Thoughts on the Maple Leafs heading into the short 2021 NHL season


On Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off their 10-day training camp that will propel them headlong into their first game – a regular season, strangely enough – against the Montreal Canadiens. They didn’t really wade smoothly in the news pool either, wreaking havoc on the roof of the Ford Performance Center by revealing that the new winger playing alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner would be… Joe Thornton?
Like many, I have thoughts. Like many I have a lot thoughts, in fact. Let’s move on to some of these, starting with a general overview before delving into the details.

They are a very good Leafs team, unrivaled in their division. Anything less than reaching the North will be a disappointment. (… Ahem, “Scotia North Division”, sorry.)

It is impossible to know who exactly will be what on the periphery of the list, and how all the parts will fit together given the sheer volume of new bodies. As a reminder, the list of relevant new guys looks like Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Joe Thornton, Travis Boyd, TJ Brodie, Zach Bogosian, Mikko Lehtonen, Alexander Barabanov and Joey Anderson.

Still, I feel confident in calling this team “very good” and that they have “no real equal in the division” because the franchise tentpoles are in place (more on that in a second) , which means most of the names above that aren’t ‘t Brodie will be additional players, not key players. And while I’m not sure “who exactly is going to be what,” I am confident that there is enough quality in their support group that at least a few players will add value in those minutes.

The aforementioned tentpoles, however, are what sets this team apart from the Leafs in the North. We are talking about Auston Matthews (40 goals is not out of the question in 56 games), Mitch Marner and William Nylander, with John Tavares still supposed to play like he’s in his own. Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin are rightfully high-quality advocates, and Brodie is the same. Frederik Andersen has just had the worst year of his career in terms of save percentage… posting a number close to the league average, and he has a motivational contract. Their next level of comeback guys (Zach Hyman, Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Kerfoot, Travis Dermott, Justin Holl) is also an established quality.

I don’t see any other Canadian band with so much top talent, and Toronto is stable beyond that.

Now to the details.

By trying to make Joe Thornton succeed, are they setting him up for failure?

I understand the Leafs want to put Thornton in a position where he can be at his best. They want him to get starts in Zone O and play with other high IQ players with offensive leanings.

But Thornton is coming to a new town to play for a new team under the direction of a new coach with new linemen, and it is possible that he will need some adjustment time, as there would be for n anyone in this situation. In a short season like this, however, there is little time to let players tackle issues while also researching chemistry. If that doesn’t work out right away for the reasons mentioned, the Leafs will likely have to move on and trade someone else, which would make Joe seem like falling short of expectations, and the media circus begins.

It sounds like the opposite of “under-promised and over-delivered”. I don’t know if it’s too much, too soon, but I know it’s a lot, soon.

Now part of me had this thought: it’s possible that Joe got a lot of promises to come to Toronto in terms of opportunities. Maybe putting it there right away is a win-win for the team. Either it is necessary and Yayor not, and he can’t say he hasn’t had the chance.

Attempts to have a defensive line seem very real, which seems to shape everything else.

This is probably relevant to Thornton’s position in the roster. One Leafs shortcoming is “who’s playing forward when you need that big defensive save?” They’ve added a lot of good players at great prices this offseason, but like Jumbo, Jimmy Vesey isn’t exactly a stopping defender.

So what we’re seeing here is that the Leafs are trying to build a defensive line – that’s Mikheyev, Kerfoot, and Hyman – and probably make their other lines a little less lethal as a result.

This is not a review, exactly. They have the offense of burning in their top six, and taking it out of there to add a spot where they need help more urgently might make sense.

Provided you think Kerfoot is the guy you want to pass on center boards to stop Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Elias Pettersson and the other quality centers in the division.

Nick Robertson will join this team again ahead of the playoffs.

The biggest strength working against Robertson – currently in the Leafs’ second group, the “non-NHL” group – is that they already excel in the same area he offers the most help. “This Leafs team missed a smaller, attacking-minded scorer,” said zero after the team was eliminated from the playoffs in recent years.

But at one point, a player is too good not to have in your roster, and Robertson seems like the committed type ready to do whatever it takes to at least dress up, and when that happens, it doesn’t. It’s only a matter of time before he surrenders. too useful to be excluded.

Funny, I know his ability to score is his biggest strength and that’s what appeals to the team, but I think it’s his work ethic that gets him into the mix this season rather than further down the road. It’s a compliment when I say the kid is an all-caps hockey player.

Core D is going to be a force

I know it’s a weird thing to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs, but right now the highly touted seventh and eight D-man Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott, who has over 150 NHL games to his name. active and just turned 24. a few weeks ago. Rielly, Muzzin and Brodie deliver that high-end quality they lacked, and names like Justin Holl, Zach Bogosian and Mikko Lehtonen are massive improvements on what the team has had in the 4-5-6 places over the years. last years. .

If you look around the North, the Calgary Flames probably have the best D-bodies. After that I’m not sure there is a group that you can clearly identify as better than the Leafs.

Coolbet has Auston Matthews as Rocket Richard Trophy favorite ahead of Alex Ovechkin, and so they should

Matthews was a shy goal to get his name on the Richard Trophy last season, and this season the two players who have accomplished that feat have some downsides. Ovechkin is a year older and let’s face it, Father Time is undefeated. Until then, David Pastrnak won’t be on opening night for the Bruins, who are also in a tougher division (he had his hip repaired in September).

Yes, the North Division is responsible for quality goalkeepers, but we just discussed the different defense forces in the group. Most are not that strong and the chances are there. At one point, there isn’t much that goalkeepers can do.

The Leafs will rack up ceiling space and add to the deadline (if they stay healthy)

Simply put, every dollar you are under the cap on any given day is one more dollar than you can spend on the road in a season. The Leafs are not at LTIR this year, so they can take advantage. There are taxi teams as well, so with paper transactions you can technically roll out rosters of 20 or 21 guys every day, maximizing how under the cap you can be. In short, a healthy Leafs team could have up to $ 5 million to spend on a player by this year’s trade deadline.

Brandon Pridham – someone who has worked on NHL CBAs on the league side before – knows how to take advantage of such opportunities. Unless there are a lot of injuries the Leafs can’t bury on LTIR, I would expect that to happen.

If the Leafs’ goaltenders are fragile enough that it costs them games early on, they can’t afford to complete the experiment.

A major criticism of Freddy Andersen is that he is inconsistent. He has incredibly good months and months the other way around. If given enough time, they are on average a very good goalkeeper. Sadly, it’s a shortened season where each month is roughly 25% of the calendar, and there are questions surrounding its future. There won’t be time to “stabilize” for the tough times. They’re going to have to react early if things look bad.

If Andersen starts off rough, I bet Jack Campbell gets a good number of games early so they can gauge their confidence, and then the team will be left with some real questions to answer (followed by moves to do).

They can’t wait for things to “even out” anywhere because it’s a legitimate Stanley Cup shot for the Leafs.

Some desperate Leafs fans have wished for a monkey paw and have found their apologies this year. Poof, Boston and Tampa are out of the Leafs division. All their young talents are signed and in camp to start the year. They have vets, they’ve added a quality D-man. The coach and the general manager are aligned. They’re in a lightweight division defending with seven teams – four of which make the playoffs.

And for once, they are the favorites.

If this team remains healthy, the league semi-finals aren’t just realistic, they’re an expectation. What a strange time for all sports fans, but especially strange for Toronto fans.


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