On the ice, the team recently acquired veteran defensemen Mark Giordano from the Seattle Kraken in a clutch trade deadline acquisition. Giordano will provide more depth on the blue line. While Giordano started his Leafs tenure with rookie defencemen Timothy Liljegren, he will most likely be reunited with long-time defence partner T.J. Brodie, whom he spent most of his time in Calgary with.
This addition will also take pressure off the struggling Jake Muzzin, who is currently out of the lineup with a concussion. Prior to the concussion, Muzzin was not playing at the level he usually does. Looking ahead, he will most likely not be at 100 per cent when playoff time comes. Giordano allows the Leafs to ease Muzzin back and lessen the load and competition he takes.
On the offensive side of things, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner continue to soar as one of the best duos in the sport. Matthews tied a career-high in points (80) while Marner set a new career-high in goals (27).
Off the ice, the Leafs collaborated with long-time fan and pop icon Justin Bieber. This collaboration gave Leaf fans a brand new, reversible jersey for their Next-Gen game, where Mark Giordano made his Leaf debut.
This new jersey provided the Leafs with good luck that night. Pierre Engvall scored a short-handed game winner to propel the Leafs ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the standings. If the playoffs started today, the Leafs would have a home-ice advantage against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
While some would be quick to write off the Leafs and view the Lightning as the heavy favourites, there is reason to believe the Leafs could pull off an upset and slay their first-round dragon. While Tampa has the Cup-winning experience, they must be feeling some level of fatigue after going back-to-back. Tampa also has a reputation of underperforming while being the heavy favourites. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy for being the best regular-season team and breaking multiple records, the Lightning got swept by the bottom seed Columbus Blue Jackets, back in the 2019 NHL Playoffs.
The main issue with this Leaf team continues to be the goaltending. However, it seems to be solving itself. Rookie goalie Erik Kallgren took control of the crease and gave his team confidence. The struggling Petr Mrazek also seems to have found his game, earning his team a win in the Next-Gen game, allowing two goals on 22 shots. Those stats may seem underwhelming, but Mrazek was much more confident and comfortable in the blue paint. Leaf fans are also hoping that All-Star goalie Jack Campbell will return from injury refreshed and rejuvenated and ultimately return to his All-Star level of play.
With the issue of goaltending seemingly solved, special teams, soaring, the increased depth at defense from the acquisition of Mark Giordano, and an offense that is arguably the best in the league, the Leafs are poised to do some damage in the playoffs.
While history can be a fortune teller, this current Leaf team has the best chance of making it past the first round and ultimately competing for a Stanley Cup. As a top-five team in the league, one can only hope that five years of failure will yield some form of success.