Mitch Marner pushes blame on Leafs teammates in bad loss to Sharks

The Leafs forced me to stay up past midnight only to watch them fall apart in the third period against the Sharks. To make things worse, Mitch Marner decided to sound off on his injury-ridden defence core as a scapegoat.

The loss to the Sharks was unacceptable. Unbelievable goaltending from Jack Campbell goes wasted, Auston Matthews’ 46th goal of the season is overlooked, and a highlight-reel goal from Marner is overshadowed, all by this loss.

The last aspect, Marner’s through-the-legs ridiculous backhand goal being overshadowed is now all of his own doing:

Yup, the same player who has just three goals in his last fifteen games has decided to call out his teammates, including an injury-ridden D-core, after that bad loss to the Sharks. The very same player that crippled two powerplays with his poor puck control, as well as the 6-5 to end the game because he couldn’t receive a pass.

Marner wasn’t asked who is to blame for the Leafs loss in his post-game press conference, but he could have taken the opportunity in breaking down the loss (where he sewered his teammates) to put the blame on himself as a leader. Marner should have challenged himself and stuck up for his teammates ahead of a hugely crucial stretch of games in this playoff push, proving he is a team leader in an attempt to inspire some fight.

Again, after his summer hold out which led to an overpayment from Leafs management, Mitch Marner, the lauded hometown kid, is proving more than ever he is disconnected from the team, the fans, and everything Leafs Nation with his blame pushing.

Losses should be galvanizing, not polarizing for a team as young and promising as this iteration of the Leafs is. Marner is proving at an increasing rate that when you buy your own hype, you become deluded, and his lack of awareness around the team is becoming shockingly tone-deaf.

No deadline moves means Leafs in for summer blockbuster

Kyle Dubas made a few minor league deals on trade deadline day, but with elite help coming to the blueline, the Leafs have all but ensured they’re in for a summer blockbuster to shake up the roster.

Disclaimer: The proposed trade has no substantiation, however seeing as how the Leafs are cap-crunched, this move would help alleviate pressure and spread cap money out, as well. Also, a playoff push and post-season performance could quell all this talk.

To Toronto: Drew Doughty (2m retained), Adrian Kempe

To LA: Mitch Marner, 3rd round pick.

*a third team and deeper draft picks may come into play regarding cap/retained money

Why this trade makes sense for Toronto:

The team is heavily lopsided on top-6 offensive talent. They have also invested wisely in Alex Kerfoot ($3.5m), Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2m), and Andreas Johnsson ($3.4m) to immediately impact their center and wing depth. Mix in Adrian Kempe, a player who brings more skill and physicality to the ice and you have a solid core to make Marner’s loss feel less impactful.

As well, Egor Korshkov, Pierre Engvall, Jeremy Bracco, and the likely re-signed Ilya Mikheyev will all factor into the future of the Leafs winger depth, bringing youth and skill.

Mitch Marner is a generational talent and a hometown kid who has immense skill and vision on the ice. Why would Toronto want to get rid of him? Well, they wouldn’t, but when you include the addition of proven winner and leader (not to mention right-shot D) Drew Doughty, things change.

Doughty brings a lot of what Toronto is lacking on the back end and would be the perfect partner for Morgan Rielly, now and after he signs a long-term extension. He is 30, which gives pause considering his $11m cap hit extends through 2025, but elite defenseman can be serviceable into their mid to late 30s and beyond.

The case for LA:

Defence may win championships, but offence fills the seats. The hockey following in LA is pretty huge and loyal, but after a few seasons of underperforming, playoff-missing hockey hurts a team in a market that has multiple NFL teams, NBA teams, and MLB teams. Bringing a talent like Marner to the West Coast could kick start a rebuild for the Kings in a regressing Pacific division.

With Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter eating up over $11m of caps space and both players sitting at 35-years-old, there could be a pending retirement (likely for Brown over Carter) in the next few seasons which would free up some substantial cap space to make the retention as well as large Marner cap hit fit with total ease.

With Anaheim and San Jose both not looking all too exciting, LA has could springboard forward with the Marner acquisition by sacrificing their captain for his offensive pop. Doughty brings an edge to Toronto, Marner brings excitement to LA. Win-win, right?

Why the Leafs season-long adversity will define their season

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.

Bah, hum-(injury)-big!

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.

Good isn’t good enough for the Leafs in a ridiculous Eastern Conference

Have you seen the Eastern Conference standings recently? It’s completely fucked; the Leafs are a better-than-average team that was underperforming and they are logjammed out of a playoff spot. Good needs to be exceptional from here on out.

For those that haven’t checked, the Leafs sit tenth in the Eastern Conference with 34 points. That places them one point behind Florida (Panthers also have two games in hand) and two points behind Buffalo for the non-Boston reserved spot (46 points) atop the Atlantic Division.

If the Leafs fail to make it in the divisional race, you can pretty much forget about a wildcard berth. The Metropolitan Division is so competitive and so good that Pittsburg and Carolina have the 34 point Leafs (and Habs) on the outside looking in with their lofty 38 and 39 point totals.

This means the Leafs can’t just be good in order to get into the playoffs. As mentioned, the division is still very much up for grabs, however good needs to be exceptional in order for them to take the reins on a postseason position, and no, it isn’t too early in the season to be talking about this.

There are two really important aspects to the recent new-look Leafs that should help them along. Firstly, the Buds are 6-4 under Sheldon Keefe. This isn’t great, however, it is a bit of progression from the final ten games of the Babcock era where the team put up a 3-7 record including a six-game losing streak.

The other aspect that is going to help pull the Leafs to the next level of competitive play is that both the Matthews line and Tavares line are producing simultaneously, two games in a row. Against St. Louis, Matthews netted twice while Pontus Aberg and Nylander both tallied assists, and Mitch Marner had two assists to go along with two Zach Hyman goals. Again, against Vancouver Matthews scored his 19th of the season, as Tavares grabbed two goals, Hyman one, and Marner two assists again.

If the Leafs do build on their current two-win streak and get some momentum going their way, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are a team that can step up and make the playoffs. It would actually be a welcomed change, seeing as last season they started strong and faded, eventually limping into the playoffs.

Time for the big guns to keep it on the tracks and earn those big juicy contracts! The bottom-six has held up their end of the bargain so far this season and has helped keep the Leafs treading water during this highly intense season thus far, hopefully, the Keefe change and current momentum can be accelerants to the Leafs season.

Babcock’s rookie hazing was ridiculous and destructive to the team

With the Mike Babcock era over in Toronto, some information has come out regarding his tenure as head coach. How he handled Mitch Marner as a rookie is completely unacceptable.

The story from the Toronto Sun initially came out without specifics on who the player in question was, but as the story goes:

“Babcock was alleged to have asked one of the Leafsโ€™ rookies to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didnโ€™t have a strong work ethic. The rookie did so, not wanting to upset his coach, but was taken aback when Babcock told the players who had been listed at the bottom.”

Not only is this completely destructive when it comes to building a relationship between player and coach, but it’s also insanely self-defeating as it causes a rift between players on the same team! I have no idea where Babcock would have got this idea from but it’s not old school or new school coaching, it’s self-involved psychotic narcissistic behavior and it’s a blessing that he’s out of the team.

Ian Tulloch later confirmed on Twitter that the rookie in question was Mitch Marner. If the move wasn’t moronic enough, making your future star player the center of a dressing room controversy when he’d already been under the spotlight and scrutiny for his team-driving play and eventual monster contact shows that Babcock may have something severely wrong in his head.

Since he’s been gone (Kelly Clarkson reference), the Leafs have been envigorated in their two games under Keefe. The emotion is back, the raw skill is taking over, and the team doesn’t seem to quit. With the target of Babcock’s hazing (Mitch Marner) still out injured, he is clearly happy with the Buds’ turn of form and seems relieved to say the least.

I’ve never been one to actively cheer against someone or celebrate in their downfall, it’s just an unclassy thing to do. After Babcock’s firing watching Mike Commodore celebrate on Twitter or Jeff O’Neill continuously dance on his grave on TSN radio seemed like overkill. Now, however, I’m on their side.

Babcock has a Hall of Fame career behind him, that is indisputable. What is becoming more apparent, though, is that he also has a hell of a lot of skeletons in his closet that may surface sooner rather than later. It’s clear Babcock ruled with an iron fist in his own bubble world but with players no longer scared to speak out, his reputation could take a massive hit, rightfully so.

Leafs value forward will FINALLY shine on second line after early season flop

Losing Mitch Marner sucks. Yes, Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been awesome in November so far, and yes, the bottom-six is still pulling their weight for the team, but still losing an offensive catalyst blows, regardless of the team’s form.

That being said, there is a golden opportunity right now for a former Tavares line flop to reassert himself as a potential top-6 forward. Yes, Kasperi Kapanen will get a more realistic and fair chance to shine on the 1-A line for the Leafs tonight and can rewrite the ugly start to the season he had on this same unit.

Why was it so bad prior to his re-ascension up the lineup? Because, in the wake of Mike Babcock never going back on his coaching decisions or adapting to any real evidence of him failing, Kapanen was inappropriately deployed as a left-winger to fill in for the injured Zach Hyman.

Firstly, Kapanen is a right-winger and has built his career on speed and shooting. Playing on his off-wing essentially neutered his ability to impact the offense how he naturally does. Secondly, Kapanen, while big and rambunctious at times, is a ‘skill’ player. He likes blazing by defenders and letting a quick wrist shot go to beat the goalie. He isn’t a grinder and again Babcock set him up to play as such, which obviously again limited his effectiveness.

Tavares and Marner still got their points with Kapanen on their line, however, it was largely due to their top power playtime instead of 5 on 5 scoring. When Trevor Moore took over, a versatile winger who can play both sides and grinds in the corners like Hyman, the line picked up their play and things were looking up.

Now, with Marner out, two thirds of that elite line will be back together again. Zach Hyman is back in the lineup on the left side of John Tavares presumably, and Kasperi Kapanen will replace Marner on the right side. It only makes sense, and should actually be effective. Hyman gets in the dirty areas, Tavares sets up the play, Kapanen uses his shooting to finish it.

This set up is much more advantageous to all parties and should help limit the loss of Marner to the best of the team’s ability. If Babcock over thinks this and decides to shuffle his bottom-6 and Tavares then he’s gone off the rails. Put Petan in Kapanen’s spot, insert Hyman and if he needs a minutes break, he can elevate Moore to the second line leftwing. On paper, this looks like an effective team… let’s hope paper translates to ice.

Inexcusable mistake from a $10.893 million Maple Leafs player

Mitch Marner giveth, and Mitch Marner taketh away. His shot from the slot on Saturday night had Leafs nation pumped up, but his overtime stupidity cost them a point two days later.

A day and a few hours after shooting home the Auston Matthews pass off of Morgan Rielly to win the overtime game against the Bruins, Marner wasted the opening game of a back-to-back with Frederik Andersen in net for the Leafs. His mental lapse saw him grab the puck in the crease resulting in a penalty shot which was converted by Gustav Nyqvist.

Against Columbus on Monday night, Mitch Marner started his evening with a beautiful backhand saucer pass to Kasperi Kapanen, short-handed, to open the Leafs scoring on the evening. He showed why the Leafs opt for speed and skill on the PK on this play and appeared to be off to a strong start in the game.

Fast forward to overtime and Marner was sitting at just one assist, -1 rating, 2 penalty minutes, and 2 shots on goal. Not exactly the Hollywood performance we expected from Mitch “I can drive a line on my own” Marner.

To top it all off, Marner followed in his PK partner’s footsteps and completely shit the bed in overtime. Instead of throwing a broken stick at the opposing player for a two-minute minor, Marner completely reversed the ridiculous burst of saved Andersen made by covering the puck with his glove in the crease while swimming on the ice.

This rewards a penalty shot, which we know in 2019, and Andersen was scored on by Nyqvist to end the game. How the action of closing his hand on the puck in the crease being an option for Marner is astounding simply because of who he is. His fans constantly talk about him seeing the game differently and being a step ahead of his opposition, but how can you make any of these claims this season and especially after that mistake last night?

Kapanen throwing his stick? Stupid but I expect mental lapses from a $3.2 million player. Marincin getting backed into his own goalie and not helping defend a shot in close? Something I assume will happen with a $700k player once in a while. But to jeopardize the entire game, in overtime, because you can’t stay focused enough to make a right play (or just not make the worst play), it’s inexcusable for a $10.893 million dollar player.

Hats off to Marner, his dad, and his agent. So far it seems like they’ve rinsed the Leafs and Dubas on this deal. Is this too hyperbolic of criticism on a player for the first ten games of the season? Not when you threaten to sit out unless you get paid like a top-10 player in the league. Be better, Marner.

In case of emergency hammer “the Money Line”

The Maple Leafs officially have a new line to boast. Not since the skyline of Ponikarovsky – Antropov – Nieuwendyk and the introduction of “the skyline” has there been a solid unit name… until now.

Before “the Skyline”, which was given to Ponikarovsky – Antropov – Nieuwendyk because they were all above 6′ tall, has there been a nicknamed line for the Leafs. Before them, “The Hound Line” was made up of Wendel Clark – Russ Courtnall – Gary Leeman and given this name due to their grinding play style as well as their history playing with the Notre Dame Hounds.

Flash forward to now and the Leafs have a new line nickname… well, kind of. Against the Minnesota Wild last night, we saw something exciting happen, a glitch in the Matrix even. A broken line change left Matthews on the ice with John Tavares and Mitch Marner. What ensued was a pretty passing play and a goal seconds after the trio was united.

Sure, it wasn’t on purpose but the offensive excellence (despite some slow starts) on the ice was undeniable and proved to be impactful, too. It probably pissed off Babcock to no end that Trevor Moore, Tavares and Marner’s new LW, wasn’t able to make the ice but there may be a new tactic born out of this mistake.

I present to you… “The Money Line”. Not only a gambler’s risk, “the Money Line” is an appropriate nickname for the three-man unit whose salary cap hit equals $33.527 million dollars. Mike Babcock’s emergency offensive lifeline.

Don’t expect to see this unit link up often, but when an offensive spark is needed, Mike Babcock has a pretty solid trump card in his pocket: deploy “the Money Line” and watch the goals pour in. It’s not a bad idea to have an emergency back up play and Babcock certainly has that in this expensive but oh so talented line.

Please send all cash endorsements and claims to the Rival Sports for the creation of this awesome nickname.

The best of Leafs Twitter following the 4-2 Wild walloping

The Leafs have strung together two wins in a row now and are looking to keep the momentum going after handling the Minnesota Wild easily on Tuesday night. Here are the highlights from Leafs Twitter.

Morgan’s historic night! Morgan Rielly chased down Rick Vaive with his four-assist period, tying the most assists in a single frame in leafs history. I looked it up, he was four assists away from the most in NHL history (8) which was done four times, three of those by Wayne Gretzky.

Mike Babcock made a change to his lines midgame! Annnnnnd, it wasn’t moving Nylander to the third line center position! It’s a massive move because it shows an old dog can learn new tricks with Kasperi Kapanen returning (and exploding) to the right wing with Trevor Moore player LW beside Tavares and Marner. A stunning turn of events proved the fans were actually right. Congrats, us.

Auston Matthews was all around the net in the first period but had nothing to show for it. He eventually broke through when he, Marner, and Tavares all ended up on the ice for what I would like to call, “the Money Line”. A drop back pass – > a slap pass -> a tip – > a goal. This goal meant 5-on-5 scoring for Marner and another drop in the goal bucket for Matthews in a ridiculous October.

You just knew as soon as the pregame breakdown brought up Jerry Mayhew’s NHL debut something good was going to happen for the kid. Not only was he allowed to take the ceremonial first lap of his NHL career in the hockey Mecca of Toronto, Mayhew, of course, bagged his first NHL goal after Anderson kept the Wild off the scoresheet for the better part of two periods. Need to set a record, break a slump, or get your first goal/win/shutout? Come to Toronto! …I feel ya, Marlanderthews.

To close it out, Morgan Rielly took home the Raptors game ball for his four-assist performance on the night. He played really well in this game defensively and provided much more beyond his four helpers. He proved last season that he can be a top offensive defenseman in the league, tonight he showed he can also reign in the defensive side of his game which has been direly needed.

With much more going on, and a lot more crude commentary on the Leafs slapping the Wild, let this be a jumping-off point for anyone not heavily invested in Leafs Twitter. Sure, it’s usually a vile site but when the Leafs are winning no one’s upset!

Why the Leafs new-look power play will be historic in 2019/20

Players gone and new coaches brought in. To say the Leafs special teams needed extra work to get it right this season would be an understatement, but so far so good for the new-look Leafs power play.

It’s a lot more complicated than Steve Dangle summed up in his most recent YouTube video on the topic. Sure, the Leafs “just switched” Matthews and Marner in the diamond PP set up, but there is more going on in the new set up for the Leafs overpowered special team unit.

To start from the top, the Leafs have revamped their top power play unit for the season. Last year, Morgan Rielly patrolled the blueline as the high man, Auston Matthews was anchored on the left-wing as the one-time option, Nazem Kadri was the bumper man in the middle, John Tavares was the screen/tip man in close, and Mitch Marner operated the rightwing but also roamed as the free playmaker.

This year the set up is similar with a few tweaks that are proving bigger than the sum of their parts. Matthews and Marner have swapped wings, Tavares is now the bumper man in the high slot, and Andreas Johnsson is in the crease taking Tavares’ previous position and filling Kadri’s roster gap.

The first three games have seen Matthews notch two goals, Marner one, and Nylander one on the second unit. Both of Matthews’ goals have come on ridiculous releases that saw Anderson and Korpisalo look helpless when feigning the ability to stop them. Against the Senators, a recovered offensive zone draw freed Marner to no-look spin pass to Matthews on the rightwing. His offhandedness cut down on time between pass and shot, handcuffing the goalie further.

Matthews’ second PP goal of the season came against Columbus, moments after scuffing two chances from the leftwing. Once flipped back to his inverted side, Matthews took the feed from Rielly and placed a wicked wrist shot off the back bar of the net. Again, the inside angle from his left shot gave him the leverage and release point to score both goals.

Marner and Tavares also have new roles in the team. Marner is still the roaming wide man, but he has a responsibility to shoot more often now on the leftwing. His goal was created by working with newly positioned Tavares in the high slot on a one-two pass and shoot play. Giving the puck to Tavares, a fine shooter himself, forced Korpisalo to commit to the pass. When it was returned to Marner the net was open for the one-timer goal.

The Leafs new power play has developed into a three-headed monster instead of a one-dimensional shooting set up. Don’t get it twisted, the primary option is still to have Matthews unleash his shot, but getting Tavares into a more dangerous shooting area and inverting Marner as well forces opposition penalty kill lines to spread coverage to try and limit all three shots.

Johnsson is more or less a body to screen shots and mix it up in the crease. He is extremely replaceable in this role with Ilya Mikheyev a likely option considering his size and hands in close. Rielly, on the other hand, is the quarterback and mastermind on the top unit. Barrie offers another option for this position but there is no need to take Rielly off the top unit due to his chemistry with his linemates and ability to chip in offensively as good as any of his teammates.

Skill tends to trump the shot in modern-day NHL hockey, but the Leafs commitment to setting up a mid-zone trio of lethal shooters in Matthews, Tavares, and Marner will yield unheard of power play tallies this season.