It’s the hard-hitting question that we all need to be answered. With Jake Gardiner now gone to conference combatant Carolina, who is going to take the brunt of Leaf fans frustrations this season?
This is the natural answer to the question, as much of Leafs nation seem to think Gardiner’s money went to Ceci when he was brought in. This, in fact, is incredibly stupid and also plain wrong. Ceci’s $4.5m cap hit is a casualty of his arbitration rights out of an RFA deal.
Ceci was offered this one-year deal and accepted it likely as a chance to springboard him to a better, longer contract after trading in the tire fire that is the Ottawa Senators, for the booming Maple Leafs. The Leafs took him on only to get out of the long term deal Lou Lamoriello signed Nikita Zaitsev to (at the same hit).
Ceci, in the eyes of many Sens fans, became a defensive problem for the team after their bit of playoff success. In reality, Ceci was miscast in his role as a defensive leader (alongside Erik Karlsson). The Leafs should Phaneuf Ceci this season – put him in advantageous positions which should prop up his value, and hopefully, we’ll see what he can actually be as a player on a good team.
A lot of people see him as a direct replacement, albeit on the right side, for Gardiner, and while he may be cast in that role it isn’t a fair comparison. I bet Ceci surprises a lot of people, but he is prone to some bonehead play.
William Nylander/Mitch Marner
This one could/will flip flop depending on if and when Mitch Marner signs, but as of now, some of the more stubborn supporters of this team are going to continue to smash William Nylander for his hold out last December. Mitch will take this mantle if he does that same, even his he only misses training camp.
Nylander is poised to break out this season on Auston Matthews wing. His underlying stats last season prove that his slow, delayed start, didn’t hurt his production in the end, even if the goal totals weren’t crazy.
Marner is in for the same treatment, however, I wouldn’t expect him to be pushed to the third line like Nylander was last season. Some early-season production from Nylander, though, will quell a lot of rage, even if it garners some ‘see what a whole season and training camp for do for you, Nylander’ comments.
Money over the team will be the narrative for Marner if he holds out, if not the focus will shift back to Nylander until he produces.
I think this option will get a lot of love, especially if Auston Matthews ice time remains sub 20 minutes a night. Mike Babcock was a massive hire when the Leafs were starting their rebuild, but questions have been raised about if he’s the man to take the Buds to the next level.
The majority of criticism on Babcock is due to his inability to coach this extremely talented team past the first round of the playoffs. More ice time for Matthews in critical times? Leaning on “his guys” too much instead of more conventional options? Trying to shoe-horn a talented team into a defensive plan? All are valid critiques.
Kyle Dubas has stated that his coach isn’t on the hot seat this season, but we all saw through that facade pretty easily, didn’t we? Dubas can’t publically criticize his coach prior to the season starting, but we all know every GM has the ‘fire coach’ bullet waiting to get fired.
Time to put up or shut up for Babcock, because he’ll likely draw the most friendly fire from Leaf fans this season.