MLHS’ Anthony Petrielli joined Sportsnet Today on Superbowl Sunday to discuss the Maple Leafs’ loss to Columbus on Saturday, the team’s needs up front, and possible deadline targets (Jonathan Toews, Vladislav Gavrikov).
On his takeaways from an ugly loss to Columbus on Saturday:
I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I do think to some degree it reinforces what a lot of people are already aware of. There is no lightbulb moment. Most things are pretty clear when it comes to this group.
They played Columbus, and the bottom six is just there at best. They had four guys play under eight minutes last night in the second half of the back-to-back against one of the worst teams in the league at home. Pierre Engvall was benched and played 10 minutes. The only reason why Kampf’s ice time was around the 13-minute mark was that he played five minutes shorthanded. Otherwise, he also wasn’t doing very much.
There is not much to it. They are not Auston Matthews returning plus Alex Kerfoot going to the bottom six away from that being saved. Realistically, they probably need multiple bodies, but they definitely need at least one that can be a needle-mover — someone that can actually make a difference.
I thought a lot of it was Merzlikins — he was really good. The Leafs had a ton of chances. There was a lot of talk about them going up 2-0, maybe thinking it was point night, and kind of taking the foot off the pedal. But they had a ton of chances. They couldn’t bury.
Marner had multiple opportunities in the slot where he passed off to Bunting or on a two-on-one, instead of shooting, he took it behind the net. He has this thing going on where he doesn’t shoot when he should. We saw him in recent weeks snipe on Linus Ullmark, snipe on Connor Hellebuyck, and dance around Shesterkin. He can shoot and score, but he was actively passing up shots.
Järnkrok got robbed a few times. Steeves hit the post. They just couldn’t finish. That makes it worse when one goalie is doing that at one end, Joseph Woll is watching it, and then suddenly, there is a goal where he probably could’ve battled harder for the puck in the crease. I don’t think the game was on him, but the Leafs really had to bear down and build a lead.
On his ideal “realistic” forward trade target ahead of the deadline:
The guy I have consistently come back to just in terms of price and what I think he can bring is Jonathan Toews. I know that he is not what he once was. His production is still very much there in terms of him being a 20-goal scorer and a 40-50 point player. He is pacing out pretty well production-wise on a really bad hockey team.
He can play center. We have seen him move to the wing at times for Team Canada, which I know was ages ago, but I still think he can move to the wing and complement Auston Matthews or John Tavares. He is the best faceoff man in the league percentage-wise this season. He has the playoff pedigree.
Often we have watched them, and they have generally been right there in the playoffs. They have been missing that little extra push over that mountain that they have to climb — the slay-the-beast moment. He has the pedigree. He is a serial winner.
I think he would be the kind of player who would probably get his legs underneath him going from a really bad team — tha has been bad for a while now — to a team that is a legitimate contender. I watch him and think, “Whoever gets him is going to be really, really pleasantly surprised.”
I kind of felt the same way about Mark Giordano last year — another really good veteran who was on a really bad team, who came to Toronto, and who has been spectacular ever since they acquired him.
On what he would look for in a depth addition for the forward group:
I would probably look at a right-winger of sorts — preferably a right shot who can actually play right wing and is on their proper handedness on that side. Who are the right-wingers right now in that group? There is Joey Anderson, who is not a viable third-line option in the playoffs. He is probably not even a realistic fourth-line option.
Pretty well everyone else is right-handed. You could say, “Maybe they bump Järnkrok down to that spot,” but he wasn’t very good there. He was really bad in the first month of the season on the third line.
I would look for a right-winger of sorts. They maybe had one or thought they did with Nicolas Aube-Kubel. They put him on waivers. They thought they had one in Denis Malgin — don’t know why, but they thought they might have. Now it is just Joey Anderson or Bobby McMann coming up and playing on his off-wing.
They need an actual proper right-handed right winger.
On the Vladislav Gavrikov rumours and whether he is a fit for Toronto:
He was really bad in that Friday game, in particular. He was awful. I think Columbus as a whole is awful. That game, from their end, felt like a competition between Patrik Laine and Kent Johnson to see how many guys they could toe-drag or put it through their legs. They had no interest in playing real hockey that night. Kudos to them for rebounding on Saturday — they grinded — but the Friday game was awful for them.
Gavrikov is never going to look good in a game like that. He is meat-and-potatoes. He is about box-outs, little interference plays, and stopping cycles. He is not an open-ice guy or a skilled defender. In terms of what they would probably want from a defenseman, other than a legitimate needle-mover like Jakob Chychrun, it would probably be a Gavrikov type with what he brings.
You have the first pairing with Rielly and Brodie. That is probably not going anywhere.
And then you have the second period, which gets interesting. Justin Holl is almost certainly going to be on it, but you wonder: Can Giordano do that every night for two straight months at 39 years old in the playoffs? That is a massive ask.
If you look at the third pairing, you say, “Are they going to put these two early-20s defensemen who have largely struggled when they’ve played actually good teams this year?” They get exposed a little bit on the forecheck with turning the puck over. I thought Boston completely worked them right before the All-Star break there. Sandin had a really bad giveaway, which is kind of reminiscent of what we’ve seen from him down the stretch of every season so far and in the playoff games he did appear in.
Ideally, you would like a better partner for Holl in that shutdown role, and then that allows you to bump Giordano to the third pairing with Liljegren. We know those two are really good together. In that sense, I could see Gavrikov working there.
If you are judging him on these two games, it is a tough look for him. He was really, really bad on Friday — he got worked for a goal, he took a dumb penalty, and he got robbed at the other end. It was bad for him all around.
On Rasmus Sandin’s play this season:
The thing with him: Over the course of 82, he tries to make plays coming out of the zone, and he is a good player who is skilled, so by and large, you are going to net out ahead. If you have that one giveaway a game, he probably has three-to-five exceptional passes or plays to get out of the zone, so over the course of 82 games, if you do the math, the team nets out quite favourably.
In the playoffs, when you instantly cut the league in half — and have gotten rid of the Blue Jackets of the world — and then you factor in that the Leafs are going to have to play Tampa and Boston…
There is a line between, “I need to get the puck out cleanly,” and, “I just need to get the puck out.” I think that is what he struggles with, but he is super young. It takes defensemen 300 games usually. That is the saying. I think he is around 130.
I am sure he will be fine as he goes along, but right now, it’s admirable that he wants to make plays, but he needs to do a better job at times of recognizing there is no play and he just needs to get the puck out. If it is high off the glass, so be it, but it is better than getting burned and giving up a tap-in like the goal against Boston.