Its just over a month away, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are already getting their fans excited for the upcoming season. First round playoff exits over the past two seasons have been disappointing, however, the sustained success is promising and should be built on over this season and for the foreseeable future.
Here are the FIRST three things Leaf fans can get excited about for the upcoming season:
Pinch yourself, John Tavares is a Maple Leaf:
Maybe the most discusses topic of the offseason thus far, and maybe one of the biggest free agent signings in NHL history, John Tavares being a Maple Leaf is something to get excited about. His playmaking and impressive stats speak for themselves:
TOI: 19:56 minutes
Faceoff Percentage: 52.9%
Selke and Lady Byng votes.
Will all these stats aside what may be most intriguing about John Tavares is what he’ll do to the makeup of the Maple Leafs roster. Will Marner play on his wing? Will his 23 even strength goals make Toronto that much more of a 5on5 threat in the league? Will he make Nazem Kadri a more effective player by pushing him down the lineup? How many more powerplay points will he have over his 51 from last season?
It should be a symbiotic relationship for John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs, adding a franchise talent to an already contending playoff team, while providing an upgrade in personnel for that player to succeed.
The Leafs are going to scare the opposition:
Having center depth is a hallmark of any Cup contending team, having a franchise level player is necessary for a team to build around, having a mobile d-core is something the elite teams have, having young, creative wingers is a must in today’s NHL. Check all four boxes for the Maple Leafs as they stack up against anybody in the NHL on paper to be a Stanley Cup contender.
Line matching is something Mike Babcock likes to make the most of when coaching at home and losing this ability in the playoffs when visiting Boston saw the Leaf’s struggle when the Bergeron-Pasternak- Marchand line came over the boards against Matthews or Bozak. The addition of John Tavares offers another dominant center to the group who can play hardnose, gritty minutes in the corners offering another layer of insulation to Auston Matthews.
The center depth should also help in tempering new NHLers into the league on the fourth line. Tavares averaged 19:56 TOI, Auston Matthews averaged 18:08 minutes, and Kadri averaged 16:46, leaving just over five minutes of ice time left for a fourth line centerman to have. This will probably swell with powerplay time, but it isn’t going to be a lot of ice time for someone to make their own which is why players like Josh Jooris and Par Lindholm will need to earn their well-insulated spot this season.
The Leafs also boast Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares as franchise level players to build around. Some teams are lucky enough to have one of this caliber of player to build around, and playoff teams usually have two or maybe even three – the Leafs have four, which again is intimidating to stack up against.
While not necessarily elite, the Leaf’s d-core is mobile, young(ish), and doesn’t have a lot of holes in it structurally. Morgan Reilly leads the pack and is as close to being an elite number one defenseman as you can get without being one of the big names in the league (Doughty, Karlsson, Burns, etc.). He is a leader on the ice and is integral to the team’s success this season.
Gardiner is polarizing but with the Leafs betting on a strong contract year for their offensive defenseman we might as well support him, right? He seems to provide more than he gives away, can chip in a good deal on the power play, and can skate the puck out of his own zone with relative ease. Ideally, he slots in on the second pairing, reducing his minutes and letting him be that powerplay specialist.
The rest of the d-core is fairly regular. Hainsey is the stay at home, defensive defenseman who will have less 5on5 minutes to let him kill entire penalties. Zaitsev is looking to bounce back after a poor second half to last season following injury and illness. Travis Dermott will aim to be Reilly’s top defensive pairing partner and should succeed in that chase. Ozhiganov is looking to step into the NHL with his booming shot and physical 6’2, 210lb frame. And Connor Carrick is set to challenge for that final defensive spot with anyone who has early game hiccups.
Wingers are another area of strength for Toronto who has eight starting wingers who all offer different play styles. The most important are the top six wingers who will impact the scoresheet regularly. Marner has worldclass vision and playmaking. He’s coming into his own as a legit NHL stud and is also getting more comfortable shooting the puck, too.
Nylander is the classic European sniper. He is quick down the boards, drives you nuts with his two-way games, and electrifies you with a snipe that somehow finds a hole the exact size of a puck. He is an elite shooter and being pinned beside Matthews for the start of his career has proved to be mutually beneficial.
Marleau has that veteran experience that sees him in the right place at the right time more often than not. He is a leader on the team on and off the ice, adding stability to a youthful franchise. Hyman is like a dog on a bone – willing to do whatever it takes to get the puck and make a play. His centers love him and so does his coach.
The final two spots will be duked out between Andreas Johnsson, Connor Brown, and Kasperi Kapanen. All three have shown their skill and ability throughout the last two season, and it is a toss up on who will slot in as the wingers on Kadri’s line. This is the epitome of a good problem to have for the Leafs.
The Leafs are years ahead of their rivals:
Remember how intense the Battle of Ontario, the Battle of the QEW, or the Original Six matchup used to be for Toronto and their respective rivals? Well, those years are gone as Toronto has eclipsed Ottawa, Buffalo, and Montreal in team development.
Ottawa is currently in the process of losing one of the best players their team has ever had and one of the elite defenseman in the league, Erik Karlsson. Karlsson’s imminent departure has seen the team stuck in limbo – trading Mike Hoffman for PR reason, promoting youth for starting positions, lowballing their offensive leader Mark Stone in arbitration, and basically being stuck between rebuilding and existing.
Likewise in Montreal, the Habs are a team with no identity. They’ve done well self-destructing over the past few seasons, opening the door for the Maple Leafs to lap them. Trading the young, energetic, and talented Subban for an odorously large contract in Shea Weber should have been enough to get Bergevin fired, but they’ve stuck with him and now will be losing their captain Pacioretty sometime this season as he’s been thrown under the bus by the overhyped GM.
Buffalo continues to have little brother syndrome with the Maple Leafs – always wanting what their older sibling has. You want Babcock? Well, he’s coming here, so enjoy Bylsma a now unproven Phil Housley. You want front office stability? Well too bad, you’re stuck with Tim Murray and his transitions lenses and now Jason Botterill. You want the best young American star? Well enjoy Jack Eichel and wherever he lands on that list because Matthews is taken.
The Sabre’s are closest to challenge the Maple Leafs and have done well this offseason. Additions of Sheary, Sobotka, Berglund, Hutton, Sislo, Skinner, and of course Dahlin have made them a better team. However, adding a forward on a do-nothing team like Skinner, players from perennial underperformer St. Louis, a career backup goalie, and a rookie defenseman doesn’t add up to an immediate elite level contender.
So there it is the FIRST of many things to be excited about as a Maple Leaf fan headed into the 2018/19 season. Safe to say it’ll be one hell of a ride for fans across Leafs Nation.