Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Maple Leafs New Year’s Resolutions
By Jon Steitzer1 month ago
Ah New Years resolutions. I’ll admit mine are broken before they start. I’m not going to get in shape or eat better. I’ve never been a person for fixing my flaws, I’ve always been someone who prefers to play to their strengths. In that sense I’m a lot like the Kyle Dubas era Leafs. You can point to where attempts were made but at the end of the day the Leafs were always about maximizing their greatest strength, offence.
While I know I’m going to break my resolutions, that is not going to stop me from making some resolutions for the Maple Leafs and trying to hold them accountable for them. (That’s 100% how this works, right?) I’ve got my ideas of what could make them better and you’ll tell me I’m wrong. Since we are heading into 2024, it seems fitting to have four resolutions. Here they are:
1. Put Domi with Marner for an extended look
I don’t think I’m asking for too much when I say the Leafs should explore an idea that seemed to work. Max Domi and Mitch Marner still have some lingering chemistry from their junior days and both players seem to be in the need of a spark this season. Put the duo with a shot first player like Nick Robertson and that seems like a recipe for success.
Mitch Marner is even more capable of bringing defensive responsibility to that line than Calle Jarnkrok, who can go and fill that two-way player need with either Tavares or Matthews, two players that he has worked well within the past and all of a sudden, the Leafs have three lines capable of giving opponents a hard time.
With the Leafs able to fall ass backwards into a playoff spot no matter what they do based on their talent alone, taking some time in the remaining 40+ games to experiment with line combinations that can work even better than what Sheldon Keefe has continuously been running variations of throughout his tenure seems like a good idea.
2. Hidden menu lineup
Building off the concept of resolution number one, I’d say allow Sheldon Keefe his comfort food but in a bench shortening fashion. Flipping Marner back to a spot next to Matthews or Nylander next to Tavares when situations call for three lines makes sense. You can trot Domi and Robertson out with Jarnkrok when trailing or Gregor and Kampf with Jarnkrok when protecting a lead. The rest of the time try to find that four line balance that doesn’t leave the Leafs in fear of when their top six forwards can’t be on the ice.
The same can be said of the blueline. As things sit today, Rielly, Brodie, McCabe, and Liljegren represent the top four and would be who you’d shorten the defensive bench to. That being said specialists like Benoit and Timmins have something to add and maybe playing them with stronger partners like Brodie, McCabe, or Rielly is the key to getting the most out of them. Rielly with Benoit definitely has Rielly-Schenn vibes and Brodie can probably make up for a wealth of Conor Timmins defensive sins.
3. Go big on a non-rental
My biggest issue with the Ryan O’Reilly trade was that it gave us a small taste of what could have been with the Leafs bringing in another capable centre last season and now here we are again looking at the third line centre position and seeing the Leafs compromising on what works.
Having a top tier 3C is a bit of a luxury, but the Leafs have some non-luxury gaps in their lineup like another top 3 defenceman or a goaltender who can start 50+ games and be above league average in the process. Addressing one of these issues only to have the gap in the lineup reappear in the summer would hurt so the Leafs would be wise to go all in on one of their problems and fix it the right way and not just for the final two months of the season.
4. Play to their strengths
It is possible to win as an offensive juggernaut and that is what the Leafs are going to be first and foremost. Dare I say it is their identity and they need to embrace it. They can get a little bit tougher, they can improve their defence and their goaltending, but the Leafs at their best leave their opponents afraid to make mistakes because Toronto has the talent to capitalize on it. It’s not to say that their offence is perfect either, but when Toronto takes their foot off the gas and starts playing a game they don’t typically play come playoff time they are making things unnecessary difficult on themselves.
So let’s see if Auston Matthews can get to 70 goals, if William Nylander and Mitch Marner can hit 100 points, and find out how far up the all-time scoring list Tavares can go this season. The offence is the one thing that has more or less been consistent during the Keefe era, save for the playoffs. This roster more than any other they’ve had should have the Maple Leafs steering the team in that direction.
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