Toronto Maple Leafs Won’t Be Upset By Columbus Blue Jackets

Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

When it comes down to both rosters on paper it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Columbus Blue Jackets are capable of upsetting the Toronto Maple Leafs.

There’s been a lot of chatter leading up the Columbus Blue Jackets versus Toronto Maple Leafs series. It’s been highlighted as perhaps one of the more even matchups of the Stanley Cup playoff qualifying round. However, when comparing the two rosters, it should be a series the Maple Leafs easily win.

Toronto has far greater forward depth than Columbus. In fact, if both teams threw their rosters into a combined pool and drafted teams to face each other, how many rounds would it take before a Blue Jacket forward was taken? Five rounds? Six rounds?  There would be at least four or five Maple Leafs forwards taken before Pierre-Luc Dubois was finally chosen.

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With an overwhelming disadvantage at forward, surely Columbus would be able to flip the script and have a greater advantage on defense? However, that is not necessarily the case either.

Although it’s safe to say Seth Jones is likely the best-overall defenseman in the series, it could be argued the next three best defensemen come from the Maple Leafs. Morgan Rielly is not far behind Jones and is at-worst the second-best defenseman in the series, if not a 1A and 1B scenario with Jones. Toronto’s Jake Muzzin would have to be the third-best given his size and Stanley Cup experience as the only defenseman in the series with a Stanley Cup ring.

Where it gets interesting is the debate between Zach Werenski and Tyson Barrie. Werenski was in the midst of a breakout year on a team desperate for offense, as he was third on his team with 41 points. Barrie spent half his season with a coach who had no idea what to do with him, until a new coach came in and Barrie’s game exploded to rack up 39 points despite an awful start. It’s a tossup that at-worst gives the Maple Leafs three of the top-five defensemen in the series.

Then there’s the goaltending situation, where it’s clear the pressure is on Toronto’s Freddie Andersen given his recent struggles in the postseason. Where it isn’t clear is who the Blue Jackets will put between the pipes and if that person will even stay there longer than a game. There’s been rumors Columbus could start with Elvis Merzlikins and should he struggle then they could put in Joonas Korpisalo. Regardless, despite Andersen’s struggles he’s clearly the better goaltender in the series which gives another advantage to Toronto.

Finally, the biggest x-factor of all comes down to coaching. The majority of those comparing the two rosters believe Toronto is superior but the fact Columbus is coached by John Tortorella gives the Blue Jackets a fighting chance. In theory it is a true statement but this isn’t last season.

Many point to Columbus upsetting the Tampa Bay Lightning last season as a reason why they can do it again this year to the Maple Leafs. It just simply isn’t true. Tortorella was fired on bad terms by Lightning many years ago. If there was ever a team he was at his greatest motivation to beat, it was Tampa a year ago.

On top of the extra motivation, last season’s Blue Jackets went all-in at the trade deadline in a desperate attempt to make the postseason. They had been playing playoff hockey essentially six weeks before the playoffs started. Along with a roster that featured Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky.

That same do-or-die mindset the Blue Jackets rode into the playoffs with a year ago has been replaced by four and a half months of zero competitive action. Along with 15 months removed from upsetting the Lightning in the first round, the likes of Panarin, Duchene, and Bobrovsky are all long gone.

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This is not the same Blue Jackets team from a year ago, they do not have the same momentum, mindset, depth, or talent level. As a result, Toronto won’t be losing this series.