2018 was a bit of a crazy year for Buds fans as the team made the playoffs, crashed out at the hands of Boston in round one, hired a new GM, signed John Tavares, had a contract impasse with William Nylander and are currently set to make the playoffs for a third straight year.
Quite a rollercoaster wouldn’t you agree! Anyway, I decided to write a nice quick month-month review to remember the highs and the lows of 2018 for the Toronto Maple Leafs!
The year began with a defeat, much like our 2017 ended. Toronto were outclassed at home to Tampa by a score of 2-0 – our third consecutive defeat.
January was not a kind month, the team lost six of its 12 games though were still comfortably sat in the playoffs.
However, the team did enjoy some bright spots and the 5-0 victory at home to the Islanders was particularly sweet as it saw Justin Holl and Travis Dermott net their first goals as Leafs.
JUSTIN HOLL GETS IN ON THE FIRST NHL GOAL ACTION pic.twitter.com/t1UF5jxqOM
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) February 1, 2018
TRADE TIME! Toronto sent Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev and a second-round pick in 2018 to Montreal for Tomas Plekanec and Kyle Baun. This was to fill the elusive fourth-round center spot that the team has been desperately coveting all season.
The team was on fire winning 10 of its 14 games – with two of the four defeats coming with a loser point. Toronto had 85 points – though sat third in the Atlantic because of Boston and Tampa being juggernauts.
Highlights this month? Well Mitch Marner had five points in a 6-3 victory over the Senators – that was cool (2G 3A).
We also defeated Boston 4-3 without the services of Auston Matthews who picked up a shoulder injury in our victory over the Islanders.
Oh and Nazem Kadri netted a hatty against Columbus as we went on to win 6-3.
— NHL (@NHL) February 15, 2018
With the playoffs nicely insight by the end of February the team could begin to properly prepare for the playoffs. An early blip saw us lose four in a row to end February and start March, but the team bounced back with six wins from seven to squash any doubt around our playoff chances.
Tomas Plekanec was struggling to fit into the team and fans began to question whether he should be in the lineup ahead of Dominic Moore – always good of Leaf fans to worry about who is 4C…
Highlights – well that is easy. A 4-0 win over Montreal was nice as the Canadiens continued to fall into irrelevance.
We also scored two third period goals to beat Detroit which was nice – Kadri got the game winner.
And our old friend JVR scored a hat trick against Dallas in our 6-5 shootout win. Fun times.
Three regular season games kicked off April before we headed to our Stanley Cup playoff matchup against the Bruins.
We won our final two home games against our dearest neighbours Buffalo and Montreal though we did drop two points against playoff chasing New Jersey.
That. Is. A. Nice. Goal.
Anyway – the business end of the season began with a playoff matchup against the Bruins. Despite finishing 6th overall in the NHL, we did not have home-ice advantage and we were facing 4th placed Bruins. Bravo NHL, good playoff system.
I digress, we started our playoff campaign abysmally. 5-1 and 7-3 losses in Boston left our season hanging by a thread. We were outplayed from the first whistle – it was not good.
The team inevitably rallied on home ice picking up game three by a score of 4-2, but we then dropped game four to leave us within one defeat of ending our season.
A 4-3 win in Boston was just the tonic to instill hope back into Leafsnation before we then took game six 3-1 at ACC.
That set up a juicy game seven in Boston… I am sure we all remember what happened next. Leading 4-3 heading into the fourth period, the team essentially combusted to allow Boston four goals and left Babcock and his boys with their tail between their legs. Not good. Not fun. Screw hockey.
April ended with fans contemplating what we needed to get to Boston’s playoff level. A new defenceman? Trade Nylander? Trade Marner? Keep the team together?
Questions, that were answered over the summer.
Rather than categorize each month, I thought it made more sense to just lump May, June, July and August together.
Quite a bit happened. Firstly there was the whole “who will be the new gm?” debate. Would Lamoriello stay? Mark Hunter? Or Kyle Dubas?
The team sided with Dubas and lost both Lou and Hunter – inevitably we were going to lose two members of staff this summer and it was just a question of which ones.
Then we had the whole Tavares watch. Would he leave the Islanders? Could Dubas snag him from their new GM who just happened to have left Toronto this summer?
There was also the decisions that needed to be made on Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak and JVR as they all needed new contracts – we let them walk into UFA – it made sense.
Plus we had the fun of the draft where we selected defenseman Rasmus Sandin with our first round pick – nice.
Really this deserves its own segment. Toronto did indeed manage to sign John Tavares as a free agent – the biggest free agent signing of the salary cap era and a statement that this team was finally a contender.
It also showed that Dubas must have the ability to lead our team as his first move as GM was to sign the biggest free agent on the market. Very impressive.
And to the other 30 teams who did not sign Tavares for literally anything. I say. Hahahahahahaha.
While signing Tavares was great and everything, the team now had salary cap crunch on the mind. Sports broadcasters were questioning how the Leafs would fulfill Dubas’ promise of signing our big three rookies and Tavares.
Nylander remained unsigned all summer sparking rumours of trades, him sitting the season out and whether the team was purposely holding out for salary cap purposes.
More on Nylander later….
In free agency we brought in Tyler Ennis for league minimum money. Igor Ozhiganov came in from the KHL to play as a bottom pairing d-man. Par Lindholm also signed to help fill that pesky fourth center spot.
I think that pretty much sums up the summer without writing a 12,000 word dissertation – it was very busy looking back!
New season – September 2018
The best time of the year! Preseason. Yes, everyone – even Ottawa Senators fans can get optimistic in preseason. Could this be our year? Are we going to win the cup? Will Matthews and Tavares get 50 goals each?
Big questions and this was the time to get giddy after months of getting over our playoff exit. The team looked stronger, we had a new shiny toy in John Tavares and we are one of probably six genuine contenders for the Stanley Cup!
We played eight preseason games and won six of them. John Tavares scored his first goal in a Leafs sweater. All was good.
Finally! We made it! The new season came. We could watch Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nyland… oh yeah. William Nylander was not on our opening night roster and he was still unsigned. Rumours of offer sheets, trades and premature signings were rife on Twitter and fans were frustrated that this could derail the teams best chance of winning a cup in decades.
That being said, the team won six of its first seven games, including a ridiculous 7-6 win over Chicago. Worth rewatching here:
Auston Matthews scored 10 goals in the team’s first six games. Truly outrageous.
John Tavares also had 10 points in his first six games, including a hat trick in that Chicago game.
Still no Nylander though as we headed into November.
10 wins in November left the team comfortably in the higher reaches of the Eastern Conference with our most notable win being the 5-0 destruction of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh.
Morgan Rielly had 28 points through the opening two months of the season and firmly put himself into the Norris Trophy reckoning.
Auston Matthews missed most of November through injury, though did finally return against San Jose late in the month to score two goals and pick up an assist.
William Nylander watch had to end by 5pm December 1st. And we all sat on Twitter waiting for an announcement. But there was silence.
Surely they would sign him? Surely it would not go past the deadline? He wasn’t going to miss the season?
And then, finally. It happened. The team announced that Nylander had signed a six-year deal worth over $40 million.
The one dark cloud over the team lifted and we could actually appreciate this team and in all its beauty.
On the ice, the team continued to soar. Eight wins in December left the team sat in second place in their division with their nearest rivals not at all near them – with Tampa running away with it in first place.
This season looks like it could be the best in regards to scoring for the team in the salary cap era.
Mitch Marner already has over 50 points, Tavares has 44, Rielly 44 and Matthews 35 points in just 25 games.
What will 2019 bring? Goals. And lots of them.
Enjoy the ride Leafs fans, we are at the start of an epic journey.