Toronto Maple Leafs Predictions
Another Toronto Maple Leafs season is upon us and expectations have never been higher.
Highlighted by Matthews, Nylander and Marner’s outstanding rookie seasons, the Maple Leafs are suddenly viewed as a guaranteed playoff team, and even a contender in some fans eyes.
This fast-forward of the rebuild have revealed a spectrum of predictions for the upcoming season, here are a few for you to digest.
1. Auston Matthews will score 40 goals, again.
Scoring 40 goals in season for anyone, let alone a rookie, is impressive. Scoring 40 goals in consecutive years is well, is just unlikely.
You know what else is unlikely? A kid who grew up in Arizona going first overall in the NHL entry draft.
Here is why Matthews will score 40 goals for the second consecutive year.
A) For the type and talent and shot he has, the 14.3% shooting percentage he put up last year is completely attainable. Matthews generated tons of shots, and they were very high quality – per Corsica, his expected goal total based on his shot locations was around 36. With a full season under his belt, there’s no reason not to expect him to repeat or exceed this.
B) Last year, Matthews had a 13 game scoreless streak – I doubt we see that happen again.
C) He’s durable. A betting man would say that he probably would not be able to play a full 82-game schedule again, injury free. But Matthews seems to have that elusive knack and a similar Ovechkin-like body thickness to absorb contact.
D) He plays with William Nylander – nuff said
E) Empty net goals. Stupid, yes. But expect him to get more time at the end of games with more EN opportunities. Hey, even Laine had 3 EN goals.
2. Marleau signing will be regretted
First, I really like Marleau and am happy to have him as a Leaf. I expect him to be a good player for us, I think 20 goals and 45 points is a reasonable expectation to have.
However, we will quickly realize that the Leafs are paying for the old Marleau and not the present one. He is not worth the top-paid forward status which he currently has. This will become even more apparent when young players like Leivo and Kapanen get into the lineup and are close to being just as effective at a fraction of the cost. Even worse, Marleau’s spot in the lineup may push these guys to the outside of the roster.
Luckily, the Leafs have the cap situation to facilitate his big salary.
Prove me wrong, Patty!
3. William Nylander eclipses 70 points
William Nylander is an absolute stud. Also, a great hockey player.
If the last 20 games of the 2016/2017 season and the preseason were any indication, Nylander should take a solid step forward this year.
He had a modest 10.7% shooting percentage last year and played a tame 16 minutes a night. With Matthews by his side and both those stats improving in the upcoming year, expect Nylander to light it up.
4. Jake Gardiner will be an all-star
I am not sure if everyone realized, but Jake Gardiner was arguably one of the best defenceman in the league last year. He is an elite skater, puck mover and has the ability to make a play every time he has the puck.
Jake Gardiner’s skating is unreal pic.twitter.com/B1mTp4TZjZ
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) September 20, 2017
With Gardiner getting first d-pair minutes and the increased confidence of Babcock, he should feel extremely comfortable from the start of the year.
This is more of a gut feeling, but I expect more of the league to notice Gardiner’s improvement, and he will be recognized for it.
5. Two steps forward, one step back
The Maple Leafs were one of the healthiest teams in the league last year. Mitch Marner, Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly and Tyler Bozak all had minor injuries, but no serious impact players missed any large amount of time. Compounding that, divisional rivals Tampa Bay Lightning (most man games lost to injury), Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and the Florida Panthers were some of the most injured teams in the league, losing key players to significant injuries (NHL Injury Viz).
You can call it luck, good training or smart play, but it is doubtful that we see the same pattern we did last year. Unfortunately (fingers crossed), the Maple Leafs will most likely have more significant injuries in the upcoming season. Although their play will be improved, a combination of that and tougher competition could make it more difficult to make significant strides (in the standings) than last year. Luckily, as we saw in the pre-season, the Leafs have excellent depth waiting in the AHL to snap up spots opened by injuries. With players like Aaltonen, Kapanen, Rosen, Marincin, Johnsson and Dermott on the outside looking in, the Leafs have great options if they run into injuries.
Expect them to finish in the 94-98 point range.