Yesterday, Ari Yanover over at Flames Nation asked what a successful 2016-2017 season would look like for Calgary. A couple of weeks ago, the Leafs’ subreddit asked the same question. Today I decided I’d tackle that same topic in more depth.
Maybe the most important thing for the Leafs to have a successful season is for Matthews, Marner, and Nylander to keep developing well. Whether they all play in the NHL full-time this year or whether they’re spread out between the NHL, AHL, and OHL, they basically just need to keep on track. You need great front-end talent to contend for a Stanley Cup, and these three serve as a big part of that prospective foundation for the Leafs.
Another thing that really
needs to happen is for a couple of the team’s lesser prospects to emerge
as legitimate depth pieces at the NHL level. The team has the best prospect pool in the
NHL mainly because the front-end talent is so good, but the depth of
the pool is also pretty impressive. The Leafs have a gluttony of
potential depth pieces developing right now, like Connor Brown, Tobias
Lindberg, Andreas Johnson, Brendan Leipsic, and a lot more. If a couple
of these kids can emerge the Leafs will have a deeper team and assets
that they can more easily control.
READ MORE: TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: The Pyramids
And mixed in with all that, another thing that needs to happen is for the young
talent to keep on coming. Yes, the team has a lot of good prospects
already, but they’re still in a stage where they could serve to add
more. Whether that’s through trade, free agency, or the draft, the team should look to keep
bringing in young talent.
Similar to the theme of keeping things on track, another thing that needs to happen is for the team not to make any colossal trades. This should hopefully be pretty straightforward and the team hasn’t given us any reason to really worry about that, but basically, just don’t trade an important piece of the team’s future for a bad asset. Don’t trade Van Riemsdyk to Vancouver for Luca Sbisa. Don’t trade your first round pick for Shane Doan. Don’t trade Morgan Rielly for a conditional seventh-round pick. You get the point.
Also, Frederik Andersen needs to play well. He’s played well in his three
NHL seasons, but only cracked 50 games played once, so there are still
some questions about whether he can really shoulder the load for the
Leafs in net. He’ll need to play well not only for the Leafs to win
hockey games this year, but more importantly, in the future. If
Andersen plays poorly this year we could suddenly be looking at another
ugly goalie situation, especially considering he’d be under contract for
four more seasons with a $5 million cap hit.
Another thing that needs to happen on the ice is for a legitimate #1 defenseman to emerge. Morgan Rielly might be that player, but he needs to be more productive than he has so far in his career for me to be convinced. Some would argue Jake Gardiner’s that guy, but he hasn’t been played like it. And if it’s neither of those two, the team will need to look outside the organization. Because you usually need a really good defenseman to win the Cup.
READ MORE: Jake Gardiner is really good defensively
But even if the team explores trade options, they need to keep up the patient approach. I didn’t like the moves the team made this off-season, but save for the Andersen trade, there was nothing they did that suggested they weren’t being patient with things. The front office seems to still understand that as talented as the team is starting to look, they’re still a little ways away from being potential contenders. As long as the organization keeps that in mind in all the moves they make this season, things should keep building towards a bright future.
Lastly, they need to return more to the forward-thinking approach that had everyone even more optimistic about the team’s future than they are now. The team prioritized toughness over skill this summer, and if that’s a one-off thing to fill a perceived organizational problem then it’s something the team can probably get away with. But if they continue to prioritize toughness over skill in the coming months, they’ll continue to make a number of small mistakes that compound into one big mess.
You’ll notice that I didn’t actually talk about where the team needs to finish in the standings for the season to be a successful one. That’s because really, if what was mentioned above happens, in the grand scheme of things, it won’t matter. The team is building towards winning a Stanley Cup. That’s the ultimate goal. So, it doesn’t matter where the team finishes in the standings this season as long as they can keep putting themselves in a position to contend down the line. Thus, if they have a good developmental year and keep themselves on track, the future will keep looking bright in Toronto, which is all that really matters.