In the Maple Leafs Weekly Twitter Roundup, we’ll highlight stories, thoughts, and tidbits from the past seven days, featuring commentary from both fans and insiders alike.
Welcome to the first edition of the Maple Leafs Weekly Twitter Roundup! The goal is to pick Twitter’s collective brain on hockey and highlight what I believe to be some of the most interesting commentaries about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Silver Lining of the Mitch Marner Injury
The Maple Leafs have already had to deal with significant injury woes this season: Zach Hyman is still out after ACL surgery, Travis Dermott just returned from shoulder surgery, John Tavares missed a few weeks with a broken finger, and now Mitch Marner joins the list with an ankle injury. According to reports, he’ll be out for at least four weeks.
Head coach Mike Babcock believes that his Maple Leafs will miss Marner, but it presents a chance for the rest of the team to step up. He might be onto something.
Tavares has a history of carrying his wingers, regardless of talent level. He made Matt Moulson a three-time 30-goal scorer with the New York Islanders. By age 34, Moulson was out of the NHL. Despite the narratives about Marner’s ability to drive a line, the truth is that Tavares did most of the heavy lifting last season. He’ll be fine with lesser linemates, and someone like Ilya Mikheyev may get a chance to show off more of his offensive flair.
Perhaps the biggest boost will come to Auston Matthews and his linemates. Matthews has already seen a significant uptick in ice time, averaging just a shade under 20 minutes per night – nearly a minute and a half more than last season. With Marner out, Matthews and co. will be leaned on hard, as they should be.
The line has arguably been the Maple Leafs’ only consistent source of offensive punch this season, sporting an expected goals for percentage of 58.44, while outscoring the opposition 14-8 at 5-on-5. That’s largely due to the resurgence of William Nylander who now has 7 goals and 15 points in 19 games. The silky Swede will also have more opportunity in Marner’s absence as he slots into the first power-play unit.
Michael Hutchinson Waived
Michael Hutchinson was waived following a poor showing against the Chicago Blackhawks, allowing 5 goals on 34 shots. The loss brought Hutchinson’s record to 0-4-1 on the season, which makes sense given his .879 save percentage. The Maple Leafs decided that they had seen enough and are looking to make a change in goal.
Barring an unexpected trade, the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies starter Kasimir Kaskisuo will be called up to take over the backup spot at least for the time being. The 26-year-old is off to a hot start, posting a .928 save percentage through six games. Whether he’s an upgrade over Hutchinson remains to be seen, but a shakeup in net was needed.
Auston Matthews’ Failed Lacrosse Move
Matthews went for the increasingly popular lacrosse move. Did he fail and adjust or was it a well-planned fake?
The consensus seems to be that he was going for the lacrosse goal in earnest, bobbled the puck, and improvised by making a quick pass. Regardless of his intentions, it was a phenomenal play. Based on the amount of attempts we’ve already seen from him this season, don’t be surprised if Matthews pulls off the move sometime soon.
Should the Maple Leafs Extend Justin Holl?
The growing sentiment is that the team should jump to re-sign defenceman Justin Holl. I’m not so sure.
Holl has had a terrific start to the season, especially by his standards. He was scratched 71 times last year and played just 12:29 in the 11 games he did suit up for. This season, though, he’s been a revelation for a reinvented Maple Leafs defence. The right-handed d-man has already collected five assists through 17 games while controlling 53.35 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts and outscoring the opposition 12-7. He’s exuding a new level of poise with the puck, and has even become a steady defender in his own zone.
Why shouldn’t the Maple Leafs jump to re-sign him?
Well, Holl is 27 and will be 28 in January. How often do players genuinely relearn the sport and reach a new level at that age? It’s rare. He’s playing well, but let’s not forget that he’s played just 17 games this season and – wait for it – just 30 games in his NHL career.
I like Holl and think he should have been given more of a shot over the past two seasons, but let’s slow down here. Give him a chance to play 60, 70, 80 games, then reassess and see what you really have. Money is obviously extremely tight in Toronto and the organization can’t afford to gamble on players that are still unproven commodities. As general manager Kyle Dubas likes to say, “If you have time, use it.”
What’s With All the Point Shots?
One of the most common complaints I’ve read about the Maple Leafs this season, from analytics people to eye test folks, is that the team has relied far too much on point shots. That criticism is valid.
Compare this season (left) to last (right). The red represents more shot volume, while the blue represents less. At 5-on-5, the Maple Leafs have an excess of shots from the point and few shots from the slot, which has led to a middling offence. Last season they did an excellent job of generating shots from dangerous scoring areas in front of the net, which is why they ranked fourth in the NHL goals scored.
Why is this happening? The team has seen lots of roster turnover, sure, but they still have the offensive tools to be able to generate plenty of dangerous chances as they did last season.
Some believe it’s a coaching decision, possibly from new assistant coach and former Philadelphia Flyers boss, Dave Hakstol. It is peculiar that the offence has dried up under Babcock, who led the Maple Leafs to the league’s third-best offence (806 goals) over the last three seasons. We’ll see if the issue is corrected but for now, that strategy is holding back what should be an elite offence.