TORONTO (Dec. 6) — You can debate any aspect of the Toronto Maple Leafs you wish, but all except one are immaterial. And, it’s the deficit I keep referring to in this corner: back–up goaltending.
The numbers are simple, straightforward and indisputable. Last season, in the Eastern Conference, the playoff terminator was 98 points, accumulated by the No. 2 wild card team, Columbus. Today, after 30 games, the Leafs are treading water at .500: 13–13–4 for 30 points. Given the most–recent comparison, it will require Toronto — in its final 52 matches — to perform at a pace of 16 games above .500.* Or, something in the neighborhood of a 32–16–4 for the necessary 68 points. Is such an achievement possible? Almost certainly not, with the current roster. If there is, however, an infinitesimal chance, Frederik Andersen will need to play roughly 40 of the remaining games. Which will put him at 63 by schedule’s end… and ensure, once more, that he has virtually nothing left toward the end of the first Stanley Cup round. Let alone for three ensuing rounds, which become incrementally more difficult. If there’s a legitimate counter–argument to this, I’d like to know it. Even blind loyalty toward the Leafs — pandemic around here — cannot suffice.
*A Twitter follower mentioned the Leafs “only” need to finish third in the Atlantic Division to make the playoffs. That spot required 100 points last season (by Toronto). Or, 18 games over .500 from this juncture.
COLORADO BEAT TORONTO 3–1 AT SCOTIABANK ARENA WEDNESDAY NIGHT, DROPPING THE LEAFS RECORD TO 4–7–1 IN THEIR PAST 12 GAMES. CLAUS ANDERSEN GETTY IMAGES
It was less–than–noble for general manager Kyle Dubas to tell reporters, earlier this week when queried about his No. 2 goaltending slot, that he’d like to see the club “play a complete game” in front of Michael Hutchinson. Heck, the Leafs hardly ever do that in front of Andersen. To skirt around his massive shortcoming as GM of the club didn’t reflect well on Dubas, yet what else could he say? “Sorry fellas, I never thought we needed much of a back–up to Freddy.” That wouldn’t likely have precluded a follow–up question. But, it’s so obvious. Since Kyle replaced Lou Lamoriello in the big chair prior to last season, his No. 2 goalies have combined for a record of 8–14–2 in 24 games. Hutchinson and Kasimir Kaskisuo are 0–6–1 this season. In order for Andersen to have any juice for a playoff run, someone else will need to play goal in roughly 20 games the rest of the way. Multiplying back–up victories, thus far, by 20, equals zero. Get the picture?
So, I ask you again: How can the Leafs, as currently assembled, reel off 68 points in 52 games?
And, even if an established No. 2 stopper comes available via trade, how does Dubas cram in such a salary? As I mentioned here last week, Kyle must unload a mid–range contract: Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 million), Andreas Johnsson* ($3.4 million) or Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million). At the moment, he has no choice but to shuffle the Titanic chairs with Hutchinson and Kaskisuo. Nor has he provided Sheldon Keefe an alternative to deploying Andersen until he keels over. That’s why the Leafs of 2019–20 are doomed. Even if Auston Matthews catches fire and Dubas somehow procures a defensive blue–liner before the Feb. 24 National Hockey League trade deadline. Without a reasonable stand–in for big Freddy, all matters are irrelevant.
*Johnsson has been placed on LTIR with a leg injury. Out until the new year. Provides $1,267,017 of temporary cap space.
50 YEARS AGO TONIGHT
at Maple Leaf Gardens
Continuing with my series of Maple Leaf Gardens programs from games I attended in 1969–70. This was a lop–sided triumph for Toronto in an otherwise dismal season. Fifty years ago tonight, the Leafs blanked Pittsburgh, 5–0, on goals by Terry Clancy, George Armstrong, Bob Pulford, Dave Keon and Norm Ullman (pictured, top–left, on program cover). Mike Walton had three assists. Bruce Gamble stopped 26 Penguins shots for the shut–out; ex–Leaf Al Smith took the loss at the other end. It was the lone victory for Toronto in a seven game span (1–5–1) between Nov. 30 and Dec. 13.
The referee was Bill Friday. The linesmen, Pat Shetler and George Ashley.
Wearing No. 16 for the Penguins was Glen Sather, then 26, who would later coach Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers to Stanley Cup titles in 1984–85–87–88. Talented Pittsburgh rookie Michel Briere (No. 21) died on Apr. 13, 1971 of head trauma sustained in a car accident 11 months earlier. Four nights after this game (Dec. 10, 1969), Leafs goalie Johnny Bower made his final NHL start in a 6–3 loss at Montreal.
Thank you for making my night. Since Kyle took over for Lou the teams been regressing.
I’ll take a missed playoff to get his hands off the wheel.
Good point Howard. However, it won’t matter who plays goal for this team if they do not somehow become tougher and better defensively. We’ve seen all of their stars get run by the opposition, with essentially no response.
I agree with you Ali. Saying that they have to finish with a certain amount of points is very arbitrary. Comparison to Columbus last season is irrelevant.
You’re both rationalizing. Every year, 93-98 points is the cut-off. Forget the December “pace”.
Howard, I tend to agree with your twitter follower: In order for the Leafs to qualify for the Playoffs by finishing top 3 in their division, they don’t need to finish with 98 points+ per se. If you look at the teams ahead of them: Habs, Panthers, and Sabres, NONE are at a 100 point pace. Or even a 98 point pace for that matter. The Bolts will probably pass the Leafs in the standings, so it will be up to Leafs to finish ahead of Habs, Sabres and Panthers. And given that as of today there is a mere 1 point is separating the aforementioned clubs, I don’t think the task is as bleak as you might think.
That said, I do agree with your broader point that the Leafs are doomed relative to what was expected of them (i.e easily finish with 100+ points).
Ali: How do the Leafs make up lost ground by not overextending Andersen, thereby destroying him if they DO sneak into the playoffs? They’re a .500 team right now. I think you’ll agree they need at least 95 points. That’s 13 games over .500 from this stage onward. Will be very tough.
Howard, I definitely agree with the point of Andersen being overused right now and/or the Leafs needing a reliable back up. I am merely pointing out that, lucky for the Leafs, the teams ahead of them in their division, are not exactly running away with a top 3 finish (except for the Bruins, of course). Hence, giving the team a better mathematical chance of making it to the playoffs, vs. last year, for example.
At least Dubas protected the 1st he gave to Carolina.
The “protection” kicks in if the 1st is a top 10 pick, even if that were to be the case, all the means that Canes will get Leaf’s 1st pick in 2021. So, Canes WILL get Leafs 1st pick in 2020 or 2021.
The bloom has to be off the rose with Kyle. I’d argue aside from acquiring Muzzin, all his moves have a distinct odour to them. I see him as the antithesis to JFJ. One amassed nothing but grinders, over spent on attempts at goaltending help, and lacked skill. The other only values skill, under-spends on goaltending, and only values players who all play the same way. This team is far too easy to play against, and right now Kyle seems more interested in attempting to prove analytics can win than adjusting course properly.
I shudder to think of the moves he’ll make when he realizes the walls are closing in, and has no choice but to abandon his vision. I don’t trust him dealing in foreign currency to him. He’s shown little acumen to turn red apples to green apples if you know what I mean.
Actually, Kyle’s done some good work under the cap. But, it’s all being offset by his failure with the No. 2 goalie slot.
I disagree. He’s overpaid his RFA’s, walked Matthews to UFA. He held the hammer in all those negotiations. He chose not to yield it. I find it hard to believe the salaries wouldn’t have been more in line with the rest of the league had Lou been allowed to negotiate.
His insistence on skill over grit won’t win in the playoffs. We’ve all seen it. Look no further than the Ottawa Senators of old. Skilled like few other teams. Bullied sooner or later ever year come playoff time.
I have zero belief, or trust in Kyle Dubas.
Lou signed Zaitsev and Marleau. By far the worst contracts that were on the Leafs. He also gave Leo Komorov 4 years at a raise and he’s ahealthy scratch now.
Lou overpay supporting talent badly.
The idea people still think NYlander at 6.9 is “Overpaid” makes my head spin.
And those RFAs (Laine, Point, Boeser, ETC) that signed for 2-3 years with their teams nstead of 6 like Marner will get massive paydays soon.
Keep the old programs coming. Brings back a lot of memories. I have to admit that i do not even remember the name Marv Edwards