The Toronto Maple Leafs are hot right now.
They have won four straight. Not an easy thing to do after that disastrous West coast road trip everyone was talking about. Perhaps most importantly, they have been able to do it for their last four contests without their best player; Auston Matthews. The Maple Leafs have been able to weather the injury to Matthews because of their depth at forward.
Win Streak Shows Toronto Maple Leafs Depth
Not many teams would be able to muster up such a tear without their most prolific scorer in their lineup. But the Toronto Maple Leafs are not most teams. Due to their stockpiling of draft picks over the past few seasons, Toronto finds itself in a unique position. They have more NHL ready forwards who sit in the press box than most team in the league.
Nikita Soshnikov, made his season debut on Thursday night. He will likely be the replacement for Leo Komorov at some point. Not to slight Komorov, but his production this season has been on the decline and to re-sign him will likely be at a price the Leafs won’t pay. Soshnikov plays the same antagonizing type of game. The kind of player you hate to play against, but love to have in your lineup. On most teams, Soshnikov would be a regular in the bottom six of the lineup. With Toronto, he is barely playing his first game on Thursday, and that is only due to the injury of Matthews.
Players Stepping Up
Kapanen joined the Leafs as a part of the blockbuster Phil Kessel deal. And it didn’t take long for him to get his chance with the Leafs. Kapanen ended up being called up last year. He even scored big goals for the Leafs. He netted the game-winning goal against Pittsburgh that solidified Toronto’s spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. After getting matched up with Washington in the first round, Toronto kept him in the lineup because they needed depth scoring. Kapanen ended up playing the whole series against the Capitals, not to mention scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime in game two.
Not bad for a days work.
But when it comes to making the roster for the regular season, Kapanen was edged out by more veteran players. It also doesn’t help him that the contracts of Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Auston Matthews are on the horizon. Since he only has one year left on his current deal he may become a cap casualty.
But if Toronto can convince him to re-sign after next season, there may be some spots opening up. After all, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk are in the last year of their deals. Kapanen is also ready to play right now…
Which brings me to my next player.
Show me another player that has such a following having played so few minutes over the last couple of years. Granted, this is Toronto where anything having to do with the Leafs is placed under the microscope.
But Leivo has averaged just over ten games a year over the last four seasons. That hardly seems like a sample size to warrant such a following.
Or is it?
It seems that every time Leivo is able to crack the lineup, he is one of the most noticeable players on the ice. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Through the last two seasons, he has racked up fifteen points in his twenty-five appearances with the team.
Those are pretty good numbers for a guy who gets the plug and play treatment in the lineup. Think of what he could accomplish if he were allowed to develop more chemistry with his linemates. General manager Lou Lamoriello understands that he has value to the team. While there has been rumored interest in him from teams, they have yet to make an offer that Lamoriello feels is worth giving him up for.
But Toronto isn’t likely to give up a player such as Leivo unless they can get a solid return. That is to say, a player that could improve their defense right now. Unfortunately, to get the help the Leafs need on the backend, it would probably take a significant package involving Leivo or Kapanen.
The Bottom Line
The Toronto Maple Leafs may have been forced to bring back Auston Matthews early had the team slumped in his absence. But the team has rallied and won, so Matthews can take the proper time to recover.
The depth players Toronto has on their bench have been able to slide right into the lineup and the Leafs haven’t missed a beat. That speaks to the depth of the Maple Leafs. The patience of the organization for sticking with their plan to develop players from within. If the Leafs can keep outworking teams without Matthews in the lineup they will be poised for a terrific run when he returns.