Toronto Maple Leafs

January 17, 2019 7:00 am
Updated: January 17, 2019 8:24 am

Rick Zamperin: Maple Leafs must trade wisely to go from Stanley Cup contender to favourite

Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock, left, and General Manager Kyle Dubas have watched their team struggle since the turn of the calendar.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Lynett
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We are a little more than a month away from the NHL trade deadline and Maple Leafs fans are eagerly waiting for General Manager Kyle Dubas to make a move.

The eagerness has been ramped up because Toronto, for the first time this season, is struggling.

Every team is going to go through its ups and downs throughout an 82-game season and right now it is the Leafs’ turn to hit the skids.

Entering Thursday night’s game in Tampa Bay against the NHL-leading Lightning, the Maple Leafs have lost two straight games and five of their last seven, and Toronto’s one-time comfortable lead over teams like Boston and Montreal for second place in the Atlantic Division has evaporated.

Toronto’s once unstoppable top power-play group has been solved like a New York Times crossword puzzle, falling from the top to eighth in the NHL rankings, and the team’s penalty-killing unit is middling around 13th.

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Listen, the sky isn’t falling here. The Leafs may have come back to Earth over the last little while but Toronto is still among the league’s top teams in wins and goals for/against, and their lineup is littered with talented players.

Dubas is too smart of a fellow to make a move just to appease the fan base. It just won’t happen no matter how much fans want to boo scuffling players like defenceman Jake Gardiner.

But when Dubas looks at his roster he must realize that he doesn’t have all the pieces in place to win the Stanley Cup this season, right?

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Come playoff time, Toronto will most likely have to go through teams like Tampa Bay and Boston, defending champion Washington or Pittsburgh, and if they’re fortunate enough to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, can the Leafs beat teams like Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose and Vegas?

The Maple Leafs are championship contenders, but by adding a little more toughness and sandpaper to their lineup, another playoff veteran, and a big experienced defenceman, Toronto would be among the Stanley Cup favourites.

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