The Toronto Maples Leafs are good! Well not quite yet. In my last post about the Arizona Coyotes, I outlined how the Coyotes are going through a youth transition period - and so are the Leafs. Ever since the team's upper management changed hands from Brian Burke, Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle to the Brendan Shanahan (team president), Lou Lamoriello (general manager) and Mike Babcock (head coach), Toronto is sure to improve over the next few seasons. This process will take time, but for the time being, the the Leafs will be playing an improved style of hockey - and hockey that is much more visually appealing to watch.
At the end of last season, the Leafs finished dead last in the National Hockey League standings, but were fortunate enough to land an elite franchise centre when they drafted Auston Matthews with the first overall pick at the draft back in June. Matthews is a big centre, that skates extremely well and possesses an NHL-caliber shot at just 18-years-old - so he should bring a lot to the table and will change the outlook of the Leafs centre-ice position. The team also has some other prospects who will likely get a chance at a roster spot. Prospects such as Mitch Marner and William Nylander could make them team, but will have increased roles than management would have wanted for them this early in their career. All that said, the youth movement in Toronto could go both ways this season. It could either be very beneficial, and help the team improve on their dead last finish last year, or it could see the team stay neutral and remain a bottom-feeder team.
Here's a look at some of the moves the team made this summer along with what they did at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
G - Frederik Andersen (RFA, 5 years, $25M, $5M AAV)
RW - Peter Holland (Re-signing, RFA, 1 year, $1.3M, $1.3M AAV)
D - Martin Marincin (Re-signing, RFA, 1 year, $2.5M, $1.25M AAV)
D - Jhonas Enroth (UFA, 1 year, $750K, $750K AAV)
1st overall - C - Auston Matthews, Zurich SC, NLA
31st overall - RW- Yegor Korshkov, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, KHL
57th overall - RW - Caarl Grundstrom, MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik, SHL
62nd overall - G - Joseph Woll, U.S National Development Team, USHL
72nd overall - D - J.D Greenway, U.S National Development Team, USHL
92nd overall - C - Adam Brooks, Regina Pats, WHL
101st overall - D - Keaton Middelton, Saginaw Spirit, OHL
122nd overall - LW - Vladimir Bobylev, Victoria Royals, WHL
152nd overall - D - Jack Walker, Victoria Royals, WHL
179th overall - D - Nicholas Mattinen, London Knights, OHL
182nd overall - LW - Nikolai Chebykin, MVD Jrs, MHL
Toronto Maple Leafs acquired G Frederick Andereni from the Anaheim Ducks for 2016 1st round pick (Sam Steel) and a 2017 2nd-round pick.
Toronto Maple Leafs acquired LW Kerby Rychel from the Columbus Blue Jackets for D Scott Harrington and a conditional 5th round pick.
Toronto Maple Leafs acquired a 2017 conditional pick from the Anaheim Ducks for G Jonathan Bernier.
Earlier this summer, the Leafs made plead their case to try lure then Tampa Bay Lightning free agent, Steven Stamkos. Stamkos was a very attractive free agent to the Leafs for various reasons - the main one being he's a two-time 50 goal-scorer from the Toronto area. At the time, most of the hockey world saw the Leafs as the frontrunners to land the centre, but when he re-signed long-term with the Lightning before July 1st, it sort of shocked the hockey world. Most Leafs fans were dreaming of a world where Stamkos and Matthews were the team's one-two punch up the middle, but I for one think it's beneficial that the Leafs didn't come to terms with Stamkos. Stamkos' potential contract would have handcuffed the Leafs in the future, when it was time to sign their top prospects. According to multiple media sources, Toronto management tabled an eight-year deal worth an average of $10.5 million per season. Now that the team will have to move forward without Stamkos in the fold, this will give them an opportunity to target cheaper free agents in the future, and likely have the chance to re-sign Marner, Nylander and others once they are due for a raise and a long-term contracts.
The Leafs did make some moves this offseason, and the biggest of them all came when they upgraded in goal when they signed Frederik Andersen and Jhonas Enroth. The signing are a massive improvement on Jonathan Bernier (traded to the Anaheim Ducks) and Garret Sparks (will be the team's third goaltender this season). Andersen alone, signed a five-year-deal with the club and has 77 wins in 125 games in his three year NHL career. That's a winning percentage of 61 per cent. Enroth is on a one-year-contract and will be the team's backup this year. Even though he's a backup, Enroth is no slouch as he posted a .922 save percentage and a 2.17 goals against average last season with the Los Angeles Kings. The combination of Andersen and Enroth will help the team remain in a lot more games this season.
The addition of defenseman Nikita Zaitsev looks like it should be an upgrade, as he was one of the more coveted free agents coming out of the Kontinental Hockey League. Matt Martin was also picked up by the Leafs to bolster and add more grit to the club's young bottom-six. Martin led the league in hits every year since the 2011-12 season. Kerby Rychel was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets after the draft, and he could also slot into a bottom-six role. All in all, the Leafs success this season will be up to their younger players and how they perform. No doubt they will be an improved team as their offseason says so, but I just don't think they are ready to improve too drastically this season.
#21 James Van Riemsdyk - #34 Auston Matthews - #47 Leo Komarov
#39 William Nylander- #43 Nazem Kadri - #19 Joffrey Lupul