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It’s time for the Maple Leafs to try something different

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
3 months ago
The Maple Leafs seem to have $7.9M worth of problems in their lineup. I’m probably being generous in that there is still a lot room for improvement with both Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, and I still have optimism that Ilya Samsonov can be at least a .905 SV% goaltender, but maybe it’s also that I’d be chicken little-ing with a “The Leafs have $20M worth of problems in their lineup.
At present the three issues that could use some immediate attention seem to be David Kampf, Ryan Reaves, and John Klingberg. The David Kampf and Ryan Reaves thing seems to be interconnected, but $3.75M of bad hockey deserves to be called out if it’s happening for 8 minutes a night or 20.
I’ll start with the Klingberg stuff though because it is painfully obvious. He’s having a hard time holding down his top powerplay unit responsibilities which is what he was largely brought in for, so that’s a pretty big issue before we even start talking about how he much he struggles defensively.
If you are were expecting a dead cat bounce this season, I regret to inform you that the cat has now fallen through the floor of the sub-basement.
While this isn’t hindsight for most people and if there was one universally baffling move by Brad Treliving, this would be the one that people would point to first, but the reality is Toronto isn’t likely to give up on Klingberg right now and anyone calling for a trade needs to consider the fact that this is a pay to have him taken away situation if one has ever existed and teams don’t like doing favours for the Leafs.
What does seem realistic at this point is giving a John Klingberg a night or two in the pressbox. If Jake McCabe is truly on the verge of returning, bringing him back in while keeping Simon Benoit and William Lagesson around seems like a reasonable approach at this point. If there is a “I was wrong about that guy” moment happening it could be with Benoit, who has been surprisingly serviceable in his depth role.
The Leafs have given Klingberg the opportunity to play out of his funk but now 13 games into that season he is funkier than Bootsy Collins and real repercussions need to be part of the next steps.
Back around to the Leafs fourth line, if there is anyone on the Leafs that should be a healthy scratch it is Ryan Reaves. We’ll start with the fact that it is not Reaves’ fault he has a good agent who somehow landed him $1.35M AAV for 3 seasons. And it has been pretty well established what Reaves’ skill set is. He isn’t a good NHL player, especially at this point in his career, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. It also shouldn’t be an issue that the Leafs sometimes opt to sit their enforcer, given that there will be nights where speed and skill are more called for than jawing at players from the bench.
The idea of sitting Reaves also paves the way for seeing how salvageable David Kampf is. As the centre for Reaves, Kampf is really only working with Gregor as a reliable linemate. When Kampf was on the 3rd line, his defensive role was clearly not a fit with Max Domi. Putting Kampf with Gregor and someone like either Holmberg, McMann, etc. gives Toronto a chance to see if there is anything left to work with. The Leafs can afford to try something different by demoting Max Lajoie.
Seeing the Leafs defence without Klingberg and trying a fourth line that can take a regular shift doesn’t fix everything on the Leafs. There are still defensive gaps that need to be dealt with beyond Klingberg and a rough night from Woll only adds to the concerns between the pipes. There’s also a couple more games of evidence required to see if the secondary scoring in the Leafs forward group is consistently there. This is about baby steps and if the Maple Leafs want to be an organization that seriously contends, there needs to be an increase in accountability for the players.

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