Let’s get to know our rivals from the All-Canadian Division. Today, we have the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After a turbulent 2019-20 season that featured Mike Babcock getting canned and yet another playoff disappointment, the Leafs had themselves a busy off-season, adding some much-needed veteran talent to their roster.
Toronto has a deep, talented lineup and, on paper, they look like the team to beat in the All-Canadian Division. Could this be the year the Leafs finally get over the hump and win a playoff series for the first time since the salary cap was implemented?
The 2019-20 season…
36-25-9 (81 points), 3rd in Atlantic Division
Goals For: 238 (3rd of 31), Goals Against: 227 (27th of 31)
7-2-4 vs Canadian opponents
0-0-1 vs CGY, 1-1-0 vs EDM, 0-1-2 vs MTL, 3-0-0 vs OTT, 2-0-0 vs VAN, 1-0-1 vs WPG
Much like with the Calgary Flames, who I talked about a couple of days ago, it was a tale of two different seasons for the Leafs in 2019-20.
The team got off to a shaky start in October and the struggles carried into November, which ultimately resulted in Mike Babcock getting kicked out the door. In his place, the team promoted Adam Keefe from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, a move that everyone could see coming a mile away given the fact Keefe’s relationship with Kyle Dubas goes all the way back to their time with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Under Babcock, the Leafs owned a paltry 9-10-4 record and were at risk of falling out of playoff contention, but the team turned things around after the shake-up, going 27-15-5 with Keefe behind the bench. While Babcock operated with a gritty, old-school style, Keefe opened things up and allowed the team to be more creative offensively, and it showed in their production and in their record.
The one constant for the Leafs last season through both the Babcock and Keefe eras was terrible goaltending. The team could score goals, but keeping the puck out of the net was a struggle. They existed at opposite ends of the spectrum there, ranking third in goals for and 27th in goals against.
Freddy Andersen had the worst season of his career, posting a .909 save percentage over the course of 52 games. That’s a huge drop for somebody who came into the season with a .918 career save percentage. The Leafs also didn’t have any insurance behind Andersen, as backup goalie Michael Hutchinson was borderline unplayable with a .886 save percentage.
Ironically, come playoff time, Andersen was solid for the Leafs, but the team still got edged out by the gritty Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the play-in round.
Notable Additions: T.J. Brodie, Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, Jimmy Vesey, Zach Bogosian, Mikko Lehtonen, Alexander Barabanov.
Notable Subtractions: Tyson Barrie, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Cody Ceci, Frederik Gauthier, Kyle Clifford.
After their fourth consecutive first-round loss, the Leafs had a very busy off-season. They didn’t move any of their core players, but Kyle Dubas did shake up the supporting cast around them quite a bit.
The Leafs’ biggest addition was the perennially underrated T.J. Brodie, who gives the team’s blueline some much-needed veteran stability. Going out the other way was Tyson Barrie, an offensively-minded defender who never found his groove in Toronto. The Leafs lose offence going from Barrie to Brodie, but they gain somebody who plays well in their own zone, which was a glaring need for the team.
Elsewhere, the Leafs traded away a couple of quality middle-six wingers in Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen in order to free up salary cap room. There are a handful of options in the mix to replace those two in the lineup, like veteran Joe Thornton, rookie Nicholas Robertson, or Ilya Mikheyev, who’s returning to action after missing much of last season due to a freak injury.
Another key thing to note for the Leafs is the influx of veteran voices to their roster. The Leafs were a team who routinely didn’t play full, 60-minute games last season and there was some valid criticism around the team’s leadership because of that. Adding guys like Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, and 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Zach Bogosian should go a long way in improving the team’s culture.
This is a team with a lot to prove. We’re now entering the fifth year of the Auston Matthews era and anything less than a deep playoff run would be a huge failure for the Leafs.