The Real Missing Ingredient For The Maple Leafs

The current Leafs team has faced a lot of scrutiny. Toronto fans love to blame and this blame has shifted to players from week to week with common scapegoats being: James Reimer, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and Nazem Kadri, or now former coach Randy Carlyle. The Leafs, I believe, aren’t losing because of any of these players, however, but a player that they don’t have and may  even not exist. This isn’t a problem that’s specific to any one player (or his replacement) but rather for a GM (and a President) to solve.

Toronto is very loyal to the hometown team, the Maple Leafs (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

The Current State

The Leafs are a skilled team that, when healthy, have two or maybe even three good lines. The quality of these players should be sufficient to ensure a playoff spot for the foreseeable future. Having said that, there are obvious deficiencies: a defense that allows far too many shots, lack of a star first line center, and a contentious goaltending situation. While this may preclude them from being the top team in a conference or division, it should still mean a reasonable amount of consistency and a playoff spot in any given year.


Maple Leafs can improve
(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

What’s missing?


In the wake of the Carlyle firing, Phil Kessel seems to oddly be taking the bulk of the criticism. There have been calls for trades, total rebuilds, etc. but these all show a lack of understanding of how to build a hockey team. The fact of the matter is, Phil Kessel is an elite NHL player, and trading him isn’t going to get the Leafs any further ahead. What IS actually missing is a player that fosters desire and cohesion in a team. It should be Dion Phaneuf, but it just isn’t. It seems like David Clarkson would love to be that player – but he isn’t either. That’s why it up to Nonis, Shanahan, and the coaching staff to figure out who that player is or if he even exists. For the time being, I actually think it is Phil Kessel that’s keeping the team together, but that’s not really his role.

Who is it?

The player that I have in mind is, probably unsurprisingly, a Wendel Clark type. The type of player that works hard every night, has leadership ability, can score a big goal, and can grab the team by the collar and say “Let’s go”. Not all teams need this, but teams that are mediocre-ly skilled, young, and perhaps just seem a bit disjointed, do.


Clark & Gilmour (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Fans still love Wendel (and Dougie) (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s my contention, that until the Leafs find this player, we’ll see much of the same. A rebuild won’t fix it. Trading Phil Kessel won’t fix it. Even shoring up the goalie problem won’t necessarily fix it. This problem will actually require some thought by Nonis and the Leafs decision-makers, and might even require a few tries and misses, but it has to happen or Leafs fans can expect much of the same in the coming years.

6 thoughts on “The Real Missing Ingredient For The Maple Leafs”

  1. Mike, I am regular reader and I also believe you are that you for the most part are correct. After growing and living in Chicago most of my life, forced to watch the hawks games, how many times did they miss after the first Stanle cup their in this century.. Now look at them.

  2. Hi Adam ,

    Why do you feel the goaltending situation is contentious? Perhaps that was true when the Bernier trade happened and through the first part of that season. But most people seem to feel that issue was put to bed long ago. Reimer’s contract is too expensive for a backup but it is easily moveable as well. That point, though, hardly is a “contentious” situation.

    If you are advocating for a Gilmour/Clark type player as the answer (or at least a big step in the right direction) then perhaps you could offer up some examples of players who you feel would fit the mould. And as a corollary, what type of deal it would take to get said player/s.

    • Alan, thanks for reading and great questions.

      First, the goal controversy. You’re right, it was a bit more of a controversy in the beginning of the season when there was an argument for who ought to be number 1. That resolved, I think carrying Reimer and Bernier is a mistake, one should go (probably Reimer) to get a backup (on a smaller contract). That said, I still don’t know if Bernier has the stuff to get the Leafs to, say, a conference final. He’s certainly not bad, and the Leafs defense don’t do him any favors, but Im not convinced he’s ‘great’.

      Second, the missing player. Like I said, he may not even exist, tho Id like to think he does. That said, the archetype that Im thinking of wouldnt take a lot to get. It wouldn’t be nominal either but it wouldnt mean trading Phil Kessel (for example). I kinda envision it as someone that would likely cost about 4-5 million a year, and score 20 goals-ish, but more importantly shows a lot of desire and has a high work rate on the ice.

  3. Adam, this is a terrible article. Though you’ve made a couple good points, the rest of the article shows how little you actually know. Stop writing leaf for page views unless you plan on adding quality content.

Comments are closed.