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…
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.
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.
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.
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.