For my entire life I watched the Maple Leafs get schooled by teams with a top heavy offence; Pittsburgh and Washington in the past decade, Ottawa during the mid-2000s. Their depth of scoring would overwhelm Sundin, Bozak and other Leafs forwards who could just not compete. I would watch TSN and Sportsnet, this was always the narrative and after Mats left they simply did not have one.
The unbelievable thing is that now the Maple Leafs have three and no other team can touch them.
The Leafs have the best players from the 2009, 2012 and 2016 draft. You’re not supposed to have two first overall picks who play the same position and the team has Tavares and Matthews. You’re not supposed to have two horses and then a third stud who could be on 5-10 teams as their number one C. The Leafs have DEVELOPED Nazem Kadri into a shutdown player who can score 30 goals and play well against the other team’s best players.
Some people will not give credit to Kyle Dubas for creating the team they have now, but he saw a hole and filled it with pure class. Alone, the Leafs become better replacing Bozak with Tavares. However, in adding such a special player they now have one of the league’s most effective power plays while creating a competitive coaching match-up scenario each time they take to the ice.
Centers are scoring more than ever with changes to the NHL. Shots from in close and in the middle of the ice have made VGK’s William Karlsson a celebrated 40-goal scorer while players like “the most-improved” Mark Scheifele in front of the net has become an absolutely lethal scorer. The game has changed to scoring from in close, with a center who can be relied upon to finish. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not one but two players who can drive a team, on different lines, which is why they are so hard to stop. But in saying all of that the last 3 teams to win the Stanley Cup could go 3 Deep.
Crosby-Malkin-Bonino combined to be the first back-to-back cup champs since the 90’s. It was hard to believe that a team could really repeat, but with their depth of scoring, they dominated the Sharks and kept the puck away from the Preds. Kessel was huge, but it was Bonino doing the grunt work to control possession and letting Crosby win games. After Bonino left the Pens, they were bested by another team that was 3 Deep. The Capitals have had a good team for ten years; the difference in 2017-18 was their center depth.
Backstrom-Kuznetsov-Eller led the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Ovechkin was great, but Lars Eller as a third line center was their x-factor. Eller not only scored in overtime of game three against Columbus in 2OT to save their team, but had 18 points over their 24 games as a third line player (3 more than Tom Wilson, just saying).
Eller was better than Brassard, which is why Washington ultimately slayed the dragon; they were truly 3 deep. This brings me back to the Maple Leafs who bolster the trio of Matthews-Tavares-Kadri. How often does a team have two 1st overall picks that can feed off of each other; shift in, shift out. You really aren’t supposed to have a third line center that can score 30 goals AND shut down the other team’s best players. This is why Kadri is their secret weapon; this is why the Leafs can win the Stanley Cup. They have center depth like no other, and they have three genuine first line centers.
The true beauty of Kadri is that in a playoff series at home he gets the tough match-up: Bergeron, Stamkos, Crosby and Backstrom. He is great in this role as a branded pest and simply in nullifying players from scoring. That means John Tavares, accustomed to playing the role of saviour but now finding himself a second fiddle who can dominate many. Finally, Auston Matthews – bona fide 40 goal scorer, Calder winner, apple of my eye and the city of Toronto, gets to feast on the opposition’s third line. That’s the beauty of Kadri; he does the heavy lifting making it easier for his teammates to succeed. Look at the Penguins and Capitals trio; are they better than Matthews-Tavares-Kadri? Simply put: the answer is no.
In a playoff game, I figure the ice-time will be around Tavares (20m), Matthews (20m), and Kadri (15-17m). This means the Leafs will have a #1 center on the ice over 90% of the time. This is what’s going to make them so intimidating at home and on the road. I have dreamed of the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup my entire life and for the first time I really think it could happen. I’ve wanted the Leafs to have a number one center for my whole life and today I’m spoiled with three.
If the Maple Leafs win the cup this year or in the near future, it will not be because they have a better third pairing right-handed defenseman; it will be because they are 3 DEEP at the most important position in hockey and no other team can touch that kind of glorious depth.