3 bold Maple Leafs predictions for 2022: Toronto finally wins a playoff round

Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares (91) congratulates goaltender Jack Campbell (36) after a win. (Evan Buhler/CP)

TORONTO -- One of two things is going to happen here.

Either we’ll keep these written prophecies as receipts and flaunt them next winter as evidence of our supreme clairvoyance.

Or you’ll screengrab them and launch them right back in our face when the Toronto Maple Leafs stand pat at the trade deadline, crumble in the playoffs and lose Jack Campbell in free agency to the Detroit Red Wings or Colorado Avalanche.

Without further ado, here are our three bold predictions for the boys in blue in 2022 (plus a few more).

Toronto finds a way to keep Campbell

No NHL city loves its contract debates and cap-structure chatter more than Toronto, with its unorthodox book balancing leaning so heavily toward elite forwards.

So, while Leaf Nation relishes in the stellar performance of Jack Campbell — 15-5-2, 1.94 GAA, .937 save percentage — and bellows “Soooooup!” in the wake of the Michigan native’s latest clutch save, it also suffers from low-level anxiety over where the happy-go-lucky netminder will play in 2022-23.

Currently a steal at $1.65 million, Campbell is due a monster pay increase this summer and could well become the most coveted goaltender on the open market. The 29-year-old’s career earnings total just $4.6 million since he signed his first pro deal way back in 2010. No one would blame him for taking his talents to the highest bidder.

The last two top-ranked UFA goalies, Jacob Markstrom (six years at $6 million) and Philipp Grubauer (six years at $5.9 million), made out OK.

That Leafs GM Kyle Dubas already forked over three years and $11.4 million to injury-prone Petr Mrazek is no small obstacle in retaining Campbell.

But there is a fierce love affair between Campbell and his current squad and, with all due respect to Joseph Woll, no obvious starter in the system ready to assume his workload.

Whether it means adding sweetener to a Mrazek trade or buying him out, or shedding salary from the roster’s middle class (Jake Muzzin and Alexander Kerfoot might be vulnerable here), we’re betting Dubas finds a way to keep Campbell in the fold.

Much to the dismay of, say, Steve Yzerman in Detroit.

The Leafs finally win a round, plus one more (at least)

Yes, we know. It’s been said many a time since 2004.

But this spring the Maple Leafs’ regular-season success will actually translate. For real.

Goaltending, special teams, defence, forward balance – by virtually any measure, this version of the Leafs appears more ready for the big stage.

The easier route to chuck an 18-year-old monkey off their back would be to win the Atlantic (a realistic goal) and draw a favourable wild-card match in Round 1.

A series victory would snowball the dressing room’s confidence so much that they’ll take Round 2 as well.

After that, who knows?

Surviving the East will be a beast. The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers are legit. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals appear to be enjoying a renaissance. And Igor Shesterkin is so sharp, he looks like he could steal a best-of-seven on his own for the New York Rangers.

But the underlying metrics will attest: These Maple Leafs are no mirage.

And, hey, they’re due.

The blue line is remodelled via trade

A factor in our aforementioned playoff prediction coming true will be Dubas adding rather than subtracting by the March 21 trade deadline.

Keeping in line with his actions at past deadlines (see: Campbell, Muzzin, Kyle Clifford, Nick Foligno, David Rittich), Dubas will once again spend draft and prospect capital (however thinning) and reward a core he believes could carry the distance.

Travis Dermott and the struggling Holl are at risk of getting moved in a package deal. But if the GM wishes to bolster the right side of blueline, his most valuable chips will be a blue-chip prospect (Nick Robertson? Rodion Amirov?) or his first-round pick (again).

The architects of this roster are pot committed at this point. Whether it’s Mark Giordano or Josh Manson or Ben Chiarot or someone else reliable in his own zone, they will make another push.

And with developing blueliners Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren proving capable of more responsibility and deserving raises this summer as RFAs, the D corps is bound to look a little different by fall.

Bonus bold predictions: Despite not scoring his first goal until Oct. 25 and giving the pack a nice head start, Auston Matthews rallies from behind to claim back-to-back Rocket Richard trophies and finally crushes Rick Vaive’s franchise record for most goals in a season (54)... . Campbell is a Vezina finalist ... . Brendan Shanahan announces an extension for GM Kyle Dubas ... . Josh Ho-Sang signs an NHL contract ... . Sandin and Liljegren re-sign in July.

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