Maple Leafs Need to Split Up Matthews & Marner

Here’s one thing I don’t know about how the Toronto Maple Leafs’ management works. Specifically, do Maple Leafs’ organizational decision-makers get together with key players to discuss their goals and plans for the team during each upcoming season? 

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Perhaps that already happens. However, I know what I would do this offseason before training camp starts if I were in Maple Leafs’ management. I’d bring the team’s on-ice leadership group together for a full-day planning session. This group would include players like John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Mark Giordano, maybe William Nylander, and/or a representative named by the players themselves. 

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Then, in that planning meeting, I would discuss the team’s plans for the upcoming season and listen to input from everyone about the best ways to proceed toward the goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Planners, coaches, and players should work together.

The Key Question Would Be Whether to Split Up Matthews & Marner

The reason I bring this up is to forward a team-based discussion I think is overdue. That question focuses on whether Matthews and Marner should be split up, giving each player his own line to drive. I think they should be.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last season, the Edmonton Oilers split up Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl, and the playoff results were strong. Even with suspect goaltending and a ton less talent than the Maple Leafs, the Oilers’ postseason success was higher than most expected. Part of that had to do with moving McDavid and Draisaitl to different lines.

Surely, McDavid and Draisaitl love playing together. However, Oilers’ head coach Jay Woodcroft split them up. And, while they had time together on the power play, generally Woodcroft had them go it alone. The results speak for themselves.

Related: Oilers’ Forward Depth, Defense, and Stars Are Key to Playoff Success

Similarly, whether Matthews and Marner like playing together or not, such a move might create more team success – especially during the postseason. And, making both key players part of the planning to discuss that change seems reasonable. If I were in the organization’s management, I wouldn’t break up current success without the key forwards on board.

Starting with the End (Postseason Success) in Mind

Believing there would be ample opportunities for Matthews and Marner to play serious minutes together on the powerplay, I’d give each player his own line to drive in five-on-five play. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Starting with the end in mind, if the Maple Leafs split up Matthews and Marner, the team would benefit during the postseason. Given the history of the Maple Leafs’ regular-season success and postseason failure, I believe that option is at least worth a try. And the regular season would be exactly the time to try this out.

What would happen if the Maple Leafs Split up Matthews & Marner?

Both the Oilers and the Maple Leafs are blessed with two exciting players. If it worked to split the Oilers, a similar case can be made for splitting up Matthews and Marner.

There’s also history to suggest this realignment would work. When Mike Babcock was coach, before Nylander’s contract negotiations Matthews and Nylander played together a lot. Babcock almost never played Marner and Matthews together.

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History suggests a Matthews and Nylander partnership was and could again be strong. As well, during Tavares’ first season with the Maple Leafs, he had a career season with Marner on his right wing. History suggests that Matthews can lift Nylander’s production; and, Marner can lift Tavares’ production.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As far as personal goals go, the move might mean that Matthews would not automatically hit the 60-goal mark again without Marner passing to him. However, he’s good enough to hit 50 all by himself – without Marner. But, the whole team might benefit in the long run from having two more balanced top lines.

What the Maple Leafs’ Top Six Would Look Like

The first line, as I see it, would play Michael Bunting at the left-wing position, Matthews at the center, and Nylander on the right wing. Bunting would be digging and retrieving pucks, and Matthews would become less of a shooter only and become a double-threat similar to the role McDavid plays with the Oilers. Matthews would be the line’s decision-maker who could pass or shoot as he sees fit. 

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The second line could become the line I’d really like to see. It could be made up of Pierre Engvall on the left wing, Tavares at center, and Marner driving the offense from the right wing. The speedy Engvall could use his size to dig the pucks and to work the boards. Tavares could be the net-front presence where he utilized his great hand/eye coordination. And, Marner could be the line’s main decision-maker. Tavares would no longer have the job and the pressure of organizing the offense, but could still work hard all over the ice, and utilize his face-off skills.

The Potential of Postseason Success

If it were only the regular season that counted, why change? However, the postseason success might be seriously enhanced by such a move. It seems worth a try to me.