It’s the holidays and two things are for sure: the fireplace channel is hypnotic and the Toronto Maple Leafs are ablaze.
Of course, 2018 is soon to be in the rearview and this edition of the Maple Leafs is looking like one of the finest to hit the ice in recent or not-so-recent memory.
Toronto hit the break on a four-game win streak, putting the Detroit Red Wings to bed before visions of sugarplums began to do whatever visions of sugarplums do. The Maple Leafs weren’t even that good against a fraught team but they still popped off a win because they can.
That’s the story of the 2018 Maple Leafs, after all. Firepower. Lots of it.
But what about the 2019 Maple Leafs? That is a trickier tale.
The issue is the cap, as most people know, and that’s going to put Kyle Dubas in front of some big decisions. He won accolades for tying up William Nylander, but how will he handle the next batch of RFAs when this season concludes? Having a parade in the Six will make any bad mojo a lot easier to swallow, but Toronto has to get there first.
Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Kasperi Kapanen, Jake Gardiner, and Andreas Johnsson need new deals next year. That puts the rest of the squad on notice and also means that someone is going to have to go.
That someone, the theory goes, could very well be Jake Gardiner.
At first blush, this is a stupid thing to say.
After all, if Toronto has a sore point this season it’s defence. And Gardiner is one of the best at the gig. But he’s also a left-side defenceman on a team loaded with ‘em. The right side is the problem side and that means that the Maple Leafs might be shopping for a, let’s say, friendlier contract come deadline day.
And that could set the stage for how Dubas and Co. do in handling this intractable but obligatory task.
Looking at that holiday list of pending RFAs is daunting from that perspective, but those are someone else’s problems and that’s another day.
In the diminishing days of 2018, it’s a joy to behold.
After all, Kapanen used the Nylander contract sitch to vault himself to prominence. He saw action alongside Matthews. He’s a plus-19. And Johnsson is wrapping a one-year deal that makes him arbitration-eligible. He’s made Matthews and John Tavares space and sits with 17 points. He fishes out pucks, wins battles.
Speaking of Matthews, he’s scoring 1.5 points per game – more than Connor McDavid. And Markham’s Marner is belting out 1.39 points per game to generate 50 points by the eve of the holidays.
Feels good, doesn’t it? Much like holiday spending, sometimes it’s best to sit back in front of the paper piles and bows and ribbons and enjoy the disaster. But, despite clear and present joy, there will be a hangover and the sudden realization that all this glorious stuff costs money.