Minimizing the potential loss of Rielly, the benefit of an early trade, and whoa-vertime: Leaflets

Photo credit:Photo: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
The Leafs are at the quarter mark of the season and they’ve managed to get here in truly the most Leafs way possible. They’ve lost their starting goaltenders, they are now down their top three defensemen, and at the same time, their bottom six forward group has had an unprecedented run of health that is preventing Leafs prospects from getting into the lineup.
Presently sitting at a 10-5-5 record, an optimist sees a team presently sitting second in their division only behind a red hot Bruins team. A pessimist, well…that 10-5-5 record translates pretty easily to 10 wins and 10 losses, and that’s far from the expectation anyone had for the Leafs.
Here are some quick thoughts…

Rielly being out isn’t the end of the world

“This is fine.” It really isn’t, but we’ll run with it as it is still early in the season, and as mentioned above the Leafs are sitting in that questionable good second in their division spot at the moment. There’s also the fact that while TJ Brodie wasn’t healthy enough for this road trip, we know his type of injury isn’t likely to keep him out for months and it could just be a matter of giving him another week. It’s far from ideal, but we’re making lemonade out of lemons over here. We know that the Leafs will be without Rielly for a minimum of 11 games, and based on what is being reported he is most likely not back until the New Year. Not great, but the Leafs can tread water, especially if their goaltenders are healthy again.
There is a reason that the Leafs brought in players like Victor Mete, and Jordie Benn, and a reason why Justin Holl hasn’t been traded yet, and it is because defensive depth will be challenged from time to time, and presently the Leafs still have four games or eight days before Mete requires waivers again. Assuming he is recalled Wednesday he at least gets the Leafs through the weekend before Toronto is faced with the decision of what they need to do on the blueline, and that decision could be as simple as continuing to use Mete knowing that he’ll require waivers for demotion again.
In some ways, the Leafs are fortunate the injury was to Rielly rather than someone they rely on in defensive situations as the Leafs have more wiggle room when it comes to offensive defensemen. Rielly is obviously their best option in that regard, especially at 5v5, but Toronto can get by short term on the defensive depth they have.
The Leafs still have a greater need with a top six capable third line center option than they do in trading for defensive help.

Trade early, trade often

As much as I’ve just preached the lack of urgency around making a trade due to the Rielly injury, I still think as much as the Leafs have the means to make a trade they should take advantage of it (just focus on forwards.)
This doesn’t need to be the glorious deal that will utilize the entirety of the Jake Muzzin cap relief, but there are clearly players that the Leafs could upgrade on, move on from, or just interesting low cost, low risk options out on the trade market that the Leafs could gamble on.
To some extent, the Leafs are probably being done in by the parity in the standings at the moment, as teams that will eventually fall off and become important to the selling process can still make a case for being in it right now, but for those teams that look flat as of American Thanksgiving, it’s probably worth it for them to realize the young roster player, prospect, and a 1st combo they’ll get now is about as good as the one they will get at the trade deadline. The difference at this point is the sellers can take advantage of a more limited market.
The idea of it being a sellers market right now sounds like a disadvantage to the Leafs, but there is something to be said for paying a bit more to get 50+ games of your rental player vs. 15 games at the end of the season. That extra window allows them to mesh with the team and potentially sell them on the idea of remaining a Leaf beyond their current contract if things go well.
That’s not to say that Kyle Dubas isn’t doing this, that he isn’t looking at everything, and that he’s at the mercy of having 31 equally risk-averse peers.

The Leafs are now 1-5 in OT

The good news about the Leafs overtime losses is that it means 5 times they’ve been the worse team they’ve still managed to pick up a point. The bad news is that a team that has Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Tavares probably shouldn’t struggle in a pure offense environment.
I can appreciate that Sheldon Keefe doesn’t want to devote any practice time to 3 on 3 overtime, as it’s somewhat a novelty and far from the Leafs most pressing issue, but it does still feel like it needs to be treated more seriously than it has, as it very well could be one or two points lost in overtime that make the difference when it comes to home ice advantage in the playoffs.
The biggest concern of late seems to be the lack of Matthews and Nylander to start OT. That is certainly fair as that duo is significantly faster than the Marner-Tavares duo that has been getting the nod. It seems like Nylander isn’t a favoured option due to his lack of defensive ability, but considering he is arguably the best puck carrier of the group, not utilizing one of the most important skill sets seems like a miss.
There is also the need for Marner to revert to his 2021-22 shooting ways. As long as he doesn’t seem like a shooting option in overtime there will be an advantage for the Leafs opposition.
Now comes defense. The Leafs don’t really have a leg to stand on here at the moment so at least for the time being it feels like overtime is the Sandin and Liljegren show, and possibly Mete as well once he gets comfortable.
It’s too intense a pace for Giordano, Holl’s decision making would be an issue, although he might be deeper into OT option, and Jordie Benn and OT simply don’t mesh.
I hate to say this is something that comes down to a few more big saves from goaltenders, and it will probably work itself out over time, but for right now this is another little thing that hasn’t been breaking the Leafs way this season.

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