In the recent era of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey, the team has gained a reputation for their fast-paced, offensive style of play, often winning games with their high-end offensive weapons but losing due to defensive lapses. Although this reputation has varied over the years, the Maple Leafs have quietly transformed into an effective defensive team in the past couple of seasons. In fact, they ranked as a top-10 shot-suppression squad in both the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. However, despite allowing a reasonable average of 29 shots per game early in the 2023-24 season, the Maple Leafs have struggled defensively and have conceded at least four goals in each game. Currently, only two teams have allowed more goals than the Maple Leafs (13), while no team has scored more (14).
This return to their stereotypical form can be partially attributed to the .860 save percentage the team has received from its goaltenders. However, some of it was also the expected outcome of conscious team-building efforts implemented by general manager Brad Treliving during his first offseason. While most of the headlines focused on the additions of gritty players like Ryan Reaves, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Max Domi, Treliving’s actions spoke louder than his quotes. His most significant acquisitions, such as Bertuzzi ($5.50M AAV), John Klingberg ($4.15M AAV), and Domi ($3M AAV), highlighted his desire to strengthen the team’s secondary scoring and alleviate pressure on the top line. However, these players come with their own flaws. Bertuzzi can be reckless at times, Klingberg is not known for his defensive abilities, and Domi has never been a two-way force. Importing these players was expected to make the Maple Leafs’ games more exciting at both ends of the ice, and so far, that has been the case.
A perfect example of the chaos the new additions can bring was seen in the Maple Leafs’ recent 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Bertuzzi and Klingberg, in particular, showcased their unpredictable style of play. While Domi had a relatively quiet game, which has been a pattern since joining the team. Bertuzzi’s aggressive and energetic play caught the eye, with both remarkable moments and needless penalties throughout the game. His unique combination of hard work and skill was evident, creating opportunities for his teammates in the offensive zone. However, his seemingly endless energy wasn’t always channeled productively and resulted in unnecessary penalties that had a significant impact on the outcome of the game. In fact, Bertuzzi already has five minor penalties this season, almost half of the Maple Leafs’ total penalties (11).
Similarly, Klingberg’s game mirrored Bertuzzi’s, with notable moments on both ends of the ice. Although his expected goal rate at 5-on-5 was poor, he showcased his creativity through impressive passes and feeds, while also making significant defensive mistakes that led to goals against. Overall, Klingberg’s offensive-minded style has its drawbacks, particularly when his chances aren’t converted into goals, making his game appear less appealing.
Despite the challenges and inconsistencies presented by these new players, the Maple Leafs are prepared to face the consequences and adapt throughout the season. The team acknowledges that some of the issues observed, such as Bertuzzi’s penalty troubles and Klingberg’s defensive struggles, are fixable with time and experience. Additionally, as Domi settles into a more consistent role, the team expects to see improvements from him as well. However, what won’t change is the fact that the Maple Leafs have added a sense of unpredictability to their lineup, and they are fully aware that they will have to live with the consequences throughout the season. The contributions of players like Bertuzzi and Klingberg have already begun to reshape the team dynamics, creating a combustible and high-event style of hockey that is both thrilling and challenging for the coaching staff. While this may not be a coach’s ideal dream, it was an expected outcome when adding players who excel at causing chaos rather than playing in a structured manner.
Sarah Anderson dives into the fast-paced world of NHL hockey. Her coverage includes game analysis, player spotlights, and the latest news from the ice. Sarah’s dedication to the sport ensures that hockey enthusiasts stay informed about the NHL’s thrilling action.