I started writing for Winging it in Motown in order to escape the constant flurry of Toronto Maple Leafs news I am subjected to by living in the Greater Toronto Area. And yet, here I am, writing a preview of the Maple Leafs 2016/17 season.
What They Did in 2015/16
Division: 8th Atlantic
Conference: 16th Eastern
2015–16 Record: 29–42–11
Home Record: 14–18–9
Road Record: 15–24–2
Goals For: 198
Goals Against: 246
PK: 81.62 (13th)
PP: 15.44 (29th)
The Maple Leafs offseason before the 2015/16 season started off with a bang with the acquisition of free-agent coach Mike Babcock. Shortly thereafter, the Leafs traded Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins, eventually traded Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa and acquired Mitch Marner with the 4th overall pick.
The Leafs made some significant changes in the front office as well, first, they promoted Kyle Dubas, their analytics whiz to assistant GM and hired Lou Lamoriello as GM.
The Leafs have always been a team that is “three years away from being three years away” as the old saying goes. However, after several years of pain, it seems like they are on the right track. With the shedding of key contracts such as Kessel, Reimer and Phaneuf, the Leafs have freed up space for their growing prospects pool.
What They Did This Offseason
This offseason it seems like everything has gone according to the Leafs’ plans. First, they drafted Auston Matthews with the 1st overall pick. Next, they traded inconsistent goalie Jonathan Bernier to the Ducks for Frederik Andersen, a move that is sure to bring them much needed stability in net. In addition, they chose to part ways with free agent P.A Parenteau, their leading goal scorer.
They have continued to methodically free up space and work on their prospects’ development. Although they made significant moves, what stands out to me is the lack of movement with regards to Joffrey Lupul. This lack of movement is likely due to the fact that Lupul doesn’t generate much interest right now. The influx of youth has put him in a weird limbo where he won’t be around to watch the team succeed but isn’t marketable enough to be traded. So unless the Leafs can pull off some magic, Lupul is coming along for the ride and they are stuck with him.
The Leafs are well on their way to a proper rebuild and their fans are finally being rewarded for their extreme loyalty.
Auston Matthews looks like he’s ready to compete for a roster spot and is likely to play with Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. Another highly touted Leafs prospect, William Nylander is set to return and build upon his impressive 2015/16 season where he had 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in 22 games. The Leafs also have a great prospect in 2016 Memorial Cup winner Mitch Marner. Marner helped his London Knights win the OHL title and won two individual awards for leading scorer and tournament MVP. Marner certainly has the speed and skill, but at 163 lbs, he will need to get bigger in order to have an impact in the NHL where you have to fight for space. Plus, Mike Babcock hasn’t traditionally cared for small forwards, so it will be interesting to see how/when they utilize him.
I expect the Leafs to improve upon their 2015/16 season, but the growing pains and inconsistencies will continue to be there. It’s OK Leafs Nation, growing pains are better than slowing pains!
The addition of Frederik Andersen could be a game changer for the Leafs. If he is able to stay as consistent as we saw during his tandem with John Gibson, then he may give the Leafs a chance to make some noise.