According to Brendan Shanahan, the Toronto Maple Leafs are staying the course. They are being patient and making long-term decisions, while avoiding the impatience of old and expensive free agents. But, do you believe it? In the quiet days of August, as we BBQ, and talk up our teams here is why I do not believe it just yet.
For The Win
Without question the team won the draft lottery at Forward. With Austin Matthews, the Leafs have an almost-generational player. He is no McDavid to be sure, but he is the foundation of a good franchise in a big, mobile first line centre. In Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the Leafs drafted well and have the skill, and skill depth needed to score in today’s fast and young NHL. These three players, all from the draft, will power the Leafs offense for years to come (if they can sign Nylander, more on that in the future).
On Defense and in Goal is where the draft questions start. This is where a distinct lack of depth and draft opportunity shows.
Thin Doesn’t Win
On Defense, there is no question that free agent Russian Nikita Zaitsev was a canny pickup by Lou Lamorillo. He was NHL ready and performed well at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. There is also no question that with young Swedish players Rosen and Borgman signed, they have some prospect talent at D. However, the prospect pools get very thing after that. These three players were not Leafs’ draft picks and they are all left shots. It is a real stretch to count on Travis Dermott’s readiness to be an NHL defenseman. Having Matt Hunwick, character guy though he is, and Connor Carrick being in the top 6 D-men equals to a not-so-solid D-corps. It is a group ripe for exploitation by NHL coaches great at forcing bad matchups, especially on the road. A possible bright spot in the draft is a right shooting D named Timothy Lijegren, but he is only 18. NHL defensemen normally don not mature until their mid-20s. The Leafs defense is thin indeed.
Well, I think the Leafs will move on from Bibeau and Sparks. Neither of whom have shown the least bit of NHL readiness. In Andersen they will say they have found their number 1. However, I am not convinced due to his distinct lack of a body of work. In the draft, well, they have a few warm bodies. But it is hardly comforting to Leafs fans how thin they are in goal and how vital a goalie is to a playoff team. Who needs a goalie? To win, the Leafs.
Believe in Austin, the savior? Well, he is a helluva player. But he is no savior. Believe in Shanny and Lou’s patience? It is one thing to be patient, but it is entirely another to get talent. they lack that talent in the system on defense and in goal.
For the lack of depth on defense and at goalie, and for Shanny and Lou’s patience plan, I do not believe. They have already shown that free agent signings of young talent is part of their plan a burying bad contracts a corollary. Until the Leafs have a deep and talented farm system at all positions, they will not develop into the next NHL juggernaught.