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Addressing the Maple Leafs’ complacency at the forward position

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Cruikshank
11 days ago
12 goals.
That’s how many the Toronto Maple Leafs scored in their seven-game series against the Boston Bruins in the 2023-24 playoffs. That translates to 1.7 goals per game. For a team that ranked second in goals per game (3.63 GF/GP) during the regular season, it’s remarkable how things came up dry so quickly.
Let’s get the excuses out of the way quickly. Of course, the absence of William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner at various points throughout the series hindered their ability to score, and Jeremy Swayman putting on a career-defining performance in their opening-round series didn’t help either.
Those factors would make it easier to look past their lack of scoring in the postseason if it was just a one-time occurrence, but it’s not. The Maple Leafs are one of 11 teams who have played 35 or more games in the playoffs since the 2019-20 season, and during that span, they rank dead last in goals-for-per-game (2.62 GF/GP).
So what did they do to address that issue on July 1? Absolutely nothing.

Maple Leafs’ July 1 Signings

To make things clear — the signings that GM Brad Treliving made on July 1 are going to seriously help this team. There was a level of uncertainty in net given Joseph Woll’s injury history and small sample size, so the Maple Leafs insulated the goaltending position with a Stanley Cup champion in Anthony Stolarz. T.J. Brodie’s time as a reliable shutdown defender had run out, and they went to sign the best available replacement on the market in Chris Tanev.
Additionally, some of the signings they didn’t make ended up being the best decisions of the day. Joel Edmundson was never going to get in Toronto what the Los Angeles Kings were willing to pay him. It was probably a dream scenario for Tyler Bertuzzi to get the length and term he desired along with the opportunity to play with Connor Bedard in Chicago. He was never going to get that money here.
However, it was hard to watch some talented offensive players sign to contending teams for remarkably low prices while the Maple Leafs were more focused on nailing down replacement-level players like Jani Hakanpää. The best examples are Jeff Skinner, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers, Jordan Martinook, who signed a three-year, $9.15 million deal to stay with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Stefan Noesen, who signed a three-year, $8.25 million deal with the New Jersey Devils.
Whether or not the Maple Leafs were even remotely close to being any frontrunners for these players is unclear. Although, knowing that one of their top-six wingers in Bertuzzi wasn’t going to be staying as early as Sunday night, and with Nick Robertson requesting a trade, it was interesting to see the team not alter their strategy to try and replace some of that offensive value.
This isn’t to say that Hakanpää or even Oliver Ekman-Larsson aren’t good fits for the team, because they are, especially considering their respective cap hits. This is more of a concern that management isn’t prioritizing building a stronger supporting cast of offensive players on a team that has historically struggled to score in the postseason.
There are still some players that the Maple Leafs could make a run at now and worry about becoming cap-compliant in the coming weeks, but they will likely ask for more than what they can realistically offer.
Then there are questions about the internal assets on this Maple Leafs roster. Treliving must have confidence in the idea that Matthew Knies and Bobby McMann are a good enough pair of left-wingers to keep in your top six for an entire season, and that there are players on their AHL rosters capable of joining them in the event of injuries.
There’s also the question surrounding Easton Cowan. After a tremendous season with the London Knights, is new head coach Craig Berube prepared to let him make the jump onto a roster that has Stanley Cup aspirations? Both Cowan and Fraser Minten have proven to be further along in terms of NHL readiness than anticipated when they were drafted, but even Treliving admitted that they aren’t guaranteed to be ready yet.
Overall, it doesn’t look like the Maple Leafs have come out of the opening day of free agency as a better offensive team than they were last year, but there should have been some expectation that this would be the case. There were needs met on the back end which, among pretty much every NHL organization, will always take precedence.
Considering the amount of money tied up in the top six and the increasing likelihood that Mitch Marner signs an extension, there are going to be limitations for the Maple Leafs to be making any sort of major changes to their offensive core until at least next season.

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