Opinion | Because the Islanders’ success reignites the Lamoriello vs. Dubas debate, might Tuukka Rask deliver the Leafs that ‘killer intuition?’

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It’s been a number of days now since the Maple Leafs exited the Stanley Cup playoffs, falling to a Montreal Canadiens group that was regarded as completely mediocre and has since demonstrated itself to be a surprisingly robust playoff power. Highly effective sufficient to mild up the CN Tower, apparently.

The passage of time ought to now permit for a extra critical dialogue of the following steps out there to Brendan Shanahan’s Leafs. Let’s simply say the “commerce Mitch Marner for a fifth spherical draft decide simply to eliminate him” varieties of reactions don’t are usually both logical or terribly convincing.

Many will accurately deal with Shanahan’s view that “killer intuition,” no matter that’s, is missing on the Leaf roster. Many see that exact high quality as a capability to aggressively step on an opponent’s throat when the opponent is down and out. Most affiliate it with a bodily expression of perspective and feistiness. Knock someone down. Elbow someone within the schnozz. The New York Islanders actually illustrated that type of group orneriness of their six-game ouster of the favoured Boston Bruins.

Not surprisingly, many Leaf followers are crediting former Leaf common supervisor Lou Lamoriello for that Isles having that kind of persona, together with head coach Barry Trotz. The truth that the Leafs selected Kyle Dubas over Lamoriello, and the Leafs now don’t have that killer intuition, is being seen by many as proof that Shanahan made a critical error in his selection of common supervisor.

It’s extra difficult than that. The scenario of the 2 groups, their ownerships, their histories, their fan bases, their wage cap conditions and virtually all the things are very completely different. Lamoriello inherited some useful items from his predecessor, as, after all, did Dubas. Trotz can also be a much more achieved coach than is Leaf head coach Sheldon Keefe, and Trotz’s most popular type of play is much extra battle examined than that of Keefe, who together with Dubas are attempting to pioneer a method of play based mostly totally on puck possession. However Islanders followers actually have motive to crow, with Lamoriello’s hiring mixed with the departure of John Tavares that has seemingly benefitted Lengthy Island greater than Toronto.

However killer intuition, if that’s what the Islanders have and the Leafs lack, can also be expressed in resistance, in an unwillingness to go down simply, in a refusal to make it straightforward for the opposite man.

In that mild, it’s not exhausting to see goaltending as an enormous a part of a group having a killer intuition. The Islanders flex-pack mixture of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov has been glorious this spring, with each goalies having received 4 video games.

In Toronto, an under-discussed a part of the group’s repeated playoff failures over the previous 5 years has been the truth that the group has misplaced to superior goaltending each single 12 months. From Tuukka Rask to Braden Holtby to Jonas Korpisalo/Elvis Merzlikins to Carey Worth, Leaf goalies have come out second greatest each single time.

Largely that was Freddie Andersen — a goalie acquired by Lamoriello — and this 12 months it was Jack Campbell. Campbell was a fantastic story all season, and he stood up admirably to the troublesome activity of going head-to-head with Worth this spring. However if you wish to speak about Toronto’s lack of killer intuition, it’s important to be prepared to speak about Campbell permitting that softie opening objective of Recreation 7 to Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher. A goalie hoping to beat Worth, or win a Stanley Cup, simply can’t permit that objective. It was precisely the type of comfortable playoff objective Andersen had been surrendering at important occasions within the 4 earlier playoff seasons.

Montreal’s edge within the crease progressively wore down the Leafs. Which brings us to this factor of “Find out how to Repair the Leafs?,” a beloved 416 parlour sport in these elements each spring for 54 years now.

Probably the most direct answer in objective, after all, can be for the Leafs to develop their very own goaltending. That takes time. So far as drafting and/or signing younger goalies and coaching them to change into No. 1 puckstoppers, the Leafs as a company have failed miserably for many years. They don’t like drafting them within the first spherical, for starters. Proper now, they’ve goalie prospects Joseph Woll, Veini Vehvilainen, Ian Scott and newly signed Erik Kallgren. One among them may shock and change into an NHL starter, or all of them may become both Justin Pogge or Jussi Rynnas.

The perfect one they ever drafted was most likely Rask in 2005, additionally the final goalie taken within the first spherical of the draft by the Leafs. Which brings us round to an attention-grabbing idea now that the Bruins are out and Rask is simply days away from unrestricted free company. Might buying the goalie they as soon as traded away to get Andrew Raycroft give the Leafs the sting they want?

In some methods, it’s an analogous scenario to 2002 when Curtis Joseph fled to Detroit and 37-year-old Ed Belfour was signed as Joseph’s alternative. As a Leaf, Belfour performed very nicely, though the group didn’t win something. He actually introduced depth and a winner’s perspective to the dressing room.

Rask, 34, is a really completely different character. He’s a considerate kind who opted out of the bubble playoffs in 2020 principally out of concern for his household. It was simply one more reason for Rask haters to doubt his mettle.

On the identical time, Rask is achieved and intense, albeit otherwise than Belfour. He performed injured towards the Islanders and wasn’t at his greatest, however he gutted it out. The Bruins, who turned the web page on Zdeno Chara final 12 months, now have each Rask and David Krejci heading to free company, whereas Patrice Bergeron might be 36 when the following NHL season begins.

With the group in transition, GM Don Sweeney may very well be prepared to show the crease over to 22-year-old Jeremy Swayman. Definitely, there’s no intention to maintain paying Rask $7 million per season.



Now, the notion of Rask-to-the-Leafs is fraught with obstacles. One, he could retire. Two, he has mentioned he doesn’t need to play for some other group. Three, Campbell deserves an opportunity subsequent season, and is on a really reasonably priced contract. 4, the Leafs at current don’t have the cap house to soak up Rask, even at 50 per cent of his present wage. Lastly, different group priorities could come first.

That mentioned, it needs to be abundantly clear the Leafs want higher goaltending, and that needs to be a a lot greater precedence than, say, bringing again Jason Spezza. You need killer intuition? Effectively, have a look at what Worth is doing for the Habs.

Rask may not be a practical choice. There can be one thing poetic, nevertheless, in regards to the needlessly sacrificed prospect coming again to the place it began to place that group over the playoff hump.

Damien Cox is a former Star sports activities reporter who’s a present freelance contributing columnist based mostly in Toronto. Comply with him on Twitter: @DamoSpin


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