How does an underperforming, injury-laden hockey team persevere and make themselves a top five team in the league? They collectively work together to improve their defense and consequently win games.
The Leafs defence is perhaps the most injured in the entire league. They are currently suffering from the absence of Morgan Rielly, not only one of the best defencemen for the team but also one of the best in the league; Jake Muzzin, another one of their best defencemen; T.J. Brodie, a penalty killer and transition player; and Jordie Benn, a pleasantly surprising contributor to the Leafs’ emerging success before his injury.
When faced with a roster as depleted as this, most NHL teams would fold, but General Manager Kyle Dubas has built this organization on the strength of depth at each position, especially at defence. Players such as Victor Mete and rookie Mac Hollowell have jumped into the lineup to fill vacant roles.
Just as impressive are players who were already in the lineup. They raised their games to new levels and helped the team become one of the best in the league. Most notably, Justin Holl, who most Leafs fans had given up hope on after his many mistakes on the ice proved costly for the team, is the player Leafs fans fell in love with two years ago. Mark Giordano, the oldest player in the league at 39, has also turned back the clock, playing important minutes for the Leafs and contributing both offensively and defensively.
Lastly, the two young Swedish defencemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren are growing into the high caliber, well-rounded players that the Leafs organization wants them to be. Sandin, specifically, has played at a level previously unexpected due to his absence in training camp and lack of production to start the season.
Wins have not come in the same waves they have last season—until now. The Leafs recently came back from a long, five-game road trip where, surprisingly, they went undefeated. All Star and defending MVP award winner Auston Matthews has not hit the stride he had last season when he scored 60 goals. The Leafs star is currently on pace for 37. Thankfully, though, the star centre is finally starting to heat up, scoring in back-to-back games, earning the confidence and motivation he had in his record-breaking season a year ago.
Teammates John Tavares and William Nylander are also in the midst of career years. However, Mitch Marner has stood out from the rest. Marner, with a 17-game point streak, has become a forechecking machine, taking on any player that stands in his way.
Moving forward, the team’s stamina and willingness to win will be tested. The Leafs have beat some of the best teams in the league but have also fallen to some of the worst. This inconsistency is something the team will have to rid itself of if it wants to succeed in the postseason.
Sports & Health Editor (Volume 50); Locked on Leafs Columnist (Volume 48 & 49) — Omar is in his final year at UTM, working towards completing a major in CCIT and double minors in Political Science and Anthropology. Omar loves to keep up with various sports teams, his favourite being the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he isn’t stressing over exams or the Leafs, you can find him watching movies, looking at shoes he can only hope to afford, and trying his best to avoid parking tickets on campus.