Maple Leafs fans, the honeymoon is over.
The Leafs have lost 5 of 6 and it hasn’t been pretty. I’m not panicking, I’m being realistic. I’m not saying restart, because that would be completely insane, but I’m just saying the honeymoon is over. I’m just going assume you’re asking yourself what I mean by “the honeymoon”, so let me explain.
Last year the Maple Leafs took the NHL by surprise. Their combination of skill & speed, youth and veterans was something that the league didn’t plan for. They just didn’t expect it. Well now they do. Every team in the NHL has had a full season and an off season to build a game plan that can counter the Maple Leafs play.
All I’m saying is that teams now fear Toronto, they know that if they don’t play their best game against the Leafs, the Leafs will make them pay. And so, teams are playing their best game against Toronto night in and night out.
It’s a good problem to have, being good. But in this league, its not a problem you can afford to have for too long. Eventually you have to take the next step and become great, or else you’ll regress. And that’s what time it is for Toronto. Its time for Toronto to become great.
But how do they do that?
The way I see it the Leafs are 3 steps away from becoming great on paper.
The first step is a simple idea that is very difficult to come to fruition; they need a defenseman that changes the dynamic of the blueline. Changes the dynamic of the team. There aren’t a lot of those out there, and the ones that are have a very heavy price tag. But in order to become great, the price tag must be met. If the Leafs want to take the next step then they have to pay up.
The next step is even easier: Frederick Andersen has to be better. So far this year he’s allowed 5 or more goals 6 times, has a save percentage of .895 and a goals-against average of 3.95. A lot of that falls on the blueline and forwards constantly turning the puck over, but not all of it.
And the final step is the vets on this team can’t disappear. Nazem Kadri is crucial to the team’s success, and in this funk the Leafs are in, he’s been invisible. James van Reimsdyk has been absent in his own zone all season. Leo Komarov is doing all the little things right, but he also needs to step it up. Then there are the two sophomores: William Nylander and Mitch Marner. They’ve combined for 4 goals and 19 points. However, there is one stat that separates them, plus/minus. Nylander appears to be getting it done without the puck, sitting at +9. Marner, however, sits at a disappointing -8.
Although the honeymoon is over, those three steps can bring about the next stage of this journey: greatness. Something Toronto hasn’t felt in a long, long time.