It’s a TRIFECTA! For the third time this week, Craig Button has teed off on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Bad-mouthing The Centre Of The Universe, especially when times are as tense as they are right now, is a great way to get your name in the news cycle.
I thought Button’s comments earlier about Auston Matthews not being in the same world as Leon Draisaitl was nothing more than cheap trolling. He’s picking a very specific nerve with the intention of starting fights between Leafs and Oilers fans, which, at the best of times, isn’t something that’s very difficult to do. You’ll get your love clicks from validation-hungry Oilers fans and hate clicks from Leafs fans.
That said, I think the comments he made the other day about the Leafs not looking like Stanley Cup contenders right now had some merit. I wrote about this already, but I’ll reiterate what I said. The team has been struggling defensively thus far, they’re giving up a wealth of quality chances, and things need to get cleaned up. They certainly have the skill to fix these issues, but it’s a little worrysome that this mediocre play has gone on since the middle of last season.
Anyways, on to today’s comments, which are directed at Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Toronto’s $22 million duo.
Matthews and Marner last night? They get as big an F as I can possibly give. They get an F as big as the CN Tower. That’s how bad they were. It wasn’t just about their play, it was also about their effort. It was terrible. It was awful.
Let’s just talk about Matthews and Marner a little bit. Auston Matthews is making $11.6 milliona year, Marner is making $10.9 million a year. Listen, we can call them whatever you want, we can call them precident-setting contracts, they’ve performed at a high level and they got paid. I have no issue with them getting paid.
When you have that much money tied up in those players, the expectation then becomes that you have to carry a significant amount of the responsibility. If you want to buy a Maserati, it costs a lot of money. So when you do buy a Maserati and you spend the money, you espect it to perform at a certain level. You expect it to go from zero-to-one-hundered in a certain amount of time, you expect it to corner and handle in a really exceptional way. You don’t expect it to be a Volkswagon. You expect it to be like a Maserati.
Guess what? Matthews and Marner are Maseratis. They need to perform at a higher level. And the expectations become, when you’re getting paid that much, because it also takes away from what the Maple Leafs can do in other areas. What you’ve done has been good. You got paid. But guess what, you still haven’t shown that you can put a team on your back and carry it.
To be fair to Matthews and Marner, they have been producing at a high level early on this season. Matthews has eight goals in 11 games and Marner leads the team with 12 points. The issue has been the last three games in which neither player has stepped up in the absence of John Tavares. The Leafs have gone 1-1-1 since Tavares was injured and the pressure is now on Matthews and Marner to perform.
It isn’t overly surprising this criticism came out after the Leafs got dropped 4-2 by the Boston Bruins. If there’s any games during the regular season in which the pressure will be higher than normal, it’s games againsr Boston. This, of course, is reality when Boston is the hurdle the Leafs have failed to jump in back-to-back years. The Bruins are Toronto’s measuring stick to see if they’re good enough.
Last night, we saw Matthews and Marner put on a line together and they went head-to-head with Boston’s top trio of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand. It was a big test for Marner and Matthews and the results weren’t pretty. In about nine minutes of even-strength play, the Matthews Marner duo got dominated in shot attempts 12 to five by Boston’s top trio and they were outscored 1-0.
Button has been on a weird Leafs-binge the past few days, and while it’s easy to brush it aside as click-bait, shock-jock crap, some of what he’s saying, when you take away the layers of hyperbole, are valid. Matthews and Marner do need to be better. They need to be able to go out against lines like Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak and, at the very least, break even. If two players taking up a quarter of your salary cap can’t get it done against the best of the best, you’re always going to be a step behind.