Locked on Leafs: The Final Chapter

I started this column more than two years ago, in January 2022, with the intent of blowing off some steam and venting about my favourite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since then, this column has snowballed into a passion and a career in journalism that I never saw coming. Without this column, I would not be where I am today, as Sports & Health Editor for The Medium. To say this column means a lot to me would be an understatement. 

That being said, I can’t help but feel as though this ending is bittersweet. While I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished at The Medium and looking forward to my future, I know how much I’ll miss using this column as an outlet to vent about my team. So, without further ado, the final chapter of Locked on Leafs.

The Leafs’ season is winding down with fewer than 20 games left to go. While 70 goals seems a bit out of reach, Auston Matthews is still on a historic pace, likely to break his personal and franchise-best of 60 goals in a season. William Nylander is having a stellar year, earning him his contract extension. Mitch Marner continues to be the Leafs’ heartbeat both offensively and defensively and, while Father Time is slowing him down, John Tavares remains an effective player for this team. The biggest questions for this Leafs team are how their defence will perform and, as always, how they will do in the Playoffs. It is rather poetic that the final Locked on Leafs issue surrounds questions regarding the team’s defence and playoff performance, topics that have haunted Leafs fans for years.

On the defensive end of things, the Leafs seem to be a mixed bag. Many fans wanted the Leafs to make a big move prior to the trade deadline. However, the team opted to tinker, acquiring lesser-known players such as Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson. These acquisitions caused Head Coach Sheldon Keefe to make the unpopular decision to healthy scratch Simon Benoit, who has been a pleasant surprise and bright spot on the team. Additionally, the struggling Timothy Liljegren has looked for more consistency in his game, but it is unclear if it will be enough come playoff time. 

For the playoffs, while there are no guarantees, it looks like the Leafs will likely face the Boston Bruins or the Florida Panthers. Both teams are nightmares for Leafs fans. In the past decade, the Leafs have lost to the Bruins on three separate occasions within just seven games, infamously blowing a four-to-one lead in the third period of game seven in 2013. During the 2023-24 regular season alone, the Bruins have owned the Leafs, beating them four times. The Bruins seem to have more structure in their game, are better defensively, and have a history of winning. One area the Leafs can hold their heads high about is their toughness. Year after year, the Bruins seem to beat up the Leafs, being the tougher and more physical team. This year, the Leafs seemed to be the ones pushing the Bruins in that aspect. While winning would be better, it is at least a positive sign that the team has some pushback this year.

If the Leafs played the Panthers, it would be a rematch of last year’s playoffs, where the Panthers infamously destroyed the Leafs in five games, almost sweeping them. This rematch would likely be as emotionally fueled as a Bruins match-up, as the Leafs still feel the sting of losing to the Panthers last spring. It would be very interesting to see how this year’s tougher Leafs team would match up against the Florida Panthers, who, like the Bruins, are known to be a tough and physical team to play against.  

Regardless of who the Leafs face off against in the playoffs, the team will be under pressure to perform in a physically demanding and tough playoff series that will surely test their grit and valour.  As is the case every year, the playoffs are paramount. Fans will now anxiously wait to see how the team will do this year and if this might just finally be the year they go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.

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.


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