There is something different about playoff hockey in the NHL. Playoff games bring out a special kind of excitement in fans and another level of play in the players. The games are grittier and tend to get nasty after the first few games. The referees let them play and players get away with things that would normally be a penalty during the regular season. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a skilled, young team, but the one thing they lack is experience.
Right now the Leafs are battling for a playoff spot in the standings and they look like they will win a spot in time for the playoffs. So with the standings in mind, the Leafs went out and added playoff experience at the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline.
The Lacking Leafs
With the Leafs having so many rookies it means most of the team is without any playoff experience at the NHL level. The last time the Leafs were in the playoffs was in the 2012-13 season when the Leafs took the Boston Bruins, the eventual Stanley Cup winners, to seven games in the first round.
Only five players from that playoff series are still with the Leafs. Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and Leo Komarov’s only playoff experience was that series. James van Riemsdyk is the only one that had experience outside of that series as he went to the playoffs with the Philadelphia Flyers the previous three seasons.
Van Riemsdyk had played the second most career playoffs games on the Leafs with 46. The Leafs leader in playoff games is Roman Polak with 49 games. Half of those games are from last season when Polak went to the Stanley Cup Final with the San Jose Sharks.
Heading into the trade deadline the Leafs only had 12 players with any playoff experience and only six of those players had more than 20 games of playoff experience. To say the Leafs are inexperienced is an understatement.
And so over the trade deadline the Leafs made two trades that addressed their playoff inexperience. First they acquired Brian Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then on the trade deadline the Leafs made a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins acquiring Eric Fehr.
Boyle was a key addition as he’s a big player and successful in the face-off dot. On top of that, he can kill penalties. He can also add a bit of offense as a third or fourth line center with 13 goals and 22 points in 54 games. But the most important thing is that Boyle perfectly addresses the Leafs lack of experience.
Since 2011, nobody has more playoff experience (100 GP) than Brian Boyle
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 27, 2017
Boyle’s 100 career playoff games is twice the amount of playoff games as anyone else, aside from Fehr, on the Leafs roster. He’s also been to the Stanley Cup Final twice – in 2014 with the New York Rangers and again in 2015 with the Lightning. This is a player that brings both veteran leadership as well as the most playoff experience in the NHL since 2011.
Now Fehr might not bring the same skill and versatility that Boyle brings to the Leafs, but he does add that extra experience to the team. In Fehr the Leafs get a player with 60 career playoff games and he was also part of the 2016 Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins. He will likely be used as a depth player as opposed to Boyle, who will be a mainstay in the lineup. Despite that, having a player like Fehr who can fill in on the fourth line is invaluable during the playoffs.
Comparing the career playoff games of the Leafs’ roster to Boyle and Fehr truly shows the amount of experience they add to the team. The entire Leafs roster has a total of 226 career playoff games played. Boyle and Fehr combine for 160 career playoff games played. That number says it all on what they bring to the Leafs.
Boyle and Fehr might not be the highly skilled players that fans want, but they will help the Leafs rookies through the playoffs. As we know the playoffs are an entirely different kind of hockey. So adding two playoff veterans to the team will be instrumental in guiding the young Leafs into and through the NHL playoffs.