Jan. 24, 2017
Maple Leafs offense enough for playoff push despite struggling D-core
‘The Maple Leafs need a shutdown defenseman’ or ‘The Leafs need more of a
veteran presence on the backend.’
Both statements have been flooding through the minds of Leaf fans as of late. The Maple Leafs need help on the blue line (especially now with the absence of Morgan Rielly whose return into the lineup is unpredictable). Absolutely. There’s no question about it. But do you make a move at the deadline or wait for the offseason?
Wait for the offseason and make a run with the lethal offense you have now. The backend isn’t horrible. In particular, Nikita Zaitsev is a quiet but cerebral player whose small plays that lead to big plays get missed. Jake Gardiner leads Leafs defensemen in points (23) and is 11.
It’s time to dial in on the Leafs offense because in the end that has been the key this year. The offensive production chiefly led by highly skilled rookies like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner will be enough to make a run for the playoffs. All three-rookies comprise the top four in rookie points.
Jets Patrik Laine is wedged in between the Leafs rookies at number 3. Acquiring a shutdown defensemen means the Leafs inevitably would give up a top prospect or rookie forward. After last night’s 4-0 win against the Flames, the Maple Leafs are 22-14-9. That’s an eleven-point improvement from one year ago at this exact point in the season on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
A Stanley Cup this season? Highly unlikely. But the 'Shanaplan' is certainly working and improving. It's apparent on the ice.
Think of it this way Leaf Nation: scoring is not the problem right now for the Leafs. That’s huge. Their offensive production is off the charts.
In fact, Maple Leafs rookie forwards alone this season collectively possess 156 points. A playoff experience would be instrumental for young rookies. An added bonus is the impact of veterans like Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Jake Gardiner. Kadri just tied his career high in goals back in the 2013-14 season with 20 last night. James van Riemsdyk up until last night was carrying a ten game point streak (3 goals, 11 assists).
All five Leaf veterans were active players during the Leafs 2013 playoff run (looking for revenge) and will provide experience and mentorship for the rookies. Leafs offense outweighs defense. Just run with it.