What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting the Leafs to Lose
It’s been a while since I’ve put my Leafs thoughts to pen and paper… or I guess to keys and blog (what an ambitious run the “Blue and White Blog” had from September 2019 to October 2019). But a gut wrenching loss like last night’s is enough to get a reluctant old desperado to take to the saddle and get back into the ring.
To be fair last night’s loss wasn’t Toronto’s most embarrassing loss. That can be attributed to November 16’s horrid 6-1 drubbing to a banged up Pittsburgh squad. But I’d argue that last night’s game was the worst loss of the season.
While calling last night’s game “the worst loss of the season” may seem like hyperbole, consider a blown 3-1 third period lead in a key game against a division rival in the heat of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Toronto outshot Florida 34-21 and completely drove play from start to finish yet still lost to a Florida without Barkov in the lineup and gave up a hat trick to Mark “Who?” Pysyk. We also had to watch Freddy Andersen–arguably the most important player on this team–go down in a heap. Just nauseating.
While the Leafs were carrying play and controlling the puck from the jump–I don’t know if you heard but this William Nylander guy is something special–this loss highlighted Toronto’s most glaring holes: goalie depth and a defense that doesn’t tighten up when they don’t have an all world goalie behind them (and Cody Ceci). The kicker is if the Leafs didn’t start the year tuning out the inane ramblings of a coach who overstayed his welcome, they would comfortably be sitting in a playoff spot.
Toronto is in a position where they must absolutely be perfect from here on out to make the playoffs. This puts every game and every player under the microscope. You’ll be hard-pressed to look around the NHL and find a 6th defenseman or back-up goalie as over-analyzed as Ceci and Hutchinson. It’s not an ideal position for a team with such a talented core, but Dubas might have to get creative to shore up the team just to get these guys into the playoffs.
Trade Deadline Targets:
Last night’s Andersen injury has ramped up the Gorgiev buzz which truly frightens me.
Kapanen doesn’t get you a back-up goalie? In THIS economy? But if there’s one thing that can scare you into overpaying for a back-up goalie, it’s the prospect of going down the stretch with a Hutchinson-Kaskisuo goalie tandem. Georgiev is definitely the cream of the back-up goalie crop. The 23 year-old has a solid .909 save percentage in 24 games this year and has some potential as a future starter which would be valuable insurance for a Leafs team tight against the cap if they choose to pivot from Andersen when he contract runs out in 2021.
There are a few goalies with lower acquisition costs that I would take a flyer on:
Jack Campbell: Last year he had a .928 save % in 31 games. While his numbers have taken a bit of a dip this year, the 28 year old has still outplayed Jonathan Quick this year and is under contract through 2021-22.
Either of Chicago’s goalies: Lehner or Crawford would require Chicago to eat some of the cap hit which would undoubtedly raise the cost of acquisition. This trade would only make sense if Chicago falls out of the playoff picture and Andersen’s injury prognosis is more long-term.
Casey DeSmith: Third on the depth chart in Pittsburgh despite a .916 save percentage in 36 games. His $1.25 cap hit through 2021-22 is appealing. If his cost is less than Georgiev’s I say let ‘er rip. There is always the chance Rutherford holds him for a king’s ransom
Aaron Dell: Expiring UFA with a .911 save percentage. Not a bad rental by any means.
Physical, right-handed, with a booming shot. Dumba would give the Leafs a different look on a blueline full of less physical, puck handlers. Dumba has three more years left on his deal and Toronto could use Ceci’s expiring contract to make salaries match. The price for a Dumba calibre defenseman should be high considering he’s only 25 with term on his contract which would expand his market beyond just the rental market.
Demelo is a rental and with certainly cost less than Dumba. As an upcoming UFA this move is more of a tweak to the roster than a big splash that a Dumba signing would represent. If Dubas truly believes in this core and his ability to re-sign at least one of Barrie or Muzzin than I think Demelo in the right move.
While not technically a trade, Byfuglien would be a huge add during trade deadline season. Depending on his price I should hope that the Leafs are all over this. I can’t begin to know what a Big Buff contract would look like so I’ll let the egg heads upstairs piece a proposal together.
All we can do is hope Andersen’s OK and trust in Dubas and the Shannaplan. The thought of a wasted season in the primes of the core of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Tavares, Rielly and Andersen is kind of depressing. I have no choice but to ignore any doubts and believe.