The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers have some of the best players in the game on their rosters. Auston Matthews put up 48 goals for Toronto, and Connor McDavid posted 105 points in the regular season with help from his running mate Leon Draisaitl. Hockey fans everywhere were salivating over the thought of the top two teams in the North going at it for the right to have a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final. However, it was not to be.
In a shocking turn of events, the Winnipeg Jets swept the Oilers in the first round. Due to poor goaltending and a lack of scoring depth, Edmonton is on summer vacation right now. The recipe of success against the Oilers is simple– shutdown McDavid and Draisaitl and be physical. If you do that, that will probably lead to a win because the goalies aren’t very good, and the defensemen leave more to be desired. If Edmonton really wants to get better, they need to address those key needs. Look at the third line in Tampa Bay and the fourth line for the Islanders, and the boost they give their respective teams. The line of Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde, and Blake Coleman for the Lightning may be one of the best thumper lines in hockey. In the bubble, that line started and shut down high flying offenses including the perfection line for Boston. Same idea for the Identity line in New York with Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck. They start off the game and shut things down for the other team. The Oilers don’t have that. In terms of goaltending and defensemen, fans better hope the team is willing to spend some money and have a young goalie coming up and ready to go.
Now for the Maple Leafs. Toronto fans, I’m really starting to feel bad for you guys. This is now the longest championship drought in hockey with four straight first round playoff exits. First of all, respect to Jack Campbell who did a great job when given an opportunity and started 11-0 breaking the 10-0 mark set by Carey Price in Montreal. Obviously losing John Tavares was huge as well. From the outside looking in, it seems like the veteran guys they have are near the end of their careers. The fourth line of Toronto was made up of Joe Thornton (age 41), Nick Folingo (age 33), and Jason Spezza (age 37). That line did some good, but that same combination can’t happen again. Wayne Simmonds is no spring chicken either at 32 years old, but he’s always been a willing hitter.
Right now, it would probably be better moving him down to the fourth line right wing and saying goodbye to Spezza. Subsequently, moving Marner down to the second line right wing flanking Tavares (when he’s healthy) and Nylander down to the third line right wing could add some scoring depth. That’s at least a start since they are $1,892,219 over the cap. Similar to the Oilers, the defensemen seemed to let them down, and they are on the older side except for Travis Dermott (23) and Rasmus Sandin (21). Dumping some big contracts of aging players and giving some younger players in the farm system a chance could go a long way to help the roster improve.
Should these fan bases be worried about their stars wanting out? As of right now, not yet. They are still young, but they need some help. If these issues persist, Matthews may eye going home to Arizona, and McDavid and Draisaitl could be a package deal to a young and upcoming team missing a few pieces. Dark horse teams like Seattle and Pittsburgh could definitely be in the mix.
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