The Toronto Maple Leafs have been on a bit of a rough stretch in their last 10 games with a record of 5-4-1. Now it might not seem all that bad to some NHL fans, but for most of Leafs Nation, it is. A couple of these losses came to teams like Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators, teams that the Maple Leaf loyalists feel the Leafs should “beat in their sleep”. Even in Toronto’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lighting, the boys in blue and white looked like they gave up and Auston Matthews felt like that happened too. Nonetheless, it’s important that the Leafs take a trip on the “wild side” before the playoffs or else papa won’t be the only one found dead with his best friend’s wife.
Maple Leafs Need To Learn Their Hard Lessons Now
The old saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” may have well been written for the Maple Leafs. They definitely haven’t played to their full potential. Injuries to such players as Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott certainly haven’t helped the Leafs out with their winning prospects. That being said, their rivals, the Boston Bruins, have been playing pretty good with essentially one line, a couple of alright defencemen and an above average goalie, In other words, there’s really no excuses for Toronto to keel over and call it a day.
Fans have been critical of head coach Mike Babcock‘s use of the roster and his overplaying of players like Ron Hainsey, but as I have said in the past, that probably won’t change. It’s a part of the team’s storyline, as aggravating as it can be for those who care.
Come playoff time, Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas might have to have a hard talk with Coach Babcock about his use of the roster and tell him that he needs to optimize the usage of the player bestowed upon him, maybe to get it to look something like this. That’s if Babcock respects Dubas’ authority and Dubas has the demeanor to lay down the line. Considering how Babcock has, let’s say, “disagreed strongly” with past general managers, Mr. Dubas might have a tricky time.
The role Dubas plays
Although the young GM made a move to get a top-four defenceman in Jake Muzzin, pundits often criticize him for not getting that big and gritty forward and/or defenceman. It’s understandable to point that out since it seems like that may be a major problem come playoff time if the big forwards don’t come out to play and Frederik Andersen is left to fend for himself when the defence decides to take a nap.
Mind you, no one knows what the true prices were for guys like Adam McQuaid or Wayne Simmonds for a team like Toronto who happened to be in New York’s and Philadelphia’s conference. The prices were probably a bit higher and if these trades were made, people would still complain and say Dubas overpaid. There’s really no winning in this situation unless there’s a parade down Younge Street.
With what Dubas has put together, the Leafs are in a much better situation than some other teams, at least on paper. What’s depressing for Leafs fans is that they’re playing the Bruins in the first round, who have had the Maple Leafs number for a while now. Any other first-round matchup besides Tampa Bay, Leaf fans would probably be much more confident in their team’s chances in the playoffs. This isn’t really Dubas’ fault. It’s just life, not everything is fair.
Learning the hard lessons
Nobody likes “learning their lessons”. It’s annoying and sometimes, especially in this case, embarrassing. That being said, it’s a good thing to learn them. And if there’s ever been a time to get a handful of reality for the Maple Leafs, it’s now. They’re basically a lock for the third position in the Atlantic Division unless they either pass Boston for second place or the worst case Ontario plays out and the Montreal Canadiens take over Toronto’s third-place spot, which at the moment, is still mathematically possible.
No one wants to re-learn those lessons, so common sense says, “Don’t do that again.” Don’t play down to the “weak” opponents. Always play a 200-foot game. Communicate. Most importantly, never give up and always keep the pedal to the metal. The Maple Leafs have so much skill, this should be easier for them than it is most. The Maple Leafs just have to believe it. And maybe, practice a bit more and play the system rather than just hoping that whoever is behind them will fill in the gaps. That’s not exactly how this team’s blueline plays, especially with all the injuries.
Sparks gets to learn
Another nice thing about learning these hard lessons is that backup goalie Garret Sparks gets the chance to be “seasoned” in the NHL. Most Maple Leafs fans don’t like that he is the backup for the rest of the year since they rather have Curtis McElhinney. Unfortunately for those fans, this is the new reality in net for Toronto and they’re going to have to live with it. Sparks is better struggling now because a higher power forbids Andersen going down in the playoffs with an injury. Sparks is his replacement and Leafs’ brass can’t have him learning these lessons during the playoffs.
The last word
The Maple Leafs play as of late is a tough pill to swallow for Leafs Nation. At times it’s been downright embarrassing. At the same, the positive people amongst us in this world always find the good in the bad, even on the worst of days. With the Maple Leafs, there is no exception. Take the good with the bad and leave out all the rest. Come playoff time, once the teams are decided, records mean nothing. Teams take it period by period, game by game. In the season of wither, sometimes the Maple Leafs must stand and deliver; be strong and laugh.