Not having a number one d man, and a kind of hilarious lack of nhl talent and depth at the LW position sticks out. Also there just something off with how this team is constructed. Part of that is the mentality, and part of that is financial
Weak depth, no cap space, over reliance on essentially 4 forwards and 3 dmen.
This team goes as far as its big 4 forwards take it and 3 above average dmen. Muzzin is a nice number 3, but age/injuries take its tool. Brodie is an above average complimentary RD, and Reilly is an above average first pairing puck rusher.
But risky depth in oft injured Kase, physical but average 3rd liner Ritchie, average but overpaid for production Kerfoot, aging and injury concern Simmonds, 26 yr old Bunting and his less than 30 nhl games, pretty meh guys like mikheyev/engvall, semyonov is the new lehtonen, and nice defensive guy who cant score 20 pts in Kampf. All these guys are serviceable in limited minutes, but unless your big 4 play 20+ minutes a night, this forward corps could be in deep trouble.
Sandin and Liljegren look promising, but I'm not sure either are ready for big minutes/responisbilities and can be paired together. Dermott is a nice 3rd pair guy, but not a big crease clearer or puck rushing pt producer. Holl is a solid overage guy whos in the right spot, but probably not a top 4 guy on alot of teams.
Then take their depth behind that: Ho Sang? Kurtis Gabriel? Menell? Amadio? (I mean a few guys on the waiver wire could have come in handy had the team not been capped. MacEwen for example)
Movement to make cap space by moving more midlevel salaries for right reasons or wrong (Kadri, Gardiner, Kapanen, Johnson, Anderson etc...) hasn;t exactly resulted in a deeper team. Not saying they should or shouldnt have but Tavares makes almost as much as Kapanen, Kadri and Hyman combined.
All in all its just lacking team depth, and without cap space, even nagging injuries over an 80 game season (compressed by the olympics) will easily result in an over reliance on those top 7 players.
I like Keefe, (and maybe its the lack of team depth and overall talent outside of the top 7 guys), but the team defense, physicality, grit, hitting and overall identity is lacking. Its no real suprise that the team acquired even old and broken down Foligno and Nash types at the deadline last year. The team needs to make one more run in its present form, but without cap space the team is limited moving forward to correct some of these issues, so I'd have to think one of the big salaries has to go.
Better than last year, maybe, but that was a shortened season is an easier division, and the team depth while theoretically improved is based on many more risks than last year
I know that our cap situation isn’t efficient and that the depth players we recruited look bad on paper and based on past performance, but they have surprisingly done a fine job so far. Whether or not it is sustainable is obviously the issue, but the past 2 seasons, are depth has performed at a sufficient level to get us into the playoffs and a game 7.
The same goes for our defence core. On paper, Rielly, Muzzin & Brodie are probably weak compared to the core of other contending teams, but in terms of performance, it hasn’t been a problem at all. In fact they all rank near the top of the league results-wise.
For me the problem will always be the top 3 players not performing at the level that is expected of them. They just haven’t risen up to the occasion when the team needs them. Marner crumbles under pressure and is just a head case in general, Tavares declined because he put on an extra 20 pounds after his peak season which speaks volume about his poor discipline and while Matthews’ performance is generally flawless, he is injury prone and rarely plays at full strength. Maybe you can argue that the team made a mistake investing so much in one position, but I’d argue that when these players are at their best, they are worth the money. The problem is they don’t perform consistently or when the team needs them. If they consistently played to the level that got them their salary, you wouldn’t hear anyone wanting to trade them and this team would prosper.