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Overreacting to the Maple Leafs, Lisowsky’s future, and riding on the metro: Leaflets

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
19 days ago
A while back our editor in chief was so good to remind me that referencing song titles from the 80s in headlines that aren’t living on a prayer is generally a bad idea. No one who uses the internet remembers Berlin and if they do it’s probably for Take My Breath Away, not Riding on the Metro. I’m hoping that System of the Down and The Interrupters have bought me a little leeway on using this reference, but even if they haven’t, I’ve been able to turn it into a preamble that now allows me to just go with the lead-in of “here’s a few stray thoughts on the Leafs for this long weekend.”

Signing Lisowsky

68 games, 42 goals, 38 assists, 80 points. That’s a great season for pretty much any player at any level. And for a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs that are short in supply when it comes to prospects, having a 7th round pick put up those numbers seems like a no brainer when it comes to an entry level contract, right?
Throw in the fact that Brandon Lisowsky is on his third season of 30+ goals, there is a consistency to his results and the Leafs should be very excited, no?
While it looks pretty simple from the box score numbers the situation with Lisowsky isn’t as simple. The Blades are very much a top team in the WHL this season and over the past three seasons the team has largely been improving. Lisowsky never had to be a part of a rough, rebuilding lineup and while that isn’t a bad thing, there has never been a chance to look at Lisowsky without a group that can help him be successful. This season Lisowsky is playing alongside fellow Leafs prospect Fraser Minten, which is both a plus for him having familiarity with a Leafs prospect who is on the fast track to the NHL, but also points to Lisowsky getting to play with a centre that is very much capable of getting the best out of him.
When reading scouting reports about Brandon Lisowsky they are almost entirely centered around his shot and quick release. The 5’9 winger comes across as a one-dimensional shooter but in hockey goal scoring is probably the best thing to be one-dimensional at. That’s not to say it isn’t without its problems. At the AHL/ECHL level it is still difficult to get a top six forward assignment right out the gates and at 5’9, not being much of a passer, and coming in with the usual CHL defensive hockey deficiencies the path to show Lisowsky’s best self will be tough. There’s also a big difference between being a soon to be 20 year old playing at 16 year olds and being a 5’9 player going up against dudes who have filled out and are pissed off about their mortgage and car payment. At least that’s the narrative.
With the Leafs only committed to 27 contracts so far for next season, a need for some offence on the Marlies, and familiarity with Fraser Minten, the door should be open to a contract for Lisowsky.

What me worry?

Reactionary and prone to recency bias, these are two things that I’d say have some level of prevalence in the Maple Leafs fan base and media. At different times this season there have been attempts to run John Tavares, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Timothy Liljegren out of town based on cold streaks that weren’t as bad as their performance would indicate. Recently it seems like that is happening again with Joseph Woll as he hadn’t returned from injury at a Calder candidate level of hockey but a big game against the Capitals quelled that fear. There doesn’t seem to be any give in this market for players having rough patches and to quote Shane Falco in The Replacements, the players begin playing in quicksand.
That’s not to say there haven’t been reasonable concerns. You could say that Bertuzzi’s extended goalless streak is not what a team expects from an expensive top six winger, and there probably needs to be real consideration given to if the Leafs can plan their 2024-25 season around John Tavares on the wing because he now needs more support to be successful. The criticism early this year of Ilya Samsonov was justified but admittedly he was written off rather than expected to make a meaningful return to action.
Expecting players to constantly live up to their hot streaks or never climb out of their cold streaks is a problem and that’s when looking at the numbers instead of relying on our eyes comes into play. The numbers always showed that Bertuzzi was doing the right things, it’s just his shooting percentage was in the toilet. Timothy Liljegren was generally moving the puck very well, but our eyes were drawn to a couple of bad penalties that would later see the puck in the back of the net. And when looking at who John Tavares was on the ice with was the signal that he’s not a guy who can take on two inexperienced linemates and he needs a William Nylander or Calle Jarnkrok to shoulder some of his workload.
Right now, it seems the Toronto market is (somewhat justifiably) disappointed in TJ Brodie and the call is to scratch him at all costs. In this case that might be the solution, it’s not like Brodie’s cold streak is one or two games, it’s been a full season. The thing is there is still a lot that can be explored in a reduced role and modified deployment that could make him a stronger option for the Leafs than some of their depth defence options.
It feels like a similar argument could be made around getting more out of David Kampf. What is it that worked so well when he was with Ondrej Kase and Ilya Mikheyev that the Leafs could try to do now instead of putting him between two checking forwards that could turn him around?
On a site where we pump out reactionary pieces on the Leafs on a daily basis this might seem like approach at odds with what works for getting pageviews but in the next ten games it would be fun to pretend the sky isn’t falling after every bad neutral zone turnover. When it gets to the playoffs all bets will be off anyway and there will be plenty of time for finger pointing then.

Tanking for the Metro

A couple of quotes are ringing in my ears as people debate whether the Leafs would be better off finishing in a position where they could play against a Metropolitan Division opponent. The first is “players don’t tank, GM’s do,” and this basically means that given that a lot of the control of what happens from here on out is not in Brad Treliving’s hands, the Leafs winding up in a playoff spot against a Metropolitan opponent would happen naturally.
The second quote is “we want Florida,” and that should hit home with every Leafs fan when it comes to thinking there is an easy path to the Stanley Cup for the Leafs. There isn’t one and the North Division matchup against the Canadiens proves that.
The Leafs records this season against the four possible options are as follows:
Boston: 0-2-2
Florida: 1-1-0 (2 games remaining)
New York: 2-1-0
Carolina: 0-2-1
Even that record against the Rangers is misleading as it includes a shootout win and the Leafs had a 7-3 blowout which the Rangers countered with a 5-2 blowout of their own. (The LEafs win against Florida was a shootout win as well.)
No matter who the Leafs face they’ll be in tough against them and need to be playing their best hockey.
There might be less PTSD from facing the Metropolitan rather than the Atlantic but there isn’t a matchup that results in an advantage for the Leafs.

ICYMI

Here’s some TLN content you might have missed this week:
Joseph Woll taking a larger role in Toronto community working with children’s hospital by Arun Srinivasan
Sheldon Keefe calls out Leafs core players after “immature” 6-3 loss to New Jersey by Alex Hobson
Cowan finishes strong, Minten & Lisowsky lead the way for Saskatoon: Leafs Prospect Roundup by Nick Richard
Timothy Liljegren is responding well to Sheldon Keefe’s call for more by Alex Hobson
The Toronto Marlies sign Miami University forward Matthew Barbolini by Bennett Jull
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