Leafs are A Mess! A Shakeup Is Needed!
Since the Toronto Maple Leafs finally were able to sign William Nylander to a deal, this club has instantly turned into a mess. A bad mess; whereas before the Nylander signing things were a good mess.
Both Auston Matthews and William Nylander Hurting the Team, Nowhere Near 100%
I think the deal for Nylander is fair, $6.9 million cap hit for 6 years. However I don’t think he is playing even close to where he should/could be at this moment. Nylander should be playing in the AHL with the Marlies on what they call a conditioning stint and should not be called up until he is dominating the competition at the Coca-Cola Coliseum just down the highway.
Morever, it is also fairly obvious that Auston Matthews is still feeling the effects of the hard cheap shot thrown from behind by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall a week ago Thursday. Matthews is just a mere shell of himself since that hit. And until he is feeling 100% and unafraid to go hard along the boards and in front of the net then he should be placed on IR. This is not rocket science to be playing two of your big guns in December when each are clearly nowhere near their game AND LOSING games —games that could have easily been won down in Florida!
Ok, these last two games haven’t been so bad, but instead of seeing this club find ways to win when both Matthews and Nylander were out, they are now finding ways to lose in dramatic fashion all of a sudden with both Matthews and Nylander in the lineup. Why such bad losses in games when the team should win? The answer is simple in that both of your top guns who were out a while are now back in and are not the difference makers they need to be. Injured, out of shape, rusty…I don’t care who they are and why, but these guys shouldn’t be in the lineup playing big minutes and in key spots if they are at only 70% or worse. It is obvious they aren’t even close to 100% or at their level. Shame on Mike Babcock and the front office if they continue to push these two key players if they are unable to do so.
The fourth line has also been terrible in Florida after being such a bright spot leading up to it. Par Lindholm is not good enough and it was a shame to see Josh Leivo go – for another winger instead of a defender! After the Nylander signing, I think a lot of followers and media forgot to mention what a horrible trade that was. Leivo could have been a piece or part of a package at some point to land a quality defenseman! Instead he is shipped out one for one for another weaker winger! That was a travesty of a decision by GM Kyle Dubas! Gets my vote for dumbest trade of the year next to Rob Blake’s Tanner Pearson for 30-year-old oft-injured Carl Hagelin! Are you guys drunk?
I think signing Tyler Ennis was a diamond in the rough, but guys like Conner Brown and Lindholm have just got to be better and I don’t think they can be much better. Why not give guys like Pierre Engvall or Mason Marchment a shot? With Lindholm being 27 and an UFA after this season, I am not sure why Babcock likes him so much. Its not like the guy is going to offer much down the road or in the playoffs.
Andreas Johnsson is going to be a very good bottom six player for Toronto and Babcock needs to keep him down there, not shift him all over the lineup as he has recently.
A third line of Kadri, Brown and Johnsson should be just fine while the fourth line needs to stick with Freddy Gauthier along with Ennis and either Marchment, Engvall or maybe Jeremy Bracco or Trevor Moore? I actually like the idea of Mason Marchment on the 4th line, can get things going on the physical side a bit and has also shown some scoring touch with the Marlies.
Freddy Andersen Starting to Wear Down...In December!
Now the goaltending situation has once again become an issue, a serious issue. Most of Maple Leaf nation as well as the players on the ice and in the front office believe that this current team can be dangerous come playoff time. Notice that I am not saying “Stanley Cup Contender” because in all fairness they are not, at least not yet.
In the last 4 starts, Freddy Andersen has returned to his former up-and-down not so spectacular self and beaten rather easily and at the WORST times. The goals allowed Thursday and tonight in Florida where not the best. In other words, when the team needed a big save, he could not come up with it while his counterparts Andrei Vasileskiy and Roberto Luongo did. But in fairness to Andersen, Vasilevskiy’s performance Thursday was perhaps one of the best all time and also one of the luckiest! But Luongo tonight was no where near spectacular, and really didn’t come up with the really big stop late either, but the veteran stood his ground. Now we are seeing Andersen go back to his flopping around and falling on his ass while getting beaten like a little school girl (especially on the overtime score by Barkov, falling down before the play is even made!) So to sum up, after witnessing Vezina worthy goaltending for the first two months of the season, we once again see the subpar goaltending of Freddy Andersen return to the crease and not coming up with the big save to help the team win as he did in October and November. I also don’t think it is so much his fault. Just as last season, I blamed Mike Babcock for starting his #1 goalie (when he had a more than capable veteran backup in Curtis McElhinney) 65 times out of 82 games when the club had locked up the #3 spot in the division since January. Enter the playoffs first round against Boston and Andersen is completely destroyed allowing 7 goals in 2 of the 7 games. We are going to witness the same garbage this April if Babcock continues to play Andersen pretty much every 8 of 10 games or more.
The team needs to play and have some trust in backup Garrett Sparks and I am rooting for him as he is a fellow local boy and went to a rival high school of mine in the western suburbs of Chicago. However, I just do not think the current situation is best for him or his career. And if Babcock chooses not to have faith in the AHL goalie of the year after losing both Calvin Pickard and McElhinney to waivers just before the season began than Mr. Dubas must do something, and soon before the holiday roster freeze takes place.
The 2018 Maple Leafs are not a Stanley Cup contender, but the 2019 Maple Leafs could be. This all depends on a lot of things. First is the goaltending issue. For the last year or so, I had hoped that the front office had given either Sparks or Pickard a chance to battle for some playing time and most important to push Andersen a bit more since he was handed the #1 job for 5 years with no real threat behind him on the depth charts. So far, Sparks’ presence has at least provided some push for Andersen but now it appears as if Sparks will be nothing more than an NHL backup, unless he is given an opportunity elsewhere.
Trade Idea: Involving the Chicago Blackhawks
Brent Seabrook and Cam Ward to Toronto?
I look at the Chicago Blackhawks as a top potential trade partner for the Maple Leafs. Toronto could definitely benefit from a solid backup veteran goaltender in the likes of Cam Ward. Chicago, falling down the standings with the LA Kings, two former champions now dog crap, could also look into moving one of their bigger contracts which brings me to Brent Seabrook. Seabrook looked like he was near the end of his career a few seasons back, but still shows he can lead a power play and has a powerful right handed shot which the Maple Leafs are desperately seeking.
Toronto has both Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey off the books when the season ends, perhaps the Hawks would be ok with taking Gardiner for a year, or perhaps flipping him at the deadline (if a deal between Toronto and Chicago were to happen before holiday roster freeze) and send both Ward and Seabrook back to Toronto for Sparks (to learn and hopefully take over one day from Corey Crawford) and Gardiner and a Toronto Marlie or two. Even though Seabrook is signed through 2024, he would be 39 when his contract ends, which is the same as Hainsey this year and I am willing to bet right now that Seabrook would be just as effective if not better than Hainsey at the same age. Plus, Seabrook also brings a lot of winning experience and would be an excellent mentor to Rielly, Zaitsev, Dermott and whoever else the Leafs bring up in the coming season(s).
Cam Ward also brings a pretty solid pedigree to the club, who can also spell Andersen a bit more and should have Babcock’s confidence a bit more than Sparks or anyone else the Leafs could possibly bring up or pick up off waivers.
Toronto also boasts some solid young players whom the rebuilding or soon to rebuild Blackhawks could be interested in. Mason Marchment comes to mind given that his father Bryan Marchment played for Chicago in the early 90s, although I would hate to give him up over someone like Dmytro Timashev or Trevor Moore, or perhaps even Jeremy Bracco. With a surplus of forwards (small and soft ones even) on the current Toronto lineup, guys like Timashev and Bracco should be somewhat expendable -- especially for a guy like Seabrook on your roster. Maybe I am throwing to much in, but trying to figure out a way to compensate the fact that Chicago probably wont resign Gardiner (if he is involved in any deal with Chicago). Let’s say the Hawks have zero interest in Gardiner, would any Leaf fan/follower out there be willing to include someone like Timothy Liljigren or more realistically Calle Rosen or Andreas Borgman in a deal for Seabrook and Ward?
Toronto is in win-now mode while Chicago is in rewind mode. As of right now, the Leafs cannot afford to be much more patient with young defenders and goaltenders who may or may not be strong NHL performers in the next 4-5 seasons while the rest of the current core (Matthews, Rielly, Dermott, Zaitsev, Marner, Tavares, Hyman, Andersen and Kapanen) continue to develop at a very high level and pace. Tavares is fully developed I know, but he is what I think a core player obviously.
What Chicago did from 2010-15 is they identified their core (Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Sharp, Bolland, etc) and surrounded them with the best veterans available to them (Brian Campbell, Marian Hossa, John Madden, etc) guys with experience and had been there to help lead the way. But it was the young talent that was so good and so strong early in their careers that made the difference.
Right now, guys like Matthews and Nylander are not the difference makers they are capable of being. But hopefully they will be, and that is ultimately up to them and Mike Babcock. If they are not well enough, please sit! This team isn’t going to win any playoff rounds in December but they will need these two players and everyone else for that matter (Andersen) come March and into April.
Another parallel is the goaltending situation. In 2009-10 the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet from Montreal after a terrific All Star season. Huet was a disaster for Chicago. In came Finnish rookie Antti Niemi, who was by no means spectacular, especially in the Finals against Philadelphia, which was one of the highest scoring series in modern time I think. Every game except the 2-1 Chicago victory in game two had at least 7 or more goals scored in them (6-5, 4-3, 5-3, 7-4, 4-3). Bottom line here is that the Maple Leafs have been built in a similar way and I think that Freddy Andersen still is better than Huet or Niemi. But Babcock needs to either trust Sparks or let Sparks fail, and this week would have been a good opportunity (either in Tampa Thursday or tonight in Sunrise) to at least give Sparks a chance again. If this trend continues with the goaltending, Andersen will once again be burned out come March/April and another first round exit looms for sure; for the third year in a row which should not be acceptable for Babcock and company. However, I still feel that keeping Sparks in Toronto doesn’t help him or the team going forward and he should be given a chance to play and continue his professional career somewhere where he may be needed and also give Toronto an opportunity to acquire a much needed qualified defenseman…and I think Chicago is a perfect fit for both sides at this moment in time.
Let’s hope the bad losses stop and the club can get back on track in New Jersey. Until then, I don’t think watching games is good for my sanity or health the way things are going at this juncture. They are shooting themselves in the foot if the same format continues…Mr. Dubas, you have a job to do and it is obvious something needs to be done!