There will be many NHL team reports written by hockey pundits over the next little while, so I felt it prudent that I go about this differently.
21 games in, I thought it would be fun to “see where we are” but use songs to describe the current state of factions of the Toronto Maple Leafs corps.
I’m going to break down these Leafs into 6 segments. Offence, defence, goaltending, specialty teams, coaching and management. For each category I’ll include a song that I feel describes the current state of that segment of the team. A YouTube embed of the video will help you get the full experience.
“Youth Gone Wild” – Skid Row
“Auston Matthews is the best player in the NHL, at present.”
What a lead, eh? Am I getting the crowd jumping yet? I’m probably dodging tomatoes and blunt force weapons while you’re reading.
I didn’t say this. I repeated it. AND, before we hear the “Toronto bias” crap again, here’s some sobering facts. A Montreal reporter said this. An Edmonton insider said this. Rival GM’s are saying this. Coaches in other markets are saying it. I’ve read it. I’ve heard it on sports talk radio. It doesn’t mean it’s true BUT, smoke, meet fire.
I think it’s hyperbole at this early juncture, but what do I know. ..
I had almost tried to write this section without mentioning the saviour from Phoenix, but that would be folly.
Here’s the skinny.
The Leafs have 3 lines that can positively bury opponents. The amount of firepower coach Mike Babcock can send over the boards is akin to the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays. Relentless, unwavering attack.
Marleau, Kadri, Nylander, Marner, JVR… Notice I haven’t mentioned someone? Yeah. Those 5 names make up over 2 lines of Leaf offence and I haven’t mentioned you know who.
DEADLY. Its simple. No bias, just look at the numbers.
The Leafs will need to continue to embrace what they are: a highly offensive, creative group that needs to exploit that to win games.
“Welcome To The Jungle” – Guns and Roses.
I know, strange choice. But bear with me.
This is, by far and away, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ weakness.
Some games the core of Rielly, Gardiner, Zaitsev, Hainsey, Polak, Carrick et al are stable. Some games they’ve been largely unstable. Sort of like wandering around in the jungle; some days you might find your way and retrieve a slug out of a log to sustain yourself.
Other days you’ll go hungry, craving slug.
The Leafs D, on many nights, looks like they are wandering through the congo in search of answers.
Recently, however, they’ve been more stable than the inverse. Is that a sign of Babcock’s system taking hold or is it that the pairings are gelling?
My point is that this is where the front office needs to shore up the defences (pardon the pun). The first 21 games of the season have left most Leaf fans chewing their fingernails to the bone when the puck is in the defensive zone.
Morgan Rielly is 23. Jake Gardiner is 27. The time to stop talking about what they’ll become is now.
Less talk, more do.
We’ll touch more on the D a little later.
“Haven’t Met You Yet” – Michael Buble.
We’re currently running a poll on our twitter feed. You can vote here. Go and vote, it’s your civic duty!
The poll asks who, through 21 games, should be considered the Leafs MVP.
Andersen is listed as a choice, and when crafting the poll, I wondered if that would make for some debate.
There is some heat surrounding the beliefs regarding Andersen.
Who is this guy? Is he Octoberson? Is he Novemberson? Hmmm..
My assertion is that without Matthews in the lineup for 5 games, Anderson kept the team in the hunt for W’s, and got all of them.
Goalies can’t win you games, but they can keep you firmly in them. I voted Anderson. I’ll admit it and here’s why.
He’s battled through a slow start. The second slow start in his Leafs tenure and an almost mirror image of last years. Is this habitual? Yet he still boasts a .914 save percentage and is trending upwards. Back to back shutouts recently, help those numbers, but he’s definitely trending the right way. Even with limping out of the gate he’s backstopped the Leafs to a 14-7-0 record.
The problem is we still don’t quite know who he is as a starter, and it might be this way for the duration of his time as a Leaf. He’s not Carey Price, but then again, Carey Price isn’t Carey Price. He’s been good enough to give his team a chance to win. Can Montreal say that?
Curtis Mcelhinney you ask? C-Mac is a backup goaltender. He’s Josh Thole. Play good D and hope for a win. A .910 save percentage for a backup is damn good.
Oh, he’s also 2-1 in 3 games this year, so there’s that….
“Star Wars Theme” – John Williams
Power Play: At 21.7% and 9th out of 31 teams, I was actually a little surprised the Leafs weren’t higher in the rankings. That means that 1 out of 5 tries the Leafs are scoring with the man advantage. Hmmmm. Is that all?
For all their lauded offence, 9th is a little underwhelming to me.
Penalty Kill: 81.7% and 13th in the league. NOW THAT SURPRISES ME!
Here’s why. RON HAINSEY. This guy plays all 2 minutes of every PK. ALL OF THEM. ALL!
Ron Hainsey is 900 years old. Well, actually he’s 36, but in the hockeyverse that’s akin to having a hut in the rainiest part of Degobah and waiting for the last Jedi to show up…
He pulls X-Wings out of swamps every game.
Clearly, as I wrote earlier, coach Mike Babcock doesn’t trust many of his other D soldiers and is content running his vet into the ice. Is this a message to GM Lou Lamoriello? Is Mike spitefully asking for reinforcements?
The acquisition of a solid PK defensive specialist would be most welcome.
However, for all my mud slinging, the adage is this: If a team’s PK and PP rest firmly somewhere in the middle of the rankings, all is well.
In any event, if this trend continues, Ron Hainsey will be a force ghost by next month and appearing at theatre near you (that’s the rumour anyway.)
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” – Stevie Wonder.
At this point, the Maple Leafs wedding ring on Mike Babcock’s hand has left a small, green patina circle around his ring finger.
The wedding is over. The honeymoon a distant memory. Thank you cards recycled or thrown away.
Now it’s time to be married.
And what did the Leafs marry?
Quite possibly the best coach in the NHL. Again, not my hyperbole, go look at the numbers.
He controls the media. He ends his pressers when he feels like it. He mixes lines, mid-game, to get his stars away from hulking behemoths on the opposing blue line.
He benches players for poor play, regardless of the name heading their stall. He thinks differently.
Proof? Remember the gold medal winning men’s hockey team from the 2014 Winter Olympics? Yeah? Those guys? They won the medal playing defence. Here’s the roster. LOOK AT ALL THOSE WEAPONS! BALLSY STUFF.
Mike Babcock is the Maple Leafs coach by title and the GM behind closed doors. Make no mistake, if Mike wants PLAYER X, they’re going after him.
He’s a hockey mad scientist.
Now, with all that praise, comes a few warts. His allegiance to his line combinations is almost maddening. Why not pair Matthews and Marner more often? Why is Hyman afforded the opportunity to be on the Matthews line every game?
Why keep running Polak out there? Why not give Josh Leivo more of a shot?
BUT, there’s not much to nitpick about here.
Mike’s wonderful and worth his INSANE paycheque.
“Master of Puppets” – Metallica
Name me a better front office in the NHL. I DEFY YOU!
Cool, collected and willing to properly assess and draft, this group of all-stars is the reason the Leafs have Auston Matthews.
How many times do you hear Brendan Shanahan or Lou Lamiorello give an interview? Almost never. Why? They’re too busy managing the team.
In years past, it is my opinion that previous management groups liked the sound of their own voice in the media and spent far too little time actually doing stuff.
Leafs trade rumours are almost non-existent because GM Lamoriello has placed a gag order on the organization.
I LOVE IT.
Less talk and more do…
I trust these guys. With very few exceptions they have done an outstanding job in a hockey mad market.
I feel like they go to work to manage, not to be window dressing.
SIDE NOTE: Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is 8:36! WOW!
Well, there you have it. It was a long one, full of Star War references, commas and musical sidetracks.
The Least You Need To Know: At the quarter pole, the Toronto Maple Leafs are 4 points out of 1st place in the NHL. Not their division, the entire league.
If you were expecting an evisceration of the team in this blog, I’m sorry to disappoint.
Its tough to find areas to autopsy with these Leafs. There is no carcass. This time, the team is alive and well. Breathing, scoring, defending.