Joel Dorcas | September 3rd, 2019
Leafs Nation, who let’s be honest, are some of the most widespread, loyal, and in their own minds, most knowledgeable fan bases in all of hockey. Fans are already chomping at the bit and are quick to point out who should be playing on what line and with whom. Last season the “Buds” got bounced (yet again) in the first round of the playoffs by their biggest nemesis, the Boston Bruins. Things need to change and management has made some significant moves in order to give highly paid coach Mike Babcock the best tools for a long and prosperous playoff run. Let’s take a look at where the 2019/2020 Toronto Maple Leafs fit in in a very deep and improving Eastern Conference.
A huge storyline that continues to dominate headlines is the Mitch Marner situation. Marner is coming off a fantastic 94-point campaign and is in need of a new contract. He is a restricted free agent and he wants big-time money. Word is that Marner is seeking the same type of contracts fellow teammates, John Tavares and Auston Matthews are getting: $11,634,000 and $11,000,000 annually respectively. The problem here is that wingers aren’t typically paid the same money as centers. Leafs brass isn’t budging so Marner will have to look at similar players at the wing position such as Nikita Kucherov($9,500,000), Patrick Kane($10,500,000) and to a lesser extent, Jamie Benn($9,500,000) if he wants to stay in his home province. There is no telling how long this holdout will last but the Leafs are hoping Marner will come down some on his demands. In the meantime, the Leafs will soldier on with or without the dynamic services of one of the most skilled players in the league.
Notable Off-Season Additions: (F) Alexander Kerfoot, (F) Jason Spezza, (D) Tyson Barrie, (D) Cody Ceci, (D) Ben Harpur
Notable Off-Season Subtractions: (F) Nazem Kadri, (F) Connor Brown, (F) Tyler Ennis, (F) Patrick Marleau, (D) Nikita Zaitsev, (D) Ron Hainsey
Top Prospects: (F) Trevor Moore, (F) Ilya Mikheyev, (F) Jeremy Bracco, (D) Timothy Liljegren, (D) Rasmus Sandin
Breakout Candidates:(F) William Nylander, (F) Trevor Moore, (D) Tyson Barrie, (F) Alexander Kerfoot
Top Priority/Restricted Free Agents:(F) Mitch Marner, (D) Jake Gardiner. *a healthy return (November) (D) Travis Dermott (shoulder surgery)
The Maple Leafs are no-doubt making a commitment to shore up the defensive end with the additions of Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci, but are they that much better? Last season fell way too much into the hands of goaltender Frederik Andersen who was brilliant. Andersen finished third in wins with 36 and somehow managed to compile a .917 save percentage with Toronto allowing the second-most shots in the league with 1,958. As a result, the team ended up finishing 20th in goals against per game at 3.04. This just won’t cut it if they want to make positive strides in the playoffs.
The recipe for success last season was built upon their exciting high-tempo high-skilled offense which finished fourth in goals with 286. Expect more of the same even after the departure of main-stays Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, and Patrick Marleau out of the picture. Alexander Kerfoot and Trevor Moore are more than capable replacements, but they will have to have at least one or two players step up, such as non-roster invitee Ilya Mikheyov(KHL) or highly touted Jeremy Bracco. If Marner does finally decide to take the Leafs best offer, last seasons pace can be matched. This young group can only get better.
Prediction: Second in the Atlantic and finally, past the first round of the playoffs.
There is a lot riding on the 2019/2020 season for Babcock and the Leafs. It’s as close to a make or break year as you can get. A lot has to go right for the Leafs to just get by the preliminary round of the playoffs. They need to sign Mitch Marner or somehow acquire an impact shut-down defensemen down the stretch. They need to get reliable back-up goaltending from either Michael Hutchinson or acquire a veteran to lessen Andersen’s load in order to get maximum value from him when it really counts. The Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, and others are really good. It really falls on management at this point if they can make a big run at Lord Stanley.
Check out our other 2019-2020 NHL Team Previews:
Colorado Avalanche|Florida Panthers|Dallas Stars|Arizona Coyotes|New Jersey Devils|San Jose Sharks|Buffalo Sabres|Los Angeles Kings|Vancouver Canucks|Winnipeg Jets|Carolina Hurricanes|Boston Bruins|Ottawa Senators|New York Islanders|Minnesota Wild|Vegas Golden Knights|Detroit Red Wings|Pittsburgh Penguins|Chicago Blackhawks
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