Last year, it was suggested that for the Toronto Maple Leafs to be successful in the playoffs they would have to avoid their nemesis, the Boston Bruins. Why? The short answer is Toronto did not match up well against Boston. And even if they did, the Bruins had a funny way of screwing over the Leafs. Call it a curse or a whole lot of bad luck, but no matter what, the Leafs still somehow fell short. If the Leafs were to avoid the Bruins, how would they do so? For better or worse, tanking was the suggested remedy. Some may say that is a silly idea. Others saw the vision, maybe even Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas.
Leafs And Kyle Dubas Need To Think About Future
Lo and behold, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have come and gone. The Maple Leafs lost to the Bruins in a highly entertaining seven-game series. Unfortunately for Leaf fans, the pain of losing in the first round did not feel any better. Fans felt like they wasted a season. Upset spectators were calling for the firing of Leafs head coach Mike Babcock after his mismanagement of the lineup throughout the 2018-19 season and the playoffs. Things were at an all-time low.
And like the drunk people on New Year’s Eve, the Maple Leafs, led by the young Kyle Dubas, said: “New year, new me”.
Ah, but there’s a catch to that. Nothing has changed in the Leafs play. Sure the roster is loaded with a plethora of new players including struggling defenceman Tyson Barrie. Yet the same problems remain.
Now, more than ever, the Leafs still continue to play undisciplined hockey. They are taking way too many penalties. According to Fox Sports, the Maple Leafs rank third in the league with 70 penalties taken. It does not help that their penalty kill is ranked 23rd in the league. It is hard to win games playing shorthanded.
Much like last season, the backup goalie is another area for concern. Michael Hutchinson has yet to win a game this season. In the five games Hutchinson has started, he boasts a 0-4-1 record. His goals-against average is 4.44 and Hutchinson’s save percentage does not get any better at .897. His start to the season has been terrible. It does not look like it will get much better either. For Leaf fans, this is an area of concern since it looks like Hutchinson might be the backup for the long haul. And even if he is not, their goaltending depth behind Frederik Andersen is not too deep. Hutchinson was placed on waivers Monday, which may clear the way for Kasimir Kaskisuo to come up from the Marlies.
The team lacks toughness or at least, some grit. For bigger and stronger teams like the St. Louis Blues, it looks they are having a stroll through the park when they are playing Toronto. Big hits to star players like John Tavares and Auston Matthews are happening without any sort of response. The star players have a harder time opening up the ice for them to work their magic.
The good things
The star players are playing like star players. Matthews has been having himself a good year with 13 goals and 12 assists. Before Marner’s injury, he was having a good start to the season with four goals and 14 assists through 18 games played. That made him a point per game player. William Nylander is rebounding from a not-so-good 2018-19 campaign with seven goals and five assists through 19 games this season. John Tavares, despite his broken finger injury, has been nearly a point per game player with five goals and six assists through 12 games.
During their game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov 10., after the Leafs went down 4-1 late in the first period, the Leafs gathered some momentum. They were starting to play as if they cared. Toronto ended up making the game close and lost by a score of 5-4. Although they lost, it looked like this team lit a fire under their arses. It looked like they started to care about the outcome of the game.
Their start to the season has not been ideal with a 9-6-4 record, but there are still some positives for this team to build on. And even if one chooses to views this as a negative start to Maple Leafs season, there are some silver-linings.
Kyle Dubas and the long run
Dubas has shown the hockey world that he knows what he is doing. Sure, he has made some mistakes such as his RFA contract negotiations with Mitch Marner and choosing Garret Sparks over Curtis McElhinney, but so has every other GM in the league. No one is without fault.
When healthy, this Maple Leafs team can kill their opponents with their speed and skill. Yes, this team has a lot to prove. It is true that the Leafs need to toughen up. That said, the Leafs can not be much better on paper. Obviously, they could use a good top-pairing stay at home defenceman but so could the majority of National Hockey League teams.
In the long run, this not-so-good start to the season for Toronto very well could be beneficial to the team if they do not have to play the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. Most of the other matchups the Leafs could have would increase their probability of winning.
One might argue, that if the Leafs are tanking to avoid the Bruins in the playoffs, they must not be that great of a team to begin with. The argument does have its merit, but it takes the intellectual ability (and some balls) to notice that one’s team needs to travel a certain path to reach its desired destination.
That is something Kyle Dubas has.
That is why Kyle Dubas ought to think about the long run.
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