It hasn’t been the start the Toronto Maple Leafs hoped for. Sure, John Tavares is out with a broken finger, but the team looks out of sync. Criticism has been thrown at head coach Mike Babcock, and he’s already called out his team for the number of penalties and ignorant plays they’ve made.
In short, it’s been a tough season for the Maple Leafs who reside in one of the most difficult media markets with some of the most dedicated and difficult fans in hockey. We all expect more from the team.
In this post, I will keep fans up-to-date on some of the news that is emerging from the Maple Leafs organization.
Item One: Matthews Expects More from Everyone
It’s been a funny week, with Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks leading the way by calling his teammates selfish for staying out too long during overtime, leading to an overtime goal that cost the Sharks a game against the Buffalo Sabres. The specific culprits were Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, who left Couture and Joe Thornton chasing the play.
As Couture noted, “Just an inexcusable change. Two guys that stayed out too long looking for offense. It’s a selfish play that doesn’t need to be part of this team, so we’ll figure that out.”
In a bit of a different vein, after the Maple Leafs’ loss to the Boston Bruins, Auston Matthews noted that he expects more from himself and his teammates.
He said, “I think it’s just not good enough. We need to better. I think it comes from the leadership group. I need to be better. All of us need to be better. I think we need to look each other in the eye and hold each other accountable and put this game aside, take a couple steps forward and be better for one another.”
It must be embarrassing to play on your team’s top line and be dominated by Boston’s first line in a 4-2 defeat. True, the Bruins are one of a few teams that really stack their first line rather than distribute stars over the top-six, but Matthews spoke as if his pride was hurt.
We’ll see how he and the team responds – the next opponent is the San Jose Sharks, the same team Couture called out. The Sharks did roar into Montreal and beat the Canadiens 4-2 on Thursday evening, so there’s a bit of space there, (from “’WE NEED TO DO BETTER’: Maple Leafs’ middling start to 2019-20 regular season continues with loss to Bruins, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 10/23/19).
Item Two: Marleau and Marner Reunion in Toronto
For those who discount talent and experience, note that Patrick Marleau is off to a strong start in his return to the Sharks. So far, he’s a point-per-game player who’s scored two goals and five points in his first five games of the 2019-20 season.
Marleau, of course, played the last two seasons with the Maple Leafs but was “traded” to the Carolina Hurricanes (a salary dump) and ultimately had his contract bought out before returning to the Sharks just after the season started.
Recently, Marleau talked about leaving the Maple Leafs so that Mitch Marner could sign his mega-contract. No surprise, Marleau came across as a class act. In short, he stated there wasn’t a better person to make the sacrifice for, which made his move easy.
Obviously, something had to give with the Maple Leafs so they could sign Marner to his $10.893-million contract and that something was Marleau – a price general manager Kyle Dubas paid. When you’re 40 years old with a $6.25-million contract, such decisions are not rocket science.
As noted in the tweet below, Marleau holds no grudges. Still, he must be happy to be playing and the reunion against his old team will be interesting to watch.
Item Three: Kapanen Starting to Play Well
Although his team didn’t show up in Tuesday’s 4-2 road loss to the Bruins, Kasperi Kapanen did. He scored a goal and an assist and, in general, is becoming more involved in the action on the ice. I haven’t seen too much analysis about Kapanen’s game, but it looks as if he’s benefiting from a line change and different responsibilities.
Kapanen’s goal came early in the second period and tied the game, with assists from Alexander Kerfoot and Justin Holl. He looks more natural and involved playing with the speedy Kerfoot. Although he started the season slowly, Kapanen now has three goals and eight points in his last seven games.
Item Four: What if Babcock Was Not the Maple Leafs Coach?
It’s interesting to hear other commentators defend the besieged (though I’m not sure he cares or feels it much) Babcock. But, during the Maple Leafs’ slow start to the season, he has been taking the heat for part it.
That’s just the point Elliotte Friedman made about Babcock and one reason why he believes his job is safe – for now. Babcock is a magnet for the negative focus, which he deflects away from the team. I think he hates that aspect of his job, but he never avoids it.
Friedman believes the organization knows that if they fire Babcock, they’ll need to find another punching bag for the criticism.
In a recent 31 Thoughts column for Sportsnet, Friedman noted: “As the pressure mounts, there will be plenty of talk about Babcock’s future. One thing everyone should remember: he takes a lot of the heat. A lot of it. What I respect about him is that he recognizes it as part of the job. Where does it go if he’s gone?”
Item Five: Nylander Ends Four-Game Pointless Streak
William Nylander started the season dominating, but for the last four games he’s had no points – until the 4-2 loss to the Bruins. His power-play assist snapped a four-game zero. In that game, he played on the second power-play unit. Admittedly, given the problems surrounding the team, I had lost track of him. Perhaps that, in itself, is telling.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
As noted, the Maple Leafs play the Sharks on Friday evening on home ice. Then they head to Montreal to play the Canadiens on a Hockey Night in Canada telecast. That’s a tough turn around.
Related: Buffalo Beauts Mailbag Volume Two
So far, the team has a 1-1-1 record since Tavares was injured. He might be more of a settling influence than people think. The Maple Leafs are a very young team.