The Toronto Maple Leafs had a lot of shakeup this summer. Some of it came on the roster, but most of it came inside the front office. These may have more long-term impacts on the Maple Leafs, but for 2014-15, we still think they’ll miss the playoffs and finish sixth in the Atlantic.
2013-14 record: 38-36-8.
Acquisitions: Daniel Winnik, David Booth, Petri Kontiola, Mike Santorelli, Matt Frattin, Stephane Robidas, Roman Polak, Leo Komarov.
Departures: Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin, Drew MacIntyre, Mason Raymond, Dave Bolland, Jerry D’Amigo, T.J. Brennan, Carl Gunnarsson.
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Maple Leafs’ monumental collapse in the final quarter of last season came in part because coach Randy Carlyle had overworked his best players – barely using a fourth line at all – and Toronto was one of the NHL’s worst puck-possession teams. So when new president Brendan Shanahan took over in mid-April, he and GM Dave Nonis prioritized strengthening the on-ice product from the bottom up, and the Leafs eschewed marquee free agent signings in favor of improving their depth and competitiveness.
Dependable veteran Stephane Robidas and physical bottom-pairing D-man Roman Polak were acquired to bolster a flimsy blueline, while Leo Komarov, Mike Santorelli, David Booth and Daniel Winnik were signed to add a mix of skill and grit to the bottom six. Management believes those changes will help turn things around – particularly, when it comes to the club’s abysmal penalty-killing unit, which was the league’s third-worst (78.4 percent) a season ago – and prevent another embarrassing free fall from costing them a playoff spot.
Bust: Even with the additions of Robidas and Polak, Toronto’s D-corps is hardly the most intimidating. Dion Phaneuf isn’t the type of A-1 blueliner employed by bona fide Stanley Cup contenders, and blue-chip sophomore Morgan Rielly is going to have some growing pains before he’s considered an elite player.
Although the Leafs have talents such as Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk at the top of the depth chart, their secondary scorers are either injury prone (Joffrey Lupul), still finding their consistency (Nazem Kadri) or trying to salvage a disastrous first year with the franchise (David Clarkson). Up the middle, Toronto continues to rely on Tyler Bozak to be a No. 1 center. But Bozak’s production and possession numbers away from Kessel are abysmal, and under the assumption that his sky-high 2013-14 shooting percentage of 21.1 will drop, expect his output to diminish.
Bottom Line: Despite their ugly end to last season, the Leafs aren’t in as dire of straits as their biggest cynics maintain. If they get internal improvement and solid goaltending from Bernier and backup James Reimer, the Leafs will jostle for one of the lower playoff seeds in the East. But even their new analytics department won’t be able to reverse their poor possession stats overnight, which will leave the Leafs a step behind everyone else in the standings, again.
Prospect To Watch: Drafted eighth overall in the 2014 draft, William Nylander will show off his skills to Maple Leaf fans for the first time at a prospect tournament in London this weekend. After that, he’ll show up to Maple Leafs camp where he’ll try to crack the roster. Whether or not he reaches the NHL out of the gate isn’t certain. The Leafs have decent depth under contract for the big club, so it may not be ideal to rush another prospect straight to the big leagues. Since Nylander was drafted out of Europe, the Leafs have options: use him in the NHL, the American League, major junior’s Ontario League, or send him back to Sweden. They’d be wise to move cautiously with this prospect, but if Nylander impresses with is offensive skills in camp, who knows what the Leafs will do?
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Sixth in Atlantic Division
Contributors: Adam Proteau, Rory Boylen