In this post, I want to look at where the Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit. And, from that position, I’ll speculate about what I see happening and what questions the regular season’s record (and success) have on the team going forward.
First, I want to comment on the team’s surprisingly solid defence. Second, I want to comment on Mitch Marner’s great play during the season. I’ll share what his teammate Auston Matthews thinks of it.
Finally, I’ll consider where Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas sits after (a) the team’s record of success during the regular season and (b) what seems to be a solid choice – a good bet – with his two goalie choices during the offseason. The goalies have not spelled disaster. Far from it.
Considerations One: The Maple Leafs Solid Team Defense
When all the injuries came to the Maple Leafs’ defence, there seemed to be panic among fans. Yet, head coach Sheldon Keefe seemed calm enough – at least on the exterior. He noted that it was “next-man-up” time.
The defence slotted several different players into a number of different positions. The team didn’t seem to miss a beat at all. In fact, playing total team defence helped them weather the storm quite easily – at least it seems so from my television screen. Over the first 28 games of the regular season, four of the top seven defensemen were injured. None of them have returned yet.
Still, the team has gained at least one point in 13 consecutive games (10-0-3). It is now within three games of the cub record of 16 games set during the 2003-04 season. November was an incredible month, especially given these injuries to the defence and also to the goalies.
If nothing, the team is resilient.
Consideration Two: Mitch Marner Is Playing at a High Level
Mitch Marner is playing great hockey as he pursues his consecutive point-scoring streak. It doesn’t seem to matter who his linemates might be, Marner just keeps adding games to that streak.
He seems to have adopted a funny verb to explain what he does on the ice. In a recent interview, he noted that he was just “trying to go out there and play my game and buzz and have fun.”
Marner’s teammate Auston Matthews is impressed. Matthews shared that “It’s so much fun just watching him do his thing out there. He’s having a lot of fun and making everybody around him better, so it’s been a lot of fun to witness this, and we just want him to keep going. And I know he will.”
By the way, Marner’s streak is now the third longest recorded by an active NHL player. Patrick Kane hit 26 games (in 2015-16) and Sidney Crosby hit 25 (in 2010-11).
Consideration Three: Where Does GM Kyle Dubas Sit Right Now?
When this regular season began, it was thought that both coach Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas might be in trouble if the team didn’t perform well. When the organization put all their eggs in the Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov goalie basket, there was tons of concern and (in addition) some genuine anger as well.
Given that the Maple Leafs have been eliminated in round one of the playoffs five years in a row, it’s hard to blame the fans for those feelings. That said, from where the team currently sits, in retrospect and at least insofar as the regular season has unfolded, those concerns and anger have proven unfounded. In some ways, Dubas looks like a genius.
That begs the question, where does Dubas sit now within the organization? It would seem that both Dubas and Keefe have shown success right now. What happens if they get eliminated again in the post-season? Should both be canned?
Such “failure” (and for the Maple Leafs it is considered a consistent set of failures, even with the great regular-season records) isn’t often tolerated in professional sports. Maple Leafs’ management did not give Dubas an extension. Does that mean he’s in limbo?
Will he be rehired if his team succeeds again in the regular season, but falls in the postseason? How many playoff rounds will he need to keep his job safe?
There are lots of questions for this Maple Leafs’ team, despite its current success.