Maple Leafs Lounge: Toughness, Playoffs, Jack Adams for Keefe & More

The writers who cover the Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers get together once a week to bring you Maple Leafs Lounge. After numerous requests, the show is now available as an audio podcast on multiple streaming outlets. You can find this episode and THW productions on your favourite podcast location or by going to this link.

In our 12th episode, we discussed the importance of a tough team and whether the Maple Leafs would be able to hold their own against the Washington Capitals in the playoffs, what the Maple Leafs have to do to be ready for the postseason, and whether or not Sheldon Keefe should be included in the discussion for the Jack Adams Award.

U18 World Championships, Auston Matthews, Kessel Hits 900 Points

Hosted by Kevin Armstrong with fellow Maple Leafs contributors Peter Baracchini along with myself, Alex Hobson, we kicked things off with a couple of noteworthy headlines around the league. Baracchini, who’s also covering the 2021 NHL Draft for The Hockey Writers, shed some light on Canada’s gold medal win at the tournament.

“It was a prospect writer’s dream come true. There’s a lot of talent in this year’s draft, but also in 2022 and 2023,” Baracchini said. Kicking off the show by paying homage to young Canadian phenom Connor Bedard, Baracchini continued, “he was a major standout for Team Canada, along with Shane Wright. Matvei Michkov for Russia, too, it was just an abundance of talent.”

I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the tournament, so I took the easy way out and talked about Auston Matthews hitting 40 goals in 49 games. “This doesn’t really get talked about too much, but Matthews has more hits this season than any other season in his career.” I explained that with this, along with his defensive game, he’s turning into somewhat of a sniper/power-forward/two-way forward. “I think he has potential to be the best Leaf in history.”

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Meanwhile, Armstrong took the liberty of shining the spotlight on former Maple Leaf Phil Kessel, who recently hit the 900-point mark. “Look at that.” Armstrong beamed as he pulled up a picture of Kessel holding the puck to mark the milestone. “Say what you will about his time in Toronto, they’re still paying him, but Kessel just keeps doing it and he doesn’t care what anybody says about him.”

Could the Maple Leafs Handle the Capitals?

Following the aftermath of the whole Tom Wilson/New York Rangers incident, the question of whether or not the Leafs would be able to handle the matchup of Wilson and the Capitals was raised. The writers agreed that they would, at the very least, be able to hold their own. “Wayne Simmonds, Nick Foligno, Joe Thornton, and Rich Clune have all beat up on Wilson,” Baracchini said. “If there comes a point where they face Washington, they have three out of those four in the lineup.”

I agreed with Baracchini, but with a little extra caution. “I don’t think the Leafs would be on the same level physically as the Capitals, but I do believe they would be able to hold their own.” I brought up the quote from Simmonds after he signed in Toronto back in October to support my point. “He can score here and there, but he can also punch your face off. And I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t act that way towards Wilson.”

Armstrong essentially tightened the cap on the discussion, saying, “This is a much tougher team, and keep in mind this team was just called ‘a dirty team’ a couple of weeks ago. So, yeah. They’ve increased the toughness and they’re throwing the body.”

Should the Maple Leafs Be Resting Key Players?

The question every contender faces towards the end of the season is whether or not they should be resting their star players. “I think resting a guy here or there is okay,” I said. However, I explained that with only a couple of games left in the regular season and lots of time off between these games, the rest is sort of built in already. “I don’t know if I’d see a point in resting the entirety of the core, just because you don’t want them to lose their footing.”

Baracchini agreed with me. “Everything should be in moderation at this point.” Baracchini cited the fact that the Maple Leafs only clinched somewhat recently as a reason for not having the leeway to rest players as much. “While you do want to rest your players here and there, especially if they’re dealing with an injury, you don’t want to go overboard with it.”

Armstrong took a different approach, suggesting that instead of Keefe outright sitting their star players, he may just decrease their ice time. “Instead of the top line getting 22 minutes a game, they might get 15-16 minutes a game while the third and fourth lines get more ice time.” He continued, saying that he doesn’t see how you can take Matthews and Mitch Marner out of the lineup down the stretch. “I don’t know how you cage those guys if they’re both healthy and ready to go.”

Should Sheldon Keefe Be in the Discussion for the Jack Adams Award?

Citing a recent article he wrote, Armstrong took the reins on the discussion of whether or not Keefe should be in the conversation for coach of the year, noting that he took some flack for the piece. “The first thing everyone is responding with is ‘well, he hasn’t done anything in the playoffs’ and I say okay, well, it’s a regular season award.” Armstrong notes Keefe’s confidence in Jack Campbell, the constantly changing lineup with players being lost through waivers, and the resurgence of Alex Galchenyuk to support his point. “Look at what he’s doing in the mecca of the hockey universe with every microscope, every spotlight on him.”

Sheldon Keefe
Sheldon Keefe (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Baracchini agreed with Armstrong. “He’s doing such a tremendous job and he’s had such an impact behind the bench.” He brought up last season’s transition from Mike Babcock to Keefe to shine some extra light on his point. “Everything he’s done, from the line combinations to his ability to motivate players, it’s a bit of a slap in the face that he isn’t being talked about because he should be in that conversation.”

I also jumped on the Babcock comparison, recalling the beginning of the 2019-20 season compared to now. “Babcock had obviously lost the dressing room. And when he got canned, we started to see little improvements, but it was still a bit of a weird transition period. Now, Keefe’s had the opportunity to have his own training camp, implement his own line combinations, and look. They’re at the top of their division.”

Better First Round Matchup: Jets or Habs?

We certainly didn’t expect to be having this discussion now, but with the Winnipeg Jets and the Montreal Canadiens both slipping at the wrong time, the question had to be asked — who would be a better first-round matchup?

It was an easy answer for me. “I think the Leafs are better fit to play the Habs in the first round.” I explained that my bias as a Maple Leafs fan and my desire to watch a playoff series against arguably their biggest rival played into my pick, but noted Winnipeg’s offensive firepower, as well. “The thought of Nik Ehlers snapping, or Kyle Connor snapping, or god forbid Pierre-Luc Dubois snapping like he did in the bubble last year, it just terrifies me.”

Nikolaj Ehlers Winnipeg Jets
Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Baracchini, who grew up in a household of Canadiens fans, said the chirping has already started between him and his family. “I think they’re better equipped to play Montreal.” He added that while he believes the Maple Leafs are better equipped than both teams, Winnipeg’s offense frightens him a little bit more. “The Jets have players that could go on a tear at any given moment, and I would rather face Carey Price than Connor Hellebuyck.”

While Armstrong agreed that he would rather the Maple Leafs play Montreal, he warns not to take the Canadiens lightly. “Price comes back, Shea Weber comes back, Brendan Gallagher could come back. Montreal is going to be a bit of a different team come playoff time.”

Final Four Predictions Update

Last week, the three of us named our predictions for the last team standing from each division. I didn’t touch my picks (Toronto, Colorado, Carolina, Washington). Baracchini also kept his predictions (Toronto, Vegas, Carolina, Washington) in place, but mentions that he’s a little less confident in Carolina winning the Central with the Tampa Bay Lightning getting Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov back down the stretch. Armstrong decided he would switch his Central winner to Tampa Bay, but kept his remaining picks intact (Toronto, Vegas, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh).

Who are your picks? Does Sheldon Keefe deserve to be mentioned in the Jack Adams discussion? Are the Maple Leafs ready for the high-energy playoffs? Make sure to let us know in the comment section on this article or on YouTube to prove it with a time stamp. We would also like to thank everyone for watching and listening to the show.

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