The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the 2021-22 National Hockey League campaign with 54 wins and 115 points. Their combined 54-21-7 record accounted for their single-best in franchise history. Not too shabby for an organization that has been around for 104 seasons. Be that as it may, last year ended like the previous five – with a first-round exit. A tune die-hard Maple Leafs fans have grown all too accustomed to.
Fast forward to September 2022 with a brand new season a little under four weeks away. The vast majority of Leafs fans are asking – what is different this time around? Can Leaf fans expect much of the same, or is this finally the year the franchise takes a major step forward in the postseason? Let us read on and find.
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Matt Murray & Ilya Samsonov in Goal
It is out with the old and in with the new from a goaltending standpoint this season in Toronto. Last year the Leafs iced a goaltending tandem of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek. This season both are gone. Campbell packed his bags and signed a big ticket with the Edmonton Oilers, while Mrazek was part of a trade package to the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
The omissions of each of the aforementioned netminders left a gaping hole in Toronto’s crease. The answer? Two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray. Yup, you read that right, hockey fans. Murray comes in as one of the few players on the Maple Leafs with a Stanley Cup-winning pedigree having previously hoisted hockey’s most coveted prize in 2016 and 2017.
On the other hand, Samsonov enters the fray on a one-year, $1.8 million deal. Although this is a massive hunch by Dubas, it’s certainly one that can pay huge dividends should Murray and Samsonov find their games and re-ignite the “fire” they possessed a few years back. The one-two tandem of Murray and Samsonov promises to be one of the most intriguing storylines in the NHL in 2022-23.
Jobs on the Line – Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas, & Sheldon Keefe
In 2014, the Toronto Maple Leafs named former Hall-of-Fame player and Stanley Cup champion Brendan Shanahan as the club’s Alternate Governor and President to oversee all hockey-related operations. Since then, the Leafs have won a grand total of zero playoff series. Enter Kyle Dubas. Dubas was named Maple Leafs General Manager in April of 2018. Although Dubas has consistently iced 100-point teams and boasted some of the most talented players in hockey with the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner, among others, the club has also won a grand total of zero playoff series. The clock is undoubtedly beginning to tick for one of hockey’s youngest GMs.
Last but not least is the man behind the bench, Sheldon Keefe. After the firing of Mike Babcock, who at the time was the highest-paid coach in National Hockey League history, Keefe has gone on to post a win percentage of above .600. In today’s day and age, where parity across the NHL landscape is so high, this is quite the feat. But after losing in the first round in the last three seasons to the likes of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and Tampa Bay Lightning, you have to think Toronto’s bench boss is certainly “on the hot seat” if the club fails to advance past the first round yet again in 2022-23. Just another intriguing storyline to follow with the Leafs as the season kicks off in under a month.
Revamped Bottom-6 Forward Group
Over the past few seasons, the Leafs prided themselves on containing one of the most lethal and high-octane offenses in the NHL. With names at head coach Sheldon Keefe’s disposal which includes Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and William Nylander, there’s certainly no shortage of fire-power at the forward position. But what about the bottom two lines?
When the 2022-23 NHL campaign kicks off in under a month, the Leafs’ bottom-six forward group will have a much different look and feel compared to last season. For starters, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas inked Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Adam Gaudette, Calle Jarnkrok, and Zach Aston-Reese to deals with hopes of “revamping” Toronto’s forward group. Not only will the aforementioned players have a collective “chip on their shoulders”, but each of them will look to earn a spot on one of hockey’s most talented teams. I only see this as a positive for a Maple Leafs team in dire need of changing the collective narrative that has baffled the fan base over the past few years. Is this finally the year? We will just have to wait and see.
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