Playoff production ranking, which the game did not cut it?
Yesterday in my column about the Toronto Maple Leafs edition, I noted the Maple Leafs’ playoff production and looked at three players who I think came forward for the team. Those three were William Nylander, Jason Spezza and goalie Jack Campbell. Today I would like to watch two players who I think didn’t play as well as they should have.
Again, I don’t want readers to misunderstand where I’m from. I support the plans of the Maple Leafs organization and believe the Shanaplan is a logical and achievable process for creating a good organizational structure and a winning team. I’m also a Kyle Dubas fan and I think head coach Sheldon Keefe is the right person to be the head coach of the Maple Leafs.
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Yet the sad truth is that the Maple Leafs are still out in the 2020-21 playoffs. Yesterday, I offered notes on who I think showed up on the ice for the Maple Leafs; today I’m going to comment on who I thought wasn’t there as powerfully as I expected.
Auston Matthews: Class C of the playoffs
Heading into the regular season, Austin Matthews has done everything right. His new training regimen and diet turned him into nothing less than a lean and mean scoring machine. His preparation was flawless. Plus, throughout the regular season, he played with a wrist injury that limited his production – especially his ability to shoot the puck with power.
Yet he has become one of the NHL’s top scorers in recent NHL history. He ran off with the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer, beating the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid by eight goals (Matthews scored 41 goals and McDavid scored 33). Matthews seemed unstoppable. At least in the regular season.
Then came the playoffs. Matthews worked diligently. In Game 2 he scored his only goal and for the seven game streak he also added four assists. Matthews, 23, added 35 shots on goal, had 25 hits and finished with a plus-1 rating.
Only one of his 35 shots crossed the goal line, and he shot more times on goal than any other player on either team. However, the shots simply wouldn’t go; and, only numerous cinematic studies during the offseason will show why.
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Granted, part of the problem was that coach Keefe loaded Matthews and his partner Mitch Marner with ice time. They played a lot; too much I think. From what I’ve read, playoff hockey is both physically and mentally exhausting. By the time of Game 7, Matthews looked tired. How strong he was and how good his physical form had become, there was nothing left for him.
You won’t get any argument from me that Matthews is one of the top five NHL players to play right now. And, as far as he’s become a team manager, he just hasn’t lived up to anyone’s expectations during this playoff series. Any other Maple Leafs player who finished with five points in seven games could have been credited as having a good playoff series; however, the expectations of Matthews – rightly or wrongly – are much higher. Honestly, I think he aspires to that role of team leader. Now what he does is the question.
If the Maple Leafs take the next step, and it will have to be next season now, it will be up to Matthews to lead the way. The gist of this playoff series is that he failed to find a way to do it.
Mitch Marner: Playoff standings C-
On May 17th, I wrote an article titled “The 2020-21 Maple Leafs Season Sees A Mitch Marner Transformation,” and described my belief that Marner had returned to the hearts of Maple Leafs fans this season. regular after prolonged and contentious holdout that his agent had hired with the organization on salary and duration. Maybe I wrote too fast.
As I’ve read the various posts and especially the comment sections of those posts, it’s pretty clear that Marner has become the main hotbed of fan anger after his failed playoff series. Of all the Maple Leafs players, Marner was considered the most disappointing player on the team. Plus, fans remind us that this was for the second year in a row.
The truth is, his game hasn’t cut him off – at least on offense; and, that’s not good enough. He hasn’t scored a goal in 18 playoff games. Never known to have a great shot in the NHL, his partnership with Matthews flourished because he played on Marner’s obvious strengths – his vision on the ice, his IQ in hockey, and their excellent chemistry.
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But to me, Marner seemed to be playing small and scared. He lacked the creativity of the regular season, where he looked confident and knowledgeable. He’s had too many turnovers and made way too many mistakes on the ice. While Marner’s job isn’t to score goals, the fact that he couldn’t score at least one during the playoffs when he had scored 20 in the regular season speaks volumes.
Add to that the fact that he hasn’t racked up a lot of assists says more. It obviously didn’t help that Zach Hyman wasn’t playing 100%, but I thought Marner was feeling the pressure. He looked frustrated and confused. This isn’t the Marner I got to know over the years I’ve covered the team. In the end, he failed to prove that his regular season abilities could translate into playoff success.
Having said that, I think Marner is smart, knowledgeable, and will be successful. He is only 24 years old. I also think he has a great bonus that the other players don’t – Matthews. I believe their chemistry can translate into playoff success. I will not be among those who claim his head on the trade bloc.
He may never become the heart and soul of this team, but he could become its brains. He can lead the escape; it can control the power play; he can play great defense; and, he can help Matthews become an elite scoring machine in their coming seasons. But he has to do it during the playoffs, and he didn’t.
What to do with Matthews and Marner?
Really, no one is asking that Matthews be moved. It’s not the same with Marner. What is the organization doing with Marner? Fans are calling for its release. Is it now only of value as a cap-space bargain?
So forgive me Marner fans. In my opinion, he didn’t play as well as he needed to during these playoffs. Also, forgive me the enemies of Marner. I don’t think he should be traded. Finally, forgive me those who believe that the lineage of Matthews and Marner should be separated.
Related: Toronto Maple Leafs Should Let Mitch Marner Sit For 2019-20 Season
Marner and Matthews should stay together. But now the work begins: The two young players (Matthews 23 and Marner 24) have to spend a lot of time with the Maple Leafs coaching staff watching a movie, planning strategies and getting used to mental attitudes. and muscle memory of how they should play together on the ice during the regular season and during the playoffs.
There is no doubt that they are already working in these areas; however, to be successful in the playoffs and lead their team to the Stanley Cup, they need to do more. And they have to start soon.
The former professor (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for over 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and just being a fan of sports – hockey, the Toronto Raptors and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies the way a professional athlete should act).
If you are wondering why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who is also Jim Parsons – wrote for Hockey writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so that readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher”. The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher”. It became his pen name. Today, apart from writing for Hockey writers, he teaches research design to graduate students at several Canadian universities.
He can’t wait to share his thoughts on the Toronto Maple Leafs and how the sport is more involved in life. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf