Leafs Need to Fortify Playoff Hopes

by | Feb 20, 2024

Leafs Need to Fortify Playoff Hopes

by | Feb 20, 2024

With the 2023-24 NHL season approaching it’s final third  of regulation games left, the time is clearly now  for teams to make any last minute moves before the March 8th trade deadline to help them get into the playoffs. For franchises riding on a wave of postseason contention, buying additional playoff support clearly needs to be a point of discussion.  As for teams looking on the outside out of the playoff picture, making moves to unload cap space or simply finding next year’s  help also comes up in the current NHL trade rumor mill.

The Toronto Maple Leafs look to be in solid playoff contention right now  with the third spot in the Atlantic Division and currently riding a 29-16-8 overall record.  After a 9-2 drubbing of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at home on February 17th, the Leafs clearly are an offensive powerhouse to be reckoned with.  Sniper Auston Matthews had his sixth hat trick of the season and ties a record with Mario Lemieux for the most hat tricks since the 1995-96 season.  Matthews is a slap-shot force of nature and has 48 goals and 71 total points on the season and is possibly on track to log in a 70-goal season before early April arrives.  The Maple Leafs sit in 5th right now in NHL for goals scored (189) and their special teams power play unit is second in the league as well with a 28.1% scoring rate –  both telltale signs of a vibrant offensive zone attack.

The Maple Leafs Need Defensive Support for a Playoff Run.

While Auston Matthews continues to keep arena goal horns busy, the Maple Leafs need to look at their inherent weaknesses in the defensive zone as a proverbial Achilles heel when assessing this team’s realistic postseason hopes.  While the Maple Leaf power play units are a key to this team’s offensive firepower, the defensive side of special teams is lacking as the penalty kill units are only killing off 78.0% of man-advantage situations and rank only 23rd in the NHL right now.  Furthermore, scoring 189 goals sounds great until you realize that the Leafs have given up 167 goals at the same time.  At this current rate, Auston Matthews will need to continue scoring hat tricks routinely to keep the Maple Leafs on the plus-side in terms of goals scored each game.  Yes, William Nylander (71 points) and Mitchell Marner (62 points) are adding to the cause but when you give up a lot of goals each game, you have to score even more just to pull out a “W” each night.

In order to make a deep playoff run, the Maple Leafs need to shore up their blueline units and GM Brad Treliving has been linked to talks to possibly bring veteran Calgary Flames’ blueliner Chris Tanev from Alberta to Ontario before the trade deadline.  Then again, how many other teams have been linked to possible Tanev trade talks as well?  Chris Tanev is a solid veteran defenseman and at 34 years of age has entered the twilight of his career.  With a $4.5 million dollar salary cap, Tanev is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA)  and comes with a large cap space price tag.  The Maple Leafs have been linked to trade talks with other defensemen including Sean Walker of the Philadelphia Flyers and Alexandre Carrier of the Nashville Predators.  Both blueliners are UFA’s with Walker carrying a $2.65 million dollar price tag and Carrier also costing $2.5 million dollars per season.

Again, cap space issues may provide a roadblock to any Maple Leaf defensive trades and the Leafs may not want to give up any first-round draft selections as well.  Furthermore, Toronto doesn’t have any second-round picks for the next three draft selections so any trade talks using draft picks as enticement bait will no doubt cost the Maple Leafs an extensive array of potential lower-round draft positions in order to facilitate any possible trade negotiations.  The Maple Leafs need to look beyond this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs and shore up their defensive units in order to sustain any success down the road.

Could Marc-Andre Fleury be coming to Toronto Soon?

No doubt any trade rumor talks at this point in the season would be devoid of any substance without talking about any potential trade talk for veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.  Fleury already just hit a career milestone with his 1,000th game and in one of the top all-time netminders in NHL history. Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and Vezina Trophy winner as well and serves as a steadying force for the Minnesota Wild this season.  The key to any possible Fleury trade for the Maple Leafs right now will have to wait a few more weeks to see if the Wild are still in playoff contention or not.  If Minnesota is out of the playoff race, Fleury has indicated that he would entertain trade discussions; however, he has also indicated that if the Wild are in the thick-and-thin of playoff contention, then he will stay to finish out the season.  The key selling point for Marc-Andre Fleury is that he’s not only one of the best netminders in league history, he’s a proven Stanley Cup winner which by itself could be a key buying impulse for the Maple Leafs –  a team who hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967.

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