Luck? I’m not sure we can attribute it to luck but there has to be something going on in Toronto. Game 7 to Washington, then Boston twice and now Montreal? What is the missing ingredient leading to continuous frustration year after year. Right from the 1st period of the 1st game in the playoffs the leafs lose their captain and arguably the biggest free agent signing of the modern era, followed by a late game 6 injury to one of their most consistent and impactful defensemen, Jake Muzzin. The frustrating part for me is that it feels as though the team that I have watched for the past 3 seasons, who built up to make a run for this season, never even had a chance to play. A large part of the core team the past few seasons has included but not limited to: John Tavares, Freddie Andersen and Jake Muzzin. Tavares hardly played and Andersen didn’t get a start. Obviously Campbell took over the starting position and was the number 1 guy, but something feels off about them trying to make a run with a star studded team and an elite goalie like Freddie not even seeing the net and instead going with a guy who has zero playoff experience. Campbell’s regular season this year was incredible and I don’t doubt the Leaf’s best chance was to start him all 7 games but when you look south of the border and you see Vegas give their back up the start for the first game of the second round in which they get absolutely demolished by one of the top cup contenders and just move on as if it never happened, it makes you wonder if the media coverage and scrutiny that surrounds the Leafs is a partial reason as to why Dubas and Keefe make the decision not to start Andersen at some point when the series is sliding away from them. This is probably also attributed to the fact that if Keefe does start Andersen and he gets lit up after not playing since half way through the season, then Keefe is inevitably fired after the postseason.
A few deadline acquisitions also made me hopeful for the Leaf’s run which ended up being blunders as well. Nick Foligno brought in to strengthen the line up for a 1st and 4th round pick ended up missing almost just as much time as he played missing 3 games of the series and probably wasn’t 100% once he returned in all honesty. Riley Nash also added some depth and was intended to be a shutdown center, yet hardly seen any ice time. Nash had 2 games played for a total of 19:52 in ice time against the Habs. With the shutdown defensive style of Tavares missing in the lineup I thought Nash would play a key role. Next up is Ilya Mikheyev, who at the start of the season was expected to be a Russian superstar and had great potential. The only problem is the Leafs needed him to great this year and he was nowhere to be found, posting 0 points through all 7 games for a total of 94 minutes on the ice and only 12 shots. It would appear the Leaf’s made the right move with Alex Galchenyuk, essentially saving his NHL career by sending him to the AHL before giving him a shot. He played great posting 4 points in 6 games played, minus the brutal turn over that ultimately cost the leafs the game and potentially changed the momentum in the entire series. This would have probably been a good idea for Pierre Engvall as well, who ended up playing 6 games posting 1 assist and finishing at a -1 rating. It seems as though as long as he’s skating in a straight line he is fine but there are no dynamics to his skating and he could probably use some help in this department. I would think at the NHL level there is someone who could help him develop the dynamics of his skating. Off the beginning of the season Wayne Simmonds was a force to be reckoned with but it would appear that after his broken wrist had sidelined him for 6 weeks that he never fully returned. His impact was supposed to be physical and it appeared to me that he had trouble keeping up with the flow of the game.
It would be difficult not to mention the stars of the team such as Matthews, Marner and Nylander but it has almost been beaten to death by now. The true hero of the Maple Leafs this year was Jason Spezza. A guy who I think we would all love to see sporting the Blue and White next season, especially if it can be for the league minimum $750,000.
It kind of goes without saying that the Penalty Kill was all you could ask for but was ultimately let down by a lackluster Powerplay. I have to ask at what point do you change up the Powerplay lines and change the strategy? It seemed as though off the start of the season when Toronto were posting absurd PP numbers that every team in the NHL (and the viewers) just figured out their Powerplay tactics. Once this was shut down the team never really turned it around. With all the superstar fire power and scoring depth the Leafs have on their roster the Powerplay could have easily been moved around, changing the different units and swapping players to find something that worked and ultimately overwhelming the Montreal Powerplay. Instead the coaching staff decided to continuously run the same unit time after time with the same results. Once the first unit got off the ice as a fan you knew they were not scoring with 30 seconds left on the man advantage with the second unit, unless Jason Spezza stepped up which he has done time and time again. The bigger problem here is you then have your superstars out there for a minute and a half with no results so you have to ice your 3rd line to rest your top guys. Just doesn’t seem like there was even an attempt to fix the Leaf’s biggest problem.
At the end of the day Toronto were ultimately only one goal away from ending the series on multiple occasions. I don’t think the answer right now is to move one of the core pieces of the team or to entirely shake things up. Had they moved on from this series they probably would have steam rolled the Jets as the Habs did, or at least it’s fun to think about it. The same way it is fun to think about how when they lost to Boston in the 2019 playoffs, Boston then beat Columbus 4 games to 2 and then swept Carolina to go on to lose in 7 games to St. Louis. Had the Leaf’s gotten past the Bruins that season, who knows if it would have went similarly for the Maple Leafs. With all that said, I will not be burning a jersey or turning my back on the team and I will continue to strap in for the rollercoaster ride of regular season promises followed by postseason heartbreak.
Author: “Blippi” Barrow