Maple Leafs’ Mailbag: Losing for Lafrenière, Robertson Expectations & More

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason just got a little more interesting as Toronto is expected to be one of the two hub cities when the NHL gets back underway. With the hockey world readying itself for the return of hockey, I figured it was time to sit down and answer some questions from Maple Leafs fans around the web.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mailbag

With that, we took to Twitter and Facebook to see what burning questions were out there hovering over Leafs nation. Here’s what we came up with.

Should the Maple Leafs lose the play-in series against Columbus and draft Lafrenière?

From Ty McPherson on Facebook

For me, it’s a Catch 22. Would a player like Alexis Lafrenière be a game-changer in Toronto? Of course. But let’s not forget that the Maple Leafs – even if they were to lose the play-in series – would only have a 12.5% chance of winning the first overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Maple Leafs haven’t been out of the first round of the playoffs since 2003-04 and another first-round loss – albeit in an odd playoff format – would certainly bring even more questions to an already unstable fanbase. Is lower confidence in the team worth the 12.5% chance at Lafrenière?

Alexis Lafrenière Rimouski Oceanic
With a play-in series loss, the Maple Leafs could have a chance at Alexis Lafrenière. But is it worth it? (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

The truth is that there is no real right answer to this question. In fact, it’s kind of a question of preference. For some, it’ll be the excitement of possibly winning the number one pick that they want to experience – even if the Maple Leafs don’t win it. For others, a chance to watch an extended playoff with Maple Leafs hockey might be the better option.

At the end of the day Ty, do you think the Maple Leafs will get the first overall pick if they lose to Columbus? For me, a little boost of confidence for a team and young core that could use it is far more reliable than the 12.5% chance at the number one pick.

What are you expectations for Nick Robertson for the play-in series?

From Josh Bell on Twitter

Ideally, the kid will get some playing time. That will be the key to getting a real taste for what he can do at the NHL level. We’ve all seen what Robertson is capable of, tearing up the OHL with 55 goals and 86 points in 46 games for the Peterborough Petes in 2019-20.

What makes this situation better for Robertson is that he has a sort of mentor in Mitch Marner. Marner, like Robertson, lit up the OHL before he made the jump to the Maple Leafs and – again, like Robertson – he’s a smaller player who was able to transition his game to the next level with relative ease.

If, and let’s remember it’s a big if, Robertson does get a significant shot with the Maple Leafs in their play-in series, expectations should be that he makes some noise. This is a kid who is essentially getting an audition for the big club for the 2020-21 season and he needs to take advantage of it.

Related: Maple Leafs Banter with Forbes & Baracchini – A Roster Spot for Nick Robertson

Now, that said, I’m not naive. I don’t expect him to play top line with Auston Matthews or John Tavares and go out there and be the team’s leading point getter in the play-in series. But I do think that, given the opportunity, Robertson can get his name on the scoresheet and show Maple Leafs’ brass that he belongs in the NHL. His vision and hockey IQ run parallel to his skating and pure skill. This is an opportunity for the kid and I don’t think he’s going to squander it.

Will we win it within five years? If so, multiples?

From Scott Shoup on Facebook

I mean, I’d love to tell you that the Maple Leafs will hoist the Stanley Cup at some point in the next five years, but my crystal ball simply isn’t working at this point. The fact is, they have their core locked up long term. But to this point, it hasn’t been enough.

A team can score as many goals as they want, but there comes a time when teams learn to shut down a dominant offence. In the end, it’s going to come down to how well the Maple Leafs build their back end and shutdown line – two things that have hampered their chances over the past few seasons. That, along with run-ins with the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals.

Brad Marchand, Frederik Andersen
The Boston Bruins and Maple Leafs have had some tough playoff battles over the past couple of seasons. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Still, I don’t think anyone would argue that the offensive talent is there to make a run. But everything has to go right. Injuries have to be minimal. Discipline has to be a focal point. There has to be a line that you can send out to shut down opposing teams’ top guys. And, truth be told, the Maple Leafs simply haven’t had any of that in recent memory.

Consecutive Nazem Kadri suspensions hurt them. Lacklustre goaltending in Game 7s have hurt them. Offensive lapses – yeah, you guessed it – hurt them.

Do I see a Stanley Cup in the next five years for the Maple Leafs? In all honesty, I don’t. Not until they can clean up that back end and play a more aggressive game away from the puck. But I’ve been wrong – on so many occasions – that I’m willing to be wrong here. For Scott and all of Leafs Nation.

For now, forget the multiple wins. Focus on getting one first.

Is Liljegren the RHD of the future for Toronto or do they still need some help via trade or FA?

From Eddy Jones on Twitter

Let’s be clear. Timothy Liljegren is the future for the Maple Leafs, for now. In terms of right-handed defensemen, the Maple Leafs don’t have that many in their system. In fact, after drafting Eemeli Rasanen in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, he jumped back overseas without a contract from the Maple Leafs.

Now, he was never going to be a star defenceman, but his size and physicality could’ve added a dynamic to the Maple Leafs’ blue line that they seem to be missing right now.

That said, the Maple Leafs currently have a few other right-handed defensemen in their system. That list includes Jesper Lindgren, Kalle Loponen, Joseph Duszak, Mac Hollowell and Liljegren. Of that list, the one that had the most promise coming in would have to be Liljegren.

Marlies defenseman Timothy Liljegren
HERSHEY, PA – MARCH 15: Toronto Marlies defenseman Timothy Liljegren (7) skates to the puck during the Toronto Marlies vs. the Hershey Bears AHL hockey game March 15, 2019 at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Now, he’s been given some opportunity at the NHL level and he didn’t seem entirely out of place. He had one assist in 11 games with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20, but skated well and moved the puck well in his limited opportunities.

At the AHL level, with the Toronto Marlies, in 2019-20, Liljegren tallied 30 points in 40 games which shows that his game can develop and transition to a higher level. That said, at 21, he’s taking a little longer to get to his ceiling than some might’ve expected.

Does he still have a chance to be a top-end defender for the Maple Leafs with offensive skill? Absolutely. But the Maple Leafs are going to want to see glimpses of that sooner than later.

Right now, I’d say the Maple Leafs need to stick with him and give him a legitimate shot to be the right-handed defenceman of the future. But don’t let go of the leash entirely. If his game doesn’t progress, obviously the team will have to go another way – either through trade or free agency if they want to capitalize on their young core being in their prime.

With that, there’s still a lot of mail left in the bag and we’ll be getting to more of that in the next edition of the Maple Leafs’ Mailbag. If you have a question that wasn’t answered, please be patient as we will get to it next time around. Otherwise, if you have a question or comment surrounding the Maple Leafs, feel free to leave it in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter.