It has been an off-season unlike any we’ve seen in previous years in Toronto. The Maple Leafs have a new coaching staff, new general manager, they traded their star player and took few risks in free agency.
Hope for the future is bright. Success in the short-term will be fleeting.
Head coach: Mike Babcock
GM: Lou Lamoriello
Team payroll: ($68-million cap hit on $71.4 million cap)
Last season record: 30-44-8, 68 points, 15th in the East
Goals for: 211
Goals against: 262
PP: 15.9 per cent, ranked 26th
PK: 80.5 per cent, ranked 22nd
Corsi for 60: 52.3 (via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)
Key departures: Phil Kessel, David Booth, Eric Brewer, Brandon Kozun, Zach Sill
Rookies to Watch: William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, Frederik Gauthier, Rinat Valiev, Nikita Soshnikov. Maple Leafs rookie camp should be entertaining, however there’s no guarantee any rookies will crack the lineup to begin the season as the team is now taking a long-term approach to developing its prospects.
Pre-season letter grades
Look, the Leafs made some quality economical signings this summer and they’re certainly equipped with enough talent in the bottom half of their roster to make things tough on opposing teams, especially in a Babcock system. Still, without Kessel, the Leafs’ top six leaves much to be desired—at least on paper—and putting the puck in the net could be a problem. GRADE: C
There’s a nice mix of speed, power and puck-moving ability between youngsters Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner plus veterans Dion Phaneuf, Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, who was a nice addition to the third pairing. However, there isn’t a team in the league that will be even remotely intimidated by this blueline and quite frankly that’s a problem. GRADE: C
There’s a reason neither Jonathan Bernier nor James Reimer have earned a long-term deal with the Leafs and it comes down to consistency. Reimer has basically established himself as a quality backup that can have spurts of success as a starter, while Bernier has that dreaded quality called potential. In 113 appearances with the Leafs, Bernier is 47-47-14 with a .918 save percentage, 2.78 goals-against average and three shutouts. Not great for a player many feel can become a franchise goalie. In fairness to Bernier and Reimer, they haven’t had much help from their teammates the last two years. GRADE: C
The Maple Leafs will have a successful season if… having a successful season means showing clear signs of improvement under Mike Babcock without expecting to make the playoffs. For the franchise’s long-term overhaul to work, management has to be patient. This means not rushing their top prospects and continuing to collect assets by selling off pending UFAs at the trade deadline.
The Maple Leafs will have a disappointing season if… they’re a lottery team again. Making the playoffs will be a stretch but the Leafs should be an improved group under Babcock. There’s so much parity in the league that a well-coached team with a shortage of talent can be more successful than a talented group in disarray.