Welp, That Sucked.

It’s game 7, and the Leafs are facing the Boston Bruins. The Leafs are up 4-3 heading into the third period. Surely these flashbacks I’m getting are just paranoia right? No, they aren’t, because Boston just scored 4 straight goals in the third period to win the series. Marchand cements it with the empty netter. Kill me.

There’s a lot of blame to throw around here, and I will get that out of the way now so I can attempt to end this on a positive note. Okay here is the obvious one – Jake Gardiner what the hell was that? That was the worst game he played the entire season. Bad decision after bad decision, no physicality, no desperation. That was garbage. I’ll give him credit for owning it after the game, but it doesn’t take away from that performance. I really expected better. As for the rest of the defense, they were all pretty MEH. The only pair that I thought actually looked good was the Dermott and Polak pair. They were fairly steady and it’s a real shame Dermott only got 11 minutes of ice time.

Matthews had a strong start with a couple scoring chances early, and I really thought this could be his breakout game, but he went MIA in the second and third period. For someone who went PPG in the regular season and paced for over 40 goals, he was a big disappointment. He wasn’t the worst by any stretch, but you need your big guns to step up and he got completely shut down.

I don’t understand how a line with Bozak and JVR, who should be in their prime, going against the softest competition, can be completely invisible. JVR 0 points, 0 shots, -3. Bozak 0 points, 1 shot, -2. It’s actually a little sad as it could be both their last games as a Leaf.

Who DID come to play? Mitch Marner, Patrick Marleau, William Nylander, and Kasperi Kapanen (what a goal!). All these guys played their heart out and it showed. I have become more and more impressed by Marner every game. This guy is a true franchise talent, and next to Matthews, should be the Leafs most important player in the coming years.

So the season is over and we are all still sour about the loss. Good news is that there are good things to come for this team. One lost series can’t take away the fact that this roster just broke franchise records! The core of the team can’t even grow a playoff beard yet. Don’t overreact and call for drastic changes. A couple upgrades would be nice (looking at you Tavares..) but at the end of the day, this is still a very promising young team. The future looks good Leaf fans.

 

Leafs Have a Chance to Even Up Series

Toronto and Boston get back to the grind Thursday night, and it is a critical one. I have thought since the beginning that both teams would win their first 2 games at home, so now it’s up to the Leafs to prove me right, and I really hope they do. The Leafs have a fantastic home record this season and they need to take advantage of it, because I don’t see them coming back from a 3-1 deficit heading back to Boston.

The last game has shown us that they still have some fire left in them. Babcock made a ballsy call in having Plekanec shadowing Bergeron on the second line, and to my surprise he not only performed well, but actually completely shut him out of the game and left the Bergeron line at a combined -7 for the night. Wow! Well played Babcock. Matthews had a gorgeous snipe and old man Marleau did was he does…score goals. So it’s time to do it again. I imagine they go back to what has worked and have Plekanec, Marleau and Marner facing off against Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak again. Just keep doing what you did last game please.

JVR and Bozak have been quiet lately and it would be a great time to catch that fire again and provide some secondary scoring. The leafs live and die on spread out scoring, so they must take advantage. They are getting the easiest line match ups and theoretically should be winning that battle.

Rielly it’s nice to see you again! Amazing performance. I’d like to see Babcock really lean on him heavily. Forget about game 1 and 2. Build off of game 3. We all know he has it in him, as he did it all season. Hainsey is really starting to show his age lately (not to mention completely over worked in the regular season) so I’m starting to wonder how long it takes until he loses his spot on the top pair? In reality he probably won’t but it’s times like this I REALLY wish the leafs had won the Ryan McDonagh sweepstakes.

Something to look forward to – Kadri is only suspended one more game, meaning he is guaranteed at least one game back this series. If they can muster out a win on Thursday, they can ice their full lineup when they go back to Boston. And that brings me to my final question. Let’s say Plekanec is able to shut down Bergeron and company again? Do you still put Kadri back on the second line and screw with what has worked? Kadri on the fourth? Move him to wing? I’ll leave that one up to the coach.

Oh one more thing…Komarov you were a good soldier, but maybe take the rest of the playoffs off. I hate to say it but you just aren’t cutting it anymore and the stats back it up. Leave Johnsson in. He’s younger, faster, and MUCH more dynamic. Please!

NHL Playoff Preview

The NHL playoffs have finally arrived! Starting Wednesday April 11th, 16 teams will begin to battle it out in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Here is a preview of what’s to come, and some predictions by our three writers!

Let’s start with the first round match ups.

Lightning Vs. Devils

With Boston losing its final regular season game to Florida, Tampa Bay has secured the Division title and will face off against the New Jersey Devils. Tampa are heavy favourites here, but you can’t count out Hart candidate Taylor Hall. He is the sole reason the Devils are not a lottery pick right now. It will be an uphill battle for them as the Lightning boast an impressive forward group with a killer power play unit, and newly acquired Ryan McDonagh to help out Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman on the back end. Vasilevskiy hasn’t been great for a while, and that could be the Devil’s way in.

Bruins Vs. Maple Leafs

Rewind to the 2013 playoff series between the Bruins and the Leafs. It’s game 7, and the Leafs are up 4-1 in the third period. As every Leaf fan can recall, Boston miraculously came back and won 5-4 in overtime. Well there is no better opportunity to put that series in the past than to beat them in a divisional rematch. Two very strong second half teams will battle it out and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win. The Matthews vs Bergeron lines could be a wash, in which case it will be a battle of the depth.

Capitals Vs. Blue Jackets

The Capitals have been a regular season powerhouse ever since they drafted Alex Ovechkin. On multiple occasions they have entered the playoffs as cup favourites but seemingly choke when the pressure is really on. Ovechkin and company aren’t getting any younger and you have to wonder how many chances they are going to get. They should come out firing against the Blue Jackets. I’m not too sure what to think about the Blue Jackets who have a decent roster and top goaltender in Bobrovski. They just lack that high end talent that can elevate you to the next level. Look for the young duo Seth Jones and Zach Werenski to try and slow down the Rocket winner.

Penguins Vs. Flyers

A classic match up between two rivalries who always put on a show. Claude Giroux has just had arguably the best season of his career while Sidney Crosby has been below average (by his standards). We all know the playoffs are a different beast though. It’s going to be tough for the Flyers to take down the reigning two time champs, and the Penguins look healthy and ready for battle. Should be a gritty hard fought battle either way.

Predators Vs. Avalanche

The Predators have some big expectations to fill after finals loss last year, and stellar regular season to follow. Their defense is bar none the best in the league, and its not even debatable. Colorado has their work cut out for them but MacKinnon absolutely has what it takes to carry his team to a series win. The Pred’s are heavy favourites here but do not take the young Avalanche lightly.

Jets Vs. Wild

Historically the Jets have reason to be weary, because they haven’t won a playoff series going all the way back to their Atlanta Thrashers days. This team is craving a win. They have a stacked lineup and fortunately for them, the best player on the Wild Ryan Suter suffered a season ending injury. I just don’t see any way Minnesota can overcome the odds barring an epic choke job by the Jets. Wheeler has been lights out, Scheifele is healthy and Laine gives them a potent power play. Look out.

Golden Knights Vs. Kings

This is not a typo – the Golden Knights are not only in the playoffs in their first ever season, but they have home ice advantage against L.A. Kings. Ask ANYBODY where they picked the Golden Knights to finish this season and every answer is bottom 3 of the NHL. Well they have proven everyone wrong, and made many GM’s look silly for the players they gave up (William Karlsson anyone?). As for the Kings, They are a heavy, strong defensive team built for the playoffs. Kopitar has had another Selke level season, and Drew Doughty is in the prime of his Career. Can Las Vegas keep this miracle season alive or will L.A give them a harsh dose of reality?

Ducks Vs. Sharks

A rivalry of California between two teams who have been dabbling in the playoffs for over a decade. These two teams are consistently a threat year after year, largely in thanks to two Canadian star vets going head to head; Ryan Getzlaf vs jumbo Joe Thornton. Getzlaf has already got his championship ring which he won way back in 2007. Thornton on the other hand has yet to win his and I’m sure the Sharks will be fighting hard to give him a shot before he retires. The Ducks are solid in all 3 zones of the ice and will give San Jose everything they can handle.

 

Here are some bold (and not so bold) predictions of what’s to come.

Our Gimme Pick

Alex: Jets over Wild

Ryan Suter looks to be out long term. With arguably the deepest offense in the league, the Jets should be able to feast on them. God speed Devan Dubnyk.

Adam: Predators over Avalanche

Offence wins games, Defence wins championships. Nashville’s ridiculously deep defensive core will stop the remarkably effective Colorado offence simply because they have two elite pairings and the third is very very good. Their offence is sneaky good as well, Forsberg is a force, and character guys like Arvidsson can add depth to scoring potential as well.

Greg: Predators over Avalanche

No disrespect toward the Avs, but I don’t think Nathan McKinnon’s MVP worthy season will be enough to dethrone the Western Conference champs from their place in the Cup finals for the 2nd straight season. It’s been a great story for the young Avs, one they’ll likely continue next season, but it’s just not happening this year.

Our Biggest Surprise

Alex: Sharks

San Jose has very quietly finished the season with 100 points. Although finishing behind the Ducks, I think they surprise and take a series or two on the back of Joe Thornton who awaits his first Cup.

Adam: Devils

Late to clinch but played well all season, New Jersey are a good pick to take down the atlantic division titans in Tampa. They are quick, they are physical, and the game changer will be the early attack that uses high pressing d-men. Will Butcher, Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen are all potential game changers. Nico Hischier and Zacha at center are solid, plus Taylor Hall seems a man on a mission to drive his team for a deep run.

Greg: Devils

With another Hart Trophy candidate leading the way for them, the New Jersey Devils are a team on fire, with their 1st round opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, heading in the opposite direction. Tampa Bay couldn’t close out the Eastern title on their own terms, needing a Panthers win over the Bruins to solidify top seed. I’m looking at the Devils to be the surprise team in round number one and take out Tampa.

Our Stanley Cup Champion

Alex: Penguins over Jets

Real original, I know. Come playoff time, this team has proven over and over that they have another gear. Having Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel all driving 3 different lines is really unfair. These guys know how to get it done and they will show us how once again. I think the Jets are good enough to take them to game 7, and arguably have a better all around team. However there is that clutch factor that the Penguins have the puts them over the edge for me.

Adam: Bruins over Golden Knights

I want to be wrong, I need to be wrong, but I don’t think I will be wrong. Boston is the hottest team in the world right now and have not shown that they are ready to slow down. The only issue may be depth scoring, as Pasternak, Bergeron, and Marchand are all stacked on one line. Vegas on the other hand are going to prove that they are no flash in the pan. They will benefit from the war between Winnipeg and Nashville in the second round to ride their hot streak to the finals. Boston’s style of play, however, is tailor-made for the playoffs. It’ll be close but begrudgingly Boston takes it over the new guys.

Greg: Predators over Maple Leafs

Another year together, and equipped with Stanley Cup Final experience from last year, I believe this is the year the Cup goes to Music City. As much as you see fans cheering for their own teams throughout the playoffs, you never seem to see anyone rooting against the Preds. GM David Poile has done an incredible job once again, and its sure to pay off this season with the franchise’s first  Stanley Cup victory.

Our Conn Smythe Winner

Alex: Evgeni Malkin

I believe Malkin takes his hot streak straight into the playoffs without a hitch. He’s been known to turn it up in the playoffs before with a Conn Smythe to his name already. Time for Crosby to hand the trophy back over.

Adam: Tuukka Rask

If Boston is going anywhere in the playoffs it’ll be on the back of their goaltender’s near legendary form. Goalies aren’t typical or sexy picks but we all know despite their inherent weirdness they can make or break a team, and for Boston it’s no different.

Greg: Pekka Rinne

Although there were question marks last season, he’s once again solidified his teams back end and will thoroughly deserve this honour after a stellar Cup run. He won’t need to bear the load, but he’ll be back to his regular old self to carry them over the finish line.

 

Playoffs Are Clinched, But Questions Remain For Leafs Fourth Line

It’s official, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight year. Impressive considering it was only a couple years ago when they finished dead last in the league, with the most depressing roster I’ve ever seen. The turnaround since Shanahan took over is remarkable, and while the top 3 lines appear to be pretty much set in stone for their playoff run, the biggest question mark is who plays on the fourth line?

It’s been a revolving door of players suiting up to play on the fourth line this season, and it seems like Babcock is still trying to figure which one’s fit best. Let’s have a look at our options; Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore, Matt Martin, Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo, Thomas Plekanec, and Andreas Johnsson. That is a boat load of players to have come in and out of the lineup. Now, just being realistic, we can probably weed out a few of these players who are very unlikely to get much ice time – Martin, Moore and Leivo. They all got their share of games during the regular season and showed a lot to be desired. Martin can hit and fight, which is useful in it’s own right, but the NHL is turning away from the enforcer role that he provides. Moore was quite underwhelming in his 50 game audition and doesn’t really do anything that well. Leivo although a decent scorer, is in an awkward spot as he’s not good enough to crack the top 9, but his skill set doesn’t make sense for the fourth line because he doesn’t PK and is suspect defensively. Add to the fact that they have all been regular healthy scratches, you know Babcock doesn’t see much of a fit. That leaves Komarov, Kapanen, Plekanec and Johnsson all fighting for 3 spots.

This is tough. These four players all bring their own unique play style, can PK, and are solid defensively. There just isn’t room for all of them unfortunately. Having said that, in my opinion leaving Johnsson or Kapanen out of the lineup would be an absolute mistake! These are two hungry young players that have a lot to prove. They are both excellent skaters and provide a threat to score when they are on the ice. Komarov and Plekanec are known for their defensive prowess and heavy forechecking but they have been black holes offensively. So I guess it comes down to what do you prefer? Or what does Babcock prefer? This is the new age NHL and I don’t see a need for the old school slow skating & hard hitting fourth lines of the past. I want to see speed, and more speed. In my perfect world I think I would have Kapanen and Johnsson flanking Plekanec, and Komarov left on the bench. But I’m also pretty sure that’s not going to happen. “But Komarov is a great PK’er and responsible in his own end”. Yes, but the Leafs have many capable PK’ers and ideally you don’t WANT the puck in your own end. Hence my bid for Kapanen who can skate circles around Leo and has as many goals as him in 32 less games! 

As for Plekanec – he has been underwhelming since being traded to the Leafs, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with his history, and he’s a much better center than Dominic Moore. I’d like to see some better finish and offensive creativity that he’s shown in the past.

So what will Babcock decide? It’s too early to tell but my gut tells me that Andreas Johnsson will be left off the lineup. It’s unfortunate because he’s played awesomely but at the end of the day – he only has 9 games of NHL experience, and I don’t think that’s enough to sway Babcock from playing his trusted veteran Komarov, or newly acquired Plekanec.

Who would you take into the playoffs for the fourth line?

Two Budding Superstars Who Will Be Forever Linked

Matthews Vs. Laine; A tale as old as…two years. In 2016 the Toronto Maple Leafs won the draft lottery, and Leafs nation went wild. It was the biggest thing to happen to the franchise in decades, and it’s a moment I will never forget. With the first overall draft pick, the Leafs had the choice between two clear front runners. Arizona native Auston Matthews from the Swiss pro league and Patrik Laine from the Finnish pro league. Both players came into their draft years heavily hyped up, but Matthews was always the favourite to go first. It wasn’t until Laine’s stellar 2016 year where he got some serious recognition as a threat for first overall pick. He lead his team to a championship and was named Liiga playoff MVP. He also dominated the World Juniors and helped Finland win a Gold Medal. Very impressive draft year for Laine. But despite his recent accomplishments, Leaf fans were still drooling over the thought of drafting a Franchise center they haven’t had since Mats Sundin. Matthews amazingly managed to put up 46 points in 36 games for his Swiss team Zurich SC. While that doesn’t sound super impressive without context, its’ quite amazing for a teenager to do against grown professionals.

At the 2016 draft the Leafs made their selection – Auston Matthews. Patrik Laine went second overall to the Winnipeg Jets. At this moment, these two players who were both drafted to Canadian teams, would become forever linked. In a way similar to the rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin, fans of both sides will argue to the death why one player is better than the other. And like Crosby and Ovechkin, it comes down to two very different types of players. The Elite Two-Way center who can carry a line, dominate possession, and make the players around him better (Matthews) Vs. the sharpshooting power forward with cannon shots and the ability to score from anywhere on the ice (Laine).

Production wise, these two forwards have had a remarkably similar start to their young careers. Here is a quick comparison:

Games Played        Goals        Assists        +/-

Matthews                     139                   70               53             23

Laine                             149                   79               53             16

Almost 150 games into their career they are posting nearly identical point totals. It couldn’t be scripted any better, save for a face off in the Stanley Cup finals. So did Toronto make the right decision? Of course they did! One must remember that Matthews has accomplished these insane numbers while centering the Leafs top line, a position much more defensively responsible and harder to learn than being a winger. In a vacuum, a similar center will always be more valuable to a team than his winger counterpart. That’s not to discredit Laine who is ripping wristers and one timers past goalies at an incredible 19% shooting percentage this season, not too mention in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy. But when you watch both players play, you see Matthews as a driver of offense, and Laine as more of a passenger. Matthews uses his beastly strength on the puck and stick handling skills to drive possession, and he’s no slouch in goal scoring himself, with a full season pace of over 40 goals once again. Laine relies much more on his teammates to set him up, and powerplay where he has more room to get his crazy shot off. Give me Matthews skill set every time. Fun fact – Auston Matthews has scored more even strength goals than any other player in the league since he was drafted, and that’s including the time he’s been injured. That’s how good he is. If (when) he can improve on the power play there is no telling what he’s capable of.

With the playoffs around the corner, both Auston and Patrik will be under immense pressure to perform, and I for one am really excited to see how it shakes out. The unlikely kid from Arizona Vs. the Finnish phenom. A rivalry that will no doubt follow their careers.

 

The Race For The Art Ross

As the NHL regular season approaches an end, there is a prestigious trophy still completely up for grabs. The Art Ross trophy. It is awarded to the NHL player who scores the most points in the regular season. It is a trophy that cements a player as one of the best in the business, and reserved for only the truly elite.

As it stands today, with approximately 6-7 games remaining, the top 4 scorers are only separated by 7 points between them. Third year phenom Connor McDavid leads the pack with 99 points on the season. If he were to hold this lead, he would be one of very few players to win the Art Ross trophy in back to back seasons – and the crazy thing is he hasn’t even entered his prime yet. Move over Sid, we have a new generational player ready to take the league by storm! Nobody has been able to handle the speed of McDavid since he entered the league. The amount of goals he has scored by simply blowing past the other team is staggering. He’s a human highlight reel.

In second and third place we have rising star Nikita Kucherov with 95 points, and the veteran Evgeni Malkin with 92. Both are benefiting from offense heavy teams in Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. They have a shot of catching up, but they are running out of games to do it. Having said that, both players teams have arguably the best power plays in the league, and all it takes is a hot streak to make up some ground.

Tied for third place with Malkin, we have Nathan MacKinnon. He is my wild card here. I think if anyone has a shot of catching McDavid, it’s him. He has been absolutely lights out this season for the Avalanche, and has carried them to a possible playoff series. Although MacKinnon is 7 points off the lead, he has managed to do this only playing 67 games due to injury, which is 9 games less then McDavid. He is a bull on the ice, and can score at will. If he keeps up his pace, it’s going to go to the wire.

No disrespect to Kucherov and Malkin, but I find what McDavid and MacKinnon have done to be more impressive for one simple reason. They are fighting for the Art Ross despite their teammates, rather than because of them. Kucherov has Stamkos and Hedman, and Malkin has Crosby and Kessel. Who do MacKinnon and McDavid have? The next highest scoring player on Colorado is Mikko Rantanen. For the Oilers, it’s Leon Draisaitl (who is over 30 points behind McDavid!). Oh what could have been with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. And just to hammer my point home, the Lightning as a team have scored 50 more goals than the Oilers. Put any other player in McDavid’s shoes and I’d be hard pressed to see them break 70 points let alone 100.

Here are my season end predictions for the top 10 players:

1. Connor McDavid 108 points

2. Nathan MacKinnon 105 points

3. Nikita Kucherov 102 points

4. Evgeni Malkin 99 points

5. Steven Stamkos 97 points

6. Claude Giroux 97 points

7. Anze Kopitar 95 points

8. Sidney Crosby 92 points

9. Blake Wheeler 91 points

10. Phil Kessel 91 points

It’s strange to see Crosby at 8 and Ovechkin and Kane not even listed. Three players that have been cemented in the top 10 for years, no chance of winning. But as the saying goes, “out with the old, and in with the new”.

Leafs Defense Can Put Up The Points

It feels like forever since the Leafs have deployed a respectable defensive corps. Old Leafs management went through a never ending carousel of acquired veteran defensemen that have come and gone. Some of the most notables include Mike Komosarek, Francois Beauchemin, John-Michael Liles and Stephane Robidas. These are the types of names that make you shudder. Those days are long gone now. Toronto has put together a defense lead by 24 year old Morgan Rielly, that can actually skate and make plays on both ends of the ice.

The leafs may not have an Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, or Victor Hedman putting up ridiculous points, but that doesn’t stop them from having one of the highest scoring defenses in the entire NHL. A big reason for that is a combination of good depth, and a breakout year from Morgan Rielly. He is currently sitting at 44 points, with Jake Gardiner a hair behind at 43 points. The biggest difference between the two – Rielly is facing much harder quality of competition. A surprisingly significant contribution to the Leafs scoring is the addition of Ron Hainsey with a respectable 22 points of his own. But more importantly, he has taken on the role of top pairing defenseman alongside Rielly, which has done wonders for Rielly’s game. Hainsey is the steady no-panic partner that Rielly has needed to hit the next level. As for Jake Gardiner…I like to compare him to Jekyll and Hyde. He’s always has a good offensive game driven by his elite skating. The problem with him is between the ears. One moment he makes a play that will leave you in amazement, followed by a play that will make you throw your T.V. remote across the living room. A little consistency would go a long ways for Jake, but at 27 years old, and what should be his prime, this is likely the best we will get from him.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Travis Dermott. Oh what a gem the Leafs have found here. Full marks to Hunter for trading back in the 2015 draft and selecting him #34 overall. His pro resume is short, yet impactful. This rookie already has 11 points and a +- of 14 in only 29 games!! Did I mention he has accomplished this playing with Roman Polak(gross) and Connor Carrick? Amazing. I have no doubt that this former Eerie Otter will be a successful top 4 defenseman on the leafs in no time. In fact, I could see him complimenting Morgan Rielly very well as soon as Hainsey’s age catches up with him. What makes Dermott so good, is his quick decision making with the puck, and outlet pass to the forwards. His excellent skating and offensive flare is just a bonus.

What can the Leafs defense improve upon? As it stands, the Leafs rank 12th place in goals against per game, and 25th in shots against per game. There is some opportunity here to tighten up defensively and limit the chances against. Andersen has been Vezina worthy since October and has faced the most shots in the entire NHL. Time to bring those down a tad. As Zaitsev remains sidelined with an illness, it means more Roman Polak unfortunately. I don’t think Polak is an NHL caliber player. He’s too slow and seems to do nothing but ice the puck and take bad penalties. All he is good for is killing penalties, and is he really THAT good at it? Not enough to warrant a roster spot in my opinion. Get well soon Zaitsev – it’s been a tough sophomore year for you but I know the potential is there.

My 2018 defense grades:

Morgan Rielly: A

Number 1 D on a contending team. Faces other teams top players, and leads the way in scoring.

Ron Hainsey: A-

A horse on the PK. Smart with the puck. Nothing fancy here but a steady partner.

Travis Dermott: A-

Loads of potential, already looks like he’s top 4 quality. No weaknesses I can see.

Jake Gardiner: B

Advanced stats say he’s top pairing material. The eye test leaves you wondering.

Nikita Zaitsev: B-

Shortened season so it’s tough to judge here, but he got off to an excellent start. Let’s see if he can bring it back for the playoffs.

Connor Carrick: C+

Decent with the puck offensively, but lacking the size and strength to take his defensive game to the next level.

Andreas Borgman: C+

Rookie year has been split between the Leafs and the Marlies. Showed spurts of NHL talent, and brings a combination of offense and physicality that the leafs lack.

Roman Polak: C-

You know where I stand here.

This week’s burning question: Come playoff time would you move Dermott up the lineup to play with Gardiner despite his lack of experience? Or leave him sheltered on the third line until he has proven more?

Zach Hyman: Love him or hate him?

Let’s talk about the controversial first line winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs – Zach Babcock…err I mean Hyman. There are three things that immediately come to mind when I think about this player. Hard work, good pro, stone hands. Since Zach has made a permanent spot on the Leafs, he has been stapled to the left side of our star center Auston Matthews. When I say stapled, I mean Auston has literally never started an NHL game without Hyman as his left winger. I remember the day the leafs signed prized free agent Patrick Marleau, and thought “Wow he is going to look great on our first line with Matthews and Nylander!”. Fast forward to the season opener, and there is Zach Hyman back on our first line. It’s no secret Babcock loves his meat and potato hard working players (see Dan Cleary in Detroit) but doesn’t a part of you wonder if Babcock is truly maximizing his rosters potential?

Let’s look at some stats. Some might actually surprise you! Currently Zach Hyman is sporting a 34 points through 70 games. This is only a .48 points per game average. Not great right? But wait! Let’s remember Hyman gets virtually zero power play time. All his accumulated points come at even strength or short-handed. So that made me wonder – how does his point totals compare when we remove power play points? Hyman’s 32 even strength points is shockingly tied for fourth place on the Leafs, with only the “big 3” Matthews, Marner and Nylander ahead of him.

This begs the question, is Hyman actually better offensively than we all thought? He is clearly producing on a 5v5 level which is all you can really ask. Having said that, I truly believe these numbers are quite inflated as a product of playing with two offensive stars. Since Matthews recent injury in which he’s missed 7 games, Hyman has only recorded a whopping 2 goals and 0 assists. This proves the point that although he’s been doing fine with Matthews, without him he’s likely a bottom 6 player. The man will recklessly skate full speed into a corner to get a puck, but I can’t count the amount of times the puck has died on his stick. Babcock has said before that he does not load all his offensive weapons on one line because there is not enough puck to go around. Fair point. Balanced scoring lines has worked amazingly so far and the Leafs are sitting comfortably in a playoff position. But then I see what Boston has done with loading up Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak and think about what could have been possible with Marleau or JVR on the top line.

At the end of the day, Hyman is a very useful player who coaches love because he competes hard, forechecks, and is responsible defensively. I think I was a little too hard him last year and the beginning of this one. But please Mike, would it kill you to throw him on the third line and try replacing him with a skilled winger?