After the Leafs’ Game 7 loss to the Bruins yesterday, we decided the time was appropriate for another roundtable discussion from our masthead. These vary from big-picture to the minutiae of the series. Enjoy!
First question: FUCK!
Fulemin: Sorta. On a scale of one to “FUCK”, like maybe a six.
seldo: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK THE BRUINS
Okay, more seriously: What went wrong for the Leafs in this series?
Arvind: Well, to put it simply, Boston outplayed us. We really had no answer for that top line — almost no one does. But even in the depth matchups, Boston did a great job of containing the Leafs’ speed and preventing quick breakouts. At times, it felt like all we could do was go for a stretch pass (which worked sometimes) or a slow-moving dump and chase, without all of the horses to really make that work. Andersen wasn’t great for many of the games, and the Kadri suspension obviously hurt us, but the biggest culprit was that we just got outplayed, and not just by the Bergeron line.
Katya: Auston Matthews was the only offensively successful centre, and his shooting percentages were terrible. He shot at a higher rate than he did against Washington last year, but no one will believe he was anything but a failure because he didn’t score. His line was terrible defensively against everyone but the Bruins fourth line, however. You can’t win with one offensive line, and the Bruins didn’t. Their real story was the success of the second and third lines. The Leafs had no answer for David Kreijci.
Kevin: It came down to one game, and both Gardiner and Andersen did not play well in Game 7. However, Boston was the better team for most of the series, and Kadri’s suspension hurt Toronto’s chances significantly. I think the Leafs may have been one defenceman away from being a dominant team, but they just aren’t there yet. The Bruins are a great team, and they deserved to win.
Fulemin: Boston was better. I’m less bothered about this than I might have been because I think Boston outplayed us. Not hugely, not all the time, but enough that I don’t think there’s a real case the Leafs were the better team.
Brigstew: Boston was better, and the Leafs didn’t do them any favours. Freddie was not at his sharpest in maybe half the games, but the Leafs didn’t do great at helping him out with the amount of turnovers, 2 on 1s, and “to the line but not out”s.
seldo: Bad games, average goaltending, and Matthews couldn’t shake the Bruins to do his thing. It sounds simple, but it was.
The penalty kill seemed to get absolutely killed at times during this series. The Leafs have a relatively unique approach to the PK, in that they ride a few defensemen into the ground when playing it. Do you think that this strategy contributed to the downfall of the PK, or was it unrelated?
Katya: No, I don’t think the ice time of individuals is the issue. The issue is that the Leafs PK never was all that hot, and until the forwards returned to their aggressive clock eating offensive counter pressure on the PK, it was horrible. When Roman Polak is one of your best PKers, you need to do something about who you have on D to use. Glances at Marlies, huh, look who’s working on that right now.
Kevin: Maybe a little bit, as there’s no way any player is playing his best game after a minute and a half of shorthanded ice time. Having another high-end defenceman would do wonders, but Boston’s powerplay is going to get plenty of chances against any team. I’m glad to have Kasperi Kapanen on Toronto’s penalty kill for the distant future.
Fulemin: I’m with Katya, I don’t think it was very good. Fatigue may have been a factor but I think this was more or less what the PK was.
What positives can the Leafs take away from it?
Arvind: We took one of the best teams in the league to seven games, and were 19 minutes away from winning. It wasn’t the blowout it looked like it could be after the opening two games. We were outplayed, but we weren’t outclassed like in 2013. As for other positives... Mitch Marner looked phenomenal, the only one of the Big 3 to play up to expectations. Johnsson, Kapanen, and Dermott were all up-and-down, as you’d expect, but had big moments in the series and didn’t look out of place.
Kevin: Johnsson, Kapanen, and Dermott are only getting better, and Mitch Marner was terrific. The Leafs never traded their first round pick at the deadline, so the team could still look to move it in a package for a big addition. It’s easy to envision them getting better.
Fulemin: The Leafs ran the Bruins close and while I said they were the lesser team, they weren’t that far away. If you can beat Boston you can beat anybody, I think, and the Bruins are a tough matchup for us. Not to lament the seeding, but this would more justly have been a second or third-round matchup.
Brigstew: The young guys got a close look at how consistently good they need to be to beat the best teams, and I’m sure Babcock will help teach them how to stay calm and what to do to tighten up the game. So many of them are still pretty young, and have time to learn.
seldo: Technically we did better than last year!
Does Auston Matthews actually and truly lack leadership because he didn’t address the media after that one losing game?
Arvind: The thing that annoys me about this leadership talk is that as fans, we honestly have no idea how this stuff works. Matthews might be a great leader, he might not. But whether he talked to the media after Game Four has no bearing on that.
Katya: I could quote Ray Ferraro last night for an entire page, but this in response to yet another weird leadership question is my feelings.
Yes he is. Leafs guard young guys. Wish they didn’t, and that they would be more available. Maturation process is playing better in a series. And it will happen. You go ahead and get a team of guys that speak every game. I’ll take a team of Matthews. Lets play. I win every time https://t.co/qDODAiJdZW— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) April 26, 2018
Fulemin: Hard no.
Brigstew: Hard fuck you to the mittenstringer that actually believes that.
seldo: I am very mad I didn’t get to hear if he got pucks in deep.
Has this series changed your outlook on the team as a whole, or any individual players?
Arvind: Not really. The Leafs are a good team who got beat by a better team, which is more or less what I expected.
Katya: I’ve been thinking since long before this season started that the team needs to bring in some forwards from outside their depth at a high level. Just adding a top-level defender isn’t enough. I feel that more strongly than ever. I thought Nazem Kadri’s performance in the playoffs was extremely poor.
Kevin: Not really, but I think Mike Babcock is going to love coaching Andreas Johnsson. I would also like to bring back Plekanec for another year after his strong showing.
Fulemin: Basically no. I think the struggles with breakouts were put into sharper relief and it’s maybe more obvious that that problem needs to be addressed, but that was the case before and it’s the case now.
Brigstew: This series showed that the Leafs are still young, need to improve, their defense is suspect (as a position and as far as team execution goes), and they need to get better at breakouts. So... exactly what the outlook seemed like going into the playoffs.
We saw Travis Dermott’s ice time decline significantly in the playoffs, which last year happened to Connor Carrick. Do you think this is a sign that Babcock doesn’t trust Dermott, or simply that he doesn’t trust him yet?
Katya: Connor Who? Oh, yeah, that guy who hangs with Josh Leivo now. No, I think Babcock carefully sheltered Dermott because he’s 21, and he’s not ready yet. However, watching his growth tells me he’ll be something some day. I’m with the person who said Carrick is only on this team because he’s a righty.
Kevin: Doesn’t trust him yet. Dermott was a rookie on a team with two strong left-shooting defencemen ahead of him, so it’s tough to blame Babcock. I am a huge fan of Dermott’s game, and I think he has a bright future ahead of him.
Fulemin: Not yet. It will come in time.
Species: He doesn’t, and shouldn’t for now. He has to prove himself in situations against multiple teams with varied playing styles over time. I don’t actually think he had finished that with the Marlies before he was called up, and he certainly didn’t get sufficient time to do that yet with the Leafs. Yes, his future is in the NHL. I mean, if Rinat Valiev is in the NHL, Travis Dermott absolutely has to have a spot somewhere. I am simply uncomfortable with the rapid appreciation of his stock this season and believe it has outpaced the growth of his actual ability such that it’s like a bubble that could burst and then unfairly set him back.
If you’re in the Leafs front office, what is your battle plan for this offseason?
Arvind: The obvious answer is upgrade the right side of defence, which is definitely important. The Leafs also desperately need to restock their centre pipeline, which is grim right now. I’d look into signing any European free agents who played C with any level of aplomb. We also need to get better defensive forwards — they’re also culpable in our poor defensive results. Shopping our first round pick might be the way to go. With a pretty sad free agent cohort, sitting out July 1st is probably the best play, unless we’re in with a shot on John Tavares.
Katya: The Leafs have ten or 15 guys in the NHL and the AHL who can make up a fourth line or third pair, no problem. The time to add depth is over. Now is the time to start filling specific roles with quality players beginning at centre and defence. This is also the hardest thing to do without making a hole somewhere else. The exception to the depth issue is, of course, at centre. If you aren’t better than Dominic Moore right now, maybe you’re not ever going to play centre in the NHL. I don’t see anyone in the system laying claim to that. That’s not the end of the job, however. Unless you think Connor Brown is a legit top six power forward, maybe the Leafs might like to invest in one of those.
Kevin: Add another top player without overpaying by a massive amount. Ideally, this player is a right-shooting defenceman, but I’d also take a high-end forward. I’m fine with moving their first round pick in the right deal.
Fulemin: Trade time. I hate to say this and I’m going to hedge by saying you can’t panic and make a bad trade, but the Leafs cannot go into next season with the same defence group. They just can’t. The first round pick ought to be open for trade, but that’s not going to fetch enough by itself.
Brigstew: I’d say they have three strategies they can put in place, maybe a mix of them, but in descending order of priority: (1) Improve their centre depth now that they really only have two sure centres who are NHL capable in Matthews and Kadri; take a big run a Tavares and barring him, maybe Thornton. Barring either of them, the market is pretty bleak so maybe you settle on taking a serious look at Nylander at centre, and focus your priority on... (2) improve their defence. Swing a big trade, take a big run at John Carlson, whatever. It needs improvement and I’m sure they don’t need me telling them that. (3) If you are forced to use Nylander at C because you can’t find a valuable replacement centre for the third line, pick up some good wingers to replace JVR and Leo. Kapanen and Johnsson might fill in nicely, but there’s no such thing as too much offense and they could use another effective penalty killer.
What Leaf is getting too much praise for their playoff performance, and what Leafs is getting too much criticism for theirs?
Katya: Well, I don’t know. Nikita Zaitsev played excellently to my eyes, and by the numbers. But I just don’t expect anyone to be able to see that. He’s reached meme status and ceased to be a real person. He was used correctly, not over his head, and with the exception of Game Seven, Jake Gardiner was also as good. As for too much praise, I guess the illusion cast by Dermott’s usage sways a lot of minds, but it’s not like he wasn’t good at times.
Fulemin: Jake Gardiner had the Jakiest series of all time, in that his glaring mistakes are going to blot out the memory of his excellent stretches. He’s an imperfect player, there’s no getting around that, but his good still outweighs his bad. If the Leafs dump him in a bad deal this summer they’ll regret it (I don’t think they will.)
Brigstew: It’s weird to say, but maybe Marner for getting too much praise? That might just be because he might be the only guy I can think that got glowing praise the whole series out of the whole team. Too much criticism? Gardiner’s the obvious answer but I’m going to say Matthews or Nylander because I don’t think they played poorly, I think they hit a SSS shooting percentage wall.
What is the Leafs most pressing need, aside from the right side of their defence?
Arvind: Good two-way forwards, especially ones who can assist in the transition game, and provide support to make it easier for our defence to move the puck.
Katya: What Arvind said.
Kevin: I’d love another top line calibre forward.
Fulemin: Hard to add much to the foregoing. Wayne Simmonds is my dream date 1LW but we’re not getting him.
Brigstew: Centres. Matthews and Kadri are all well and good, but other than them right now they currently have under contract or in their system... Gauthier, Brooks, Moore, Aaltonen, and Mueller. Even IF you put Nylander as a centre, that’s a bleak group for a 4C.
Why does God hate us?
Katya: It’s not god that hates you, just the rest of the hockey fans in the entire world.
Kevin: God just loves the Marlies, and wanted Johnsson, Kapanen, and Dermott returned.
Fulemin: I’m going to make a piece out of this, but this honest to God was not a bad series. This may just be my odd psyche—I was way more long-term depressed from the Potato Week in summer 2013 than the 4-1 game—but losing in seven to Boston is about what I expected and even after the Kappy goal, I didn’t think we were going to be able to hang on for the win given our defence. We’re two years out of last. This is okay.
Brigstew: Hat the nu testamenz
On a lighter note, what was your favourite moment of the season?
Arvind: If we’re talking playoffs, then the Kapanen shorthanded goal. In the regular season, it’s hard to top the 6-0 destruction of Montreal.
Katya: Game Six of the playoffs. Regular season the first time Kadri played with Marleau and Marner.
Kevin: Kapanen’s shorthanded goal in game 7. In the regular season, it would have to be Dermott’s first goal.
Fulemin: Matthews doing the GOOD GOAL celebration after the refs called one back on him.
Species: JvR’s hat trick, of course, but who can forget this moment which spawned a thousand fanfics
Brigstew: Early in the season, I think the third game, the comeback they had against Chicago and Matthews’ ridiculous OT snipe.
Did this season fall above, below, or at your expectations?
Arvind: Essentially at expectations. We were a good-not-great team who lost to a great team, that we happened to face in the first round. This is the last year of the ‘learning Leafs’, and starting next year, playoff success is basically a requirement.
Katya: All of the above? There were players who surprised me: Dermott, Johnsson, Brown a little. There were players who just fizzled: Komarov, JvR in the playoffs, Bozak. I think the ability of the Leafs to execute in many situations has improved, but I don’t think their tactics are working overall. Some of that is coaching, some is the holes in the lineup.
Kevin: This was basically my expectation. A longer playoff run would have been nice, and I wish the NHL would just go back to the 1-8 playoff format. Toronto, Boston, and Tampa are going to be strong teams for a long time.
Fulemin: Expectations met. Modest improvements all around. But if the Leafs aren’t a serious Cup contender by the end of next season, that’s a problem. It’s going to take some substantial improvement to get them there.
Brigstew: Honestly? Probably exceeded. They finished in the same spot of the standings I thought they might, but they had a great regular season in terms of points despite relative struggles of Nylander and Marner at times, Matthews missing chunks of the season here and there, and their defense never really improving as much as we’d like. As a team, they had great depth from a lot of young guys. They seemed to continue developing young guys in the Marlies very well, from Dermott taking a big jump, Johnsson supplanting Komarov in the playoffs, Kapanen looking better, and so on. The more worrying part is just how good and young Boston and Tampa look, since they’re both in the same division.
Do you think this playoff series was the last time we see Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, and Leo Komarov as Leafs?
Arvind: Short answer, yes. Longer answer: it’s clear that Babcock viewed Bozak and JvR as low-minute offensive specialists at even strength, and components of an elite first power play unit (in JvR’s case, a critical component). As a side note, Babcock’s usage of these two was exemplary... he quickly diagnosed their strengths and weaknesses, and put them in a role where they succeeded. And make no mistake, they did succeed. Bozak’s line was the Leafs’ most successful at outscoring the opposition throughout the year. I’ve been of the opinion that they would most likely not be back, unless Bozak was willing to take a notable pay cut to remain as a sheltered 3C. I was a little more worried about Komarov, given Babcock’s love for him, but in the playoffs, when push came to shove, he sat Leo and played a rookie. They’re all gone.
Katya: Yes. Today is the first day I have zero belief that Tyler Bozak will be re-signed no matter how hard centres are to find. I stopped believing James van Riemsdyk would be when it became clear to me that there needs to be some cap space spent on new forwards, not just defenders. And JvR is just not an efficient way to do that.
Kevin: Yes, but I could see Komarov returning just like Roman Polak did last year. I don’t see the Leafs getting into a bidding war for him, but he could circle back if he can’t find a strong opportunity elsewhere.
Species: Listen, you punks. JvR isn’t going anywhere if I can help it. They can’t trade him if they can’t find him!
Brigstew: They can’t sign him if they can’t find him either....
What do you think? Let us know in the comments how you’d answer these questions!