Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
5 questions as Maple Leafs reach half-way point of season
By Shane Seney1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs look to get back on track against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night in what marks their exact half-way point of the 2023-24 season. So far, so good for the Leafs, however there’s still plenty of unanswered questions to consider.
Toronto hosts the Wings in game #41 with a record of 21-11-8 and lead the league with games making it to overtime. While the Maple Leafs have certainly had flashes of brilliance this season, here’s five questions to consider for the second-half of their season:
How Comfortable is the Goaltending Situation?
Martin Jones has come up huge for Toronto after starting the season as the #3 on the depth chart. They managed to slide the veteran netminder through waivers thanks to some creative contract work. Jones has appeared in 14 games, posting a 8-4-1 record along with a 2.30 GAA and impressive .924 Sv.%.
Ilya Samsonov has now been ‘reset’ by several resources of the Maple Leafs and appears set to start against the Red Wings on Sunday (Jan.14). Samsonov came into the season as the #1 goalie but unfortunately hasn’t been able to find consistent production. Lately it’s gone bad to worse and the former first-round pick was waived and spent a week practicing and working hard with goaltending coach Curtis Sanford, among others. If Samsonov doesn’t get his game back on track in a hurry, he could be waived once again, with an ‘actual’ AHL stint forthcoming.
Joseph Woll is injured and is still a few weeks away. He’s becoming the goaltender of the future in Toronto and is hoping he can pick things up where he left off. Woll is signed for next season at $766,667 and will surely be among one of the two goalies once he returns to action.
What should Treliving do? Ride Jones and Woll into the playoffs? Hope Samsonov can reset himself in a major way? The goalie market is hot across the league but is there a savior worth trading for and shipping out multiple assets? Toronto has a tough schedule these next couple of weeks as they head west to play some of the league’s hottest teams. Keep an eye on how the goalies are performing because perhaps the team ends up giving top prospect Dennis Hildeby a couple of starts before the trade deadline on March 8 to see exactly what they have for organizational depth.
How Many Defensemen Are Coming?
Treliving has admitted the blueline is an area of concern and has been since day one on the job. He’s tried hard to acquire NHL experience throughout the first half of the season but so far, no deals. This is almost certainly going to be addressed before the trade deadline.
Morgan Rielly has been lights out, meanwhile besides that it’s been hit and miss all over the pairings. Simon Benoit has become a great story and should be slotted in on the bottom pair for the playoffs. Timothy Liljegren, Mark Giordano, and Jake McCabe have all battled injuries throughout different parts of this season and when in the lineup, have been inconsistent. The same can be said for TJ Brodie who looked horrible recently against the Avalanche. Something’s got to give.
Toronto is carrying eight defensemen at the moment with Conor Timmins and William Lagesson on the outside looking in. Lagesson had a good run at times but doesn’t appear to be trustworthy enough for regular minutes. The same can be said for Timmins who fooled us all in the preseason.
While the Leafs don’t have a ton of trade assets, they’ll use whatever resources they can to upgrade their blueline as it’s almost become a guarantee that Treliving will address it at some point. Just hopefully, it’s not too late at that point.
What Trade Assets Exist?
Speaking of trade assets, it’s trade season in the NHL and Toronto will be in the mix. Treliving is going to feel some pressure to do something in his first season as GM and he’s been known to be involved with whatever conversations are ongoing across the league.
The Maple Leafs have top-end prospects, but at this point are unlikely to part with an Easton Cowan or Fraser Minten. Both impressed during training camp and appear in the long-term plans. Off the NHL roster, Nick Robertson remains an obvious choice as he’s been in and out of the lineup and has history of wanting more playing time. Liljegren would draw interest from around the league, but then creates another hole on the blue line. Nobody is calling about Timmins or Lagesson.
Keep an eye on the 2024 first-round pick. Treliving hasn’t been shy to move draft picks in Calgary and considering Kyle Dubas didn’t leave him any second-round picks or a 2025 first rounder, perhaps Treliving moves out the top pick for one, potentially two defensemen. If he can get a veteran who is also under contract for next season, it’s much more likely he’d be open to moving out the pick. It’s unlikely the first rounder gets dealt for a pure rental, unless it’s something like both Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin coming back the other way.
Is Sheldon Keefe’s Job Safe?
Every GM loves to hire ‘their guy’ so Keefe was behind the eight ball as soon as Dubas left. He’s seemed to handle the transition pretty well, however he’s had moments this season where he’s been quite vocal indirectly into Treliving’s direction.
Keefe hasn’t been happy with Samsonov, and rightfully so, saying he wasn’t sure if he could play him and that his team needed saves. Perhaps trying to put some pressure on his boss to address the issue. Hildeby came up and then didn’t see game action, so a touch confusing no doubt.
There’s no doubt Keefe’s regular season numbers have been spectacular since going behind the Maple Leafs bench but it’s all going to come down to playoff success. It’s very unlikely Keefe gets canned during this season, that’s just my take, but if Toronto doesn’t get passed the second round, I’d expect Treliving to hire ‘his guy’ this upcoming offseason.
Is the Supporting Cast Good Enough?
There’s been no worries about the Maple Leafs core this season as the likes of William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly have been lights out all season long. Well, besides the Avalanche game Saturday night for Tavares, but don’t let one game fool you. It’s the supporting cast that’s the concern.
Can Max Domi and David Kampf be good enough defensively to provide depth down the middle and shut-down opponents in a playoff series? Will Tyler Bertuzzi once again find some offensive production and step up when the games matter most? What about the rest of the bottom six? Are Noah Gregor, Bobby McMann or Pontus Holmberg going to find some consistency and be impact players in limited minutes?
The depth on defense is already a huge question mark and let’s wait and see how the blueline looks after the March 8 trade deadline because if it doesn’t look bolstered, Treliving has failed as a boss and not set up his team for success.
Listen, it hasn’t all been bad this year for the Maple Leafs. There’s been some fascinating moments like Matthews starting the year off with hat-tricks, Nylander becoming the King of Stockholm, and the run Jones went on in California was impressive as hell. But as of right now, approaching game #41 of their season, there’s a ton more questions than answers and the Leafs will be an interesting team to watch leading up to the trade deadline.
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