The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently without Trevor Moore and Ilya Mikheyev for the foreseeable future due to individual injuries to the bottom-six stars. This, compacted with previous adversity will define the Buds’ season.
There has been no shortage of controversy for the Leafs this season. It started in the offseason, continued through a turbulent start, and has been extended through the holiday break by stacking injuries. Whatever this season holds for the Leafs, it will be defined by how the team reacted to the relentless adversity faced.
Mitch Marner sets the stage
Leave it to the best playmaker on the roster to set the season up for some “fun” and “exciting” storylines by flirting with a holdout a la William Nylander! With bated breath and on pins and needles Leafs Nation was glued to SportsCenter and Twitter to try and get some updated on their 1-A star Mitch Marner signing.
The deal was concluded in the 11th hour as training camp approached, with Marner leaving GM Kyle Dubas with a little egg on his face, forcing him to pay for the prospective rather than what he’s already shown the team. Regardless, the tension between Marner and the fanbase was palpable, downplayed by the happiness that he actually signed. His play this season has turned and now all seems to be forgotten as the team is on the rise.
Babcock? More like Badcock!
Who would have thought that the hard-nosed, old school, hit and bash em’ coach with a laundry list of players who don’t speak too highly of him after being coached by him would be a bad guy? Well, as it turns out, he was a bad dude and not just in his past! The main example of this was Babcock getting Marner to rank his teammates on effort levels, then alienating the young star (rookie season) by revealing this list to the team with him in attendance.
Dubas and Shanahan cut ties with Babcock before December, promoting AHL Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe, the in house heir to the coaching throne. Under Keefe the Leafs have gone 12-4-1, correcting their early-season slump and shooting back up the standings.
As it stands right now, excluding Nathan Horton and David Clarkson’s career-ending injuries, the Leafs are without Andreas Johnsson (Dec. 3rd) with a leg injury, Trevor Moore (Dec. 22nd) with a concussion, Ilya Mikheyev (Dec. 26th) with a wrist laceration, and Jake Muzzin (Dec. 26th) with a broken foot. Those are four massive injuries to a top-six forward, top-four defenseman, and two bottom-six (with upside) forwards who play key roles.
As a result, we’ve seen Martin Marincin and Adam Brooks get the call up from the Marlies to match the use of Pierre Engvall and Dimtryo Timashov who have been fixtures in the lineup under Keefe. The organizational depth built by Shanahan and Dubas will be critically tested, as it already has been, and the resiliency of the players will ultimately define in the team’s sustained success; this means the depth players stepping up but also the star players carrying more than their load in the interim. So far so good, but time will tell if this resurgence can continue through to a playoff berth and push.