Despite being a bad and/or awful hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs are somehow earning points and, dare I say, creeping into the playoff picture. But where will they actual finish in the standings after 82 games. More importantly, where will they draft? Our Roundtable discusses…
In the past couple of months, the Leafs have been trending upwards as they gain comfort with the new systems that have been put in place by Mike Babcock, and they’ve gone from completely unreliable goaltending to being able to count on Bernier, Reimer, and Sparks to be able to step in and win games. All of this is very encouraging and could see the Leafs find their way into the realm of being a bubble playoff team.
Of course, this overlooks the fact that the Leafs have at least eight players that very publicly have “For Sale” signs attached to them, and are likely to follow through on moving at least four of them before by the trade deadline. The Leafs also have 21 games to play after the deadline and it’s likely they’ll take a step back during that time.
The Leafs won’t be the only sellers at that time and since Carolina, Columbus, Winnipeg, Buffalo, and others are all likely to take big steps back as well, I still can’t see the Leafs landing in the bottom five of the league.
I’m assuming there will be significant enough changes to have the Leafs drafting 8th overall (not factoring in the inevitable lottery win) and they’ll select Julien Gauthier.
When Mike Babcock took control of the Maple Leafs he promised the fan base that there would be pain and after a 1-7-1 October, it looked like this season would see plenty of it. After the abysmal start, the team’s play has changed drastically. The team looks to be getting more comfortable in Babcock’s system every time they play and career years from guys like Bozak, Komarov, and Peter Holland has the team winning far more than anyone had expected.
Sitting 14th in the league in goal differential the idea that the play can be sustained isn’t completely insane especially if they are able to get any sort of consistent goaltending. That being said, even with the drastically improved play, they are still only a game over .500 since the start of November (15 wins in 29 games).
I don’t think they are as bad as they were in October, nor do I think they are as good as they’re playing now. The team has improved but still sits in the bottom-5 of the league and with the impending sell-off at the deadline, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Leafs finishing closer to the bottom-5 than others might. Part of this is based on a belief that someone below them is going to make a bit of a push. Look at the Oilers, they are in a terrible division and might be under the belief that buying at the deadline is the right move for them.
My bet is that the Leafs finish about 24th in the overall standings. That would put them at the #6 draft position and give them the opportunity to draft a forward from the Mississauga Steelheads. Unlike in 2014, this time they pass on the kid named Nylander to draft his linemate Mikey McLeod.
The Leafs will finish 24th in the league this season, one spot above their current position in 25th. It’s hard to predict exactly where the team will finish, exactly when they’re just four points out of 17th and two points ahead of 28th place in an extremely tight bottom of the league.
And while the Leafs will be looking to sell whatever assets they can for draft picks and young prospects, let’s face it: they’re not going to completely clean house, as that’s nearly an impossible venture to manage. It’s unlikely they’ll completely bottom out- as they appear disinterested in self destructing and have been playing alright hockey over the past couple months- and, for the time being, appear to have competent goaltending on more nights than not. However, they’re not going to be good enough to put make a playoff run- and seem to have a management group smart enough to turn the team away from that position if the possibility does arrive, and they’ll teeter themselves right in the middle of the pack in 24th place.
Regardless, Toronto’s going to draft first and select Auston Matthews. This is the year they win the lottery.