by Matt Paul
In Toronto the combination of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri and a developing defense had the pundants all in an uproar prior to the season touting this iteration of the Leafs as one that would have a legitimate shot to win a championship. Especially so, given the work of a brilliant head coach in Mike Babcock who’s pedigree was established over many successful seasons in Detroit.
Only in the centre of the Hockey Universe could the gas burn brightly enough to sustain life to such unrealistic expectations. After a good series of games and now with two significant injuries and one absence we should now measure such expectations. Travis Dermott and Auston Matthews are two players that the Leafs cannot replace with current cast of depth players waiting for their chance. I don’t wish that type of situation on any coach along with the absence of William Nylander the house of cards seems very precarious in Leaf land.
We have seen improving play of Frederick Andersen offset a lack of skill from Ron Hainsey all season bailing out a lack of foot speed in a transitional game and in the zone. Ron Hainsey’s hockey sense is very adequate for a final pairing defenceman and he seems effective in the confines of his own zone on the penalty kill however Travis Dermott who despite being paired at the bottom six in the line up warrants a higher status with either Morgan Reilly or Jake Gardiner so Hainsey has to go. Justin Holl showed flash last season scoring in both of the games that he played in and yet for an unknown reason sits on the bench. In a league that increasingly rewards puck movement and an active defense it is puzzling that this player sits idle especially with Dermott out. Martin Marincin and Igor Orighanov are an with Nikolai Zaitsev being a decent option as well. Babcock has to experiment with the absence of Hainsey and let a younger group gel, make mistakes and grow.
We have Patrick Marleau, who’s past results justify a hall of fame ballot, however currently we need to audition him on the third or fourth line, providing ice time to Andreas Johnsson and the confidence that comes from it. It may not be too late for Josh Leivo to show the skillset that allowed a near point per game pace in his first cup of coffee with Toronto. The hypothetical results and suggestions are that of a fan yes and someone who reads opinion and stats regarding the team every day. I am biased towards youth in a league that is doing the same. Our coach should stack his deck and risk the egos of the old dogs who may have had their day. If Matthews is out a month and Nylander does not come back soon he may have no choice.