets expended to plug in some big holes on D that have really been there for a few years.
Also, the inconsistency of the 2nd line. Numbers are there, but the chemistry is amiss. Very concerning as in the playoffs the time and space is smaller and margin for error negligible. They can ill afford slumps from key players. There was no add they could afford to aid this situation.
And on top of it all, Campbell, who had an All Star 1st half, has faltered and gotten hurt in the 2nd half, further extending the questions about this roster.
All these questions and lineup holes really left analysts and fans alike to have concerns this team will be able to accomplish what’s absolutely needed in the playoffs: win playoff rounds.
They’re already going to run through the gauntlet that is the Eastern Conference that consists of 2 time defending champs Tampa, a loaded Florida team, the systematically strong Carolina team and other fierce contenders like nemesis Boston, veteran teams in Pittsburgh and Washington and a upstart Rangers team with the leagues best goalie.
Toronto is going to need a lot to go right for it to find playoff success. Here are some keys:
A) Health is the biggest key. The big 4 forwards have to be healthy unlike last playoff where Tavares got hurt early. They need good health and be available. The 4 guys currently hurt also need to return and play. This is especially true for Muzzin/Campbell who are essential for the success. Need the D depth and quality and need goaltending.
B) Goaltending is the key to it all. Campbell healthy and back to playing some reasonably good hockey is a must considering the other options. This will determine whether Toronto will have the playoff success or not. They need saves, or at least the saves you’re suppose to make. If not, the rest is irrelevant.
C) The big 4 are under huge pressure to be as good as we know them to be. They can’t have $33 mil score 1 playoff goal in a 7 game series again. Only they can change their story. Forget the support guys or whatever they do. These big 4 have to produce, have to be the best guys every game and battle the adversity and attention they’ll get. No choice. This is probably the last playoff they’ll have together if it ends with 1st round failure.
D) there’s now a big 4 on D too with Rielly, Brodie, Muzzin and now Giordano. They’ll have to be healthy and playing strong, protecting their goalie and not be so Swiss cheese on D which we’ve seen them be since January 1st. We could see at least one of the big 4 D on the ice the entire game should they choose to align things that way. That would be better than any blueline they’ve had in many years. That will make them competitive vs any opponent.
E) it would have been great had they added maybe a bit more up front but hopefully there’s better depth here. They actually have a responsible checking line and better 4th line options. Overall there’s some better choices than previous. The same Issues though are a lack of size and snarl throughout the lineup especially if Muzzin is hurt and Simmonds/Clifford don’t play. The opposing team’s game of choice will be to try and punish the softer Leafs. Handle them physically, hem their defence in, make their offensive forwards defend instead of skate in space and push them into impatient mistakes. The Leafs are going to need to buck up and push back a bit. Battle. Be invested in defending and be patient. Be hungry and be smart. These words need to be put into action in the playoffs.
F) Very important too is to get better coaching, Sheldon Keefe has to be smart with adjustments and anticipate better what other teams do. That’s easier during regular season when you play a variety of different teams all season. That’s harder in the playoffs when the same opponents see you every other night. Keefe needs to react better, take action faster and be smarter. Can’t get outcoached so badly again for a 3rd playoff. Obviously easiest when you have your full lineup at your disposal. But playoffs always have some adversity and issues to deal with and Keefe must show he can handle and react accordingly. Otherwise a key alignment or lineup mistake could prove to be the Leafs undoing.
G) and finally, maybe some luck will be on their side. They’ve had 2 major injuries in consecutive playoffs. They really need the Hockey Gods in their side for once.
Dubas did what he could. Could he have done more? Sure. But he very quickly, after last years loss, backed this group fully and was ready then to double down on the main components of this roster for another year. Clearly those sentiments remain and he did not waver on his belief in the core 4 and the other main core roster pieces.
The string of 5 straight 1st round losses has put immense pressure on the Leafs to win something this year. Time is running out on this group. Change will be in order should they not succeed.
It’s all about progress. And that is winning rounds. Just competing or being close is not an option this time. There are probably jobs, both on and off the ice, on the line here. Unfortunate as we’ve seen good progress in their nucleus and team overall over the last 2 seasons. But the window to win is never that big. After being able to accumulate such big talents over the years, it’s time for them to make that finally count. Otherwise it’ll be time to head into a new direction.
Author: Allan Chow