Many things can change on a team from one season to the next. Last season around this time, the Maple Leafs were sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division. Right now the Maple Leafs are sitting in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and not in a playoff spot. I will take a look at the changes the team has made this season from last season and compare them. I will also breakdown other factors that may have caused the Maple Leafs decline.
The Maple Leafs roster saw a fairly big turnover this season. The biggest part of the turnover was the result of two trades made during the offseason. From the main roster the Maple Leafs traded Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev to the Ottawa Senators for Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur. The next move made by the Maple Leafs was acquiring Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot from the Colorado Avalanche. Going to the Avalanche in the deal was long time Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri and defense prospect Calle Rosen. The Maple Leafs also traded away Patrick Marleau and a conditional 1st round pick in 2020 and a 7th round pick in 2020 to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 6th round pick in 2020.
The Maple Leafs lost two of their top four defensemen in free agency. Veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey signed with the Ottawa Senators and Jake Gardiner signed with the Carolina Hurricanes. Free agency also saw the departures of goaltender Garrett Sparks and defenseman Igor Ozhiganov. The Maple Leafs used free agency to re-sign goaltender Michael Hutchinson and defenseman Martin Marincin. They also signed Unrestricted Free Agent Jason Spezza to a one year deal.
One would hope that after that much of a turnover the team would be better. That however is not the case for the Maple Leafs this season. After 49 games last season the Maple Leafs had 63 points and were in 2nd place of the Atlantic Division. This season after 49 games the Maple Leafs have 57 points and sit in 4th place in the Atlantic Division. That is a drop of six points in the standings from last season. As a result of that, the Maple Leafs are two points out of a playoff wild card spot and one point out of a divisional playoff spot. This week is the Maple Leafs bye-week so many teams have the chance to move further ahead or catch up in the standings.
The Maple Leafs have been hit hard by the injury bug this season. The team started the season with both Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott on Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR). The list of injured players for the Maple Leafs is a long one. Games missed due to injury include Hyman (19), Andreas Johnsson (15), Dermott (13), Mitch Marner (11), Jake Muzzin (11), Trevor Moore (11), Ilya Mikheyev (10), John Tavares (7) and Kerfoot (5). Morgan Rielly has missed the last three games, but is expected to miss at least eight weeks. Mikheyev is also expected to miss the rest of this season. The fact that the Maple Leafs have never really had a full healthy lineup could be a big contributing factor in their drop in the standings.
On November 20th, 2019 the Maple leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock. The team got off to a rough start with a 9-10-4 record, but more importantly the players looked uninterested. Mike Babcock helped the Maple Leafs to three straight playoff appearances, but all ended in first round exits. The Maple Leafs general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas then promoted Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe to take over. Dubas thought it made sense to make the coaching change early instead of letting the team continue to spiral downward.
The Maple Leafs have played better for the most part since Keefe took over as head coach. The team has a record of 16-7-3 under Keefe, but it still hasn’t been good enough on a consistent basis. With a new coach comes a new system and style of play. In the end the team needs to be better defensively if they want to make the playoffs.
Final Thoughts on Mid Season Comparison
By looking at all the different factors involved, it is shocking that this team is still close to a playoff spot. New faces from a summer of roster turnover, ten players missing time with injuries and a coaching change in the middle of it all. That does not sound like a recipe for success and yet the Maple Leafs still have a fighting chance at making the playoffs. The remaining 33 games for the Maple Leafs will probably all feel like must win games and they could be in a dog fight for a playoff spot.
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