The Leafs for two years in a row punched their ticket tot he playoffs. The Leafs have not made the playoffs in back to back seasons since 2002-2004, before the Leafs drafted Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, acquired Frederick Anderson they have been known to be the laughing stock of this Atlantic division. Missing the playoffs 10 out of 11 seasons prior to 2016-17 the Leafs did not have much going for them.
Well, with a 4th place Atlantic division finish in 2016-17 and a recent 3rd place finish last season the Leafs are surely on their way up. The Leafs are coming off a 49 win and 105 point season, a lot of their success has been built on their forward depth and Frederick Anderson playing unbelievable minutes. And as we all know with the recent forward signing in John Tavares a lot of Leaf fans and NHL fans believe the Leafs have what it take to make that next step.
In the offseason due to the signing of John Tavares and his 77 million dollar deal the Leafs have parted ways with veteran forward Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak, James Van Reimsydk and defenseman Roman Polak. While adding Tyler Ennis and Jordan Subban, the Leafs sure did give up a good amount to make sure Tavares could come back home. But with the loss of Komarov, Bozak and JVR are the Leafs going to be able to supplement their absence with the presence of John Tavares?
Leafs front end is locked and loaded for a “different” season…
With a line up consisting of Nylander, Matthews and Patrick Marleau they have a very solid and well known first line. If Marleau and Matthews can stay healthy the Leafs will be in good shape. Signing back Nylander is the problem as of now. Now, with a second line of Tavares, Zach Hyman and Marner the Leafs need these two young guns alongside Tavares to help aid the superstar center and really prove their worth in the NHL. Marner has to stay consistent. Last year he went on a small skid, but still was able to tally 69 points In 82 games, we have to assume that playing with Tavares will help keep the young forward on a solid path. Hyman tallied 40 points last season with 15 goals. With Tavares now in the middle of these two the Leafs have a very good and interchangeable 1, 2 punch. The third line with Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown and Kasperi Kapanen the Leafs again not only have a solid shut down line but a line can be of use on the offensive side.
The Leafs have a great range of ages in the locker room a good mix of young guys, seasoned veterans and also a superstar with 9 years experience now too. The only problem many wonder about is the Leafs defense.
The big question mark for the Leafs: Is their back end capable of a Stanley Cup push?
On the back end the Leafs have Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey. Sure, Hainsey is 37-years-old but he has played in a consist 80 plus games 4 of the last 5 seasons and a 37-year-old who sees d-pairing one minutes does a fine job at it too. He tallied 23 points last season the most he has had since 2009-10. Reilly as we know has questions about being a number one defenseman but he does a great job on the power play and also logs major minutes on top 52 points. Rielly is coming off his best year and it will for sure not slow down with this new wave of confidence the Leafs have. Throw in Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaistev, the Leafs line two compares to many other line twos. Zaistev is young sure and has only played two full seasons but in his first year he logged 36 points and last season in 60 games he tallied 13 points. Zaitsev has some concerns but all they need from him is a solid 17 plus minutes a game to shut down opposing players. Gardiner does a great job on the second power play unit and coming off his best year ad 52 point season will just like Reilly show no signs of slowing down. Connor Carrick and Travis Dermott are young and anxious they want to make a name for themselves and I think these two logging 13-14 minutes a game on the third line is nothing they can’t handle. We saw bright spots in both of them last year and the Leafs back end gets extremely undervalued. One reason they can surely supplement a lacking third line d-pairing is because of goaltender Frederick Anderson. Last season Anderson 66 games winning 38 of them with a 2.8 GAA and .918 save percentage. This is Andersons second year logging 66 starts he is more than capable of getting the job done the only concern is his playoff performance as he has shown to dwell in the postseason. If Anderson can take that next step and fix his postseason play the Leafs have what it takes.
I think with Tampa and Boston still a little better and more rounded then the Leafs they won’t edge them out. I could see a 2nd place finish out of Toronto for sure but won’t be surprised to see a 3rd place 102-105 point season again. They will be back in the playoffs and I think this is the year they win their first playoff series in 15 years.