Maple Leafs Enter Oilers Game with the Superior Lineup

There is one big similarity between the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams have great firepower at the top of their lineups. Who could argue that the Oilers’ duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is not the best 1-2 punch offensively in the NHL? In comparison, it’s likely the Maple Leafs come in second to that twosome.

McDavid and Draisaitl are Elite NHL Scorers

McDavid and Draisaitl’s scoring over the past few seasons put them into an elite group – maybe the best two forwards (at least the highest scoring) who have played together recently. These two offensive monsters are every bit as good as the twosome of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The truth is that McDavid and Draisaitl are different players than Matthews and Marner. The first three are both goal-scorers and assist on other teammates’ goals. Marner is elite at creating goals for his teammates; however, as far as a scorer himself he isn’t in the same league as McDavid, Draisaitl, or Matthews.

After the Firepower of the Team’s Best Forwards, Differences Begin to Emerge

It’s after comparing those twosomes where the differences between the teams become more apparent. Depending upon your taste, the Oilers’ third-best forward is former Maple Leafs’ player Zach Hyman. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a good forward but he isn’t Tavares or Nylander. Jesse Puljujarvi has the makings of a solid young forward, but he isn’t there yet. Kailer Yamamoto has his moments, too. Still, he’s a work in progress.

Jesse Puljujarvi Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After those Oilers’ players, sharpen your pencil because the list of quality forward depth after Matthews and Marner is vastly better than what the Oilers can throw over the boards. John Tavares and William Nylander first jump to mind. Neither Hyman nor Nugent-Hopkins compare. Warren Foegele is as honest and hard-working a player as you can find, but I wouldn’t trade him for Ondrej Kase or Michael Bunting.

Comparing the Rest of the Two Team’s Forwards

Then there’s Alex Kerfoot. For as much as there’s a call to trade Kerfoot to free up some salary cap space, which might actually come to pass, you can bet the Oilers would love to have Kerfoot somewhere on their top two lines. The Oilers’ depth also suffers when compared to the Maple Leafs’ depth. The Oilers have no one like David Kampf, nor do they have an Ilya Mikheyev. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Lineup Changes, Sandin, Liljegren & Krys

The fourth line of Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Pierre Engvall is better than the Oilers’ depth of Derek Ryan, Devin Shore, or Colton Scevious. I like Ryan as a tough, honest player, but he doesn’t give his team the value Spezza does.

The Maple Leafs Defense Has Greater Depth than the Oilers 

On defense, the Oilers suffer because Oscar Klefbom has been injured for two seasons now. The Oilers do have a stud defenseman in Darnell Nurse. The Maple Leafs counter with Morgan Rielly. Each is very different, but both are effective. The Oilers’ young defenseman Evan Bouchard is going to be a great defenseman, if he’s not already. 

However, the Oilers lack the quiet competence of T.J Brodie to play with Rielly. Instead, the Oilers have signed Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie to multi-year contracts. Ceci signed for four years at $3.5 million per season. Barrie for three years at $4.5 million per season. Maple Leafs’ fans are scratching their heads.

T.J. Brodie Toronto Maple Leafs
T.J. Brodie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

When I read about these two contracts, I shake my head at Maple Leafs’ fans who consistently get on general manager Kyle Dubas’ case for his overpayment of Marner, Matthews, Tavares, and (used to be) William Nylander. Not to disparage these two defensemen, but Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland signings are not the same league as the players that Dubas “overpaid” for.

The Key Difference Between the Oilers and the Maple Leafs Is in Goal

But the real difference in the two teams is the goaltending. Who doesn’t like the battling temperament that 39-year-old Oilers’ goalie Mike Smith shows? And, every once in a while, Mikko Koskinen can steal a game. But neither of those two goalies is Jack Campbell. 

Related: Forget Oilers Moving Mikko Koskinen: Why Would He Want to Stay?

Campbell inspires his team’s confidence in ways neither Smith nor Koskinen does. In Howard Berger’s post yesterday about Campbell’s impact on the team, he shared that on March 20 during last season’s shortened schedule, Campbell took over the starting role when Frederik Andersen was injured. Since that time, the Maple Leafs’ regular-season record in 55 games has been 37-12-6. And Campbell has put up a record of 30-6-3 in the games he started. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Currently, as he heads into tonight’s game, Campbell leads all NHL goalies in goals-against-average (1.86) and save–percentage (.939). He’s third in goalie wins (16), trailing Frederik Andersen (Carolina Hurricanes) by one and Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning) by two.

The Maple Leafs Have a Really Strong Team

Personally, I’m sad that Dave Tippett is undergoing so much critique in Edmonton. He’s one of the most competent coaches in the NHL and has been for years. It just isn’t his fault that the air is let out of his Oilers’ balloon when his team is mounting a comeback and one of the team’s goalies lets in a soft one at exactly the wrong time.

The bottom line and the reason the Maple Leafs are ahead of the Oilers in the standings is that they have the better lineup. In fact, those lineup differences will be exacerbated by the news today that Matthews had tested negative for COVID-19 and will play. For the Oilers, McDavid and Ryan tested positive for COVID-19 and will not play. That can’t be good news for the Oilers or their fans.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, McDavid, Kase & Hyman

By the way, because the Maple Leafs’ lineup is superior doesn’t mean Toronto is a lock to win tonight’s game. That’s the thing about NHL hockey. It could be the night that the visiting team’s goalie stands on his head.

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