The Toronto Maple Leafs are #ActuallyGood. This phrase (rallying cry?) was originally coined at the beginning of last season by The Leafs Nation blogger Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette), and boy was he ever right. The 2016-2017 Maple Leafs were an offensive juggernaut who not only made the playoffs for just the second time in the past decade, but also pushed the Washington Capitals to six games in Round 1. They exceeded the expectations of even the most bullish of Leafs fans and look poised to take an even bigger step this season. Below is a preview to get you all set for the season when the puck finally drops tonight!
Key Off-Season Moves
- Signed Free Agent Patrick Marleau to a 3 x $6.25M contract
- Signed Free Agent Dominic Moore to a 1 x $1M contract
- Signed Free Agent Ron Hainsey to a 2 x $3M contract
- Signed Free Agents Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen from the SHL
- Signed Restricted Free Agents Connor Brown and Zach Hyman
This was an interesting off-season for the Blue and White. While many expected them to try to bolster their defense corps, their biggest acquisition – Patrick Marleau – added to a position of strength. A top 4 defencemen certainly would have been a better fit, but they can be very difficult to acquire. That being said, the name of the game is goal differential, and by adding Marleau to an already loaded offence the Leafs will continue to score goals and put pressure on opposing teams to keep up with the track meet. Further of note, signing their Restricted Free Agents in Connor Brown and Zach Hyman to team-friendly deals is a nice way to round out the roster by keeping young, hard working players in the fold. Especially when they’re a couple of local GTA kids to boot!
Simply put, the Maple Leafs offence led by their trio of rookies Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner is amongst the best in the league. They have young, elite talent that can drive possession and beat you on the cycle and on the rush. Last year they finished top 5 in goals scored and they added perennial all-star and goal scoring machine Patrick Marleau. If you’re a fan of high scoring games, get your pop corn ready.
Strength: Combination of elite talent and depth. Not only does Toronto boast an enviable set of top 6 forwards, they also have tremendous depth, especially on the wings, playing for the Marlies (See: Kasperi Kapanen).
Weakness: The 4th line. Instead of icing their most skilled lineup, coach Mike Babcock prefers to dress Matt Martin and Eric Fehr. We’ll see if they can keep up with the fast-paced lineup.
Wild Card: Can this year’s forward group stay healthy? In 2016-2017, the Leafs benefited from virtually no major injuries. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to continue.
Defence is not the strength of the Maple Leafs. While Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly have taken major steps and can handle their own against elite competition, they lack depth, especially at RHD. The addition of Ron Hainsey should help, but they are still looking for a top line defencemen to push everyone else down the lineup.
Strength: Skill. Jake Gardiner, Morgan Reilly, and Nikita Zaitsev can all push the pace of play and generate offense.
Weakness: Lacking a top 4 defencemen. In an ideal world, Ron Hainsey is on your bottom pair.
Wild Card: Can Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly elevate their game? Will the Maple Leafs add a piece at the deadline?
Last year, the Maple Leafs made a big splash by trading for Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks. Not only did they pay a steep price – Jonathan Bernier + 1st and 2nd Round Pick – but they also signed Andersen to a 5 year contract before he ever played a game at the Air Canada Centre. However, thus far, this is looking like a calculated risk by Lou Lamoriello.
Strength: Well, Frederik Andersen. Although inconsistent at times, Andersen finished the season with a .918 Save % and was a .922% from November 1st onwards.
Weakness: Back-up goalie. The Leafs decided to bring back below-average Curtis McElhinney to back up Andersen. Many in the analytics community believe there is value in having a stronger second option.
Wild Card: Frederik Andersen’s health. Last year he played 66 games and will likely be expected to equal or exceed that. Will his body hold up?
Last year, the Maple Leafs finished the season with 95 points. Heading into this season, most models project them to finish around the same, anywhere from 90 to 100 points. What’s the biggest change from year to year? First and foremost, they probably won’t have the same injury luck as they had last year, and they will not be overlooked by opposing teams. But at the same time, they’ve improved their depth and the bevy of young players should take another step forward. Being the eternal optimist (an important characteristic of being a life-long Maple Leafs fan), I think the Leafs will modestly increase their point total to approximately 98 points. In an Eastern Conference that looks relatively wide open beyond Pittsburgh and Washington, the Maple Leafs have a chance to make some noise. At the risk of “planning the parade”, I think the Leafs will have a strong regular season and win their first round playoff matchup. From there, anything can happen.
Do you agree with our predictions? Share your comments by posting below or tweeting at us on Twitter (@truenorthcamps) with hashtag #playallday! If you are looking for after-school and weekend sports clinics, check out our schedule at truenorthcamps.com!