Five Reasons Why The Leafs Should Stay Put

I was born in 1999. Within my short time on God’s green earth, the Toronto Maple leafs franchise has tested my faith as a fan. I’ve witnessed two game seven collapses to the Boston Bruins (yes, the 2017-2018 game should be considered a collapse), the departure of an eventual two time Stanley Cup champion and a string of seasons from 2004 to 2013 that I wish I could forget. With all this being said, I am still proud to be a Leafs fan – and you should be as well.

In November of 2016 a group of buddies and I had the pleasure to meet Brendan Shanahan in a box after the Leafs beat the Washington Capitals. It was a night in which anything could happen, the Leafs won, and proverbial tough guy Matt Martin scored a breakaway goal. What surprised me more than witnessing one of Martin’s five goals that season, was what Shanahan said to the group following the game. In response to a question about the future of the team, Shanahan claimed: “wait five years and we are going to have something special”. If you are rolling your eyes at my version of insider information – that’s fair. However, I’d argue that if you’ve made it this far into the article bearing my below average vocabulary and thinking you can learn anything from a naïve nineteen-year-old, you must either be a family member or have nothing better to do.

If you do some trivial math, Shanahan and Kyle Dubas (as well as Lou Lamerillo at the time) were aiming for the 2021 season to be a contender. Stretching the true ability of my rudimentary mathematical abilities, I believe the signing of John Tavares and the 49 wins posted by the team last season, puts Shanahan and the rest of management two years ahead of schedule. Shanahan’s plead to wait five years occurred two years ago, and if I’m saying that they are two years ahead of said schedule, that must mean we are heading into year five of five for this plan to come to fruition (I think). This brings me to my point. If the entirety of the NHL is playing Texas Fold Em’ – the Leafs should check and wait for the flop of the fifth card. Here are five reasons why the Leafs should stay put going into the 2018- 2019 season:

1.     A Good Defence Is an Even Better Offence.

If the leafs stay put and enter the season with their current roster, the forward lines would be nothing short of mouth-watering:

Marleau – Matthews – Nylander

Hyman – Tavares – Marner

Johnsson – Kadri – Kapanen

Ennis – Lindholm – Brown

While the signing of Tavares brings a long list of impressive tangibles to the Leafs, it is his defensive play that is being the most overlooked. Last season Tavares was a -12 on a team that was 10 games below .500 and missed the playoffs. This was his first season since 2014 to post a negative +/- on a team who despite making the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, never really made a lot of noise in the league. To put this into perspective, Auston Matthews was only a +2 despite playing on a 40 win team and registering 69 points in his rookie year. Stats aside, Tavares is one of the best two-way centres in the league and adds some stability to the defensive side of the puck for the Leafs. In addition, Kadri featured on the third line and Connor Brown on the fourth highlight the fact that the clubs third and fourth lines will be causing nightmares for opposing teams latter forward and defensive lineups. With this in mind, it does not make sense to trade a player like Kapanen as his value will most likely increase when paired with Kadri and playing against 3rd liners. While the backend could most certainly be improved for the leafs – it is the third and fourth line forwards that will cause opposing teams to sit back on their heels, rather than attempting to expose the inexperienced potential pairing of Travis Dermott and Connor Carrick. Before we trade away anyone, remember the city the Leafs play in and the tragic history that lingers within it – Toronto.

2.    We Study History Because It Repeats Itself

While I do believe in Kyle Dubas, we are forgetting that despite a bright looking future, we are a cursed franchise. To trade a young promising prospect or player for any GM is risky enough, it increases tenfold when you consider the luck of any Toronto sports team. To provide some supporting evidence to the severity of the current curse that Toronto is a part of, look at the team that plays a couple of blocks down from the Scotiabank Arena. The Toronto Blue Jays had the entire of the country excited when acquiring players such as R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes. While the following seasons were exciting and provided the country with a historic bat flip, the Jays traded away Noah Syndergaard – a pitcher who could have vastly helped the team when making their playoff runs in 2015 and 2016. The Jays currently sit at 55 wins and 69 losses, and unless Vlad Guerroro Jr. and Bo Bichette can exceed their already high expectations, it looks as if the team while undergo a re-build after “going for it” in 2015. Even if the Leafs start the season with 24 straight wins like the Golden State Warriors – sports are unpredictable. The Warriors lost in game seven in 2016 despite recording one of the best regular seasons in NBA history. The leafs should use these lessons and keep in mind that no matter how much success the team experiences in the regular season before the trade deadline, they should keep their cards close to their chest and let their young core experience one more playoff run before making any moves. 

3.     Would the return for a Leaf’s forward really be enough?

Perhaps one of the most common takes I have heard fellow Leaf fans boaster is that the Leafs are “ready” but need a shutdown defenceman like Duncan Keith or Shea Weber. Obviously, the addition of either one of those players would provide a level-headed and time consuming blue liner that the Leafs young core could use in the locker room and on the ice. However, at what cost? Those type of defenceman are few and far between in this league and the Leafs would most likely have to trade a young prospect such as Justin Holl in addition to some other valuable asset such as Kadri. The hypothetical trade involving Holl and Kadri would most likely result in the team bringing in a defenceman that is below the calibre of Morgan Reilly, and dare I say, Jake Gardiner. This is a massive risk considering the fact that the Leafs have several prospects in their system, especially within the recent AHL champions, the Toronto Marlies. Trading away one of their key forwards with players such as Timothy Liljegren, Justin Holl and Rasmus Sandin all developing quickly and whose potential is yet to be fully understood could possibly leave the Leafs with their tails between their legs with another Noah Syndergaard situation. Liljergren is a right-handed defenceman who the Leafs selected at #17 in last year’s draft. Some insiders had the young defenceman as a potential #2 pick but slid due to poor play caused by mono. Unless an unbelievable deal falls in Kyle Dubas’ lap, it does not make sense for the boy-wonder to trade away a key prospect and a forward such as Kadri for a defenceman that could be possibly found within the leafs system. If Dubas is looking to trade for a defenceman, general managers around the league understand that the Leafs are looking to improve their backend. Knowing this, Kyle Dubas would start trade negations behind the 8 ball and possibly have to give up more than what the team would return in a defenceman. This leads me to my next point:

4.     Do We Really Need A Big Stay At Home Defenceman?

Using history to further attempt to convince those who are bored enough to make it this far into the article as to why the Leafs roster should be cemented as is for the 2018-19 season, let’s take a look at the past three Stanley Cup winners. The Washington Capitals best defenceman during their playoff run was the American born John Carlson. Playing all 82 games last season, Carlson posted 68 points with an even +/-. While both the Capitals and Leafs finished the regular season with the same record, it is optimistic to say, but not unrealistic, that the Leafs will finish higher in the standings at the end of next year’s season. With this rise in the standings, I expect Morgan Reilly’s 52 points in 76 games last year to rival Carlson’s point production and mobility. If it is true that the Leafs need “the guy” on our blue-line, we may not need to look further than Reilly to play the role that Carlson played in the Capitals run this year. With the diminishing roles of enforcers in the NHL and the game getting faster, the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to have welcomed this change and built their roster accordingly. What still lingers is those that believe that 6’5 240 pound defenceman such as Dustin Byfuglien is required to win a championship. To those who still believe in this notion, where was this defenceman on the back-to-back Stanley cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins? The Don Cherry Canadian in me hates to argue a good ol’ Canadian boys worth, but Letang is undoubtedly the Penguins #1 defenceman. If the Leafs so desperately need their bona fide #1 defenceman, how do you explain the Penguins winning the cup without Letang for their entire playoff run in 2017? The game is changing, and people such as Kyle Dubas are paid millions of dollars to predict the direction it is going. My guess is as good as anyone else’s, and I truly have no idea what the future of the NHL holds. However, one thing is for certain, there will always be more than one way to win.

5.      The NHL And Its Style Of Play Is Constantly Evolving

 Whether or not the Leafs turn into the Broad Street Bullies of Philadelphia or style their play around the quick and crisp-passing Soviet Union, with the right roster and team dynamic, they will win. The NHL has undergone several changes in play over the course of its 101-year history. We’ve seen teams rely on brute force and intimidation to win games and others where it seemed that if they had one player on their roster that could skate across the blue line and had a decent shot, they were sure to be successful. If we can count on one thing, it would be that the NHL and the way games are played will always be evolving and changing. This constant evolution is the sole reason why I’m able to write this article today. If the game was static, there would be a recipe for success and it would turn into a game of solely balancing a salary cap. Thankfully, this is not the case. As fans, we have very little idea of how players are received in the locker room or how well they genuinely fit into the coach’s system. This is what makes sports so engaging – the unpredictably.

            Whether or not the Leafs trade for a defenceman before or during next season, we are all in for a wild ride. It is time to truly believe (could you imagine if I had said beLEAF instead?). With a pleather of young prospects chomping at the bit trying to make the team this year, and unbelievable scoring ability, the rest of the league, and the city of Toronto, should brace for impact this season.