This is the most unlikable, embarrassing Maple Leafs team

The Leafs just lost a home game to the Carolina Hurricanes with a 42-year-old AHL Zamboni driver in net for the Canes. This is a new rock bottom for the team, after the most embarrassing regular-season loss, maybe ever.

The Leafs weren’t playing good enough after the first period in this game. A lucky bounce found Alex Kerfoot backdoor for a sneaky goal, but with starter James Reimer out and Petr Mrazek coming in cold off a back-to-back, things were looking up.

Fast-forward and now, Mrazek gets decked by Clifford and is knocked out of the game, Brett Pesce is also knocked out of the game, and AHL Zamboni driver, David Ayers is now in goal for Carolina. The Hurricanes pushed their lead to 4-1 on a remarkably quick burst in the second, but back-to-back shots from Tavares and Engvall went in on Ayers putting the Leafs back within one heading into the third.

What followed was the biggest pants shitting I’ve ever seen. Put every player out to face the media as well as the coach because the Leafs genuinely failed to put together a genuine effort in a game that was more than in-hand DEEP in a playoff race.

No shots, no chances, no effort, no puck battling, no anything. This team sucked in HD tonight and allowed, and I absolutely do mean to be repetitive here, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver shut them out in the third period.

Two goalies down, a top-defenseman out injured mid-game, and the Leafs couldn’t muster enough presence to hold possession and get shots on net. The embarrassing third period was punctuated with the world NHL powerplay I’ve ever seen. Four Hurricanes players standing on the blueline completely shut down the PP in this game, but legitimately sacred the Leafs into tripping and falling over themselves in the third period.

Good lord, this team tests me. I will be a Leaf fan for the rest of my life and will never give that up. That being said, this group of players lacks character, hard-work, and any sort of leadership. That includes John Tavares who, alongside Mitch Marner, has been an absolute zero this season.

This team deserves every boo they get after this. They aren’t good enough in any way and this embarrassing loss highlights why. They deserve the boos, they deserve the eventual playoff miss, they deserve the criticism over their play, and they deserve the speculation of a roster blow up in the offseason after this exposing, unacceptable loss.

Three Leafs perfect in bounce-back win over Penguins

Effort should always be there at a minimum, but the Leafs have shown recently that effort isn’t a given. Thankfully, thanks to performances by three players, the Buds rebounded and are aiming to keep momentum moving forward.

Kasperi Kapanen

Don’t put Kappy in a corner. With trade speculation including his name (and Andreas Johnsson’s prior to his injury), Kapanen put in a marquee performance against the Pens. Yes, he scored the third goal, his twelfth of the season, on a second period breakaway but his general effort levels are what caught my eye.

Kapanen was in on every puck battle, was using his straight-line speed to his advantage, and wanted in on every opportunity to break the puck out or pin the Pens deep on the forecheck. The goal was the cherry-on-top to an inspiring effort that pushed the team forward.

Frederick Andersen

No one needed a win, let alone a shut out, more than Frederick Andersen. Not up to his generally Vezina-quality form in the past month, Andersen has also been feeling the pressure of a motivated Jack Campbell pushing him from the backup goalie spot.

Andersen is obviously the way forward for the Leafs when it comes to individual performances. Of course, everyone needs to pitch in for success, but Andersen has the ability to steal games for the Leafs and shutting out Malkin, Crosby and the Penguins will do wonders for his confidence.

Campbell will still factor in down the stretch with back-to-back duty as well as scheduled rest regardless of the Leafs clinching or fighting for the playoffs. Still, Andersen is obviously a lynchpin in the Leafs success this season and will take this resounding win and move forward.

Jake Muzzin

The best is left for last as Jake Muzzin had arguably his best night as a Leafs last night. He scored, he assisted, he shut down an elite offence, and he threw his weight around. It was the perfect night for Muzzin, and this type of performance is exactly what he needed especially after his recent comments.

You better be the one propelling the team forward when you’re demanding more effort from your teammates, and Muzzin did just that. He was right to call out the team (likely including himself) because every player on the roster can and should be playing better.

With a pending contract extension for Muzzin on the books after the trade deadline, it’s clear he’s a locker room and on-ice leader for the Leafs, regardless of jersey lettering or not. With huge hits to the back end, Muzzin has been a rock and will be relied on to continuously be one for the remainder of the season.

It’s early, but the Leafs may really have something here…

The sample size is small, but the Leafs’ acquisition of Jack Campbell to solve their backup goalie issue may already be a home run and could be a grand slam in the future.

We all knew the Leafs would need an upgrade on the backup goalie this season, despite Michael Hutchinson’s brief revival under Sheldon Keefe. Was Hutchinson really playing better with a new coach, or is it more likely that the team was playing on their own strengths, shoring up team-play, opposed to playing in a system that didn’t work?

I would guess the latter, which means that Jack Campbell was walking into a better system than Hutchinson did when he joined the Leafs. Regardless, Campbell is proving through three games that he has the ability to give a save when the team needs it, and will the Leafs to at least a point.

Stats wise, it’s a solid start for Campbell. In his three games with the Leafs, his GAA is 2.52 and he’s posted a save percentage of .918%. These are both improvements on his stats from his 20 games played for the Kings – 2.85 GAA, .900 sv%. For reference, league average GAA and sv% are 2.83 and .909% this season.

The most important stat, though? The 2-0-1 record he’s posted – all games going into overtime with two wins secured. The overtime loss came at the hands of Toronto’s poor defensive play, and if you’ve watched any of the Leafs overtime performances this season it’s an understatement to say they gamble and hang their goalie out to dry pretty regularly.

With his contract at $1.2m for two more seasons after 2019/20, Campbell, 27, could be a massive asset to the Leafs as tough decisions loom on two “A” goalie prospects in Joseph Woll and Ian Scott, and more importantly with the contract of Frederik Andersen expiring after the 2020/2021 season.

At the worst, Campbell provides the Leafs with contract term and value, stability in his play, youth (for a goalie), and team chemistry, as all reports would suggest. He’s young, hungry, and able to step in to take starting minutes should Andersen need time off. It’s early, yes, but the Leafs may really have something with Jack Campbell.

Three lesser-known Leafs Prospects TEARING up the ECHL

The use of the ECHL as a depth league for player development has really been embraced by Kyle Dubas’ Leafs team. The success of the team shows the usefulness of this team and has a few hidden gems to get excited about, too!

For reference, the Newfoundland Growlers are currently 35-11-0-1 on the season, including a huge home winning streak in this, their ECHL Championship season after toppling the opposition in pretty ridiculous fashion last season. Here are three young, exciting prospects to get hyped about:

Angus Redmond – Goalie

The Langley BC Native has strung together quite the season for the Growlers, stepping up from behind the more well-known Maksim Zhukov to steal some starts. Of his fourteen appearances this season, twelve have been starts and Redmond is 12-0 on the year.

His growing sample size put some meat behind his ridiculous stats. Currently, Redmond is sitting at a .916 S% with a 2.41 GAA. Those aren’t necessarily Vezina winning numbers, but in the ECHL the skill level varies massively, and with it, the scores generally are a little inflated. Redmond’s ability to backstop the Growlers to wins (exclusively) is nothing to shake a stick at.

The 25-year-old is proving the adage about goaltender development is still right – goalies generally need more time to develop. That being said, the three-year ECHL goaltender is finding his stride in the well-structured Newfoundland Growlers organization.

Aaron Luchuk – Forward, C

Possibly recognizable as an asset acquired in the Nikita Zaitsev – Cody Ceci trade, Aaron Luchuk is proving to be A LOT more than just an add-in piece to an NHL deal. The point-producing center has always been able to generate offense in his minor league career, scoring 50+ points in four consecutive seasons in the OHL split between Windsor and Barrie.

He managed 22 points in 32 games for the Brampton Beast (ECHL) last season but has exploded on the Newfoundland scene this year. With 47 points in 41 games, 18 goals and 29 assists, Luchuk has a 1.15 ppg. At just 22-years-old, it’s clear Luchuk has a role within the Leafs system and will likely graduate to the Marlies either this season for the playoff push or in the near future.

With center depth lacking organizationally but not a massive need on the Leafs current roster, Luchuk has the systematic support to marinade and develop at a natural and unrushed pace, which should help him develop, hopefully, into an NHL player.

Justin Brazeau – Forward, RW

Maybe the most well-known prospect on the Growlers’ team, Justin Brazeau was signed to a two-year deal last season as an over-ager coming out of the North Bay Battalion in the OHL. Last year, Brazeau had 113 points in 68 games, a strong follow to his 75 point season a year prior.

Brazeau has kept up his goal-scoring abilities in the ECHL with 40 points in 44 games played, giving him a .91 ppg. Of his 40 points, Brazeau is spreading the puck around well, too, with 18 goals and 22 assists splitting his production.

There is no question that Brazeau can put the puck in the net, but the criticism on Brazeau is his skating ability. Playing against older prospects and players in the ECHL, Brazeau can develop this and push forward to the Marlies eventually. At just 22-years-old, Brazeau has plenty of time to focus on his player development and grow into a more complete player.

 

Kyle Clifford gives awesome Twitter update after trade to Leafs!

The Leafs have brought in some much-needed grit to their lineup with the addition of Kyle Clifford. He may have been a throw-in player for the Kings, but Clifford is clearly happy to be home and will be a key piece moving forward!

Hometown is a little bit of a stretch, but Kyle Clifford is technically coming home after his move from the LA Kings in a three-player (two pick) deal with the Maple Leafs. Clifford, born in Ayr, Ontario, grew up a Leafs fan just an over an hour away from the City, and judging by his reaction on Twitter, he is more than excited to be back home!

Yes, that is Kyle Clifford’s verified Twitter account with the image being the Maple Leafs logo. And, yes that is totally awesome. He did this with the Kings, too, the team he is sentimentally connected to after being drafted by them in the second round of the 2009 draft and playing parts of ten NHL seasons with them.

The important part of this tweet was the last sentence – “Excited to be coming home.” Not only are players looking at Toronto as an attractive destination because the team is strong, but hometown players are finally wanting to return here with Clifford joining Tavares a few years prior.

It’s always important to trade for and sign good players but it’s equally important to have players that want to be playing for the team – contract value aside. Clifford is one of these players. He’ll bring physicality, a little bit of offense, and some much-needed team toughness with the Leafs, on this the final year of his deal, buying into the system and helping the team grow.

The Kings are eating half of his $1.6m cap hit on the final year of his 5-year contract, making the player attainable and cap-friendly to Dubas and Co. This playoff push and potential playoff run will be Clifford’s tryout for the team next year and/or his platform for free agency in the offseason.

Welcome aboard and welcome home, Clifford. Leafs Nation is as excited to have you as you are to be here!

Dubas walks line between patient and swift in deal for Leafs reinforcements

Well, that didn’t take long! After back-to-back losses to crucial conference competition Kyle Dubas wastes NO time in pulling the trigger to alleviate two issues in the current Leafs team. On paper, he’s hit another home run (or two!).

Jack Campbell:

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. So many people were looking at Michael Hutchinson and suggesting that the Leafs would need to massively cut through their active roster and/or prospect pool to get in someone like Georgiev to replace him, but no one thought a sensible move for Jack Campbell would be on the cards.

Where Dubas showed patience with this move is in his treatment of Hutchinson since Sheldon Keefe had taken over. The firing of Mike Babcock was an emphatic slam on the reset button. This alleviated a ton of pressure on the likes of Mitch Marner, Tyson Barrie, and William Nylander, but also Hutchinson, who had a very prominent atrocious start to the year.

Since Keefe came in, Hutchinson went 4-4 in games he appeared in, including three relief appearances that were all chalked up losses when he entered, other than the Florida game this week. As a starter, he was 4-1 and looked to be the right man for the job, on the whole.

Where Dubas was swift in his decision to make a trade was by pulling the trigger post-New York loss. Hutchinson took the third period off against Florida in a must-win game and he couldn’t come up with a save against the Rangers when the team needed him. With Anderson sidelined and a Friday-Saturday back-to-back coming up this weekend, it was now or never. The Leafs aren’t out of the playoff hunt in the slightest and Dubas’ move for Campbell ensures this.

Campbell joins the Leafs having played in 20 games this season, posting an 8-10-2 record on the awful Kings this season. Despite the team’s play, he still posted a 2.85 GAA and a 0.900 S% this season. At 27-years old, Campbell seemingly passed up the likes of Jonathan Quick in LA, who the Kings are committed to, so was delt to acquire assets in a rebuild. It’s a big upgrade for the Leafs, who have a goalie, now, who will act as a solid backup while actually pushing Anderson for games down the stretch.

Kyle Clifford:

An olive branch to those who want more grit, truculence, and abject violence in this Leafs team. After watching Zach Hyman get served by Jacob Trouba and John Tavares try his bet to get physical at the end of the Rangers game, Kyle Clifford is a welcomed addition to this Leafs team which is far more “speed and skill” than it is “physical and violent.”

This graphic from TSN’s First Up with Lansberg and Colaiacovo tells the tale pretty well. Kyle Clifford brings the physical edge to the bottom unit the Leafs have needed for quite some time. He’ll keep the opponents on their toes like a Ryan Reeves or Zach Kassian, he’ll chip in with some offensive talent, and he’ll provide a different element to team play.

As mentioned, he can add some offense, albeit in a limited sense. This season, Clifford has scored six goals and added eight assists in 52 games. This isn’t ‘Rocket Richard’ level of production, but it makes the addition of a bruiser, not a net loss when it comes to offensive production, too.

Dubas patiently allowed Trevor Moore to come back from his lengthy concussion layoff and gave him five games to make an impact. Moore failed to score and had a -2 rating over this stretch, matching his slumping season where he’s scored just three goals and two assists this year.

Moore is a hard worker, small, skilled forward who is destined for a role on the bottom-six, with upside to move up the lineup in a pinch. Unfortunately for him, the Leafs have many players who fit this model and also have Jeremy Bracco and Nick Robertson who look to fill this position in the future. Dubas’ decision to move on from Moore at an instant to get Clifford in the deal shows his willingness to overlook history and fond feelings to improve the team, while also sending Moore back to California, where he’s from, to ease the move as a silver lining.

Overall, the Leafs received a better backup goalie with the potential to sign him for future seasons and added a physical, player-protecting enforcer all for the cost of Trevor Moore, San Jose’s 3rd round pick, and a conditional third-round pick. Great value for the price paid. Kyle Dubas has done it again, bolstered the team early to gel the players, increase their impact with more time left in the season, and operating prior to the trade market being set near the deadline. Another home run for the GM.

The Leafs loss to the Panthers has me acting like Kombucha Girl

If you’re unfamiliar, Kombucha Girl is shown in the GIF below drinking the vinegary, sweet drink and going back and forth on if it’s good or not. After watching the game last night… same, girl.

Image result for kombucha girl gif"

Ugh, Gross: Nothing like dominating the game and giving up the first goal anyways on the second shot of the night, eh? The Leafs looked settled, motivated, hungry, and yet, a goal down 11:30 into the game. It had been all Leafs up to that point but as fate usually has it, a Mark Pysyk shot fools Anderson and the Leafs are down. Bitter, even vinegary, way to start the game.

Wait a minute…: Open those eyes, lady! A strong second period has me feeling all sorts of sweet! John Tavares finally scored and got the monkey off his back. He still looked pretty awful and sluggish in the game but a goal is good for his mentality, and if you’re scoring while you’re sucking, imagine how many you’ll pot when you’re actually playing good?!

Goals by Nylander and Matthews made it three unanswered for the Buds and with a little less than the full 20 minutes of the third left to play, it looked like cruise control for the Leafs. Yes, Anderson was booted from the game, but Hutchinson has looked alright recently so why not just have some faith?

No, no, no: I swear the Leafs players should get cuts out of every mediocre nobody player who shows up against the “high-flying, offense juggernaut Leafs team” and has a career night. Mark Pysyk was the guy who decided to go Gretzky on this occasion and completely blew the Leafs out of the water.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman chipped in goals, but Pysyk’s empty-netter hattrick saw the Panthers cap a four-goal third period and completed the comeback in a game where they were dead in the water.

Well, maybe it’s not THAT bad…: So, is Hutch bad again? Is the D-Core strong enough to contend down the stretch? Can the Leafs overcome losing to divisional opponents? Is this a playoff team? All good questions. The honest answer? I have no idea, but I do have opinions… all of which mimic kombucha girl even more!

Is Hutchinson a good enough back up? Nope, the Leafs should be looking to upgrade and should be prioritizing a move for a goalie over a defenseman. Georgiev anyone?

Is the D-Core good enough? Yes! Rasmus Sandin was awesome last night, Jake Muzzin was great, Barrie was okay, Ceci was fine, Dermott wasn’t great but has been solid this year, and Rielly is still out. Lot’s more positives in this group than negatives.

Can the Leafs overcome dropping points to divisional opponents? There are thirty games left in the schedule. Have the Leafs put themselves behind the 8-ball by playing terribly against the Panthers? Of course, but there is a LOT of hockey left. Just win games.

Is this a playoff team? 1000% it is. Look at the Blue Jays for years throughout the 2000s. They played in the AL East, a notoriously tough division, and lost out because of it, left to scrap for a wildcard spot. Those teams were better than their record suggested and the same goes for the Leafs.

Man William Nylander is so overpaid, right? … Right?!?

People actually still think this. They live among us. They comment on the same posts you do on Facebook and Twitter! It’s crazy to think about it because he’s out-producing his contract value more and more as the season goes on.

Last night Nylander hit the 23-goal mark, a level he’s never hit before. Just as a reminder, people were upset and asking for Kyle Dubas to be fired because he was paying his star players on projected numbers rather than rewarding them for what they’ve already done.

His goal totals by NHL season are as follows:

  • 2015/2016: 6 goals in 22 games
  • 2016/2017: 22 goals in 81 games
  • 2017/2018: 20 goals in 82 games
  • 2018/2019: 7 goals in 54 games
  • 2019/2020: 23 goals in 50 games*
    *indicates season still ongoing

His 23rd goal of the season last night puts him on pace for just under 38 goals this season, and at $6.9 million that is an absolute bargain. You have to take into consideration as well that William Nylander has had a sort of renaissance since the firing of Mike Babcock, a coach who notably hated playing Nylander and would punish him by demoting him midgame.

So, why is Nylander performing much better this season than he had in the past? Well because he changed his number to 88 obviously. He’s a new-age Eric Lindros and the Leafs have this goal-scoring physical wrecking crew on the books for four more seasons after this, so things are looking up.

In all seriousness, there are two reasons I can see: he’s grown up and matured, and he’s now playing with John Tavares. His maturity seemingly took a big step forward after last season’s playoff run ended. The team needed to be better, and for whatever reason, Nylander took that on himself. He rebranded with a new number, he extended an olive branch to the fanbase that soured on him over his holdout by coving the cost of jersey restitching, and he took the World Hockey Championships seriously, using the tournament as a jumping-off point for his new commitment to hockey.

Moving to Tavares’ line cannot be understated in why Nylander has developed into a more threatening and complete player. Complete in the sense that he is more consistent offensively – I’m not going to try and argue he’s a defensive beast or anything like that. Tavares gets into the hard spots on the ice and wins puck battles in deep, freeing up time and ensuring possession for the lethal sniper that Nylander is.

Tavares’ grinding style of hockey is more predictable than Auston Matthews’ and this surely benefits the more creative Nylander to be the unpredictable element on the unit. He’s also thrived on a line that has seen different forwards factor in at leftwing, so clearly it’s all about how he and his centerman work together.

People are going to hate Nylander regardless of his offensive output. Probably because they can’t get over that he held out against their team, or because they’re jealous of his long hair and timeless good looks. It doesn’t matter because Nylander is a legit superstar and his long-term status at the club is nothing but a positive for Leafs Nation and a gold star on Kyle Dubas’ resume.

Should the Leafs trade for Jake Gardiner?

The Leafs were exposed defensively against Connor McDavid’s and the Edmonton Oilers. With the playoff push intensifying and the trade deadline approaching, should the Leafs go to the well and liberate Jake Gardiner.

Personally, no. Jake Gardiner is a serviceable defenseman when you look at his career stats, but the aforementioned well is now poisoned for the Brian Burke signee. I don’t know why he’d want to come back, either. The fanfare in Toronto is unparalleled for success, but Gardiner knows how crushing it can be when you’re the epicenter of the failure.

His atrocious playoff performances only bolster the “no” opinion on this potential trade, too. Gardiner was, as mentioned, at the center of the awful game seven performance by the Leafs against Boston. He was -3 on the game and actively contributed to the Bruin’s dominant offensive zone possession and freedom to dictate play in the Leafs zone.

If the Leafs are considering a move for a defenseman, it should be one with a stout defensive playoff record and not a gambling pseudo-offensive defenseman who doesn’t prioritize defense first. We have that in Cody Ceci and if the Leafs are looking to add a defenseman it’ll be at his sacrifice.

A few names to circle that fit the mold of veteran, NHL proven, playoff performers are Sami Vatanen in New Jersey (last year on deal; more offensive option), Alec Martinez from LA (year and a half on contract), and Josh Manson from Anaheim (signed through 2022, has modified NTC).

Any package the Leafs would put together for these players, specifically those with term on their deal, would have to be substantial and would also likely have to include Cody Ceci to make back the cap hit of these players. More importantly, it would be prospects and picks headed in the other direction.

Jeremy Bracco is the name many people have circled as the first to go. He is seemingly the Leafs best prospect on the Marlies right now, but has regressed this season in his ppg compared to his breakout season last year. He is a skilled winger which makes him expendable for the Leafs and has the potential to be a lethal scorer in the NHL. Nick Robertson’s emergence and development should make Bracco movable, too.

There is no pressure to panic into a move now, but Kyle Dubas did get out in front of the defensive issues of the Leafs last season by buying Jake Muzzin from LA in January, so an early move could be expected to avoid other teams setting the market. Of the names mentioned here, the right-shot 6’3″ Josh Manson is my pick. He would be an impact signing now, is controllable, and is a build-around piece for the future as well!

The rise of Pierre Engvall makes injured Leafs star trade bait

Don’t look now, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are the hottest team in the NHL right now and it’s not without adversity. With injuries making an impact, the team’s depth has stepped up and held strong.

Capping off a brilliant play from Kasperi Kapanen, Pierre Engvall calmly and assertively finished a one-handed dangle pass from the Fin to put the Leafs ahead and eventually win it for the Buds against the steady Islanders. The 23-year-old Swedish forward has looked the part after ascending to the Show on November 19th.

He’s played in 21 games this season since his debut, and in that time has quietly put up ten points (six goals, four assists) and is up to a +6 rating on the year. His play has clearly impressed his former AHL coach and current NHL coach, too as his TOI has jumped from an average of 9:40/game in his first five games to 13:40/game in his most recent five games.

Sheldon Keefe uses the third line as a carrot on a stick for his depth players; perform when called up on the bottom unit, and your ice time will increase as you rise through the lineup. We saw it with Conor Brown, Trevor Moore, and now Engvall, with Mason Marchment hopeful to follow suit.

With Trevor Moore, Ilya Mikheyev, and Andreas Johnsson both injured and out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, both Engvall and Marchment have received the call to fill out the bottom-six. Engvall’s ease into the lineup and chemistry with Kasperi Kapanen (and any Marlies former teammate) has him the likely candidate to remain once Johnsson and Moore do come back.

The question then must be asked, should the Leafs look to improve elsewhere on the team by sacrificing Johnsson or another solidified forward? Engvall has shown the depth can take the step up from the AHL level, along with Dmytro Timashov, Mason Marchment, and Justin Holl.

Ultimately there isn’t any pressure on Dubas to make a move right now, the defense is playing better than ever and the backup goalie just got a shutout for his third consecutive win. Engvall represents the area in which the Leafs can afford to cut ties on high-ish contract players to beef up elsewhere. Nothing seems imminent, but come deadline time don’t be surprised…