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Are the Toronto Maple Leafs Legit?

Year in and year out, the Maple Leafs are poised as a threat in the National Hockey League. With offensive weapons like Auston Matthews and William Nylander, they are always a team to watch out for. This year, the Maple Leafs have been on and off all season long, with winning streaks, losing streaks, and injuries. Most recently, star defenseman Morgan Rielly was handed a 5-game suspension for a high crosscheck on Ottawa Senators forward Ridley Greig. Most surprisingly to Leafs Nation, the team went on a 5-0 winning streak without Rielly. Otherwise, with a full team they just have not been able to put up a real solid stretch of good games. It has been due to either poor goaltending, lack of scoring, or just poor team play all around. As we get closer and closer to the trade deadline and the end of the regular season, this begs the question: are the Maple Leafs legit?

Like I mentioned, many things have played into the Maple Leafs’ season thus far. One thing that has stood out as a huge positive is the (some say) breakout year of William Nylander. Given an 8-year extension worth around $92M, Nylander has now been shown that he is going to be a cornerstone of the franchise for the foreseeable future. He started off the season red hot and stayed hot all through the season up until they got to Sweden to play their Global Series games. Nylander proves to be an important asset to the team and he has put the team over the edge on many occasions. Many have had the argument this season on if Nylander has surpassed Marner on the top Maple Leafs players list. My response to that: who cares? Having a conversation on if a player is better than Mitch Marner is a GREAT conversation to have! Nylander certainly has earned the honour of that discussion. Along with Nylander’s play, comes the play of Auston Matthews. Currently on over a 70-goal pace, Matthews has cemented himself as the best goal scorer in the game. Notching over 50 goals with more than 25 games left in the season, this is a pace that Leafs fans have always dreamed of. A goal scoring pace rarely seen in the league, Auston Matthews is proving to the world how good he really is. In the couple losing skids the Leafs have had, those two guys shone bright and gave us Leafs fans something to cheer for.

The most important date that the Leafs have coming up, is March 8th. The NHL Trade Deadline. A day where teams look to buy and sell, make their team better or build for the future. The biggest question surrounding the Maple Leafs is: what will they do? In years prior, we have had a clear vision of what they needed and what they are going to do. Defense is always a priority with this team, and last year they took a big swing and acquired depth scoring, and a great defensive forward. With those additions, they propelled themselves into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 19 years. This year, the scenario is different. Currently the Maple Leafs sit in third place in the Atlantic division, and they are in a playoff position. The kicker is that the playoff race is tight, so they could fall out at any moment. As Leaf fans always do, we tend to want to go all in, every year. Sometimes that may not be the smartest thing. This year, there is really only defense out on the market. Multiple teams with good defensemen are taking calls, and the Maple Leafs seem to have interest in most of them. Names include Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Mario Ferraro, among others. The Leafs need a rock on the back end, to pair with Morgan Rielly (similar to what TJ Brodie first was at the beginning of his deal).

Typically, the best option would be Hanifin, the most complete player with the most potential to help the Leafs get back over the hump that haunted them for so long. Next on the list would be Chris Tanev, who is the most defensively sound of the group, arguably a better target for the Leafs than Hanifin. Chris Tanev is a lockdown defenseman who can slot right beside Morgan Rielly and take all the defensive pressure off Rielly. Either one of these men would be a great addition for the Maple Leafs, and would undoubtedly help them in the postseason.

Another thing to note is the play of Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, the Leafs newest signings. Max Domi has the points to make him look good, but even just watching Domi you are able to tell the heart he plays with. Only playing third line minutes, Domi makes the most of it and is constantly flying around the ice, making himself known. Bertuzzi on the other hand, when you watch him you can see he plays the game the hard way. He gets into the dirty areas, constantly fights for the puck, and is not afraid to look for a hit, or to play with some snot. Unfortunately, he just cannot find the back of the net. With 7 goals in the campaign, it is definitely something worth noting heading into the playoffs. He seems to be a good playoff performer with the past postseasons he has competed in, so time will tell if Bertuzzi is a difference maker. For now, coach Sheldon Keefe trusts him with good minutes and second powerplay time, so we can tell he has the backing of the coaching staff.

The Maple Leafs look to get another couple wins over the coming weeks heading into the trade deadline. With all this said: yes, the Maple Leafs are legit. They do not stop fighting and they keep on pushing, no matter the adversity they face, and no matter how much of a hole they are in. We will see over the coming weeks how well they handle themselves, and come the March 8th trade deadline, we will see what position they believe they are in, and what they decide to do with their team.


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