There are some identifiable pieces to this Maple Leafs team that should give some optimism to their scores of faithful and the prospect of adding a real blue chip player this June has to be wetting the appetite for the 2017 season already, even though we don't officially know who that is, as of yet, but we can certainly guess, can't we?
With the Maple Leafs set to have a huge centennial season, full of celebration, memories and Hall of Fame player appearances, does Toronto have enough in their reserves to put a decent product on the ice? The pomp and circumstance will certainly be there, but for us poolies, are we really going to get excited about picking Toronto players?
Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs had a pretty good contingency in the hockey pool draft last September, as 11 players were taken from the centre of the universe, two goalies, six forwards and three defensemen. It was also surprising that despite their poor year, none of those players were dropped in Week Nine and two were picked up. In Week Eighteen, one was dropped, but none were picked up and thanks to trades through the season, nine Maple Leafs were on a pool roster when the final horn sounded in the regular season.
Thanks to having 27 teams in last season's pool draft, to be considered pool worthy, players had to rank in the top 216 of forwards, 108 of defensemen and 54 of goalies. Out of those pool worthy rankings, the Maple Leafs did have nine players at the end of the year, so the pool was fairly spot on. Nazem Kadri led the way for the remaining Leafs, ranking 150th overall in pool scoring, thanks to 45 points in 76 games for the club and his
P-A Parenteau, Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk and Peter Holland all finished as pool worthy forwards, while Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner were expected to be pool worthy on their blueline and didn't disappoint, while Jonathan Bernier finished 38th among all goalies, barely making him pool-worthy by the end of the year.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
Can the Leafs turn it around in 2016? No. The simple prediction, I suppose. No, if they tear down this team, they will have to either retool this team for a mediocre year, but with the impression that I'm getting from management, they may be very comfortable with a tanking year in 2016, although the prize for tanking or the lottery will not nearly be as kind of them. I fully expect the Leafs to play a lot of youth in their system and offer some opportunity for ice-time to guys who may not see much elsewhere. Free agency won't be kind to them this year, so the real indicator of how well they'll do in the season is in the trade market. Good luck!
This one was easy, I suppose. No matter how much the media from the centre of the universe may have hoped and dreamed for their beloved buds to be much better than they are, they weren't and it makes the off-season all that much more interesting. We did get to see a lot of youth, closer to the end of the season, as the likes of William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Garret Sparks all made appearances and showed us all a glimmer of 'maybe.'
2017 Pool Outlook
|Nazem Kadri||4.500||Morgan Rielly||5.000||Jonathan Bernier||4.150|
|James Van Riemsdyk||4.250||Jake Gardiner||4.050|
|Nathan Horton||5.300||Jared Cowen||3.100||Kasimir Kaskisuo||0.925|
|Joffrey Lupul||5.250||Stephane Robidas||3.000||Antoine Bibeau||0.655|
|Brooks Laich||4.500||Matt Hunwick||1.200|
|Milan Michalek||4.000||Travis Dermott||0.925|
|Colin Greening||2.650||Rinat Valiev||0.778|
|Mitchell Marner||0.925||Viktor Loov||0.693|
This roster has all kinds of flexibility, heading into the Summer, as the players that are separated at the top are your pool worthy players, while there are lots of players signed on and ready to make their mark on a team that is looking to make some positive strides in 2017.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are suddenly not short on young talent in their organization, as they brought up a whole bunch at the end of the 2016 season to show off their wares to the coaching staff and fans. Looking at that group above, you might want to start looking at guys like Nylander or Kapanen for next season, but also keep a close eye on Mitchell Marner, who has all kinds of scoring talent.
Oh yeah, they might have one more young player to keep an eye out for next season as well.
Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft
On Saturday night, the Maple Leafs had the best odds of winning the NHL Draft Lottery and the odds fell in their favour, as they stayed the course and were picking 1st overall, which appears to be a pretty easy pick this year. The consensus number one prospect in the ranks is Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs truly need a franchise player, as Kadri is not that guy and they could really use a blue chip forward to go with their top two blueliners.
The Leafs also have the Penguins' pick this year, thanks to the Phil Kessel deal in the off-season last Summer, Where they get to use that pick depends on where the Penguins finish, but they get another good chance at a great player in the opening round.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
The Leafs have some more decisions to make, leading up to the 2017 season, as free agency will also allow for this club to have some flexibility. Parenteau, Brad Boyes, Michael Grabner and Nick Spaling all lead the UFA class out of town, while the team will hum and haw over some restricted free agents, like Peter Holland, Martin Marincin and Garret Sparks.
Now that the team will likely have Matthews in tow for next season, there might be a pretty good push by the Leafs to pick up some free agent talent, if it is available in July, which could be good for business.
As for the salary cap, the number hasn't been announced yet and we probably won't see it until just before the draft, but if it remains close to the $71.4 million that we saw this past season, they will have lots of money to play with, since they will probably have a good number of entry-level deals in their lineup. With Nathan Horton's $5.3 million going back on the Long Term Injured Reserve for the 2017 season, the combined total of all the players signed above is only $66.8 million and they'll have to pare down to a 23-man roster from there.
There's no question that Auston Matthews is going to be a game-changer for the Maple Leafs, but like Connor McDavid and Jake Eichel last year, they were not immediately changing the landscape of their teams, as there is still a lot to build around these guys on their respective lineups. Nevertheless, with all the celebrations that are planned for Toronto next season, they will want to put an entertaining product on the ice, which they should. Will it win a bunch of games and get the team back into the playoffs right away? Probably not, but that's just with the lineup they'd have from the list above. I would imagine that this team will prep for a big year, hit the free agent market and give Matthews someone to play with. Steven Stamkos, perhaps?