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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a mediocre 11-10-2 at home, they have the least amount of regulation victories of any team currently in a playoff spot, they are middle-of-the-pack defensively with 153 goals allowed (tied for 16th in the NHL), exactly 50% of their offense (84 goals) comes from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander (who has been a virtual non-factor since signing his contract extension), and they have only two other players in John Tavares and Calle Jarnkrok who have scored 10 or more goals.
Those are the realities of the club as currently constituted, and while they are not in a precarious position of missing the playoffs (four points up on the New York Islanders with two games in hand), it appears that the club does not have a pathway this season of bridging the gap from being a playoff team to being a Stanley Cup contender.
“(GM Brad Treliving) is going to do what managers do behind the scenes, always try to make the team better.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said on Tuesday. "We've got a good team here. We've got good players. As a coaching staff, we need to do a better job with them and work with them, and help them and recognize our own role in getting the team to play to its potential. I think we’ve done that about 50 percent of the games, we've been really good. That's not enough. That's not enough in the NHL."
The issues that the Leafs have encountered in numerous postseason failures have been present since October. The lack of depth up front past the core group was not adequately addressed by the summer additions of Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, John Klingberg, and Ryan Reaves.
Former GM Kyle Dubas added players at the deadline that helped Toronto snap their 19-year playoff drought, but they could not re-sign most of them. Bertuzzi and Domi have been disappointing, Klingberg suffered a season-ending hip injury early on, and Reaves has been a liability on the ice from the word “go”.
The only saving grace is that three of those four signings were for one year.
The Leafs defense has been just ok to use a Randy Carlyleism. Morgan Rielly has been excellent, Simon Benoit has been surprising, and Jake McCabe has been fairly steady, but it is more of a situation where most of the blueline is playing one spot too high. Rielly would be an incredible #2 defenseman, but he is Toronto’s #1. TJ Brodie would be very good as a second-pairing guy, but he is playing top-pairing minutes with Rielly. Benoit playing well would for most clubs be on the bottom pairing, but for Toronto, he is in the top four.
The goaltending situation is dicey, since it appears Joseph Woll will not be back until later this month, Martin Jones got them through a difficult stretch but then realized he was Martin Jones, and Ilya Samsonov is still not someone that can be relied upon.
What does all this mean? It should mean that Treliving recognizes that trading what draft capital and/or prospects the Leafs have to plug holes before March 8th would be wasteful. It should mean that Toronto should limit their targets to rentals for cheap prices or players with term. Will that be the case???
We’ll find that out between now and March 8.
Toronto will face the Dallas Stars at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday. The game will be the second of back-to-back games for the Stars, who won 2-1 over Buffalo on Tuesday night thanks mostly to a 47-save performance by Jake Oettinger. Dallas backup Scott Wedgewood will get the start against the Leafs.