We’ve officially hit the midway point of the Toronto Maple Leafs season and there’s been plenty of ups and downs however the Leafs are currently sitting seventh in the league with at least two games in hand with everybody ahead of them. Despite being in seventh in the NHL with a 29-10-3 record they are sitting in third in the Atlantic Division and would play Florida in the first round of the playoffs were to start today. The East is stacked this year and there won’t be an easy first-round matchup regardless of where they finish.
As I’m writing this the Leafs are coming off a dominant 7-1 win against the Devils going into the all-star break. Some teams are getting an extended break with the time that was cut out from what would’ve been if NHLers went to the Olympics, however that won’t apply to the Leafs due to games that were postponed due to COVID outbreaks and capacity restrictions that were put in place in Ontario. The Leafs will play 12 games in 28 days so it is crucial they have a good month because the games they have in hand are being played this month and in March.
This year most of Dubas’ offseason signings have been fantastic which have been a big boost to the team, not all of them have been home runs but the majority of them have been great. Bunting came in and some thought of him as a Zach Hyman replacement and I thought that was too high of an expectation however he has been absolutely spectacular and the value Dubas is getting on Bunting is unreal. Bunting is currently tied for fourth in points by a rookie and is tied with McDavid with the most penalties drawn in the league with 26. Bunting is exactly the player the leafs needed, he gets into other players’ faces and plays like a rat.
Ondrej Kase has been another good addition before the season started I said I was excited if he stays healthy he could make a big impact and so far he has only missed a few games. In 34 games he’s scored eight goals, nine assists for 17 points. Kase hasn’t been bad in the defensive zone with an xGA/60 of 2.41 and a GA/60 of 1.42. Much like Bunting, Kase can be a pest and has done a good job of blocking shots, and is relentless in the corners.
Another signing that has paid off is David Kampf. The Leafs needed a true center on the penalty kill and he has been perfect in that role as well as one of the best third-line centers in the league. Kampf hasn’t been a huge offensive presence playing 42 games scoring five goals, nine assists for 14 points, Kampf’s offense isn’t what impresses me it’s his defense. He has an xGA/60 of 2.02 and a GA/60 of 1.66 and Kampf is another player the Leafs needed, somebody who can play on some sort of shutdown line.
Not all signings have been great however, Nick Ritchie who is now being shopped around was signed to a two-year, 2.5 million AAV. Ritchie hasn’t worked out, he looked slow and was really only effective in front of the net and Dubas will definitely regret that deal. Petr Mrazek was signed to a three-year deal with a cap hit of 2.8 million AAV. He’s been injured a lot this season which was a concern when the contract was signed, he has been getting a few more starts as of late, and hopefully, his string of injuries has passed for this year and is able to play the rest of the season.
I think the Leafs have had a good season so far in my opinion, they’ve had a bit of trouble with leads lately and they need to clean up defensively. Dubas needs to make a move for another defenceman in the top 4 because the top pairing of Rielly – Brodie is fantastic, Muzzin is good but they need a replacement for Holl who has had a tough season and Dermott hasn’t been great this season. While Sandin has played well this season he hasn’t played an NHL season and Liljegren has had his moments but is a rookie and is making mistakes which is understandable because he’s never had consistent NHL minutes. If the Leafs want to go on any sort of run they need to get another defenseman and hopefully, the stars show up in the playoffs.
The Leafs need to keep rolling but everybody knows what matters is what happens in the playoffs so we’ll see if they’re actually able to make it out of the first round.