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Questions Ahead of 2023-24 Season: Do the Leafs have enough secondary scoring?

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Photo credit:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Mazzei
10 months ago
Before the start of a new season emerges, many Leafs fans will take a look at the roster as constructed and ask themselves some questions to get a read on how the campaign will go.
“Is the defence good enough?” “Will the goalies be capable of going on a deep run?” “Can the stars carry the load or will they fall short again?” “Who else can the Leafs get between now and the trade deadline?” This is only scratching the surface of the abundance of questions that the fanbase will debate over for hours on end.
But there is one question that is going to be crucial for the success of the upcoming year: Do the Leafs have enough secondary scoring?
The Leafs have been fortunate to have four of the most gifted offensive players in the game today, who also happen to take up the bulk of the cap space for half a decade. They no doubt give the team a fighting chance at winning games based purely on their skillset and abilities alone, but hockey is a sport that isn’t won solely by four players but by a team effort. And over the past five years, the supporting cast has simply not been good enough to keep up the pace.
Over the past five playoff runs, the percentage of goals from forwards outside of the big four was 29%, 20%, 39%, 29%, and 36%. That means roughly 69.4% of the Leafs’ playoff goals from forwards in that span came off the stick of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares. By comparison, the average percentage of goals from the big four forwards of the last five Stanley Cup winners is roughly 48.8%.
This shows not only how critical these four players are to Toronto’s success, but just how severely lacking the other forwards have been in terms of offensive output. No matter which way you slice it, this discrepancy is not a winning formula and the Leafs will only be able to have a better outcome in the playoffs if they have enough secondary scoring to make that aforementioned number closer to 60% or lower.
Granted, the fact that the big four accounts for approximately 41% of Toronto’s cap hit makes things tricky to fit in all of the scoring depth that would help mitigate the difference. But that can be overcome by using the rest of the allotted money wisely and drafting smartly in the later rounds. This was an area that Kyle Dubas attempted to get around but did not exactly hit a homerun regarding the impact of his additions.
While he did unearth some value out of Ryan O’Reilly and found a second-round gem in Matthew Knies, there have been far too many instances of forwards who were limited in offensive production. Over that same stretch mentioned earlier, the number of non-core four players that scored one playoff goal or less was eight, 10, 10, eight, and six. Apart from this past playoff run where there was some semblance of balance, the rest of the runs were lacking in overall production.
I understand that not every forward’s role is to provide offence and that might be playing a factor in this, but there are bound to be moments where the stars get silenced and there is no one left to pick up the slack. Hence why the Leafs ended their postseason run last spring by going through a seven-game stretch of scoring two goals or fewer in a game and averaging a measly 0.75 GPG in their last four Game 7s.
Of course, one could reflect and ponder what could have been different had Nick Robertson not gotten hurt, if a few more draft picks were able to crack the roster, or if they decided to trade for Taylor Hall instead of Nick Foligno in 2021. However, the fact remains that the Leafs will only go so far as the collective unit can carry them.
It has therefore been imperative for Brad Treliving to change the makeup of the Leafs’ depth and bring in some different options that could help take the offensive burden off of the big four. To this point, he has brought in a few exciting forwards that can do just that while also being annoying to play against.
Tyler Bertuzzi was Toronto’s marquee signing of the offseason and has all the makings to fill the void left by Michael Bunting and then some. Coming off a dominant playoff run where his 10 points in seven games had him tied with Brad Marchand for the team lead in scoring, he is someone that should be a massive boost health permitting. Max Domi provides some playmaking ability that could be a big help for the bottom six, especially since he is fresh off finishing fourth on the Stars in postseason scoring with 13 points.
There are also some of the younger pieces currently in place that will be in the mix to help round out the lineup. Knies will be set to begin his rookie campaign and it didn’t take long for him to show just how important he was to the Leafs. Pontus Holmberg has been making good strides in his development which earned him a two-year extension over the summer. Then there are some of the other fringe pieces that could be useful in Bobby McMann, Nick Abruzzese, and Alex Steeves.
Not all of the players need to be producing at a decent rate to fix this underlying issue since players like Ryan Reaves, David Kampf, and Sam Lafferty were not brought in to score. But there needs to be enough surrounding the big four that will ease the tension that comes with having to carry the scoring workload. Combine that with production from the back end off the backs of Morgan Rielly and John Klingberg and that will make the Leafs difficult to slow down offensively.
As it stands right now, the Leafs are definitely in a much better spot in regards to the secondary scoring, even after losing O’Reilly and Michael Bunting in the offseason. But I think they should look to bring in one more option for the bottom-six, and thankfully there are plenty of intriguing free agents still up for grabs that will help in that department. Players such as Phil Kessel, Tomas Tatar, and Josh Bailey could help provide that additional offensive threat that may be enough to put them over the top.
Alternatively, they could wait until partway through the season and trade for some additional offence and the potential options could be even more vast. That means keeping an eye on teams such as the Sharks, Ducks, Flyers, and Coyotes for forwards who may become available as the year progresses.
Once this additional forward gets brought into the mix, the Leafs should have a much better time getting more scoring from outside the core four players. That alone will help ensure that Toronto won’t have to worry about who else can provide some offence to help spread it out.
Treliving may have only been at the helm for a little over three months, but he has done fairly well in making sure the supporting cast can chip in more offensively than they did over the past five years. But if he can fit in one more option for their secondary scoring, then the concerns of a lack of offence outside of the big four could be a thing of the past.
Stats from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.
Salary information from CapFriendly.

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