Who are the Toronto Maple Leafs?
That’s the question I’ve been struggling with a lot over the last couple of weeks. I thought I knew who the Leafs were. They were a group of exciting, young players who played a bit sloppy (and who had only the most rudimentary understanding of what a “defense” is), but who had enough offensive firepower (and an almost preternaturally consistent starting goaltender in Frederik Andersen) to make up for it. They were a team that easily could have, and arguably should have, made it past the Boston Bruins in the first round last year, a team that would be going into their new season even more fired up and determined to finally make it over that hurdle. There were difficulties that we knew about from the start of course, from the purgatory of bad-to-mediocre Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen that we are apparently never going to be freed from, to, well... *gestures to pile of articles trying to figure out how in the fresh hell the Leafs were going to manage their cap situation*.
There’s things this season that you can point to as reasons why things haven’t exactly gone to plan, ranging from almost impressively grim backup goaltending to... whatever is going on with Morgan Rielly. There’s things that have been identified and addressed – hey, a new head coach! – and things that haven’t been (please, for our sake and for his, can we figure out something to do about Michael Hutchinson??).
Despite all this though, despite the quantifiable factors, despite the improvements that have been made, this team still seems... ephemeral. A tantalizing phantasm of a cup contender that wavers and disappears if you look too closely. The players are saying all the right things but it just seems like so much smoke and mirrors – as though this is a team that wants to be champions, or at least wants to think of themselves as champions, but aren’t willing to fully, truly, commit to the mentality and work that that requires.
It’s hard to know what the cause is, or how to fix it, but hopefully this Leafs team can figure out a way to shape all their pretty words into something more than a wraith of success – and soon.
Arvind took a look at Travis Dermott’s NHL career to date:
Nearly two years after his NHL debut, more questions than answers exist about Travis Dermott
And expressed some of the frustrations that a lot of us are really, really feeling right now:
Everything pisses you off when your team is losing
Our favourite son is back! After missing ten games due to a broken finger, Nick Robertson returned to the lineup for the Peterborough Petes last night and immediately scored. I literally could not be more proud.
ROBBY! After missing 10 games, @nickrob2001 buries a @kirky_1424 and SDA rebound to get us back in front! 2-1 Petes!#GoPetesGo | #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/ucjOw0aYVP— Peterborough Petes (@PetesOHLhockey) December 6, 2019
Sportsnet looked at some of the changes Keefe has made to date, and highlighted the increasing importance of every Leafs game:
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe getting taste of urgency after honeymoon period
Aarif Deen at Mile High Sports interviewed Nazem Kadri and wrote about the similarities between their stories:
Commentary: Nazem Kadri has a unique story. But as my Muslim Brother, his story is all too familiar
Hurt Your Feelings
A fun collection of coverage from around the league of how amazing other teams and their players are doing this year, because we love to have fun here!*
*torture ourselves and also our readers
Cale Makar is ridiculous. I know that. You know that. But, just in case you want to read more about how ridiculous he is, here’s a whole article about it:
Cale Makar making early run at Calder Trophy: 'I haven't seen anybody
David Pasternak still has the potential to hit 50 in 50, which would make him the first player to do so in almost two decades:
Pastrnak can score 50 goals in 50 games for Bruins, numbers suggest
And as we all recently witnessed, Nathan MacKinnon continues to collect points like a squirrel frantically preparing for the winter:
Facts and Figures: MacKinnon on roll for Avalanche
Unrelated to Anything
Did you know that a bunch of NHL teams are now on tiktok? That’s right, the app that continues to baffle a solid 80% of people over the age of 25 is now full of NHL players (and, predictably, one very orange mascot). And it turns out that these teams either have some of the savvier elder millennials on their social media teams or are actually hiring young people to do their social media because they’re.... kinda killing it.
The Red Wings’ account in particular is incredible, which is nice, because they’re not good at much else right now:
The Penguins’ team is also doing a great job:
And, of course, Gritty: