Maple Leafs: This has to Change to Become Contenders

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) /

The Maple Leafs are still mentally fragile as a team, something that has to change if they want any chance to win a playoff series.

The Maple Leafs have always been known as a skill-first team with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander at the head. Their skill is second to none, with Matthews being one of the top snipers in the league. However, with this plethora of skill the Maple Leafs are still missing the one thing that separates good teams from great teams:

Mental toughness.

In every championship-level team, there is this feeling of security when they have a lead. They can defend their lead but still, find ways to attack AND maintain momentum. Toronto still seems to find themselves with a sizable lead only to see it vanish before their eyes.

Their momentum goes down the drain and they have to hold a tie and win in extra time instead. This is, to me, a red flag as if they can’t hold a lead in the regular season, what makes them think they can be Stanley Cup Contenders?

This is the exact same thing that separates the stars from the legends. Yes, Auston Matthews is a bonafide star in the NHL, but is his mentality where it needs to be to succeed in the postseason?

Steve Yzerman won a Stanley Cup in a huge role while he dealt with a knee injury, Rod Brind’Amour made his presence felt in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. Jonathan Toews stepped up to lead his Blackhawks in the 2015 Western Conference Finals with two goals at critical times: once in Game 5 to tie the game, and in Game 7 to bring the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead on the road.

Big-time players step up in big-time moments. A team needs their stars to be able to elevate their play to meet the brighter lights and bigger stages.

It has been questionable for a long time as to whether or not this Maple Leafs’ team can jump the hurdle to become contenders, but as it looks so far in the regular season, they still seem to crumble under adversity.

John Tavares has to find ways to get his team motivated to meet the adversity head-on and come out on top. Until the Maple Leafs can find ways to win games through adversity, and their stars can step up in key moments, they may not have what it takes to get far in the playoffs.