What is a successful season for the Leafs?

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.

RECENTLY BY SHAWN REIS

  • Gary Empey

    it will be a more successful season when the Leafs start taking games from Ottawa and Montreal
    and a few others in their division
    The thing about #1 D men is that they are so expensive. The Leafs could get 2 #2 D men for what a #1 costs and be 4 #2 D men deep

  • SEER

    Watch this new video.. and I hope it instills a little positive feeling in ALL of you, for this new & exciting era be are going into….

    Call To The Hockey Gods: Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-17 Pump (HD)

    Clips include: MANY, assorted 2015-16 clips of the Toronto Maple Leafs … ; 1st NHL Goal clips from: Nylander; Brown; Hyman; Froese; Leipsic & Soshnikov..; 1st Leaf Goal clips from: Corrado; C. Carrick; Marincin; .. (and a few others).; a clip from Sparks 1st NHL game & *1st NHL shut-out..; clips from some of our new prospects, who might make the team…l a few other surprises.. … and various other 2015-16 season photos & clips….

    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=851IqJx_qgM

  • Gary Empey

    Success is a better team at the end of every month. All the things are nice, they’re all great ingredients, but they won’t all happen and those that do happen won’t happen simultaneously or evenly.

    What matters is the upwards trajectory. So when we look at this team at the end of every month and compare them to the beginning of the month, we should be saying ‘Yeah, these guys are closer to being competitive now’. That’s success.

  • DukesRocks

    In any business plan there are priorities, goals and a timeline. Shanahan and Lamoriello’s plan might be a forecast over 5 to 7 years to become SC contenders. Hunter and Dubas may look at their priorities and goals over a period of 2 to 3 years. Babcock, coaching and scouting staff may look at goals an priorities over a period of now and 2 years. And the players are in the here and now. The reason I’m point this out is because the writer and the rest of us have no clue of the timeline and what the wants and needs are for the timeline. We can speculate we need a high end dman/center all we want but to suggest; don’t trade JVR or go for skill over toughness is just stupid, since we all lack knowledge of the end game plan/goal.

    Shanahan now has been around for 3 great drafts, has created the best front office in the league, supported by the best coaches and scouts. Looks like everything is moving according to plan to me.

    Last point I’d like to make, skill doesn’t win Stanley Cups. You need a balance of Skill, Character and Sandpaper. When Kadri has to do the fighting for your team, your team has a problem. I would never suggest trading a 1st or a high end player for a goon because I’m smart enough to know that. If you and I know that… it’s safe to say Leaf Management knows that. Case in point 2016 draft, the leafs went big with skill/size/character/sandpaper. They also signed Martin and Prust. All this over pure skill… I wonder why?

      • DukesRocks

        hampus lindholm is worth it. he’s a 22 year old, right handed, #1 defenceman. we already have enough wingers especially on the right side. i’d give up those maybes for a definite elite top pairing defenceman in a second. anyone smart would make that trade immediately. lindholm has rielly’s offence and superior defensive abilities that rielly hasn’t demonstrated. he may never be good defensively. lindholm is excellent and can skate beautifully. he’s worth it. top pairing rhd don’t grow on trees.

  • Trevor5555

    I agree that success should not be determined totally by Toronto’s record next year. Just like any year success should be measured across a wide range of areas and individuals. I do think you can summarize the threshold for team success by suggesting a points total and GF / GA totals.

    If Toronto can manage 85Pts with 215 GF and 220GA or something close to that the year is a success in my book.

    So if the Leafs rise out of the bottom 10 and the Marlies stay in the top 5 we had a very successful year.

    I disagree that Toronto deviated from their “forward thinkin approach” this off-season. Toronto recognized a lack of size and toughness on the roster and in the prospect pool and addressed it by drafting more size and signing Martin, Polak, Cliche, Clune, Maggio and giving PTO to Prust and Graborenko.

    To think that this means Toronto is valuing toughness over skill is silly. You need a bit of size and toughness on any team and Toronto just filled that need. Furthermore the size they added wasnt necessarily at the expense of skill in the draft as we dont yet know the ceiling of the guys Toronto drafted. Korshkov or Grundstrom may end up being more skilled than DeBrincat or Asplund or whatever other prospects people would have prefered the Leafs draft.

    If Matthews, Nylander and Marner look like good top 6 forwards and Zaitsev and Carrick look like good top 4 d-men and Andersen and Enroth keep Torontos GAA arround 2.5 I am very happy and hopeful for the future. It would be nice if 1-2 more prospects could emerge as NHL players but its likely we would have to trade vetrans to open up roster spots.

    • wallcrawler

      For the Leafs to finish out of the bottom 10 the Red Sea would have to part again. Now don’t get me wrong, the Leafs are going to be better this year, but not that good. Yes they’ll improve with some of the kids coming in, but all the kids are going to go through all the rookie mistakes that always happen. Also except for a few teams, Columbus, Vancouver Ottawa and Colorado, the rest of the bottom feeders will be better also.

  • wallcrawler

    In some writings about the Leaf goalie situation they say that the Leafs now have experienced goaltending. This puzzles me since both Reimer and Bernier had the same or more number of games at the NHL level and their stats do not look all that different either. From my perspective Bernier got let go because of his penchant of letting in soft goals and Riemer because he asked for a trade, but I believe the signing of Andersen is a risk especially fore this length of time. Rielly has shown improvement each year and he to me looks like he could be the defensive anchor that we have been looking for.

  • Stan Smith

    Once again this season there will be no pressure from anyone, except maybe Babcock, to win, but this may be the last season they have that luxury.

    The biggest challenge at the start of the season will be to figure out the right mix of youth and veterans to ice, to provide the right environment for the growth of the prospects. Too many roster spots taken by vets stifle the growth, and too many spots taken by the young guns turns them into the Edmonton Oilers.

    The challenge by the end of the season will be to have sorted out who stays, who goes, and what holes do they have to fill.

    I truly believe that if they don’t at least challenge for a playoff spot next season, the lustre will start to fade and the honeymoon will soon be over.
    .

  • magesticRAGE

    This season’s success will not be determined by the box scores, but by the underlying aspects of the box scores.

    At this stage, it’s not about the destination, but how the journey is travelled.

    • Gary Empey

      He is rated to go second overall. How do you propose to acquire him?….

      If the Leafs finish 29th they would have aprox. a 10% chance of winning the second spot in the draft lottery.

      They would most likely pick 4th or 5th.

      Callan Foote is the next highest rated defenceman at around 7th.

      How do you propose to structure the Leafs to finish 29th?

  • Trevor5555

    Theres no way the Leafs finish bottom 5. With all the upgrades to our forward group, blueline and goaltending I think Toronto will at least climb out of the bottom 10. Maybe even challenge for a playoff spot.

    • Harte of a Lion

      Chirelli got burned in the Hall trade. He better hire some cap consultants before he screws up Edmontons cap situation, similar to what he did to the Bruins.