Maple Leafs fans likely have a lot of questions right now, as one of the best teams they’ve cheered for in recent memory continues to disappoint.
It’s been a long four years of early postseason exits, and a lot of head scratching.
Here are four things the Maple Leafs need to change for a better outcome next year.
- See also:
1. Marner is too expensive to keep
The Maple Leafs have over $40 million shored up in four forwards — John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander — and the team was shut out in a do or die situation in Game 5.
#Leafs Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have combined for 0 goals in 3 career winner-take-all games
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) August 10, 2020
This isn’t acceptable — and while it obviously isn’t Marner’s fault — the system clearly isn’t working. These four skaters amount to roughly half of Toronto’s cap space, and it’s no secret that problems elsewhere need to be fixed.
One of these skaters has to go, and Marner being the complete player he is, would bring a significant return to the club.
Consider that Marner’s $10.89 million contract costs more than Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin combined, and then look at the roster of the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues, and the first place team from regular season, Boston Bruins.
Each team’s highest paid forward (Ryan O’Reilly and David Krejci) is earning $7.25 million and $7.5 million respectively, and every other forward is under the $7 million plateau.
When looking at the Leafs roster, Nylander’s $6.9 million contract is a good one. Other skaters under the $7 million mark include Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Alex Pietrangelo, and four of the Blues top six forwards are making less than $6 million.
Even the Blue Jackets — who ranked 28th by season’s end in goals for — demonstrated how spending less for more is the better strategy.
Cap hit of Leafs top line today: $33.53M
Cap hit of all 11 forwards the Blue Jackets dressed today: $34.33 M
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) August 10, 2020
The Leafs were third in goals per game this season, and given Toronto’s depth up front it’s a stat they can afford to drop.
2. Bring in experienced blueliners
There are lots of question marks surrounding Toronto’s blue line, and Rielly and Muzzin aside, there isn’t much experience in front of Frederik Andersen.
Both Rielly and Muzzin have played over 500 NHL games, and next in line is the ever questionable Martin Marincin having logged 227 games to date. Travis Dermott has played 157, Jusin Holl 81, Rasmus Sandin 28, and Calle Rosen 20.
Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci are likely on their way out to explore free agency, freeing up another $7.25 million in cap space. Add this to a potential Marner trade, and the Leafs suddenly have $18.1 million to alter their defensive core.
Some big names on the market this year include Alex Pietrangelo, Torey Krug, TJ Brodie, and Kevin Shattenkirk, and acquiring one of them in line with a Marner blockbuster could reap positive rewards.
3. More physicality needed in the lineup
The Leafs have a lot of talent throughout their lineup, but they’re often tossed around on the ice by the bigger, meaner clubs they face come playoff time.
For instance, Marchand is one of the few skaters in the Bruins’ lineup under six feet, but he still makes his presence felt on the ice. In the Blue Jackets’ lineup, they don’t have a single defenceman or goalie under 6-foot-1, and only have three forwards under the 6-foot marker.
Toronto had this skater in Nazem Kadri, and he seems to be thriving on a Cup-contending Colorado Avalanche team.
Is it too late to trade back for Nazem Kadri? Asking for a friend. #MapleLeafs
— Adrian Ghobrial (@CityAdrian) August 8, 2020
4. Nick Robertson needs to be on the roster
Nick Robertson was lights out in the Ontario Hockey League, and while doesn’t help in the size and toughness department, he showed during the play-in series this won’t stop him from making an immediate impact.
Nick Robertson is the first 18-year-old to score a post-season goal for the Maple Leafs in 76 years. The last time it happened, Ted Kennedy did it in a playoff game against Montreal on March 28, 1944 #Hockey365 #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/0MEGF7DDJT
— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) August 7, 2020
Robertson was dominant on the power play and had quality scoring chances every game against the Blue Jackets, and given his tenacity it could be argued putting Andreas Johnsson in the lineup over Robertson in Game 5 was a mistake. Let it be known that every Leafs’ bottom six forward should be wary of losing his roster spot to Robertson next season.