You know the drill. We asked our staff the headline. Our responses:
The Leafs’ biggest flaw remains their backup goaltending situation. For all the talk about how the Leafs could make a run for it this year, I have a hard time seeing a situation where they don’t burn out the Freddie Andersen fuse far too early, and lose whatever chance they have of going deep with this stacked offensive group. Garret Sparks has been serviceable at least half of the time, but how does that look when you’re flipping the coin on, say, 30 nights instead of 13? Methinks it looks pretty anxiety-inducing. And if that’s your alternative to playing Freddie 65 games a season, should our first instinct really be to point fingers at Mike Babcock, or reach our hands out to Kyle Dubas and beg for a little help?
I think the biggest weakness remains the defense, and more specifically the 2nd pair right side defenseman. Hainsey and Rielly have been good this year, and Dermott and Oz have made a splendid 3rd pair. With Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev, though, there’s a noticeable drop off. I think targeting someone like Troy Stecher or Mark Pysyk would be a good add for the Maple Leafs on the second pair. Or, to go a little bit galaxy brain, they could target a top pairing defenseman like Trouba, and push both Hainsey and Zaitsev down the lineup. This, of course, would be incredibly unfair to Ozhiganov, who has had a great start to his NHL career, but something needs to happen with Hainsey and Zaitsev, and soon.
The Leafs biggest flaw going forward is usage. They have their pieces in place but the way they are being deployed has proven less than optimal many nights. Marleau doesn’t have enough left in the tank to take on top d pairs anymore so having him on the Matthews line isn’t ideal. It would make more sense to have one of Kapanen or Johnsson take that left wing spot. Dermott has also earned a longer look in an expanded role. He should get some games playing the right side with one of Rielly or Gardiner. I do trust Babcock more than most to make these adjustments but if history is any indication, he won’t do so quickly.
P.s. How was I not the one to say Mark Pysyk was the answer to the Leafs problems?
Joking aside, seriously, the goaltending setup. The team has very little trust in Sparks as someone who can be a tandem with Andersen for more than five to ten games a year, but we’ve seen in the past that the team isn’t going to get far in the postseason if they don’t give their starter a bit of a break. Either Babcock needs to gain some trust and give Sparks more starts or Dubas needs to admit Sparks was a failed experiment and find someone else by spring.
what Cat said
What Jon said + what Cat said