The dichotomy of the Toronto Maple Leafs this year is probably going to drive you utterly insane. On the one hand, there’s likely no other team in the East that you’d be more excited to watch. They are loaded with young, fast talent marshaled by a coach who knows how to play a possession game. They are poised to do many big things this year, and their first three lines could honestly pour in the goals. 300 goals is not out of the question for this outfit.
On the other, the noise generated by the Leafs and more specifically their stupidly carnivorous media and fans has always been outsized by a huge margin for a team that until last year sucked to the nth degree. What’s it going to be when they’re a genuine Cup contender now? It’s probably not going to be like anything you’ve ever seen, because the last time the Leafs were this close Izzy was still in Guns N’ Roses. You’ll be sick of it by December 1st, guaranteed.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
’16-’17 Record: 40-27-15 95 points (4th in the Flortheast) Bounced in 1st round by the Caps
Team Stats 5v5: 50.3 CF% (13th) 49.2 SF% (20th) 51.7 SCF% (7th) 8.3 SH% (8th) .929 SV% (19th)
Goalies: People don’t seem to be talking about Freddie Andersen being more of a question as much as they should (there’s a Chicago meatball staple. “HEY I AIN’T HERD NO ONE TALKING ABOUT DIS TING.”) Andersen is the definition of “fine.” He’s almost certainly not going to torpedo a team. But his overall .919 SV% last year and .922 even-strength SV% are not really glittering. They’re acceptable. They’re wheat thins. They’re Honkers’ Ale. It’ll do, you won’t exactly be upset if you’re left with it, you can do far worse, but you would hope for better.
Still, this isn’t a striking blue line and the the Leafs give up their fair share of good chances playing the Tron-style that they do. They need a goalie to bail them out more than other teams, and Andersen only does just enough. Can you get out of the East with a goalie who does just enough? “Just enough” got them bounced by a Caps team with a shaky Braden Holtby behind them. A path out of the East could see Andersen have to outduel Carey Price at some point, or keep the Lighting’s firepower at bay, or then deal with the clearly tested Matt Murray, or all of it. Are you putting the house on that?
Backing him up is Curtis McElhinney, who is still somehow around. As much as Andersen might be just good enough to break your heart, if he gets hurt the Leafs are pretty much fucked. But hey, so are most every other team with their starter.
Defense: It’s the same form of problem as the Lightning have, but a different shape. You’d actually be hard-pressed to find a genuine top-pairing guy here. Morgan Reilly could be that one day, but is he now? Nikita Zaitsev is promising, but really should only be a third-pairing bum-slayer right now. Ron Hainsey could get serious run here, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Martin Marincin and Connor Carrick do anything for you? No, of course they don’t.
This team is screaming out for a trade for a top paring guy, and if they get it you could see where that would be the final piece. Of course the “Bring Doughty Home” campaign should start any day now. If the Jets stumble out of the gate they should be kicking the tires on Trouba. There are plenty of other places to look (Chris Tanev?), but with Andersen and this blue line you could see them really struggling to hold down the Bolts or Caps again or Penguins or one or two others’ attacks over a playoff series.
Forwards: Well clearly this is the good stuff. Matthews-Kadri-Bozak-Moore down the middle is really as good as it gets anywhere. Kadri and Bozak both flourished last year finally being slotted where they always belonged, putting up 116 combined points. While Matthews didn’t run with McDavid as some might have hoped points-wise, his 40 goals are certainly antihistamine-level. They’ve added Patrick Marleau on the wings, and while I’m not convinced he has much left in the tank he has enough to pocked 25 goals moving between the second and third lines. Nylander, Hyman, Brown, Marner, JVR, it’s an embarrassment of riches at forward. Which is why they have the ammo to get a d-man that they sorely need. The depth here is pretty staggering, and while they may struggle to hold other teams down, I’m pretty excited to see the Bolts try and counter a JVR-Kadri-Marleau or whatever combo Babcock desires with Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn. About the only team that might have the defensive depth to deal with this is Carolina… maybe Pittsburgh if I squint and everyone stays healthy. Neither of those things are going to happen.
Outlook: Much like their goalie, this team looks just good enough to break everyone in T.O.’s heart. At least as currently constructed. The forward group is terrifying, and the defense isn’t a complete blackhole. But Morgan Reilly isn’t enough by himself, no matter what kind of leap he and/or Zaitsev take. And Andersen just isn’t quite enough to patch this hole himself. They need a move, and until they do or don’t make one it’s hard to say for certain where they’re going. As currently constructed, you can see a brave, glorious defeat in a seventh game of a conference final being their fate. To who I couldn’t tell you, but it just sounds right, doesn’t it? And quite frankly, that’s what this fanbase really wants deep down. Give them another Kerry Fraser moment.
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