Leafs Have Fallen Apart, But…

TORONTO (Apr. 21) — Good lord, is this ever a season of black and white for the blue and white.

With no middle ground (or grey area) through 46 games, the fate of the 2021 Toronto Maple Leafs is solely dependent on which version of the club presents itself for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in three weeks.

If anything close to the current team, it’ll be ‘one and done’ for the fifth consecutive year.

If a semblance of the group the rocketed from the gate at 18–4–2 — or knifed through the all–Canadian North Division at 9–0–1 quite recently (Mar. 20 to Apr. 10) — possibilities abound.

Such potential seems distant at the moment with the Leafs enduring a pair of fundamental issues: they can neither score goals nor stop the puck. Failure, in any sport, is rarely so comprehensive. But, neither is everything lost… even in the unlikely event the club surrenders first place in the division. Home–ice advantage comes, significantly, with last line change, yet will not be a huge factor amid empty arenas in the pandemic. With ten games left on the schedule, there is sufficient time for recovery. Were the Hummer to amass 18 wheels (thanks again, Burkie), veteran Leaf watchers also know there is precedent for switch–throwing once the playoffs begin. The 1977–78 club, under rookie coach Roger Neilson — among the best Toronto sides in the post–1967 era — were a gaudy 39–19–10 after 68 games, only to finish the schedule in a 2–10–0 death–spiral. Three weeks later, the team was in the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time in 11 years, having swept Los Angeles in a best–of–three preliminary round; then overcome 2–0 and 3–2 series deficits to the favored New York Islanders, famously winning the quarterfinal in Game 7 at the Nassau Coliseum when Lanny McDonald beat Glenn Resch in overtime.

So, do not cash in your emotional chips just yet.


As mentioned, there is no mystery to the current 0–3–2 downturn.

Toronto has netted 11 goals and yielded 21. Few hockey clubs prosper with a minus–10 differential. The 40–million–dollar men are missing the net… and the start of meetings. Jack Campbell and David Rittich — in my view, an ultra–promising goalie tandem with which to move forward — reek at the moment. Even Sheldon Keefe is slumping, having allowed William Nylander to dress for last night’s game in Vancouver after being the late–for–meeting culprit. The best coaches are normally higher on discipline. They strongly denounce irresponsibility.

Neither is it explicable when bad things suddenly happen to a good team. The “how” is easy to determine; the “why”, far–more difficult. Jack Campbell carved out a National Hockey League record by winning his first 11 starts of the season. Right now, it appears that Naomi Campbell could block pucks more efficiently. Whatever has overcome Smilin’ Jack is evidently COVID–contagious, given the slop turned in by Rittich last night at Rogers Arena.

The engine that is paid to power the Maple Leafs has sputtered — John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nylander performing well beneath standard; astonishingly so with the man advantage. Any such flaw in the playoffs will quickly doom the Blue and White. Veterans Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds, lionized early in the schedule, are now barely visible. Zach Hyman, a warrior, is missing in action with a knee–sprain.

The defense core — biblically devoid of a Norris Trophy candidate — appears vulnerable (to be polite).

No element, in fact, has any lift for the club right now.

Yet, there is sufficient altitude from which to recover.

Ten more games. Then… no more excuses.


12 comments on “Leafs Have Fallen Apart, But…

  1. Howie.
    I lost interest in the Leafs a few years back. There’s always hope at the start of a season then the team falls apart and it’s just a waste of time being hopeful that another Stanley Cup will be won by them.
    All the armchair critics and pundits spout reasons for the losses and some are valid but I’m getting too old to keep believing in the team.
    I’m now a basketball fan. At least I got to see a [Raptors] championship.

  2. just to add … Sparks tried to push his teammates to be more passionate and more accountable and became ostracized in the dressing room. His push got him fired (although it didn’t help that Babcock hated him). The problem is not with management or the coaches but with the attitudes of the guys who are in the dressing room. Winning is hard to accomplish, and it hurts sometimes.

  3. Whoa, Howard, you seemed to have hit a nerve … lol.

    The only way Toronto is going to excel in the playoffs is IF Matthews steps up and drags the rest of the leafs along for the ride. He’s also got to lay down the law with his teammates including goalies. I’ve seen glimpses of what Matthews is capable of and he’s not consistent enough. That guy should be leading the NHL in points. You don’t need to wear the “C” to be the leader of the team. He may rub a few teammates the wrong way, but if he wants to win he’s going to have to figure it out. I hope he does.

  4. The Leafs have had an outstanding season. It’s not unreasonable to think the other teams, who have played them over and over would adapt and play the Leafs differently. Leafs laid a spanking on the Canucks for 3 straight games earlier in the season. I’m sure that was in the backs of the minds of all the Vancouver players. And as for Ottawa, it never seems to matter where in the standings either team is, they always have a hate on and are ready to go. Let’s now see how the Leafs adapt.

  5. I said it before and I will say it again. Kyle Dubas got so lucky with this North division setup. It has allowed a poorly constucted team (how can you construct a balanced team when 50% of the cap goes to 4 players?) To appear much better then they actually are. There is ZERO chance their record would be this strong under a normal schedule.

    What I find surprising is how much credit he was given for transforming the roster? I like Thornton,Simmonds, and Spezza but really they are not what the team needs they were what the team can afford. Would sure be nice if we could have an inexpensive hard working player like Connor Brown!

  6. Given the fact Nylander was late due to the Owner of the team’s cell phone network being down, it was correct to let him play. Kapanen was scratched for being late last year by Keefe, but that was due to multiple lates when he coached him on the Marlies.

    And Tavares looks fantastic. He and Nylander certainly did show up last night. Tavares is answering the critics who say he’s lost a big step.

    Toronto has ben the superior team in every game of this losing streak. Their goaltending is abysmal. That has to change.

  7. I think Frank Young has said it all. But I’d like to add:
    – losing 60%-70% of faceoffs in their own zone. (Yes I counted)
    – more offence/goals are needed by players other than the ‘big four’.
    – Leafs started the season like gangbusters,
    getting valuable contributions by everyone including Simmons and Thornton. Now the latter two have gone AWOL.
    – it doesnt help that the second best player on the team is out for 2 weeks with a worrisome knee injury.
    – the Jeckle & Hyde style of play must stop.
    – My Prediction: Leafs will end 3rd in their division behind Winnipeg and Edmonton.

  8. Three basic flaws scar the Leafs:
    1. They’re figure skaters, not hockey players, as there’s no toughness,
    – not in fighting, but in “fighting on”,
    – in disciplining players; and,
    – in standing up for teammates in games.
    2. There’s no power-play.
    3. Too much ice time for poor players like Thornton and Engvall.

    Solution: Bring in a new coach who can coach more than cuddle.

  9. Wheres the defence? never mind goaltending
    management has to go, they have not addressed the defence, the most softest in the league? HIT SOMEONE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

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