As the 2017/2018 NHL season gets ready to kick off in less than two months, the level of excitement in Leafs Nation is at an all time high, and rightly so.
Last season was a huge step forward for the Maple Leafs, and the reasoning behind it was pretty clear. Start with Connor Brown’s 20 goals, or Mitch Marner dominating games. Go to William Nylander’s production or Nazem Kadri’s strong season. End it off with some steady goaltending and a Calder trophy.
Who knew a bunch of bingo balls could have such an impact on a hockey club that has been around for over 100 years?
With Matthews and the rest of the kids, a steady goaltender, a management team who make shitty players with overpriced contracts disappear and a premium coaching staff, the Maple Leafs can continue to climb the standings. Quite the turnaround from Mike Babcock’s famous presser line “the pain is coming.” He should have said, “one-year of pain was coming.”
But, even though there was plenty to cheer about and exceeded expectations throughout the team there still was some head shaking moments.
You know one thing that can be painful at times, Babs? Playing Zach Hyman on Auston Matthews’ left wing. Every. Single. Game.
As it appears the offseason movement for the Leafs has winded down, the focus is now what to do with what they have. Besides some Amateur Try Out invitees to training camp, don’t expect any more major moves before day one of camp. The significant move so far this offseason was the signed deal of Patrick Marleau, a move which has been praised all across the league, and rightly so.
The Maple Leafs are one of the youngest teams in the league, bringing in Marleau was smart for many reasons. Not only will Patty provide some leadership, experience and a calming influence on the dressing room, he also can still play.
Patrick Marleau can absolutely still fly out there, he can put the puck in the back of the net, and if the Maple Leafs want to maximize Auston Matthews’ production, Patrick Marleau needs to be on his Left Wing. Not Zach Hyman.
Let’s be clear; this is not a knock on Hyman, he is a good player who works hard every shift and can win those 50/50 pucks Coach Babcock is always raving about. Every team needs a Zach Hyman or two, who can be hard on the puck, throw some weight around, and out work the other teams. With all of those things considered, Zach Hyman has no business being on the first line with a generational talent.
We pause here and go back to last season. At numerous times throughout the season, the line of Matthews Nylander and Hyman would cycle on teams and dominate the shift. At the end of the cycle, Hyman would be wide open receiving a filthy pass from Matthews.
One problem, Hyman would either miss the net or hit the Tendy in the crest.
If you give these very same 1-A chances to Patrick Marleau, the red light comes on.
Patrick Marleau is a 12 time 25 goal scorer in the NHL. He’s a multiple all-star, he’s an Olympian, he’s durable, and if you give him quality scoring chances, he is going to bury the majority of them.
If you are going to play the other side of the coin and say “Hyman will get to more pucks and win those battles in the corner” I am going to counter your suggestion. “Marleau is a more skilled, faster and a smarter player who won’t need to battle for the puck as much, because he’s competent enough not to lose possession of it”. Marleau is an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier than Hyman, and he was going bar down while Hyman was still in diapers.
The Toronto Maple Leafs first line next year should be Auston Matthews between William Nylander and Patrick Marleau. This line has the skill set and the smarts to out perform other top lines in this league on a regular basis, and if they can build the chemistry early in October which should be the expectation, this line can do serious damage in this league.
With the durability and skillset of these three players, they should be able to reach 200 points combined.
The Maple Leafs defense has some question marks heading into the upcoming season, so they need to take a different approach. Their best defense will be an overwhelming offense, and there is nothing wrong with that. Leafs Nation shouldn’t worry too much; the Penguins proved this year you can win without a star D-Man, as long as your team is quicker, smarter and your best players produce.
If the Maple Leafs want to maximize the potential of Auston Matthews, he will spend this upcoming season playing with Patrick Marleau. Matthews’ 29 assists can easily be doubled with Marleau on his wing being handed premium scoring chances on a nightly basis.
No knock on Zach Hyman, you’re just not Patrick Marleau.
Make it happen, Babs, make it happen.