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What’s worked for the Maple Leafs, what hasn’t since the trade deadline

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Photo credit:© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
18 days ago
We’re less than a month away from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and though the Toronto Maple Leafs are effectively locked into the No. 3 Atlantic Division slot barring catastrophe, the team is still tinkering with their optimal lineups.
This year’s Maple Leafs team has displayed the potential, at times, to win it all but Sheldon Keefe is still experimenting as the team fights through myriad injuries and inconsistent performances through the lineup, with the gap between the team’s stars and ancillary players punctuated throughout the year. Toronto added defensemen Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson at the trade deadline, while ostensibly shoring up its forward depth by acquiring Connor Dewar at the proverbial 11th hour.
Coming off a dominant 7-3 victory over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, it’s time to assess what’s worked and what hasn’t for the Maple Leafs since the March 8 trade deadline.
All stats from Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com

What hasn’t been working 

TJ Brodie has become unplayable 
Let’s just start with this disclaimer: the least enjoyable part of this profession is ripping players. They are doing their best with the rigours of a 82-game schedule and we don’t want to start piling on. TJ Brodie has become unplayable for the Maple Leafs after spending most of his tenure as one of the team’s most reliable defenders. And it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to top form anytime soon.
Brodie’s underlying numbers have entered the Justin Holl territory of yesteryear, only that he was trusted to be an outlet for Morgan Rielly’s on the team’s top defensive pairing. In his past 10 games, Brodie has been on the ice for 16 goals against in all scenarios, with a -10 goal differential. He committed a series of brutal turnovers during Tuesday’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, which apparently was the final straw for Sheldon Keefe.
The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel reported that Brodie didn’t factor into Toronto’s top-seven during Friday’s practice, so you could reasonably surmise that he will be scratched for the second consecutive game when the Edmonton Oilers roll into town for a marquee Hockey Night in Canada showdown.
Brodie has been significantly better when playing on the left side of the ice, but Toronto boasts a surplus of left-shot defensemen and he’s too valuable to the team to be solely constrained to one side of the ice. Lyubushkin was brought in to give Rielly a reliable right-shot partner, largely because Brodie has failed in this role for the vast majority of the year. Rielly has been recently paired with Jake McCabe and perhaps Brodie can find his way back into the lineup while stapled to Lyubushkin or McCabe — which has a domino effect, as McCabe alongside Simon Benoit has been Toronto’s most reliable pair.
It would be a genuine shock if Brodie isn’t in Toronto’s playoff lineup, he’s too experienced and logged too many minutes to be erased from the system in the most important games the franchise has encountered in decades. Perhaps the unwitting load management will get Brodie back on the right track.
Toronto’s power play has become predictable during Mitch Marner’s absence
Auston Matthews is the best shooter alive and William Nylander isn’t far behind so in theory, Toronto’s power play ought to be one of the most lethal units in the NHL. Toronto has converted just 11.1 percent of its power play opportunities since March 8, the 30th-best total in the league. And you can surmise that Mitch Marner’s high-ankle sprain incurred during a March 7 loss is the central reason why.
Toronto’s power play is set up is rather simple: either Morgan Rielly or Auston Matthews fly into the offensive third at full speed, then dish the puck back to whoever is at the point — usually one of the team’s wingers — before trying to get set. Opposing teams know how to account for their entry, while Marner’s ability to navigate through the neutral zone heading west-east has been sorely lacking.
It’s become rather simple, too: opposing teams know Toronto is looking for Matthews inside the faceoff circle. Matthews’ patented toe-drag has become of the NHL’s defining plays and without Marner to disguise looks, it’s become way too easy to decipher the point of attack.

What has been working

Bobby McMann has elevated his game since February and is doing all the small things well 
McMann has been a revelation for the Maple Leafs since notching his first career hat-trick against the St. Louis Blues on February 13. During Toronto’s past 10 games, McMann is tied with a quietly resurgent John Tavares for second on the team with 33 shots at 5-on-5. McMann is using his speed and size to great effect, especially down the wall where he is punishing defenders off the rush.
Once considered a depth player, McMann has made a very strong case for increased playing time within a top-nine role and has excelled during Marner and Calle Jarnkrok’s absences. At the very least, he has to be part of the team’s playoff lineup and considering that for large stretches of the season, the Maple Leafs struggled to generate ancillary scoring, McMann turning the corner and throwing pucks at the net constantly is a massive win. He’s earned every bit of the two-year, $1.35M extension that he signed on March 13.
Here’s a deeper dive on McMann’s mid-season ascension!
Tyler Bertuzzi is finally delivering on his promise
Bertuzzi was subject to much consternation, given that he was expected to fill the Michael Bunting role and provided no offensive impact during the early stages of the year. During a November-January stretch run, Bertuzzi found his legs and his analytical profile suggested an offensive uproar. It hasn’t quite been a torrential downpour but Bertuzzi is finally translating expected goals into actual goals during this March run and is clearly benefiting from Auston Matthews’ playmaking.
Bertuzzi is pushing himself to the front of the net, he’s drawing penalties at a Bunting-esque clip and is delivering on the ‘snot’ and scoring punch expected of a top-line player. It’s worth remembering that he was given the first look with Matthews and Marner this season and he may have forced himself back onto that line to start the playoffs.
Max Domi, playmaker extraordinaire 
Domi has been a frustrating player at times, namely because he’s defensively negligent when playing centre and you often see No. 11 with a weak closeout attempts on goals surrendered at 5-on-5. It’s enough to drive you mad. But when you place Domi on the wing, he’s far more attuned to winning puck battles, rather than the spatial sense required to play a man-zone defensive hybrid through the middle.
And more to the point, Domi has turned into a near-elite playmaker when placed on the wing, as evidenced by his four-assist artistry against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday when placed on the right wing alongside Matthews and Bertuzzi. Domi is tied with William Nylander for a team-best nine points at 5-on-5 during Toronto’s past 10 games and after a slow start to the year in all facets of the game, Domi is cooking teams as a playmaker from the wing.
If this doesn’t drive the point home: Domi is tied with Sidney Crosby for 13th league-wide in primary assists at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick, while ranking 7th in total assists at 5-on-5. He always elevates his game during the playoffs but it’s clear that Domi should be stapled to the wing to produce optimal outcomes.

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