It would be more than heartbreaking if the Toronto Maple Leafs lose to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. It would be the third consecutive season of a first-round exit, a loss to Washington Capitals sandwiched between two to the Boston Bruins.
Another Maple Leafs loss to the Bruins would be the third such occurrence in their last four visits to the postseason. That crosses the threshold of heartbreak.
It becomes a mental block, and that is much different, and much more difficult, to overcome. Mental blocks are tougher because the mind prevents you from doing what you want to do, or achieve. Consider the Atlantic Division; I see the Leafs and Bruins meeting in the first round of 2020 Playoffs.
In 2016, Brendan Shanahan was quoted by James Mirtle then of The Globe & Mail, “The vision is to make the Toronto Maple Leafs a Stanley Cup contender for a long period of time…The plan in how you get there changes daily.” (from ‘How Brendan Shanahan’s ‘Shanaplan’ is fixing the Maple Leafs’ – The Globe & Mail – 6/26/16)
General manager Kyle Dubas was recently quoted by Terry Koshan in the National Post, “When you start building a team to only play one team in the playoffs, you start to lose your way a little bit and lose what you’re about…” (from ‘Relatively quiet on trade deadline day, Dubas steadfast in belief in Leafs’ – The National Post – 2/25/19)
In Shanaplan 2.0, the Maple Leafs major-deliverable must be to beat the Bruins in the first round of this season’s playoffs. Successful achievement of the 2.0 version of the Maple Leafs master plan starts and ends with what they already have: a solid goaltender. Frederik Andersen weighs heavy in the measure of the Leafs’ total assets.
The Maple Leafs need a healthy Andersen to have any chance of beating the Bruins in the first round of this season’s playoffs.
In the realm of probabilities, the possibility exists that Andersen could get injured, before or during the playoffs. Shanaplan 2.0 must mitigate the risk.
There are two scenarios requiring the mitigation of the risk that Andersen could be lost due to injury:
- Lessening the chance of Andersen getting injured; and
- Shoring up the back-up position in the event Andersen does get injured.
Lessening the Chance of Andersen Getting Injured
The probability of Andersen getting injured must be reduced. There is no chance of beating the Bruins in the first round if Andersen gets injured.
The relationship between the occurrence of injury and a goaltender’s in-game fatigue must not be underestimated. A goaltender’s level of in-game fatigue is directly related to shots, quality scoring chances, failed clearing attempts, the opponent’s puck possession time, giveaways, instances of goaltender interference, and defensive zone faceoffs.
Inside and outside of the sporting arena, data capture and analytics, artificial or otherwise, are the trend. Shanaplan 2.0 requires the Leafs to be intelligent about the data they collect and how they use it. Another popular trend is collaboration.
Shanaplan 2.0 requires collaborative intelligence. Did I already mention the weight of Andersen as an asset? Goaltenders have a unique perspective. The Leafs must bring Andersen into the brain trust group. I’m certain Andersen has an opinion on team defense, the strategy, and systems.
Shoring up the Back-Up Position in the Event Andersen Does Get Injured
To shore up the backup goaltender position, I would put Garret Sparks on waivers and call-up Michael Hutchinson. I can’t see another team claiming Sparks off waivers. That may change in the future, but not now.
Sparks won a Calder Cup last season with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Playing full-time while pursuing another AHL cup would be great for Sparks’ development, and confidence. The outcome of this arrangement, Hutchinson with Leafs and Sparks with Marlies, better supports management‘s offseason decision-making process on that position.
A Flexible Lineup
The personnel currently on the roster must be reconciled against the tactics deemed necessary to lessen the chances of Andersen getting injured. The assessment must ask, individually and collectively, who can best execute the tactics required to support this number one component of achieving the major-deliverable of Shanaplan 2.0.
There is no value in introducing could’ve, should’ve, would’ve trade deadline changes. The names, faces, and skills are known, and they are what they are. We can assume, can’t we, that bruising player ego is of no concern at this time of the season. Furthermore, notwithstanding should be head coach Mike Babcock’s loyalty to certain players. Not at this time of season.
The measurement of player performance, regardless of how they are deployed, must be done on a game-by-game basis. If any one player does not properly execute, doing what they are told to do and what they committed to doing, there must be no hesitation to make roster changes. Because the Leafs must beat the Bruins in the first round of this season’s playoffs.