The Toronto Maple Leafs have had their fair share of ups and downs over the course of the 2013/14 regular season. They went in strong 7-2-1 in their first 10 games, hoping for a better outcome after their disappointing loss to the Boston Bruins. The team was on track not only to make the playoffs but to be one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference. Throughout October and most of November, the team retained a top spot in the Metropolitan Division, beating worthy opponents like the Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Montreal Canadiens. By December, the team began their downward spiral, winning only six of the 14 games they played throughout the month, with overtime or shootouts deciding six games.
The team’s inability to win games in regulation has been a struggle all season, although their performance in shootouts has improved dramatically since last year’s shortened season, when the team lost all four shootouts. It should be cause for concern that the Leafs can’t seem to defend leads and put pressure on their opponents for the full 60 minutes.
After the team’s thrilling victory at the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, also decided by a shootout, the team has seen some ups and downs, losing four games in a row—being blown out by the Rangers with a score of 7-1 and the Carolina Hurricanes with 6-1—before turning the ship around and winning four games in a row, all by two goals or less, with two decided by shootouts.
The future’s uncertain for this unproven team, but the Leafs are predicted to make some noise during the NHL’s trade deadline on March 5. “I think they understand a trade needs to be made,” says Chris Autuchiewicz, a third-year political science major. “The roster needs a shakeup or the team needs a hell of a pep talk.”
Autuchiewicz believes that goalie James Reimer, who lost his spot as the team’s starting net-minder to offseason acquisition Jonathan Bernier, should be the one to go. “Bernier is playing well and even though we need help in other facets of the game, the goalie position has carried us. I think the team needs real leaders on defence.” Autuchiewicz named Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the top defensive lines in the entire league, as the types of players the Leafs should have along the blue line; he added that captain Dion Phaneuf isn’t as good as Leafs’ management thinks. “To me, he’s worth nothing. I see a team that has scored decently with him on it but fails to outshoot teams and gets outshot by wide margins, and the blame has to be put on defence.”
Currently, the Leafs occupy the top spot in the Eastern Conference wild card with 55 points. The wild card is new to the league this year and was created as part of the 2013/14 NHL realignment, which organizes the 30 NHL teams into the Pacific, Central, Metropolitan, and Atlantic Divisions. If the season ended today, the Leafs would be in a playoff spot and Toronto would once again be considered a worthy NHL franchise with back-to-back appearances in the post-season. There remain 36 games left in the season, and if the Leafs want to energize the city as they did last May with a playoff appearance, they can’t let up over the next few months. The team has a target on its back and is being chased by the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, and Columbus Blue Jackets, and with only a margin of three points separating the Buds from these other powerful franchises, there’s no time to lose.