In a season defined by low points, here’s yet another.
Last night’s loss showed the difference between a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and a pretender. You can make excuses for the Leafs all you’d like about how they haven’t had their ideal, healthy lineup, but the Penguins were without Evgeni Malkin last night and they walked past the Leafs without much trouble. There’s a stunning difference between the willingness of these two teams to find a way to win, as corny as that sounds.
The last time the Leafs got slammed by the Penguins, it represented pretty much the end of the line for Mike Babcock, who was ultimately fired a few days later. This time, there’s no coach to shoulder blame. Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss is on the players.
With the loss, the Leafs now sit just two points up on the Florida Panthers in the playoff race despite having played two more games. The nightmare of missing the playoffs is becoming more and more real and the team hasn’t shown much urgency to do anything about it.
Toronto went down 2-0 in the first period last night and it felt like the game was already over, which is shocking given the fact the Leafs own one of the most potent offences in the league. Instead of rallying in the second, the Leafs allowed back-to-back power-play goals, capping off a night in which the Penguins scored on all their of their opportunities with the man advantage.
An aggravated Sheldon Keefe called out his team’s effort and willingness after the game…
“We have to make a decision here of what we want to be as a team because we’re going to run out of games,” said Keefe. “I think what’s happening here as the injuries have piled up and as the schedule has gotten harder and the league has gotten harder, the time of the year and how desperate and how urgent things are, I think more and more issues are coming up with our group. In terms of some of our habits and the details that are lacking. That’s where the team really has to grow. The skill is there, but the other part of it has to be there.
At some point, it becomes difficult to imagine Kyle Dubas making one move and fixing whatever’s ailing this team at the trade deadline. Whether it’s poor goaltending or defensive play or depth or special teams, there always seems to be something wrong with the Leafs, and there isn’t a wand to wave that can magically fix everything.
With just over 20 games left on the schedule and a few days before the trade deadline arrives, it might actually not be prudent for Dubas to invest in this team. Regardless, it appears that Dubas is more in the market for defencemen with term on their deals rather than rentals, which would make sense given the position of the team right now. With a handful of high draft picks already spent and the playoffs far from a guarantee, the Leafs are in no position to be taking on rentals.
Chris Johnston on SN590 today says he thinks the Muzzin extension is a little over 5.5M but not over 6 and that he thinks they have at least inquired about Adam Larsson. Leafs have looked at all top 4RD options with term in NHL. Leafs might not have will or assets to get Dumba.
— J (@Account4hockey) February 18, 2020
According to Chris Johnston, the Leafs have looked at all of the top-four defenceman options out there who are signed beyond this season. That would range from P.K. Subban to Matt Dumba to Josh Manson to Adam Larsson and beyond. The former is one that Johnston specifically mentioned as a name the Leafs have, at the very least inquired about.
While there’s a possible match between the Oilers and Leafs involving a young winger and Larsson, it’s hard to imagine something happening during the season. The Oilers just announced top defenceman Oscar Klefbom would miss two-to-three weeks with a shoulder injury, so dealing Larsson ahead of the deadline would leave them with a paper-thin blueline.
It’s been said over and over, Kyle Dubas has to do something. But does he? At what point is it time to stop trying to fix something that’s broken and re-set for next season? Recouping assets before the trade deadline might be the way to go right now.
Of course, that isn’t an easy sell. But, remember, the Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs in 2016-17 due to an injury-riddled season and traded goaltender Ben Bishop away in the process. They would bounce back the following season with 113 points.