Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

The pundits debate Sheldon Keefe’s comment about his team’s immaturity and dissect the Toronto Maple Leafs’ recent struggles entering the All-Star Break in today’s Leafs Links.

Leafs Links

Dreger discusses which defensemen the Leafs could be targeting (TSN1050)
Darren Dreger discussed the market for defensemen and what the Leafs might be up to looking ahead to the February 23 trade deadline.

[The market for defensemen] is not grand unless you are willing to pay a high premium. The market hasn’t shown itself entirely yet. If you look at both conferences, it is a dog’s breakfast on the West side of things. Calgary made its Eastern swing through Canada. I look at Noah Hanifin as potentially being a piece Brad Treliving might look at moving. TJ Brodie’s name has been out there for an extended period. There are defensemen who are available that maybe aren’t being talked about on a regular basis outside of Zack Bogosian, Colin Miller, and those types of guys. I am sure that Kyle Dubas has had conversations with clubs about [defensemen] we haven’t identified yet.

Leafs panic room with Justin Bourne (Sportsnet 590)
On Leafs Hour, Justin Bourne discussed what he thinks Sheldon Keefe meant with his “immaturity” comment after the Leafs‘ loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

That [immaturity] line really stands out to me and is something I’ve heard him reference before just in working with him a little bit.

Here is going to be my analogy for the Toronto Maple Leafs: Some sports are about being able to do stuff that no one else can do. Think about the long-drive contest in golf. You stand there and whoever can physically hit it the longest wins. If that guy can’t hit it as far as that guy, that is just the end of it. You don’t have to hit a billion of them in a row; you just need one time to hit it once further than everyone else. There are sports like darts, where every professional darts player can throw a bullseye and everyone can throw a triple 20, but who can do it over and over and over again? To bring it back to golf, we can all hit a good shot, but can you make yourself mentally get in the position to hit that shot you know you are capable of hitting?

This is the Toronto Maple Leafs to me, where they’re the long-drive guy. They’re Jason Zuback. They’re a bomber who can do it. They have talents that others do not have. They physically cannot get to the Leafs’ level, but the Leafs don’t have the maturity to get themselves to be in a position to be their best consistently — to do the things that they can do over and over and over. That takes experience. It takes years in the league. You see guys like Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby and Tavares is even a guy who has hinted at it. You get the effort and you get the performance all the time. I don’t see that from the Leafs.

I see that from the Leafs. People say they’re not working hard; they’re physically working hard, but you need to work hard mentally. We don’t see that as well, but when you see such inconsistent results, I don’t see the mental work that is necessary to be an elite team. That comes with age and maturity and professionalism. That is what I think Keefe was saying with “immaturity.”

McLennan on Andersen’s recent struggles & evaluating his season (TSN1050)
Jamie McLennan joined Leafs Lunch to discuss the team’s style of play, playing behind it as a goaltender, and Frederik Andersen’s recent play.

Not everyone in that room loves the style of play that Sheldon Keefe is trying to approach with the group. It is a risk-reward style. If you’re not sharp that night, you give up some chances at are odd-man rushes and all of that type of stuff. There are nights where I am watching this team and I know they want puck possession and their D to circle back and look for options, but there are nights that I maybe don’t want Marty Marincin circling back looking for options. You have to have the right types of players to plug into that system. I know Kyle Dubas believes some of them are, but not everyone can play and flourish in that system. That is something where if I am Frederik Andersen, you are a little bit concerned about.

But first and foremost, he has to play better. He is letting in at least one soft goal a game in the last ten games, and that is on him. Whether that’s wear and tear or frustration and getting worn down with the system — either way, the goaltender has to look at himself first and then look at the team and what is going on in front of him.

McLennan on apportioning the blame between Andersen and the team:

I don’t know if you got a chance to watch live the Carolina game, but at one point they were down 5-2 and it was near the end of the second period, and Carolina was pressing. I remember thinking the body language on Freddy was almost like if he could laser his team, he would put the death stare on everyone. He made a blocker save where he almost just punted it into the stands and he was like, “Am I really seeing what is going on here?” They ended up out-scoring the issue and we didn’t talk too much about it other than, “That was one coaches don’t like, burn the tape, blah blah blah.” Ultimately, I remember watching that and thinking I didn’t love the body language on Freddy because you could tell that he was clearly frustrated with what was going on in front of him as well as frustrated with his own game.

I think there was a time where we all could’ve considered Freddy the MVP of the team. That is not the case anymore because I think he’s had too many games where you kind of circle it and say, “He’s got to be a lot better, or at least give me that average goaltending to have the group settled in.” I want more from Freddy, but also more from the group in front of him. I think the team reads their media and read how great they are and how talented they are, but great — a lot of other teams are like that, but they stick to a system and pay attention to the detail. I think the Leafs get away from it way too often within the game.

Ferraro on if the Leafs are immature, Andersen’s recent struggles (TSN1050)
Ray Ferraro joined TSN Overdrive to discuss the Leafs’ recent struggles and Sheldon Keefe’s comments on the group’s immaturity.

Whatever the record is and all of that, they’ve given up over 40 goals in Andersen’s last 12 games. They’re not winning anything with that. They can paint whatever picture they want and talk about the free-flow game and the way the game is changing with Keefe’s new style, but when you give up 40 goals in 12 games you aren’t beating anybody.

I think that’s kind of his point when he says they’re an immature team. It’s like, “Okay, we’re all having fun and we’re all scoring here, but we realize this isn’t going to help us, right?” I don’t have any problem with him saying that. If he was off base or you thought he was way out to lunch, then you’ve got lots to chew on, but there I’m like, “He is kind of right,” but he has also left out a significant part of it, too, and that is that no matter how they say it, their defense is just not good enough.

… Look at that defense. How is that going to beat anybody in that division? How are they going to get by Boston and then Tampa? I did the game in Winnipeg and [Tampa] just shredded them. I’m watching it and thinking about the Leafs, and I’m going, “That Tampa team is really good, and in the back, for half the game, they’ve got either Hedman or McDonagh on the ice.” That’s two pretty good guys to split the left side of the ice up.

What adjustments is the opposition making to Keefe’s Leafs? (MLHS)
Are the Leafs’ recent struggles all on goaltending, or is the opposition making some adjustments the Leafs need to sort out? That plus thoughts on a possible Alexandar Georgiev acquisition, the team’s upcoming schedule, Timothy Liljegren, and more in this week’s Leafs Notebook from Anthony Petrielli.

Now that teams have enough tape with which to scout the Leafs under Keefe, they are also making adjustments. Chicago, in particular, was ready for the Leafs regrouping through the neutral zone. They had a number of turnovers because their forwards backchecked knowing that the Leafs would circle back, with their sticks ready to cause turnovers, instead of simply peeling for line changes during those times when the Leafs regroup.