Why this photo is a visual representation of the 2015/16 Leafs

Screencap Credit: Hockey Night in Canada

Before we turn the page on Toronto’s last showing and dive into Tyler Seguin’s upcoming assault on the Air Canada Centre, I want to talk about this moment late in the third period of Saturday night’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Quite simply, I don’t think we’re going to find a better visual representation of this pocket era of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This image represents the team’s goal-preventing struggles. The Air Canada Centre is on Bay Street, but Jonathan Bernier appears to be on the platform of St. Andrew Station. He is looking towards the net as a place that he would one day like to be, not as a place that he’s supposed to be protecting. Even in his attempt at recovery, his five hole is wide open. The worst part? He’s the starter! No wonder the Leafs are 28th in Save Percentage.

This image represents the systematic reinvention of players by Mike Babcock. In net for the Leafs is Nazem Kadri. Mike Babcock has emphasized repeatedly that Kadri’s challenge for this year is to play a 200-foot game and cover all parts of the ice. Apparently, goaltending is part of that. (Fun Fact: With Carl Gunnarsson and Colton Orr no longer on the team, Kadri is legitimately Toronto’s first choice as an emergency goaltender among roster players).

This image represents the sheltering of the team’s youth core. Morgan Rielly finds himself behind the net, hiding from the disaster. Much like the Leafs have kept William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and other prospects with perceived “NHL-readiness” away from the tire fire until they’re ready to excel, Rielly is being protected by his fellow teammates. (In actuality, Rielly was covering Malkin as he deked around the sprawling Bernier because he’s been ready to excel for a while now).

This image represents team’s current temp worker philosophy. Matt Hunwick is the one responsible for getting the puck away from the back of the net here. Matt Hunwick, who is on a short-term deal, trying to prove to 29 other teams that he’s worth their time, be it at a trade deadline or when he hits the market in Summer 2017. Of course, Hunwick isn’t top end talent, but rather the best the team can find on a low budget, so he doesn’t really get control. In fact, he barely looks like he can stand up.

This image represents moving on from the past. At the end of the day, this is a team that wants to forget about the past and focus on the present. Kadri and Rielly are being entrusted, for the first time in their careers, to be the anchors of their high minute lines. They’re not the guys you attach to a group anymore; they’re the guys you build a group around. Unfortunately, their group includes Matt Hunwick and Jonathan Bernier, but these things take time. You know who their group doesn’t include, though? Phil Kessel. Once (like, four months ago) the face of the franchise, Kessel is in the picture too.

In a Penguins jersey. Looking to score on his former team.

These are your Toronto Maple Leafs. A group of kids and misfits trying to find their way in the NHL, whatever way they can. But not doing a great job of it.

  • jasken

    kessel being in this hilariously depressing picture in another jersey during this tire fire solidifies the leafs as a franchise in a nut shell. it’s the cherry on top of the sh*t sundae lol.

  • jasken

    I dont know what’s more depressing that picture or your assessment of how 3 players are proper on covering the 1 man below the goal line or put responsibility on Huntwick who has to cover Malkin Kessel and stop a pass that is evaluation from a blogger for you.

    • If you want an actual evaluation of the play itself (which this post wasn’t)…

      – Bernier was much too aggressive on Malkin, which is why he’s a mile away from the net.

      – Hunwick is in the spot he is because he tried to bat a puck out of mid-air at the blue line and missed. Twice. He still pushed up to go after Kessel while Kessel was already passing it to Malkin, leaving Rielly 1 on 1 with Malkin.

      – Rielly does the responsible thing and tries to prevent Malkin from shooting by closing their gap, and manages to push him around the net instead of going backhand.

      – Kadri fills in for Hunwick, who is still at the hashmarks when Malkin starts to circle. He heads to the net not to cover Malkin, but Perron, and stops him from tapping it in and pushes him behind the net.

      You also have Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Matthias, who are in another time zones as this all happens.

      Overall, the Leafs we see played this incident relatively responsibly. Bernier shouldn’t have jumped up and Hunwick shouldn’t have been playing baseball, but even he recovered decently enough.

  • Gary Empey

    I think you totally missed Jonathan Bernier strategy here. This is a move often seen in the “Q”.

    What normally happens is the goalie sneaks completely out of the net. The opposing forwards continue to fire pucks at him.

    That us why you see his five hole is wide open. Forwards usually find this too hard to resist.