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Teams That Win Have Stars And Depth, The Leafs Have One And Not The Other

June 10, 2024, 3:55 PM ET [177 Comments]
Mike Augello
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An interesting thought on another team who has had a difficult time getting over the hump that seems applicable to the Toronto Maple Leafs. On a podcast commenting on the NBA Final, Bill Simmons of The Ringer said that his favorite Boston Celtics have figured out a way to win in the playoffs when their best players are not playing their best.

An example of that was both games at TD Garden (a building that the Leafs know all too well), when a star like Jayson Tatum underperformed, but the Celtics prevailed because in the offseason they added quality depth in Kristaps Porzingis and Drue Holiday. Boston took a 2-0 lead in the series and have put the Dallas Mavericks in an unenviable position.

The same formula in a different way occurred in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, where the favored Florida Panthers were outplayed by Edmonton but won because they got scoring from secondary sources like Evan Rodrigues and Eetu Luostarinen and a stellar 32-save effort from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Maple Leafs have had no such luxury in the postseason if their stars do not perform up to expectations.

Toronto is totally dependent on their core group to perform like the stars because they are paid like stars, and if they don’t, it is because they do not have enough cap space to add the support players to win. The only time they did have that secondary level of talent was in 2023 when they added Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn, Jake McCabe, and Sam Lafferty at the deadline and beat Tampa Bay in the first round, but they could not hold on to three of them for the next season due to cap constraints and other factors and in the process, they exhausted a sizable amount of draft capital to get them in the first place.

Teams need stars to win. The Leafs did not have William Nylander for three games, Auston Matthews for a couple, Mitch Marner was still hampered by a high-ankle sprain, and they lost a difference-maker in goalie Joseph Woll for a deciding Game 7 with a back injury. When it came down to it, the Bruins won because David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Jeremy Swayman were available and performed like stars.

The next month will be chock full of rumors of the Leafs trying to convince Marner or John Tavares to waive their no-movement clauses to facilitate a trade, but that will only be productive if GM Brad Treliving can get players that help the Leafs or free up the nearly $11 million in cap space to add those players in other deals or in free agency. For Toronto to win going forward they will need Matthews, Nylander, Marner (if he remains), Tavares, and Rielly to perform, but they also need others to step up on occasion, they need to assemble a dependable defense who can play physical shutdown hockey when necessary, and a goaltender that can steal games.

A tough task to be sure, but winning is never an easy path

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