Toronto Maple Leafs Must Follow Tampa Bay Lightning Blueprint

Kyle Dubas of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Kyle Dubas of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

If any team needs to pay close attention to how the Tampa Bay Lightning finally captured the Stanley Cup, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After years of a roster loaded with talent and countless regular season victories, the Lightning finally got over the hump and won the Stanley Cup. All circumstances aside, the 2019-20 Stanley Cup was won by a team that has shown for years they were one of the best in the league and finally put the pieces together to engrave their names on the cup. The Toronto Maple Leafs should be taking notes.

Tampa’s championship road was far from a steady incline, they had their ups, downs, and key injuries throughout the years. However, it was a first round playoff exit, a four-game sweep by an eighth seeded Columbus Blue Jackets that finally showed the Lightning how they needed to construct their roster.

Much like the Maple Leafs, the Lightning were (and still are) a squad loaded with offensive talent, but with very little physicality to their game outside of their fourth line. They can set up beautiful goals with tape-to-tape passes on the powerplay, outscore teams by a touchdown, and consistently feature multiple players near the top of the league’s scoring categories.

Unfortunately, once the playoffs began and defenses tightened, the Lightning’s offense would dry up, and puck battles in key areas on the ice became that much more difficult to win. If that sentence sounds like the Maple Leafs of the last four years, it’s because it’s true, just as it was true of the Washington Capitals until they finally won in the 2017-18 season.

Tampa realized as great as their yearly regular season performances were, they didn’t have enough grit and sand paper to grind out long playoff series. It’s difficult to be an offensive juggernaut if you don’t have the players needed to win puck battles in the corner. So instead of blowing up the roster after being swept in the first round, they tweaked it.

The Lightning went out and acquired the physicality they lacked in their lineup with the likes of Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Pat Maroon, and Zach Bogosian. Some of them they paid high prices to acquire via trade, while others they signed as free agents. None of the moves were groundbreaking, headline-grabbing blockbusters but all of them paid off big time at one point or another throughout the team’s playoff run.

When Washington captured the cup they had their own similar group of unsung hero’s grinding away games when the big offensive guns didn’t have it that night. The likes of Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik, and Michal Kempny all played massive roles for the Capitals’ championship.

Are any of these players big names with multiple Youtube highlight packages easy to search up? No. In fact, you could walk by many of these players and not even realize it. However, it doesn’t change the fact they all did the little things needed to win that offensive superstars can’t always do.

Maple Leaf fans need to be hoping General Manager Kyle Dubas was paying close attention to the best team in his division since he arrived on the scene. Dubas should have seen how well built the Lightning were only to not be good enough, take a step back, and re-tool the right way.

No longer can it be acceptable to have soft players in Toronto’s bottom-six forwards. No longer can soft size in the likes of Frederik Gauthier or Martin Marincin be allowed to still wear the jersey. No longer can acquiring as much skill and talent be the only priority as it’s been proven through history third liners are rarely successful pulling off a fancy deke in the post season.

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It’s time the Maple Leafs go find their hardworking grinders, and not just one or two, but three or four just like the Lightning did, and just like the Capitals did before them. The blueprint has been written, all Dubas has to do is follow. Maybe then his club will get out of the first round for the first time in nearly two decades.