If the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to cement themselves into a playoff position, we believe there are four things they could – and should – do to make that happen. In this post, we’ll share what we believe they are.
Must Do #1: Maple Leafs’ Should Give the Net to Erik Kallgren Until He Loses It
As we stated earlier, we’d like to see the Maple Leaf’s head coach Sheldon Keefe give the net to Erik Kallgren until he falters. Our confidence in Petr Mrazek is low.
If Kallgren fails to keep the net and struggles and if starting goalie Jack Campbell is not fully recovered from his rib injury and is not ready to return, we would like to see Joseph Woll given a chance in the net. Woll posted a record of 3-1, a save percentage of 0.911%, and a goals-against-average of 2.76 earlier this season.
Must Do #2: The Maple Leafs Must Keep the Forward Lines the Same
Given the way the Maple Leafs played in front of Kallgren and the commitment they had to make his job easier, we’d like to see Keefe keep the lines exactly the same as they were against the Dallas Stars. Prior to the outdoor game, we felt that if Kallgren played a competent game, the odds of the Maple Leafs coming up with a win versus Dallas, even with the absence of Auston Matthews, was pretty good.
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The Carolina Hurricanes are a much better team than the Stars, and we expect a much tougher game tonight. Our confidence in winning this one is nowhere near what it was for the last game. That said, if the Maple Leafs can play the same type of game, they could pull it off.
In practice yesterday the only move Keefe made with the forward lines was to swap Ondrej Kase and Nick Robertson, moving Kase up alongside Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander. In turn, Robertson moved down to the fourth line alongside Jason Spezza and Kyle Clifford. Wayne Simmonds skated as an extra with the suspended Matthews.
Must Do #3: Keep the Defensive Pairings As They Were for the Stars’ Game
We especially liked the looks of the defensive pairings the team used against the Stars. Until Jake Muzzin returns, which could happen as early as next week, or unless a deal is made to bring in a defenseman on or before Monday’s trade deadline, those pairings are the best combinations the Maple Leafs have.
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Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljgren played extremely well together. The Sandin goal involved a nice bank pass out of the zone to Michael Bunting by Liljegren, even though he did not get an official assist on it. Liljegren did get an assist on the John Tavares deflection goal on a shot by William Nylander.
Sandin finished the night with a goal and a rating of plus-2, two shots on net, three hits, two blocked shots, a takeaway, and the highest Expected Goals Percentage of any Maple Leafs’ defenseman at 75.1. Liljegren was also plus-2, with two hits, two blocked shots, and had 63.8% of the Expected Goals when he was on the ice.
Ilya Lyubushkin did what he does best. He had six hits and a blocked shot; however, more importantly, he kept the shooting lanes clear allowing Kallgren to see the puck. By taking care of business in his own end, he allowed Morgan Rielly to get more involved up ice. Rielly had two assists in the game and was much more noticeable jumping up into the play.
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Lyubushkin actually had the worst underlying numbers of any of the Maple Leafs’ defensemen, but a player who is tasked with heavy defensive duties doesn’t usually post great analytics. The Justin Holl and T.J. Brodie pairing was strong defensively in this game. They’ve been strong since they’ve been since paired together.
Must Do #4: The Maple Leafs Should Trade Petr Mrazek
Believe it or not, we heard some rumblings Tuesday on Leafs Lunch that Kyle Dubas actually had talks with teams about making a swap for goaltenders. The rumors were that such a deal would involve Mrazek going the other way.
On the surface, it’s easy to ask “Who would be willing to trade for Mrazek and his $3.8 million dollar contract?” However, who would have thought Dubas would have been able to get the return on Nick Ritchie that he got?
If the Maple Leafs could trade for a goalie who’s cheaper and who, at the very least, is on par with Mrazek performance-wise, we’d encourage it. Mrazek’s $3.8 million salary-cap hit over the next two years is an albatross around the Maple Leafs’ neck.
The one weapon the Maple Leafs do have is money, and they can be creative in how they use it. In the Ritchie for Lyubushkin deal with the Arizona Coyotes, rather than retaining some of Ritchie’s salary and tying up cap space, they dealt for Carter Hutton on paper then immediately loaned him back to the Coyotes farm team, the Tucson Roadrunners. The sole purpose of the move was so the Maple Leafs would assume the rest of Hutton’s salary for the remainder of his contract as a way to offset Ritchie’s salary.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs play a tough team tonight in the Hurricanes. From what we can see, they’ve done a number of things that we’d hope they would do in this post. Whether they continue these moves is probably a matter of the team’s success.
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Despite their placement in the Atlantic Division, the Maple Leafs could improve their chances of getting a favorable playoff position by finishing strong. We believe the changes we suggest would improve the team’s chances of doing so.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]