The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t play until after Christmas, but the team has done more than enough to land on Santa’s shopping list. This year, the fan base has been through a lot; most fans are also on the list. A recent edition of the Maple Leafs Lounge examined the team and fans’ wish list in 2021.
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Maple Leafs Wishing for a Roster Upgrade
While the Maple Leafs are winning – a lot, there’s always room for a few tweaks to not only be more potent now but, more importantly, be in a better position for a playoff run. So while Toronto is having an excellent 2021-22 season thus far, there is an anxious feeling in Leaf Land as we await the playoffs.
A Top Four Defenseman
There is a significant drop-off from Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin to the rest of the blueliners on the team. Unfortunately, Justin Holl has not regained his form from early last season. Rasmus Sandin has played well before being sidelined with a knee injury, and Timothy Liljegren and Travis Dermott are holding their own. That said, there is a hole in the top four that could use a veteran, skilled player to eat 20 plus minutes a game. Would it be too much to ask for this player to come with playoff experience?
A Top Six Forward
Again, this team is playing well and has abundant skill, especially at the forward position. However, if Santa wanted to drop off a top-six forward, the Maple Leafs would happily welcome it. Sheldon Keefe rarely rolls with the same line combinations. He has tried several different players to join his core four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. Several players have fit the bill admirably, including Michael Bunting and Alexander Kerfoot. Still, those players have also been great on other lines.
The wish may have already come true, as Ilya Mikheyev made his season debut against the Edmonton Oilers on December 14. The speedy Russian was tapped to be in the top six before the season started but suffered a hand injury during the last game of the preseason. However, with a bit of game time, he may work his way back to the top six and, with any luck, will start finishing those glorious chances his speed generates.
Maple Leafs’ Fans Wish List
The number one wish is no doubt a Stanley Cup. If that is asking too much, the fan base would be happy with a first-round victory. While Toronto is having an excellent season, so are the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. One of those three teams will be eliminated in the first round.
While those are the gigantic asks, perhaps more of a stocking stuffer is a new goal song request. It’s time for the Maple Leafs to throw out the Hall and Oates song, You Make My Dreams. Numerous Toronto-based artists are international music superstars who would happily provide something better than the golden oldie blasted for every goal for far too many seasons.
Now verging on greed, one last ask would be a playoff version of Carlton, the Bear. The Maple Leafs’ mascot is kid-friendly, but for a team that lacks the killer instinct to win in the postseason, perhaps replacing the plush toy would help. So instead, a meaner-looking playoff polar bear will set the tone for the team.
Finally, the biggest wish for the Maple Leafs, the NHL and the world is to get through this pandemic. Unfortunately, the newest variant has infected the team and postponed games, and we hope the players get healthy and hockey to return to the regular schedule after Christmas.
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Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.