In what was called a “blockbuster trade” with the Los Angeles Kings, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally acquired their defenceman, coming in the form of Jake Muzzin. Muzzin did not come cheap, costing Sean Durzi, Carl Grundstrum, and a 2019 first round draft pick. All things considered, it was a fair trade for both sides. Some have even gone as far to call this trade a “home run” for Toronto. They just might be right. There are certain pundits that are calling this trade that’ll win Toronto the cup. Let’s just slow down there.
Leafs Got Jake Muzzin
Yes, the Leafs finally got that two-way defenceman they so badly needed. Muzzin brings Stanley Cup experience, a strong all-around game, and another good attitude to add to the locker room. He is not afraid to throw a hit and can play the right side, which is a good thing considering that is Toronto’s weakness. No, he does not shoot right-handed. No, he may not be a “true” top-two defenceman, but for the price, the Leafs cannot go wrong.
They now, for all intents and purposes, boast a defence corps that looks something similar to this:
Morgan Rielly – Jake Muzzin
This is one the best backend lineups that the Leafs have had in years, maybe even decades. That being said, this does not mean that they will win the Cup.
Toronto Still Needs a Few Pieces of the Puzzle
Truth be told, on paper, this Leafs roster is the best it has been in a while. Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen and the new addition of Jake Muzzin make this team pretty solid, definitely a “contender” per se. That’s not mentioning names like Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, and Nazem Kadri.
The one thing Toronto is missing and might need come playoff time is grittiness. By that I mean, a player, much like Nazem Kadri, that can get under the other team’s skin and protect the Leafs’ star players.
If you look at teams like Washington and Pittsburgh who have won the Stanley Cup over the past couple of seasons, they had those players. The Capitals had Tom Wilson, maybe a bit too violent at times, but he did his job nonetheless. Nick Bonino seemed to be able to instigate well for the Penguins when he needed too. They may not have won the Cup for their teams, but they definitely helped make the road to victory a bit easier to navigate.
Who Should Toronto Target?
Obviously with roughly a month until the deadline, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas is still going to be kicking some tires. Maybe he’ll take a shot at a top-six defenceman or another Zach Hyman type of forward. Someone he should take a look at is Philidelphia Flyers Radko Gudas.
Gudas is having himself a good season and would fit in nicely with Toronto. According to Cap Friendly, Gudas’ cap hit for the next two season (2018-19 and 2019-20) is $3.350 million (USD). Maybe if Toronto could somehow convince Philly or another team to take on Zaitsev’s contract, the Maple Leafs could pull off a deal. A move like this would help the Leafs get a little bit tougher for the playoffs and help them get that edge over a team like the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lighting.
Toronto As They Stand Now
Toronto, as they sit now, are a great team that could possibly have a good playoff run if they can manage to make it past the Bruins and/or the Lighting. Who knows, maybe if Montreal keeps playing like they are playing, maybe the Maple Leafs could matchup with them in the first round? That is something to keep in the back on their minds.
Frederik Andersen is getting his rest and luckily, this year is not getting overused. That being said, backup goalie Garret Sparks has been shaky at times and has made some fans a little nervous. In hindsight, keeping Curtis McElhinney might have kicked that fear out that back door but many felt Sparks deserved his chance and now he’s got it. Besides, in the playoffs, everyone knows Andersen will be getting the nod. As long as Sparks can win 70-75 percent of the games he plays in, everything should be fine.
Does Toronto Have Boston’s Number
If one looks at the papers and the depth charts, this shouldn’t even be a question. Toronto, by all means, SHOULD be able to beat a team like Boston, but just like Ohio State has Michigan’s number in college football, Boston has Toronto’s number in hockey. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, this is the year that they should have Boston’s. Really outside of the Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak line, Boston is really a poor person’s version of Toronto. When it comes to playoffs, Boston comes to play, and just like a fight, anybody can win with one punch.
Eastern Conference: Tampa Likely At the Top
Call me a “Doubting Thomas”, but I still think a team like Tampa Bay has the edge over Toronto. They have the experience, they have the depth and they have the better goalie. Andrei Vasilevskiy, at times, can look like the best netminder in the NHL. Yes, he has had his ups and downs in the playoffs, but that being said, if Tampa scores three or more goals, he’s going to shut the door. That’s no insult to Andersen, who is the best goalie the Leafs have had for a while. Andersen has been the team’s MVP over the last few seasons and the Leafs in 2017-18 doesn’t make it to the playoffs without him. That’s not to say these teams don’t match up well outside of goaltending category. That’s not to say that Tampa flat out destroys Toronto. Being real, the series should be close.
The question is, does Toronto have what it takes to beat the league’s best? I’m not sold on it yet. Leafs Nation has been hit hard with letdown after letdown and the old saying is “history is bound to repeat itself’. Why should this year be any different? It’s time for the Leafs to prove me wrong.