TLN Roundtable: Playoffs? We’re Talking About Playoffs!?

The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be making the playoffs this season. I mean, there may still be some small mathematical possibility that they could still sneak in, but I’m going to be super bold and call it right now – no playoffs. 

That said, the new kids have looked pretty good. William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen… there are a bunch of talented youngsters on the way, and it’s less a matter of is this group makes the playoffs, but when they will make the playoffs. Is that next year? The year after? Does this organization really require a five or six-year rebuild before the city of Toronto can pack the ACC and the surrounding streets again like they did in 2013 for some playoff action? 

How far off are the Leafs now, really? Our roundtable discusses…

Ryan Fancey

I’m not brave enough to say the Leafs will make the playoffs next season, but obviously there’s going to be some notable acquisitions and departures this summer, so I’m also not ready to write them off. As much as everyone jokes about Stamkos coming to Toronto, it is totally possible (I’d personally say probable). If the Leafs also make some changes to their blue-line and land another long term right-handed option like Shattenkirk, Vatanen, or whoever, it’s hard to see them as a bottom-feeder like this season. 

I wouldn’t expect them to be a playoff team next season but I think they’ll surely take a step forward and at least get into that bubble group where teams like Montreal, Ottawa, and Carolina are now. So I think they could get into the playoffs next year with a little luck/Stamkos/another big splash this summer, and I’ll actually expect them to get in the following season.

Tom Hunter

There are so many factors to consider when looking at the future competitiveness of the Leafs. Do they get Matthews? Do they get Stamkos? Are either of Marner or Nylander a bust? In a perfect scenario (we’re talking Toronto sports so there is zero chance of it happening), the Leafs land the two franchise-altering centermen and are competitive in the division next season. Worst case scenario? Stamkos goes to Montreal, lose the lottery and draft Chychrun (a great prospect but wouldn’t alter fortunes immediately) and finish next season at the bottom of the conference. 

I choose to believe the future will fall somewhere in between. Next season will be an improvement on this year, there’s no doubt about that. The kids will be full-time fixtures in the lineup, the management team will make some significant additions and losing isn’t going to be nearly as acceptable as this season. That being said, I still think playoffs next season is too optimistic. Give it another year in the lottery and then a push for a wildcard in 2017-18.

The organization is moving in the right direction and at a rate faster than the GM expected, but what if this isn’t a good thing. Auston Matthews is fun and all but the top prospects in the drafts before and after him could be much, much better. If I were Leafs management and lost the lottery, I’d be very tempted to take Chychrun fourth overall, send him along with Marner back to the OHL after a 9 game tryout next season, and try to bottom out to build around Nolan Patrick. You might end up back in the playoffs just as quickly while having a brighter future.

playoffs

Antonella Lombardi

I think the Leafs are going to narrowly miss the playoffs next season, and I’m not even mad about it. If the last few games are any indication, it’ll still be a fun ride – and how can you be disappointed with that? 

Their biggest struggle will be between the pipes. Sparks has been a great goalie at the AHL level, but he needs some time to adjust to the big league and next year is a great opportunity for that. Plus, Bernier sucks, so why not give Sparkie a little more responsibility? 

If the Leafs acquire Stamkos in the offseason (by the grace of the hockey gods) then that might help them squeak into a Wild Card spot. An offense led by Stamkos, JVR and Nylander could win a few games in spite of shaky goaltending and holes on the blueline. But playoffs next year? I doubt it, but it won’t take much longer than that.

Justin Fisher

I think it will take a couple years. There’s good reason to be excited about all of the kids coming up through the system, and I have every reason to believe that William Nylander and Mitch Marner will be stars, but they won’t reach those levels overnight and they won’t be able to carry the Leafs immediately. 

Maybe a big offseason addition makes this a little more interesting next year, but outside of Steven Stamkos, I don’t believe the Leafs’ front office are looking to make a big splash, nor are they necessarily trying to speed things up and punch their ticket to the dance. The organization has preached patience for a long time now, and they’ve given me no reason to distrust them. Will they go after Stamkos? Absolutely. They’re not buying a whole new team, though.

This is the kids’ team, and the kids still need at least one more year before they can make an impact. And as good as we expect Toronto to be in a few years, there are a number of other teams in the Division that will likely put up a good fight. Buffalo is downright awful now, but they have a similarly talented group of youngsters and whatever Nylander and Marner can do, Jack Eichel might do it better. Florida also looks like they’re going to be a force for a number of years, and I expect Montreal to jump right back into the mix as well. It’s not just a matter of waiting for prospects to develop – there will be some significant resistance on the way.

Jeff Veillette

  • CMpuck

    Leafs are 4 years away from the playoffs. Chychrun is great and all but next year’s draft class has plenty of stud blueliners in the top ten. Also some great centers, next year is the year to tank.

    BPA and hoard ammo for 2017 draft, we can start talking about playoffs when we have a legit or potential legit 1C and 1D. Rielly and Nylander are hopefuls for those rolls but like them as elite 1As for those positions.

    A bunch of great young wingers doesn’t not signal a successful rebuild, Leafs are still far away.

  • Gary Empey

    I think the eyes of the Round Table (Tank Nation) are having trouble seeing through the muck at the bottom of the tank. The Leafs are much closer .

    In 66 games this year they have lost an incredible 31 games by only one goal. I have included games where an empty net goal made it a two goal loss. After the trade deadline and the kids came up, the pattern continued.

    This makes me think that it would not take a lot of tweaking to pick up 30 more points. At the moment that would actually have them leading the Atlantic division.

    Whomever said “I expect Montreal to jump right back into the mix ” is nucking futs.

    Montreal is in the middle of a well deserved, complete collapse.

    To backup my premise, in the box below I will post the one goal loss games.

  • Gary Empey

    Wed, 7 Oct 2015 – MTL (3) – TOR (1) Empty Net goal.

    Sat, 10 Oct 2015 – OTT (5) – TOR (4) SO

    Sat, 17 Oct 2015 – TOR (1) – PIT (2)

    Wed, 21 Oct 2015 – TOR (1) – BUF (2) SO

    Mon, 26 Oct 2015 – ARI (4) – TOR (3)

    Fri, 30 Oct 2015 – TOR (1) – NYR (3) Empty Net goal.

    Wed, 4 Nov 2015 – WPG (4) – TOR (2) Empty Net goal.

    Fri, 6 Nov 2015 – DET (2) – TOR (1) OT

    Sat, 7 Nov 2015 – TOR (2) – WSH (3) SO

    Sun, 15 Nov 2015 – TOR (3) – NYR (4)

    Sat, 21 Nov 2015 – TOR (0) – BOS (2) Empty Net goal.

    Mon, 23 Nov 2015 – BOS (4) – TOR (3) SO

    Thu, 3 Dec 2015 – TOR (0) – MIN (1)

    Tue, 15 Dec 2015 – TBL (5) – TOR (4) OT

    Thu, 17 Dec 2015 – SJS (5) – TOR (4) OT

    Tue, 22 Dec 2015 – TOR (2) – ARI (3)

    Thu, 7 Jan 2016 – TOR (1) – LAK (2)

    Wed, 13 Jan 2016 – CBJ (3) – TOR (1) Empty Net goal.

    Sat, 16 Jan 2016 – TOR (2) – BOS (3)

    Thu, 21 Jan 2016 – CAR (1) – TOR (0) OT

    Sat, 23 Jan 2016 – MTL (3) – TOR (2) SO

    Wed, 27 Jan 2016 – TOR (0) – TBL (1)

    Tue, 9 Feb 2016 – TOR (3) – CGY (4)

    Thu, 18 Feb 2016 – NYR (4) – TOR (2)

    Sat, 20 Feb 2016 – PHI (5) – TOR (4) OT

    Tue, 23 Feb 2016 – NSH (3) – TOR (2)

    Mon, 29 Feb 2016 – TBL (2) – TOR (1)

    Wed, 2 Mar 2016 – TOR (2) – WSH (3)

    Thu, 3 Mar 2016 – MIN (2) – TOR (1)

    Sat, 5 Mar 2016 – OTT (3) – TOR (2)

    Mon, 7 Mar 2016 – BUF (4) – TOR (3) SO

  • Gary Empey

    I think we have a sabres like rebound next season (points wise). Possession wise, the bulk of the improvement has occurred and next season we should see some improvement in wins.

    The sabres added veterans O’reilly, kane as well as injected youth in eichel, kane. If we could add Stamkos and have marner and matthews join that would be comparable. That said, the leafs have babcock.

  • CMpuck

    I have to agree with @Gary Empey. These guys aren’t that far away.

    Add a top pick or two from this June’s draft, pick up a stud or stud-to-be defenseman and many of those one goal losses are one or two goal wins.

    You can already see the speed, grit and dexterity of these young guy, especially Soshnikov and Hyman. Nylander appears to feeling his way, with flashes of brilliance.

    Great piece today on Marincin’s potential and underlying stats that show he’s arguably the Leafs top defender. I’ve seen Rielly give away more pucks lately than Marincin.

    Anyway, I think the chance of making the playoffs. The sooner it comes for all these young guys the better.

    Now, let’s hope the Marlies can win the Calder.

  • MatsSundin#13

    I agree with Mr. Hunter about everything he said EXCEPT sending Magic Mitch back to London next season. I think he has got to play with the Leafs, if only sparingly (fourth line minutes but time on the powerplay) in order to expose him to the pro life while still sheltering him to allow for growth and strengthening. Too skilled to dominate junior for a possible third straight year.

  • CMpuck

    I don’t get all the hate on my comment, it’s cool but we all literally know that you don’t have a legitimate team until you have a franchise center and or defenseman. At this point no one looks to be that in the Leafs organization.

    Just saying Nylander and Rielly look like superstars but not projecting to be top 20 players in the league.

    • Bertly83

      I would think that to be called a “super” star you would need to be in the top 5 in the league, if you are top 20 then you could be called a star, IMHO.

  • Gary Empey

    I think people both the Roundtable and the commenters are both equally wrong and right.

    Given comments about the one goal loses, consider injuries to core players this season, injection of youth hopefully graduating next year, and maybe a Stamkos/Matthews – there is a chance to be a bubble team next year. Its a real possibility.

    But, we have to remember that injuries can happen again, we could still lose those one goal games, Stamkos might not sign and/or we may miss out on Matthews, and the youth may not hold up over an 82 game NHL season.

    The jump from the AHL, SHL (Johnson maybe), NCAA and Junior is drastic both in schedule and physical demand. Its hard to say the kids will play like they currently are, or better, over a 82 game season; just watch where they are when this season ends.

    I think the Leafs will finish between 25th and bubble next year, its hard to say for sure where on that scale.

    • Gary Empey

      You may be right. There is not as much difference as there use to be between the top and the bottom of the league. I do see the real possibility of better goaltending next year. Better defence if the forgotten Russian KHL player Zaitsev signs and someone from the Marlies defence corp makes the team. I see more goals scored by the forwards. No one really knows how the Leafs will fare in the UFA market and the draft lottery, which is now down to pure luck.

      The salary cap era is drastically changing the whole make up of teams as old contracts run out. Many 27/28/29 year old players are now considered too old and too expensive, and are being replaced by far cheaper 18/19/20/21 year old kids who can skate. Most GM’s are only now getting a handle on this.

  • dougie88

    Looking at the roster realistically, is this what we can roughly expect on the team next year?

    F: Kadri, Bozak, van Riemsdyk, Lupul, Komarov, Holland, Michalek, Laich, Greening, Nylander, Soshnikov, Hyman, Kapanen, Marner

    D: Rielly, Gardiner, Hunwick, Marincin, Zaitsev(?), Carrick, Loov EDIT: forgot Corrado

    G: Bernier, Sparks

    That’s not including any free agent adds, or if they end up with a top 3 pick this year (assuming Matthews, Puljujarvi, and Laine are ready).

    It’s going to be a logjam up front for them next year. I’m wondering if we see them move a prospect for a younger d-man, they have to see the organizational need at this point.

  • TGT23

    I can legitimately see the Leafs in rhe playoffs in 2 years, supposing they figure out the goalie issue.

    Next year the kids will get a real shot at the NHL, continue to develop into their roles, develop with the players around them. And they’ll be joined by a projected Top 4 pick, too. There will be growing pains but it will be a better year than this.

    This year is a tank, next is a development year.

    The year after is the year I expect to see it come together. Their young players will be hitting their stride, their older core players will be developed and in (hopefully) their proper role.

    And this doesn’t even consider FA signings, what they get from trading some pieces they are expected to move.

    But I’d be pleasantly surprised if they made it next year, shocked if they don’t make it in two (multiple serious injuries aside).