The Biggest 'What-Ifs' from Toronto Maple Leafs 2013-14 Season
The Toronto Maple Leafs season held early promise after a great start, but the meteor-like crash in the final month of the season was disastrous.
The Leafs failed to make the playoffs, despite playing in the Eastern Conference where eight of 14 teams make the NHL’s second season.
The team is going to have to improve its possession numbers if it hopes to compete for a playoff position in the tightly contested Atlantic Division next season.
Like most clubs, Toronto’s season had a handful of scenarios that impacted the final results.
Let’s take a look at some “what-ifs” that could have helped make the Leafs playoff contenders in 2013-14.
What If David Clarkson Hadn’t Leapt to Phil Kessel’s Defence?
David Clarkson’s main 10-game suspension in the preseason was not a great way to begin his Toronto tenure. The hard-nosed winger was trying to protect one of the league’s stars, as teammate Phil Kessel was up against big John Scott. But it was an ill-advised move to come off the bench to engage an opponent.
Clarkson never gained any traction as the season wore on. His lucrative contract was at the front of every fan discussion, and his 11 points in 60 games were nowhere near where many had hoped they would be.
In his last two seasons in New Jersey, the Toronto native had produced more than half a point per game.
If he had earned 30 or more points, the Leafs would have been in a much better position in the standings.
Clarkson has the tools to be an impact third-line winger. Expectations need to be adjusted if Clarkson's stay in Toronto is going to be a good one—from everyone's perspective.
What If Dave Bolland Hadn't Been Injured?
Dave Bolland can boast a Stanley Cup-winning goal from his days with the Chicago Blackhawks. However, he was never more than a role player with that talented team.
As a third-line centre in Toronto, with the further ability to take away some of Nazem Kadri’s most challenging minutes, he was poised to be a valuable piece in Toronto.
He filled that role quite well when healthy. He played decent two-way hockey and was able to help shield Kadri, as he continued to develop his two-way play.
Bolland’s severed tendon was a terrible injury, and it meant the 6’0” pivot played just 23 games.
He posted only 12 points this season.
While the Leafs defence needs a lot of attention, the all-zone play of most of the forwards must improve. If players like Bolland can be signed at a reasonable cost, it will certainly help in this capacity.
A healthy Bolland would have produced another 20 to 25 points in all likelihood, played some tough minutes against top lines as the season wound down and he could have helped Nazem Kadri become the player that all Leafs fans want to see him become.
What If Morgan Rielly Was 25 Years Old?
Morgan Rielly started the season as a wet-behind-the-ears rookie who hadn’t played an NHL game. By the end of the year, he was playing well in all three zones against some of the best players in the world.
Rielly earned 27 points in 73 games and showed flashes of offensive brilliance. There is every reason to believe that Rielly could become an NHL All-Star in the coming seasons.
He had 54 points in 60 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors in his final season of junior hockey. He’s got a great head for the game, and if he’s paired with a defensive-minded partner, he’s going to flourish at the NHL level.
It’s always a difficult thing to do, but Rielly really does look like a can’t-miss star. If Rielly had been 25 years old this year, he might have put up as many as 50 points, given his upside. He may have played upwards of 25 minutes on a nightly basis.
Toronto fans have a lot to look forward to as Rielly’s game matures and expands. He has all the markings of a top-pairing NHL defenceman.
What If Randy Carlyle Wasn't the Head Coach?
This might be the biggest question surrounding the Leafs this season. Randy Carlyle wants to see his team play structured, disciplined, two-way hockey. It has not been a good fit with a collection of players that want to play a run-and-gun style.
The Leafs are a young team that seem resistant to playing physical hockey that sees a lot of cycling in the offensive zone. This team is made up of quick-strike scorers who relish a quick transition game.
He also needs defenders to communicate well and rely on their one-on-one defending to separate attacking players from the puck.
It hasn’t really seemed to be conducive to winning in Toronto, as it doesn’t have the players to execute this system that worked so well in Anaheim when Carlyle led them to a Stanley Cup.
It’s impossible to predict how this team would have played under different leadership, but with the way it seemed to resist Carlyle’s methods and philosophy, it seems likely that it would have been more successful in the final standings.
Carlyle has to change, the players need to change, the roster needs to be modified, or a new coach has to be hired to see some improvements.
What If Joffrey Lupul Hadn't Had an off Year?
A lot of discussion focused on the great seasons that both James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel had on the top line.
Nazem Kadri also had a bright line shone on him for various reasons. In many ways, Joffrey Lupul flew below the radar in having a so-so season.
In 82 games over the past two seasons prior to this one, Lupul had posted 85 points. He was nowhere near that pace with 44 points in 69 games in 2013-14.
Lupul’s game had matured a great deal as he reached the age of 30 last September.
If he had scored another 30 points this year, the secondary scoring that the Leafs needed so desperately on so many nights would not have been an issue. Wins would have followed.
A healthy, productive Joffrey Lupul is a breakout NHL player who can win games singlehandedly with his finish.