The Leafs furious start hits a speed bump. The silver lining.

Over the course of a gruelling 82 game season every team does it, they hit the wall, so to speak, as their schedule gets tougher. The Leafs seemingly were off to a record start with Mathews and Tavares ready to score 200 goals between them and Morgan Reilly about to demolish everything Bobby Orr has ever done, they had defeated the Stanley cup champs in their own barn but then Sidney Crosby arrived. The Leafs were quickly reminded that unless Andersen was in top form and ready to carry the team's defense they weren't going to just outscore everyone 7 to 6 as Gretzky and the Oilers used to in the 1980's. The NHL had changed and now teams had defense, good goalies and their own offense. Next came St Louis, a team off to bad a start and hungry to win and  win they did, beating the Maple Leafs  soundly 4 to 1. The Leafs were off to a very respectable 6 and 3 start but a certain reality had set in. The Leafs were waiting for Andersen to win every game again. They weren't hustling and were waiting for their power play or  power fully loaded offense to allow them to cheat other teams in the NHL.

Alas, the Maple Leafs were in the Eastern conference a complete beast that would only get worse as the season progressed. They had the Stanley cup champions Washington Capitals, there was Crosby,Malkin,Murray and former Leaf Phil Kessel, Yzerman's Stanley cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning not to mention arch nemesis Boston Bruins with that damn Chara on defense, not to mention former Leaf Tukka Rask in net. And let's not mention the Leaf's record against improving Buffalo and their loss to a surprising Ottawa Senator ,team. Perhaps the golden bubble had burst after all it was now some 10 games into the season and the other NHL teams would now start finding their game. By game 20 teams have usually worked on their weaknesses and started to gel, playing to their potential, as it were. The Leafs had found their potential early blowing teams straight out of the barn with a high powered offense, a much vaunted power play and some timely saves from goalies Andersen and new backup Garret Sparks.

Kyle Dubas had just flown over to Switzerland to talk to hold out William Nylander with one GM claiming Nylander wanted more than he was worth, rumoured to be $8 Million/yr long term. So Dubas had one chip he might be able to parlay into 2 things the Leafs would need to win a cup. Grit, hustle and defense but at $8 Million per year would there be any GM's willing to gamble on William Nylander and his potential ? It now seemed dubious. You see Dubas now not only had to find a GM willing and able to eat that kind of lunch but that GM must also have a top 2 defenseman he was willing to part with and that would take time. As the season progresses teams become hungry for offense ( see Philly signs JVR) as a lack of it can mean no playoffs, something many owners dread. At that point the pressure goes on the GM to " Do something !" from both ownership, the media and of course, the fans. Advantage Dubas, his team was going to the playoffs and he had until December first to make any hard and fast decision on the future of Leaf forward William Nylander who may have put himself into an odd position. Did any team want Nylander at $8 Million per year ? Could anyone fit that under their cap ? Possibly not and with Kappanen filling in admirably would the Leafs even consider it?

In all of this there was a definite silver lining. Many of the Leaf's support players were not playing upto par yet. Players such as Kadri, Brown, Johnsson, Gardiner all had more to give while Freddie Andersen has a penchant for starting to carry the team on his back around the game 20 mark, yet to come. The Leafs had lacked hustle and the lack of grit and determination found in players such Gilmour, Clark, Tucker, Domi etc. wasn't there. Their defense wasn't as good as some elite teams yet and everyone had forgotten how Andersen single handedly won many games last year while facing more rubber than a Goodyear factory. The Leafs were nowhere near firing on all cylinders and once the scoring machine Mathews and Tavares cooled they were now losing games and their weaknesses were being exposed early in the season. This was a blessing for Coach Babcock and a wake up call for the team. There was more to hockey than a hot power play. It was, in a way, back to the drawing board for Babcock who could now say " You see ! I told you this is the NHL!" and for new GM Kyle Dubas who now had much to ponder  with regards to the Nylander situation and the Leaf's needs for the rest of the season and the Playoffs in the Beastly East. After all the Leafs could be facing Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay or even Boston in the first round. Heaven help the Leafs if they think a questionable defense or a lack of grit and determination would get them past that group. Thankfully the management now knows this and so do many of the Leaf's rabid fans. Stay tuned, this soap we call Leaf Nation should get very interesting soon,as it always does in Toronto the center of the hockey media universe.

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