How Maple Leafs’ win streak could change their approach to trade deadline

Shawn McKenzie sums up what has been a successful stretch of six straight wins, matching the team's best mark in the Matthews-Marner era, and why we continue to witness a historic season from Toronto's franchise player.

The numbers are gaudy. A six-game winning streak where they have scored 34 times (for an average of 5.67 per game), a power-play conversation rate north of 40 per cent, and a plus-20 goal differential (after being plus-14 all season prior). They’ve played 268 minutes of hockey since they last trailed on the scoreboard. Auston Matthews has 10 goals in his last five games (lol), Mitch Marner has six straight multi-assist efforts, and the depth is finally chipping in.

For the first time this season, you can unequivocally say the Toronto Maple Leafs have been on a tear.

You can see why they’d be motivated. There was the apparently galvanizing Morgan Rielly cross-check and to quote Slap Shot, “the litigation, the notoriety, and his subsequent deportation to” the press box. That opened the door to more ice time for several defencemen, who seemed content to keep it simple, which worked well.

They’ve also been a good-but-not-great team in need of improvements, and with the trade deadline looming two weeks away, it’s not shocking you’re getting the attention of your roster depth. Mix it all in with a softer schedule and some “dog days” efforts from a couple opponents and hey, six straight.

[brightcove videoID=6347432710112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

So, what can we take away from this run? Do we suddenly believe this Leafs team could make noise in the playoffs? Let’s pick at some of the successful bits from the past couple weeks and assess what it tells us about this team’s ceiling, and what they should do at the deadline.

The D Pairs

At the start of 2024 I would’ve identified T.J. Brodie as an on-ice problem. He seemed to be in notable decline, and that’s a problem given they’ve counted on him to be steady for years. I’d have said I can’t see a world where Timothy Liljegren has plus-value in a playoff series. I believe in Rielly (particularly Playoff Rielly), and think Jake McCabe has even more potential to be very good, but I wasn’t in love with the team’s depth options past them. I thought their D needed a minimum of two new bodies.

The concerns didn’t all suddenly disappear, but this six-game run has at least tweaked the previous view. Rielly’s absence moved Brodie back to his strong side, where he’s only been on the ice for one goal against at even strength, and a shocking 14 goals for. Liljegren has played in a way that makes you wonder how much his early-season ankle injury had been bothering him, as he’s skating the best he has in his career. If he can defend the rush like this, and skate his way out of trouble on retrievals, suddenly I can see him logging meaningful post-season minutes.

With them as a viable pair, suddenly you look at the group and go — huh — they’re about a Chris Tanev (or similar) away from a seven- or eight-man D-core you can see being effective.

Rielly – Tanev

Simon Benoit – McCabe

Brodie – Liljegren

Mark Giordano – William Lagesson

Obviously in big moments you can tweak that how you like (would Brodie-Tanev or Brodie-McCabe be your final-minute-protect-the-lead pair?), but it no longer seems hopeless.

Nobody’s saying it would be the best D-core in league. But combined with their offensive talent up front, it’d give them the chance to win playoff rounds and help their goaltending out.

Given how many boxes a guy like Tanev checks for the Leafs and their needs, they shouldn’t hesitate trying to make this happen ASAP, even at the cost of that 2024 first-rounder (assuming he’d re-sign).

The Scoring Depth

There’s a zero per cent chance Sheldon Keefe would’ve asked John Tavares to centre the third line and take time on the second power-play unit without talking to him about it. It just wouldn’t go down like that.

However that exchange between Keefe and Tavares went down, the captain has responded extremely well, as he’s had tons of jump and a couple even-strength goals to show for it. He may not be the most vocal guy, but putting the team first and responding qualifies as good leadership. With him providing a meaningful threat outside the top-six, the forward depth suddenly looks much better. On Thursday night in Vegas, the Leafs got five goals from players not named Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner for just the second time this season.

[brightcove videoID=6347411735112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Surprise scratches to Marner and Tavares (due to illness earlier in the streak) led to a Bobby McMann opportunity, a hat trick, and suddenly a level of confidence that makes him not just useful but dangerous. Pontus Holmberg had a good game, and Max Domi centred a line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Nylander that for two straight games was their best offensive group. It leaves something to be desired defensively, but it also has some post-whistle bite that you can’t recall too many Leafs lines having (bad news for poor Willy, who may be in more scrums than he prefers while they’re together).

As someone who still believes Bertuzzi is going to score some playoff goals, I don’t hate something like this when they get Calle Jarnkrok back:

Matthew Knies-Matthews-Marner



(Nick Robertson)-David Kämpf-(Holmberg)

I have brackets there, as post-trade deadline (with the addition of a centre) I’d prefer it to look something like:


Bertuzzi-Adam Henrique-Nylander




I don’t know exactly how you’d go about adding both Tanev and Henrique — does prospect Fraser Minten get brought into the conversation, or is there a real believer in Robertson’s shooting out there? — but there’s no doubt that their lineup looks far better with the addition of just one more good forward.


It’s been exactly what they’ll need it to be in playoffs: good enough. If the Leafs can get league-average goaltending, whether it be from an improved Ilya Samsonov, or Joseph Woll, who’s back soon, they’ll be in games. I just don’t see any name who would make me think a trade would make sense, particularly when you’re already struggling to pull together assets to improve the skaters. Like most NHL teams, they’re in a cross-your-fingers-and-hope position here.


All that’s changed over the past six games is the ability to see the potential utility of the lineup beyond their best players, something you had to squint to make out at times this year. Perhaps more success in the first half would’ve freed them up to experiment more, but since it’s been forced upon them via suspension and illness, it’s produced new options. It’s a confidence-based sport, and the list of players with piles of it right now is a lot longer than it was in December and January.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about how parity in the NHL this season has left the door open for just about any team who makes the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup. Nothing is a given in the playoffs, but with how the Leafs have looked lately, they’re safely in the group of teams worthy of giving that door a good, hard push.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.