Reimagining how we approach the Leafs’ defence

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Toronto Maple Leafs need a shutdown defenceman. This much is clear; it is so abundantly clear that you, your grandmother, your yet-to-be-born first child, and your most beloved pet have been able to figure it out. The Leafs give up quite a few shots, they give up quite a few goals, and the best way to make a team that’s bad defensively better is to make them better defensively. That way, they can give up fewer goals. You make them better defensively by making your next big, huge, humongous big move based around acquiring a minute eating defensive specialist or two, like your team definitely needs.

Common sense, right?

Well, here’s the thing about the Toronto Maple Leafs. This team, that was dead last this last year and has recently been deploying a lineup where seven of twelve forwards of are rookies, is already one of the best offensive teams of the cap era. They skate faster than their opponents, they cycle more relentlessly than them, they move pucks to the front of the net and follow them as if their life depended on the next goal, and moreover, leave teams chasing again, and again, and again, and again. Opposing teams are dumbfounded by hard it is to keep up, which is unbelievable to say about a team that’s still playing the proverbial tutorial.

The numbers back this up. Play-by-Play data became en vogue in 2007/08, which gives us ten seasons (including the one in progress) to look at how teams and players have done at controlling play. That’s 270 full teams. At even strength, this year’s Leafs rank 15th of those 270 teams in their rate of attempting shots. Removed blocked shots from the equation and focus on those that hit or missed the net, and Toronto jumps to 13th. Actual shots on goal, they’re in 10th. Using Corsica.Hockey’s Expected Goal and Scoring Chance models, which weights the historical value of shooting from certain positions, and they’ve got the 4th most dangerous offence of any team in the past ten years.

Fourth of the decade. From a bunch of children getting their feet wet. Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman, and Connor Brown, a trio of rookies combine to be the third best-expected goals for line to get a regular shift in the league. They’re third best because Matthews, Hyman, and William Nylander are first. Even if it’s systems based; Mike Babcock is here for another seven years and change, after all, there’s a very real chance that we’re looking at a generational offensive core; and this is before many of these guys have started to develop. 

Why would you want to mess with that? Knowing that your core can get better, knowing that your pipeline still has plenty of quality forwards coming up. You’ve got a team that’s visually and statistically running play flow like few teams have in years, in the infancy of their process, and the first thought is that the team needs to find ways to slow down the opposition.

Again, it sounds tantalizing at first. But if you over focus too much on bringing in players to shut down the opposition, you’re also taking away from your biggest strength. Toronto plays the highest octane game in the league because they have the players capable of rushing the puck, getting to the net, and taking the shots to make them more dangerous on one side of the seesaw than the opposition on their end. From a differential perspective, Toronto is in the upper half of the league in all the major metrics, and that’s what matters more in the end here. 

After all, the goal of the game isn’t to give up the fewest goals, it’s to score more than the other team. An 8-4 win carries the same ratio as a 2-1 win, no matter how traditionally clinical the former is. Hell, an 8-7 win still gets you the two points, and if you think you can get that result more often than not, that might be the way to go.

With that in mind, Toronto’s push shouldn’t be to cut down shots. It should be to aim towards mobile, puck-comfortable defencemen who can drive differential with a leniency towards the offensive side of the game. The good news there is that at least three of Toronto’s top four defencemen are geared to this; Morgan Rielly isn’t great in his own zone, but once it’s time to head the other way, his ability to lead a rush and generate an effort outweighs that deficiency. Connor Carrick has his off moments but has shown glimmers of being able to both contribute to offence and keep the puck away. Jake Gardiner is spectacular at both. If Nikita Zaitsev’s previously-shown offensive side materializes at this level, he could be a fourth, but if not he’s at least able to keep up, even if he doesn’t push the boundaries.

In this mindset, this leaves the third pairing as the ugly ducking, but it also does so whether or not you side with the Jock Squad (Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak) or the Nerd Gang (Martin Marincin and Frank Corrado). The former pair doesn’t seem to drive anything, surviving on the whim of results and success on the penalty kill. The latter couple have proven capable of driving differential, but have done so defensively, with decidedly average ability to contribute to creation, even when comparing to last season’s roster and without factoring in for lenient zone starts or competition. You can make a fast and easy case for them to be the more common sense players to have in the lineup, but Hunwick and Polak have had benefited from a good run of raw results (and being solid on the Penalty Kill, particularly Hunwick), while Marincin remains on IR and Corrado tries to shake the dust off. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, though, the optimal solution is likely to strive for better.

Better might not even necessarily have to be superstars either; just simply talent-driven defenders with a positive net impact and a slant towards offence. You don’t need to get Erik Karlsson; even a couple of 4/5’s that line up with the team playstyle would contribute a world of benefit. Given that the league appears to have put a huge sticker price on the “defensive specialist” in the past calendar year (bonjour, Adam Larsson), and the fact that non-star offensive defencemen tend to be the “tweeners” on neutral or low pace teams, going this route could also be cost beneficial.

Even if the team stands pat with this group of six to eight, though, the overarching thought is a valuable one to consider. This sport has beat into us a very specific idea of how a team should be structured and how they should play for decades upon decades now, and suddenly, a team with a brilliant tactics coach has armed themselves with players who are capable of dominating in an environment that nobody else is really used to. If the resources are there to turn this team into a lite-version of the 1980’s Edmonton Oilers for a little while, it would be a spectacular shame if we wasted time by scrolling past the mini Gretzky’s, Kurri’s, Messier’s, Coffey’s and Anderson’s and spent our nights dreaming of how great it would be if they all played a little more like Kevin Lowe.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    What Jeff is advocating is a run and gun team. Defenceman who can play both a solid defence and also play a great offence are almost impossible to acquire. Weber for Suban is the type of trades you see and even then not that often. There are only about 10 elite defencemen in the whole league. To get one you almost always have to draft one. Come draft time everyone wants a high-scoring forward. You could bring up Nielson now. He has more offensive skill than both Hunwick, Polak, Marincin, or Corrado.. Problem is you are also going to have more goals scored against you. Taking Hunwick and Polak out of the lineup then who is playing defense on the penalty kill? We have Rielly and Zaitsev playing half the kill now. Are you going to play Gardiner and Carrick on the kill. I don’t feel you don’t really value defensive players but if you stop to think about it, the fact other teams scored goals on us, is the real reason we lose games.

    Here are the top five teams for goals against in the NHL… Washington 84 – Columbus 85 – Minnesota 85 – San Jose 90 – Montreal 97

    Toronto is 19th with 116 goals against.

    Is adding more offensive power to the bottom pairing really an answer?

    Frank Corrado has now played 4 games for the Marlies. He has no goals, no assists, no points, two minutes in penalties. He has taken 13 shots on goal. His plus/minus is zero. For someone who people here say should replace Polak or Carrick he is not exactly tearing up the AHL.

    • RadioAlex

      nobody. absolutely nobody is saying that Corrado should replace Carrick in the lineup. That being said, if you’re hoping for big offensive numbers out of Frankie, you’re looking at the wrong guy. He’s a defense first defender who relies on skating and positioning to get the job done. Like Hunwick, but not bad.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        Here are Corrado’s stats with the Leafs.

        Games played 39. 1 goal and 5 assists. Minus 12. – 26 minutes in penalties. He averaged 14.5 minutes per game.

        • RadioAlex

          …and? He’s a depth defenseman. Frank-ly (see what I did there?) one that is younger, cheaper, and has a skill set (see: skating) more tailored to the game this Leafs team wants to play.

        • Brent Wisken

          You reference Corrado’s last year’s stats (well, you have to because he has only played one token game this year), and particularly focus on his plus/minus stat (a minus 12). Yet, you tend to defend Hunwick. If you are going to use this type of stat, then you have to acknowledge that Hunwick’s minus 17 last year was worst than Corrado’s.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            He plays the right side and Corrado replaced Polak who was a plus 8 for the Leafs last year. Hunwick is a plus 5 this year though. Personally I think Corrado is soon to be waived barring injuries or if he looks outstanding playing for the Marlies, Saying Lou is taking food off his table after Lou gave him a contract for over half a million dollars will not sit well with Lamoriello.

          • Brent Wisken

            The plus/minus stat has to be kept in context given that it depends heavily on which teammates you are playing with, what opponents you are facing, and the role the coach puts the player in. I take it with a grain of salt and try to understand the context. For instance, Connor Brown was a ridiculous minus 72 in one of his junior years, but fortunately the Leafs didn’t pay attention to it. You are probably right that Corrado likely doesn’t have a place on Babcock’s team, but i like him as a potential depth, bottom pairing defenseman.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            In one way it is sort of unfortunate for Corrado that he hasn’t has an opportunity to replace someone through injury. When we saw him in preseason this year he looked greatly improved. One could see he working really hard over the summer to get stronger and better. Strange things often happen at the pro level. Today Columbus is without their #1 goalie just after putting Curtis McElhinney on waivers. Right after we traded Holland for virtually nothing, Bozak and Smith got injured. Like you I have reservation about using the plus/minus stats unless you are talking about very high numbers. I also have reservations on using most of the analytic stats for the same reasons you stated above regarding plus/minus. Even the individual goals/assists/points rarely tell the whole story. Goalies save percentage seems to be the taken as the bottom line for the quality of the goalie. Teams with a solid top six defensive core are going to make sure their goalie doesn’t have to make as many difficult stops as Andersen has to do.

    • Kanuunankuula

      I’d actually be pretty curios as to using Gardiner – Carrick on the PK. Both have the least on team in xGA/60, FA/60 CA/60, Carrick the least in SA/60 (Gardiner 3rd least). If you want the most out of Hunwick + Polak, they should probably be playing on the PK, so maybe try 51+8 instead of Zaitsev and Rielly?

      As to the idea to just run and gun on all three pairs, I actually agree with you on the fact that you still need people to play on the PK.

      As to why come draft time people want scoring forwards: Simple, predicting D-men is way way harder. Look at those elite D and when they were drafted. Not all 1st rounders. It’s mostly taking fliers on the lower rounds and hope for the best.

      As to Subban for Weber, who is the player who can play solid defence and great offence of the two?

      • LukeDaDrifter

        If you kill the penalty there is a good opportunity to score a goal just after. The other teams have used their best players their powerplay to try and score and they now need a rest. Having your best players rested and ready to attack right after the kill. often leads to a goal or simply changes he momentum of the game. That is why Babcock prefers to have Gardiner resting on the PK if he can. That is the reason Rielly is not seeing powerplay time very much.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        Weber obviously is the better two way player. Montreal can enjoy his services for the next 10 years until he is around 44 years old, at about 8 or 9 million per year.

        • Kanuunankuula

          Someone said on twitter “Weber is what people think Subban is, and Subban is what people think Weber is”. I think that’s fairly accurate. Subban’s actually the better at D and Weber’s offence hides his weaknesses (mainly lack of movement and skating). I’d be dreading that Weber contract, he’ll be okay this year and maybe the next but after that, sheeesh.

    • Brent Wisken

      Bit of an unreasonable expectation for Corrado to already put up points given the fact he has only played one token game all year, whereas all others have played half a season. Corrado is coming in cold, and hence the “conditioning” stint. Moreover, although he isn’t getting points, while he is playing, the puck is more often in the opposition’s zone rather than our own end. It’s a different way at looking at defense.

      As for Polak and Hunwick playing well on the penalty kill, not sure how much that has to do with their own abilities, and how much that has to do with the structure that Babcock has set up. Also, Polak does get a lot of penalties himself, meaning the Leafs have to use the PK to bail him out.

      With regards to people noting that Polak and Hunwick give up fewer goals per 60 minutes, keep in mind the quality of opposition they face. They face third and fourth line forwards who have a harder time putting the puck in the net, in contrast to the forwards that Rielly and Zaitsev, for example, are up against (such as Crosby and Ovechkin). It makes a big difference.

      • Stan Smith

        You are wrong about your assertion that Polak and Hunwick play primarily against third and forth line competition. They play the difficult minutes late in a game when not only the best players from the other team are on the ice, but a lot of times they have the goalies pulled and have an extra player on the ice. They also get exclusively defensive zone starts. So while they usually play fewer minutes, it is usually against high quality competition.

        As for Polak’s high penalty minutes. It is usually higher because he isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. In the case of fights he would take an opposing player off with him. Take away the fighting majors and I doubt he is that much higher than a lot of players.

        • Brent Wisken

          Not sure what you are watching, but when i am watching the games Rielly and Zaitsev are facing tougher competition. Also, the GF% and CF% for Rielly’s and Zaitsev’s opponents is higher (i.e. better players) than Polak’s and Hunwick’s opponents. Also, Rielly and Zaitsev are on the ice significantly more than Polak and Hunwick, and any time a player is on the ice more, the more likely they are going to face tougher competition.

          As for your assertion that Polak’s penalties are for fighting, and thereby takes his opponents off the ice with him, this isn’t true. This is true for Matt Martin, but not Polak. With regards to Polak, he is getting penalties because (1) he has trouble keeping up with the plays and thereby makes desperate attempts to hold back the opponents (hooking, slashing, interference), and (2) he takes dumb penalties such as hitting from behind.

          With regards to your point that Polak and Hunwick are being put on the ice late in the game, perhaps this explains why the Leafs keep giving up leads in the game.

          Incidentally, Polak is becoming known for his type of passing – the “Polak Pass” (also known as icing the puck).

          • Stan Smith

            Here is what I am watching, and please keep in mind I watch game video, a lot. I play them back over and over just to see who is doing what correctly and who isn’t.

            You are absolutely correct in that Rielly and Zaitsev play the most minutes. That is why they are referred to as the #1 pairing. Polak and Hunwick are the third pairing and play the least amount of minutes. When the Leafs are behind and need goals, Polak and Hunwick play much less, simply because they are do not contribute much offensively. They very seldom ever get offensive zone starts again, because they do not contribute offensively.

            They are on the team for strictly defensive reasons. They are usually on the ice for most defensive zone faceoffs near the end of a period or the end of a game, as I said if they are up a goal, or even tied. As for blowing leads, go back and look at game videos, and see which pair is on the ice for most of the late goals given up. You might be surprised to see that it is Rielly and Zaitsev. At the start of the season the Leafs were mostly using everyone but Polak and Hunwick in these situations and they blew almost every lead they had. Starting the end of November they started using Polak and Hunwick more and they were a lot more successful. Just before Christmas and continuing up to the present break, they have gone to using Rielly and Zaitsev more, probably to teach them how to protect leades, and they are struggling badly at it. Again, don’t take my word for it. Go watch game vids.

            As for Polak himself. Please show me a video of him taking a slashing, hooking or high sticking penalty. He will take the occasional hold along the boards which is typical of any defenceman, but you are correct in that the majority of his penalties are roughing related. That is simply because he is a big strong guy, and plays a rough brand of hockey, something the Leafs are sorely lacking.

            Now lets look at how many penalties he takes. He presently has 32 minutes in penalties, of which 10 are for fighting, leaving him with 22 minutes, or 11 penalties in 39 games. That compares to Gardiner’s 18 minutes (9 penalties) and Carrick’s 30 minutes (15 penalties). So he really doesn’t take a lot of dumb penalties. You might want to look more at Kadri ‘s 53 minutes not counting his 2 fights.

            As for his ability to keep up, he might be the teams fastest skater going backwards, a key skill for a dman. He plays his gaps usually flawlessly, and his defensive positioning without the puck it the best on the team. You are correct that he ices the puck a lot, and his biggest fault is his ability to handle, and pass the puck, but that is not why he is on team. He is there for his defensive game period.

            Yes he is a third pairing guy, and usually plays the fewest minutes on the team, but he usually always starts the penalty kill, and is by far the Leafs best penalty killing dman. That is why he is on the team, and why Babcock puts him out there.

          • Brent Wisken

            I do watch the games, and Polak and Hunwick make a tonne of defensive mistakes, including blown leads (i agree that Rielly has made a bunch of defensive errors this season as well, as has Carrick – both are still young and learning). As for your reference to Polak being a fast skater, that is not what i am referring to with regards to his defensive lapses – it is more about lack of skill and hockey sense. As for comparing his penalty minutes to other Leafs, contrasts should be done while comparing penalty minutes with the total ice time they get. Gardiner and Kadri’s penalties have increased because they are on the ice way more than Polak. Polak doesn’t have this excuse. His penalty minutes per 60 minutes of ice time are higher. Moreover, his roughing penalties are often occuring because he can’t keep up with the play due to less talent level and hockey sense. Also, with regards to Kadri’s penalty minutes i think a lot of this has to do with poor referee decisions while judging Kadri, going back to last year. When Polak starts putting up the points that Gardiner and Kadri gets, i will start to cut him a break for his penalty minutes. Moreover, Kadri faces tougher competition, right from the beginning of the season.

            As for your reference to Polak’s defensive game, i prefer a defensive approach that has the puck in the opposition’s zone (like Gardiner brings). Polak has trouble doing this. And as i mentioned, the GF% and CF% for Rielly’s and Zaitsev’s opponents is higher (i.e. better players) than Polak’s and Hunwick’s opponents.

          • Stan Smith

            When a team has the puck in the other teams zone, that is called “offence”.
            When the other team has the puck and you are trying to prevent them from scoring, that is called “defence”.

            Now that we have that out of the way, having the puck in the other team’s zone is absolutely no guarantee the other team is not going to score, in fact a team is 3 times more likely to score off the rush, then on the cycle.

            Your comment “When Polak starts putting up the points that Gardiner and Kadri gets, i will start to cut him a break for his penalty minutes.” tells me, that like some others, you really do not grasp the conceptof defence, or the benefit of having defensive players. You might as well complain that Andersen doesn’t score.

          • Brent Wisken

            Lol, nope. Your comments amuse me. Please try to keep up. I will continue to try to break it down for you.

            We are looking at two different types of defensive approaches. Your approach, emphasizing the stay-at-home type of d-man (such as Polak), plays a rough and tumble, clear-the-front of the net type of game. This is more of a traditional approach, with limited offensive abilities. The problem with this approach is that this type of d-man has trouble getting the puck out of our zone, especially in an NHL that now emphases speed and quick thinking to transition the puck. The puck is therefore more often in the defensive zone, thereby creating a constant threat of being put into the back of the defender’s net.

            I prefer a different type of defensive approach, one that de-emphases the stay-at-home defenseman, and instead prefers defensemen such as Gardiner that can quickly move the puck out of the zone into the offensive zone. Typically requires hockey vision, good skating, talent (rather than the tougher type of defenseman) for these offensive-zone entries. As the puck is quickly moved out of our zone into the offensive zone, there is little threat that the opponents will score on our own net (because the puck is so far away from our net). So the approach that transitions quickly to offence, actually also supports defence since the puck is no longer a threat in our own d-zone.

            As my comment about Polak, and cutting him some slack for his penalty minutes when he can start creating some offense, it is because he is also not very good at defense. Penalty minutes, poor offense, poor defense. Hence a liability. I would rather have Gardiner.

            Yes, I can tell you have trouble grasping it…..

          • Stan Smith

            Hahahaha. You are so far behind you think you are ahead. I fully comprehend what you are saying and I think Gardiner is really coming into his own. I have stated elsewhere that I would like to see Gardiner on the first pairing with Zaitsev, and Rielly moved to the second pair.

            My point is, and you seem to be missing it completely, that for a third pair you need those defensive specialist and penalty killing types. It would be great if you could have 6 Shea Webers on your team, someone that can do it all, but that isn’t possible. In that case you need at least one pair that you can rely on to kill penalties effectively and provide good defensive play in your own zone.

            I personally think Corsi is way over-rated, does not really mirror “possession”, and can lead to teams playing a perimeter game, taking shots for the sake of taking shots, and if they lose, saying we played well but weren’t lucky. But even if you are firm believer in Corsi, even the best teams only rate at 55%, so that means they still spend 45% in their own end. and you need some players that actually know how to play defensively in their own end.

            We can argue this all night, but the reason why the Leafs are successful at dealing Polak is because he is a commodity other teams are always looking for, They re-sign him because they know what he brings to the table. That he will help the team on the penalty kill and related situations, plus get them something at the deadline, if necessary. On top of that, and possible the biggest factor, is players like Polak come cheap and enable them to spend in other areas.

          • Brent Wisken

            As i have said throughout, Polak is not as good as a defender that you think he is. He has trouble keeping up with the play, even while his teammates face tougher opponents. He has trouble transitioning the puck out of the d-zone, and he takes unnecessary penalties. As for Polak playing well on the penalty kill, not sure how much that has to do with his own abilities, and how much that has to do with the structure that Babcock has set up. Lots of Leafs’ players are doing well on the PK, even while killing the penalty that Polak acquired. So i think the success has more to do with Babcock rather than Polak. I would also rather have a d-man that can play on both the penalty kill and on even-strength. Polak can’t do that. And after San Jose acquired Polak, they obviously didn’t think he was worth re-signing him. St. Louis obviously thought that Gunnarsson was better than Polak (the former being able to transition the puck a lot better and play better defense). So your assertion that Polak is a commodity that other teams are “always” looking for is not correct. Not with the NHL changing to a more fast-paced game that requires a defenseman that can transition the puck and carry it out of the d-zone, rather than playing a rough-and-tough, stay-at-home variety that has to resort to icing the puck (the “Polak Pass”). I am sorry you have trouble understanding this, even though it was broken down to the basic level for you. Take care.

          • Stan Smith

            One thing for sure is we are passionate about our Leafs, and I think we can agree that they are in a better place right now than they have been for a long time.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        On the road Polak and Hunwick play against the best other teams have to offer. Everyone agrees we would like to have better defencemen. Where are we going to get these new guys from and at what cost?

        I don’t believe there is any easy solution to improving the defence.

  • tealeaves

    You know what else gets you a win – getting wildly out shot and still winning. That’s just not a very reliable process in the long term but it can certainly garner an occassional playoff berth. Great teams can win a multitude of ways because they face a teams with different strengths.

    High octane offence is a great strategy, yet it can be trumped by an outstanding goalie and great defence especially in those best of 7 series (and the odds are even further swayed if they can maintain parity in puck possession). Great teams find ways to win in multiple and varied ways. If the leafs implement a one trick pony strategy, they will surely have success. But like a team that relies on one sided toaster driven shot quality they eventually will face their kryptonite which becomes especially when lady luck turns her back on the teams offence.

  • Francisco Imperio

    An interesting perspective. Perhaps we could be the Golden State Warriors of the NHL…a transcendent offensive team. Not just run and gun but warp speed run and gun. I’d imagine that any new defensemen we add would need to be quick on their feet and quick of mind. Gardiner really has been a great fit for our team. A couple of more Gardiners/Zaitsevs for the 5/6 slot would be pretty interesting and great to watch.

  • Greg Fenton

    The Leafs have at least 1 strong asset they don’t need and likely won’t keep beyond next year in JVR, turning him into an asset that can help an area of weakness while not hurting your offensive strength (how many wingers do they have who could replace him?) makes sense.

    No one is suggesting the Leafs trade for 6’4 pylon who can’t skate or push the puck.

    And just look at your example of the 80’s Oilers…….they had a Kevin Lowe. Did it hurt the teams offensive production?

  • LukeDaDrifter

    It is far too simplistic to say lets just get some better players with more offensive output. Over half the league is looking to improve their defense corps. Good players that can play a 3/4 role on defence are not easy to acquire. With the expansion draft coming up Lou may be able to swing a deal.

    Eliotte Friedman reported that both Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba and Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog were offered to Boston, but general manager Don Sweeney wasn’t willing to pay the price. “So that tells you that if you want a young player or a young player with term, it’s going to cost you and it’s going to cost you big.”

    The Boston player they were after was Brandon Carlo.

    Bob McKenzie says Tampa is willing to trade just about anybody to improve their defense.

    The list goes on and on.

    • Kanuunankuula

      And pretty much everyone agrees Sweeney’s an idiot. Carlo is not that good, but overestimating your team’s players is real thing. Trouba straight trade is a steal for Boston, even if considering the contracts. Even Landeskog would be a good trade.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        I don’t remember seeing Carlo play. He has three goals and 6 assists in 44 games.

        Boston has $3,828,833 in cap space

        Lanseskog makes $5,571,429 for this year and for the next four.

        Trouba makes $3,308,824 this year and $2,812,500 next then becomes a RFA Trouba has two goals and 11 assists in 28 gamed this year.

        So like you I am not sure why Boston didn’t try harder to make a deal. Boston may feel there is not much gain in swapping Carlo for Trouba. Lanseskog now is a different story.

  • jimithy

    Isolating a few rare instances of success means nothing. Those statistics only prove the Leafs are mediocre. Something everyone knows. And mentioning how Rielly excels on the offensive is pure poppycock. Watch him when he waltzes out of his zone into the enemy’s zone and you will notice something rather odd. He doesn’t know what to do. More often than not he will just throw the puck into the corner or attempt a laughable shot on net which in the end amounts to nothing. The goalie will just shake his masked head and be shocked at such a feeble shot. It’s getting old watching this organization pretend they belong in the NHL.

  • Draper55

    I read these articles sometimes and laugh, and think to myself wow Bobby Cappuccino is back at it again, I love his articles. Then I realize that it’s not a Bobby Cappuccino article and the article is serious. This article really shows the lack of actual hockey knowledge that some of the writers on here have. This is hockey were talking about not Basketball, you can’t be a one dimensional team in the NHL and expect to win the cup. No team (that I can remember) in the past 10 years or so has won the cup because they were a purely offensive team. “Offence wins you games but defense wins Championships” it’s an old cliche but it still rings true. I know some of you hate Polak and Hunwick but they’re the best option Babcock has for the 5-6 spot on D. Corrado as much as you all love him is just does not possess the skill set to replace either of Polak or Hunwick. Gardiner is not God, he’s a number 3 defenseman on an average defensive team. He’s good but not great as you would have everyone believe. LukeDaDrifter you’re one of if not the smartest commenter on here, keep up the good work buddy

    • Kanuunankuula

      I came up with three to four teams where Jake is a #3. That’s maybe Chi (Keith and Hjalmarson) and definitely St. Louis (Shatty and Pietra) and Tampa (Strålman and Hedman) and Sharks.

      • Draper55

        And the Leafs, and Columbus and Nashville and Minnesota and Montreal and LA and Winterpeg and Anaheim… He’s a good #3 don’t get me wrong but he’s not a top pairing guy. Reilly shows flashes of being a top pairing guy but even he struggle being a #2 of some of the top defensive teams

        • Kanuunankuula

          You’ve got me on Nsh and LA. Cbj maybe. Minny maybe. Montreal definetely not. Anaheim maybe, Fowler’s a bit iffy to me. Winnipeg maybe, they’re not playing trouba enough though.

          The leafs though? He’s our best guy right now

          • Draper55

            True he’s been the most consistent but is still playing second pairing minutes and I don’t think that includes time on the PK. To be honest I haven’t seen a whole lot I haven’t liked with the Leafs D this year they’ve been decent in almost every game I’ve seen this year. I think the biggest problem is the forwards playing poorly in the defensive zone. When the Leafs get caught in their own zone, allot of the time it’s due to a forward not clearing the zone when they have the chance.

  • Harte of a Lion

    I’ll say it again, Jesper Lindgren may be smallish in weight but huge in talent. Everyone imagine for one moment a “Marner” on defence? He may not be the guy you put out with 30 seconds left while guarding a 1 goal lead however maybe he is exactly who the team needs. During most shifts where JVRozak get running around in their d-zone, it’s always Marner, who’s board play resembles that of a much older player is ALWAYS the guy who retrieves the puck after a board battle and with a soft pass to a teammate in the slot or the circle, for a clean breakout. Have you noticed what Magic Mitch brings to the penalty kill pressuring the puck carrier or breaking up passes with his positioning and active stick? How he dominates and makes look foolish almost every player in the O zone during every shift? That is the type of player we need with the puck on the back end. Lindgren should have another year in the SHL, a year with the Marlies (2018) then a jump to the NHL.
    My other favourite Swede defenceman, the Löov train is a perfect partner and should eventually play on Lindgren’s left side. That would give the team three defensive pairs that can carry the puck or make tape to tape passes on the fly. Löov is big and phisical, his skating and positioning continues to improve and he flattens any opposition player with their head down.
    You can insert Valiev for Löov with similar, possibly better results. IMO, Valiev is a better skater, has a better shot and though slightly smaller, still has the size to play Babcock’s physical defensive systems and clear the net.
    Both Dermott and Nielsen have progressed nicely with the Marlies this year and it’s possible, if/when Lindgren joins them with the Marlies, the Leafs might have a ready made pairing to promote in the not to distant future.
    Both Hunwick and Polak are temporary while the farm systems, College programs, minor leagues and European leagues continue to percolate and grow our young prospects games.

    Do I want a top pairing defenceman now? Hell yeah!
    Would I like to see the Hunlack monster upgraded? Absolutely!
    Is this team ready to start trading assetts for a D like Shattenkirk? NFW!
    This coming off-season will be the most important yet during this “build to respectability” but remember, change for the sake of change, no matter what analytics may say, can set a team back years. Just ask the Panthers. On paper, every move they made in the summer of 2016 improved the team. In reality, injuries hurt but whatever chemistry they developed among the players during their record setting 2015/16 season evaporated like a Steve Simmons hotdog induced fart in the wind.
    Has everyone been surprised and impressed by Gauthier in the few games he has seen with the big team? I have been surprised that his hard work over the past two seasons has translated this quickly into his early success. He skates above average for a man of his size, he checks, he takes face-offs far better than most rookies, and he fights while sticking up for his teammates.
    Drafting and development work.
    We all want immediate gratification and our fan base deserves success sooner rather than later however, it has taken the Oilers over 10 years, multiple 1st overall picks and even more top 10 picks than any other team in the history of the NHL during that period (2006-2015/16) to get where the Leafs are in less than 2 seasons under the management of Shanahan he the tutelage of Babcock.
    Since 2007 (10 drafts) the Oilers have picked, 6th, 22nd, 10th, 1st, 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd, 1st, 4th.
    Since 2007 (10 drafts) the Leafs have picked, 74th, 5th, 7th, 43rd, 22nd, 5th, 21st, 8th, 4th, 1st.
    Solely on the numbers, the Oilers should have been a perennial powerhouse for a half decade or more whereas the Leafs ended up where they belonged, at or near the bottom of the league every year.
    Patience Grasshoppers… playoffs this year? Perhaps or perhaps not. Whatever these players might achieve this season is far beyond the wildest dreams of TLN during preseason and the first 10 games. Since November 1st they are 16-9-5. Grab hold, make room on the bandwagon and win or lose, playoffs or not, ENJOY!!!
    Every goal, shift, period, and game. ENJOY!!!
    I don’t know about you but now, when I think about my beloved Maple Leafs, I smile, and smile and smile….