SIMMONS SAYS: Why can't Maple Leafs be more like Leon Draisaitl?

13 May 2024

Leon Draisaitl is a playoff monster the likes of which hockey has rarely seen before.

The past three seasons, he’s played 35 playoff games for the forever-questioned Edmonton Oilers — some of them while nursing an injury of some kind.

Leon Draisaitl - Figure 1
Photo Toronto Sun

In those 35 games, he’s scored 66 points. That’s a 155-point pace over 82 games for a player that scores at a 97-point regular-season pace over his career.

Draisaitl is paid $8.5 million a year by the Oilers, $2.5 million less than the Maple Leafs pay John Tavares, $2.4 million less than they pay Mitch Marner, $3 million less than they will pay William Nylander next season.

In the past 35 playoff games, when Draisaitl was scoring 66 points playing with or without Connor McDavid, Matthews wound up with 35 for the Leafs in the same number of games, Marner scored 33, Nylander 32 and captain Tavares 24.

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Combined, Marner and Nylander scored one point fewer than Draisaitl by himself.

McDavid and Draisaitl have combined for 136 points in Edmonton’s past 35 games — and, if the Oilers’ depth holds up, which may not be possible, they might win a Stanley Cup one of these years.

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Matthews and Marner have combined, in comparison, for 68 points. Nylander and Tavares have combined for 56 points. You don’t have to look far to see why the Leafs don’t score in the playoffs. They have yet to discover one of those playoff monsters — the kind Doug Gilmour was in 1993 and 1994 in Toronto, the kind Nikita Kucherov has been, scoring 93 points in three straight playoff seasons for Tampa from 2020-22, the way Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon combined for 53 points in 20 games in Colorado’s recent Stanley Cup season.

Leon Draisaitl - Figure 2
Photo Toronto Sun

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Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner may be paid at an elite level, but his play has been anything but in the playoffs when it matters most. Chris Young/The Canadian Press fileTHIS AND THAT

I get asked all the time: Why are you so hard on Marner? Here’s why. Great players are supposed to change games come playoff time. Marner scored 44 post-season points in 18 games as a London Knight in his last year of junior hockey. He was a game-changer. He has played 57 Stanley Cup games for the Maple Leafs with 50 points contributed, just 11 of them goals. Can you remember a game-changing, series-changing, Draisaitl-on-fire kind of performance from Marner at playoff time in any year? Has he taken your breath away? Has he done the impossible? At almost $11 million a year, he’s supposed to do that. He’s paid to do that. McDavid came back from no shots on goal in Game 1 against Vancouver to four points in Game 2. That’s what Marner has never done. His salary says he’s better than Draisaitl. On the ice, when it matters, there’s no comparison at all … Brad Treliving’s record of hiring coaches should be somewhat concerning for Leafs fans. It isn’t good. The first three coaches he hired in Calgary were Glen Gulutzan, Bill Peters and Geoff Ward. He was talked into Darryl Sutter, I’m told. Then Ryan Huska. If he pulls a Peters, a Gulutzan, a Ward for the Leafs, he will be out of work — and shortly … If Sheldon Keefe wants to coach next season — he’s being paid by the Leafs for the next two years — there are no shortage of places he could go. And I bet, had the Ottawa Senators taken an extra week before hiring Travis Green, they might have hired Keefe instead … Leaving Toronto will be hard for Keefe, who is very involved in his children’s minor-sporting pursuits … The unusual nature of Keefe’s firing: He may have coached his three best games for the Leafs in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the series with Boston. That should help him in his next stop … With so little financial flexibility, altering the Leafs roster is the great challenge of this off-season. They may have to get a little worse, short term, to get better long-term. This is the season, coming up, in which the contracts of Marner and Tavares expire. They will try to deal both of those players — if either is willing to be dealt. The question is, what can you get for Tavares besides salary-cap space? And how much can you get for Marner when dealing from a position of weakness? … I do know this much: There is interest from other teams in both Marner and Tavares. Interest is one thing. What they’re willing to give up, to take on an $11 million player, that’s the better question … It’s sounding like Craig Berube will be the next coach of the Leafs — and that choice is somewhat underwhelming. Will Berube be able to handle everything a coach must handle working for the Leafs? He will not command the market the way Mike Babcock or Ron Wilson did, and he will not be co-operative in a respectful Keefe kind of way. He’s probably a little more Randy Carlyle-like, personality-wise, just not stylistically.

Leon Draisaitl - Figure 3
Photo Toronto Sun
Former Maple Leafs coach Pat Burns skates at practice in 1994. He was a favourite of Steve Simmons while covering the team. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press file

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HEAR AND THERE

My favourite Leafs coaches in my time around the team: 1. Pat Burns; 2. Pat Quinn; 3. Paul Maurice; 4. Ron Wilson; 5. Mike Murphy. The best Leafs coaches I’ve covered: 1. Burns; 2. Quinn; 3. Babcock; 4. Carlyle; 5. Keefe … Does any great player in hockey get hit more often than Boston defenceman Charlie McAvoy? … This is a George Constanza opposite year for the NHL. Usually, the first round of the playoffs is sensational, then diminishes each round after that. This year, the first round was unspectacular, but the second round has been terrific to date. And wait ’til next round, when we’re potentially looking at Panthers versus Rangers or Oilers versus either the Stars or Avalanche — that could be even better … Thank you NHL and American television. When Evan Bouchard scored in overtime on Friday night, it was actually Saturday morning in my house, 1:16 am. How many Canadians east of Manitoba were watching that late? … It was clear a few months ago that likely Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck would wind up as the goalie for Team USA at the next Winter Olympics. But now, Jeremy Swayman has entered the conversation, along with Thatcher Demko and Jake Oettinger. All four would start for Team Canada if available … The Argos’ handling of the Chad Kelly situation has been questionable from the beginning. But what really set people off was that Kelly, now suspended for violating the CFL’s gender-based policy, has been at practice in rookie camp at the University of Guelph, like nothing happened. The problem with this is the Argos don’t seem to accept the gravity of the situation and the league itself, through negotiations with the CFL Players Association, has deemed it’s all right for Kelly to be front and centre. It isn’t all right. No matter what the rules say. Not now. Not this soon … Canadian QB Nathan Rourke has been claimed on waivers by the New York Giants, whose pro scout, Chris Rossetti, happens to be Canadian. So is head coach Brian Daboll. So is vice-president of football operations Kevin Abrams. If Rourke doesn’t get a decent shot with the Giants, he won’t get one anywhere … And if the Argos were smart, they’d be watching Rourke closely and offering him the moon should he become available. They can pay him Kelly money, even more, if he becomes available and they move on from Kelly as the tattered face of the franchise … Happy 47th birthday, Hotel California … Joseph Woll has been a professional goaltender for five seasons. He has never played more than 32 games in any season. He’s been hurt in all five. He may look like a big-time goalie when he plays, but big-time goalies play 50-plus games. He’s been below 30 games-played in four of his five years. The Leafs can pencil him in as a cheap, if unreliable backup, next season. Until he proves differently, you can’t expect more than that.

Leon Draisaitl - Figure 4
Photo Toronto Sun
It’s been an extremely tough time for the Blue Jays and would-be slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. AP file

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SCENE AND HEARD

The first quarter of the Blue Jays season is over and this is not a good statistic to own: Entering yesterday’s play, they rank 13th in the American League in home runs and second in the AL in giving them up. For the record, those kind of numbers put you in last place … I saw this statistic online on Friday: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is fifth in all of baseball in hitting the ball the hardest. When that translates to runs scored, call me … If Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins aren’t embarrassed by this year’s Blue Jays, they should be. Nice stadium, though. The Jays are 11th in batting average, 13th in home runs, 14th in total bases, 14th in slugging and 13th in OPS … On the pitching side, they’re fourth in quality starts, which means they’re wasting too many strong performances. Yet, somehow, they’re 12th in team ERA, last in the AL in striking out batters, 13th in WHIP and 15th in on-base percentage against. Just last season, the Jays were second in ERA, third in quality starts, second in striking out people … Don’t know if Alek Manoah is ready to be back in the big leagues, but I do know that leaving him in too long, the way manager John Schneider did in his first start in Washington, isn’t going to help him … There is nothing in Bo Bichette’s history to make sense of the first quarter of this season. He will turn it around. He will get hot. It’s who he is … Pittsburgh has had Terry Bradshaw, Mario Lemieux, Roberto Clemente, Jaromir Jagr, Willie Stargell and Sidney Crosby among its brightest sporting stars. And now comes kid pitcher Paul Skenes, 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, throwing almost everything over 100 miles per hour, with everything going his way. His earned-run average this season in triple-A is 0.99. He’s struck out 43% of the batters he’s faced. He looks to be a show all by himself in the big leagues at a time when Pittsburgh — and baseball — needs this kind of star. By the way, Skenes is only 21 and comes out of LSU, Kevin Gausman’s old haunt … If managers don’t matter, how come the Houston Astros collapsed after Dusty Baker retired and the Texas Rangers became potent when Bruce Bochy took over as skipper?

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Leon Draisaitl - Figure 5
Photo Toronto Sun

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AND ANOTHER THING

It’s never a good thing when a sports franchise becomes a punchline, the way the Maple Leafs have become. Pro wrestler CM Punk chirped WWE and NHL broadcaster Jackie Redmond with, “How about those Maple Leafs, Redmond?” That was on Monday Night Raw, where almost everything is scripted — except the shots at the Leafs … The joke going around Toronto right now: Why do you need six Leafs as pallbearers at your funeral? I want to be let down one more time … Not a good look for Jamal Murray, throwing a heating pad on the NBA court and then getting snarky when asked to explain why … Just when you thought it was safe to write off the defending champion Denver Nuggets, along comes the three-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, personally demolishing the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 3 of their second-round series. Not sure if Jokic can win this series on his own, but the Nuggets looked all but dead after two losses at home …The first year of the PWHL came with some peril. Organizers of the league had no idea what attendance would be like. Toronto just played its first two playoff games to sold-out houses at Coca-Cola Coliseum, more than 8,000 tickets sold per night, and live gates of more than $2 million in total, with another round of playoffs to come. Those numbers are beyond what anyone could have expected for a first-year product … And those numbers tell me Toronto will do boffo business when the WNBA comes to town in 2026. The rise in women’s sport as a live product — the Caitlin Clark factor — has moved everything to another level … One of the great charms of the Stanley Cup playoffs is this: Discovering a player you either didn’t know and how good they were. Mason Lohrei, the former Green Bay Gambler from Ohio State University, has impressed as a giant defenceman with the Bruins … He may not be as skilled as Gilmour — but then, who was? — but Vincent Trocheck in New York has so many similar qualities in watching him play and reading his body language. Which is impressive, especially at playoff time when Gilmour usually shone … So very sad to learn of the passing of Ron Ellis, the former Leafs great. Back when scoring 20 goals really meant something, Ellis had nine 20-goal seasons with the Leafs and two others beyond the 30-goal mark. He was part of the ’67 champion Leafs and a mainstay on the wing for the famed ’72 Team Canada squad. I got to know Ellis over the years through his work at the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was a Leafs legend when I was growing up, but never acted that way. Always humble. Always self-deprecating. Always friendly. Just a kind, decent man. RIP old friend. Ron Ellis was 79 … Happy birthday to Mike Weir (54), Nancy Greene (81), Brad Marchand (36), Johnny Bucyk (89), Felipe Alou (89), Adin Hill (28), Bernie Federko (68), Jeff Simmons (37), Lou Whitaker (67), Tito Santana (71), Ulf Nilsson (74) and Yo Murphy (51). And hey, whatever became of Cam Ward?

[email protected]

X: @simmonssteve

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