Few things say I want to be upset and fight about everything quite like saying you’re a Leafs fan. Happiness generally has not been in the cards for this franchise or at least not since our Grandfather’s were drinking lead paint martinis and calling their neighbours communist.
The fact that Marner has signed should give us a sense of euphoria as the Leafs will ice their best possible roster from day one of the season and could go start to finish relatively drama free this year. Okay, that’s a complete lie as we are still bitching about how much Marner is getting paid, although eventually that too will die down, and we are going to need new things to become divided on, and fight about. Here are the ten hills we’re all going to die on.
1. Cody Ceci playing defense
CODY CECI DOO DOO DOO DOO CODY CECI DOO DOO DOO
— The Leafs Record (0-0-0) (@TheLeafsSeason) September 20, 2019
This one already has all the telltale signs of blowing up early. There’s a good divide forming between the “Cody Ceci is terrible” camp, and the “Cody Ceci deserves a chance” camp. Personally, I fall in the give him a chance camp, but with the cavaet of maybe not playing him in the top four immediately. It can take a bit of time to adjust to a new team and new defensive system, so I’d expect slow starts from Ceci, Barrie, and Schmaltz, assuming he makes the team, but the numbers certainly point to Ceci being bad.
The argument can be made that Ceci’s numbers are bad because he played on a bad team, but you can also make the argument that the Senators were a bad team because they kept on playing Cody Ceci. Either way, we’re going to fight about this and the preseason will probably kick it off.
2. Freddie Andersen load management
Good god. He hasn’t played a single game this season and we’ve already seen plenty on this topic, and the fact that Mike Babcock is pushing the fact that Andersen needs to play a ton in order to make the playoffs is probably a sign we’re going to be arguing about this a lot, although it won’t really pick up until January when the Leafs are locked into a battle for 2nd or 3rd in their division and we dealing with Bruins playoff purgatory once again.
I am firm believer in load management, but I can also see people not being particularly excited about Hutchinson or Neuvirth, and that’s going to play into this just as the fact that Garret Sparks is incredibly bad played into it last season. We’ve got a bit of time on this one, but it’s a guarantee to blow up.
3. Fourth line center
This is an early one, but it’s bound to have a steady pointless burn throughout the year. Many of us have a strong distaste for watching Freddie Gauthier attempt to play pro hockey. There also isn’t any shortage of true believers in Nick Shore’s very pleasant shot differentials, and others who want to see Jason Spezza as the fourth line anchor. Throw-in Marlies fanboys who want Engvall or Brooks in the gig, and we’ve got the most pointless argument that is never going to stop. If you’re a fan of chaos, the best option is Kalle Kossila as the 4C, as no one has strong feelings about him and he’ll universally upset us on the same level as Par Lindholm.
4. The Captaincy
We could be mere hours away from this dropping, and the front runner looks to be Auston Matthews. That doesn’t mean that he will have everyone universally praise this as a good decision, and as little as it matters, we are going to hear plenty of debate on this, especially if you like to torture yourself with Toronto sports talk radio.
Matthews is unquestionably the face of the franchise, even if there are plenty of other faces to choose from. He seems to be well liked by his teammates, and giving him the captaincy now is potentially the start of carving out a very special legacy that can continue for beyond the next decade.
That being said, John Tavares has experience, is respected, is local, and doesn’t have much going against him other than a shorter tenure with the Leafs.
Morgan Rielly has work ethic, a Canadian passport, and at times seems to be a community leader
Mitch Marner has the Ontario Proud vote for some reason, and that is kinda unfortunate for him. He is local and good, and his fun to watch, but I’m sure he’ll find a way of monetizing the captaincy.
In short, we’re going to fight on this.
5. Ice Time
With Mike Babcock already digging in his heels on Auston Matthews third period ice time in game seven, there is a 100% chance that we’re not going to like the way players are utilized throughout the year. Somehow the Leafs will lose a game 3-2, and we’ll see that William Nylander played 14 minutes that night with a 66.7% CF% and we’re going to lose our shit. That’s going to get answered back by the coach can do no wrong crowd, and as foolish as I think it is to not question the coach, they’ll ultimately get their way and the status quo will continue.
I wanted to believe that things would be different and this is a hill I’m very prepared to repeatedly die on this year, but with the knowledge that regular season games are pretty meaningless, and I’m just upset the trend will continue into the playoffs.
This is bound to be a thing again. He does things his (old) way and it’s frustrating to what seems like 50% of us. His line combinations have been known to make eyes bleed, and his love of scratching players we mildly like more than the bad player at the bottom of the roster seem to take years off of lives. That being said, his consistency of defensive partners warms my heart, and I don’t doubt that he’s a strong practice and film coach, and adds his greatest value when he’s not standing behind the bench during the game.
The fact that firing Mike Babcock was becoming more popular last season and many looked at getting to the second round of the playoffs as the prerequisite for keeping him around, the leash is probably a little tighter this year. Of course, the Leafs are also going to do pretty darn well no matter who is behind the bench, and perhaps we need to commit to the fact this isn’t something that stands a chance of happening until the playoffs are behind us (assuming he doesn’t coach the Leafs to a cup.)
Nope. We’re going to fight about this constantly.
7. Travis Dermott’s next contract
There is only one RFA next season that we know the Leafs want back, and that’s Travis Dermott. The fact that Morgan Rielly is the only defenseman under contract makes signing Dermott seem extra important. That being said, what is Dermott worth? The fact that he looks to be on the 3rd pairing when he returns, and that he’ll miss some time due to injury should knock his price tag down a bit, but we’ve got some term and cap hit numbers to fight about throughout the year, as well as “why hasn’t he been signed yet?” knowing the trouble the Leafs have had in past years.
8. Seattle Expansion
Is it too early to worry about who the Leafs will lose in the expansion draft? I don’t think so. The Leafs can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender. At the very least that means that one of Hyman, Johnsson, and Kapanen would need to be exposed. Why aren’t you busy fighting about this? Oh, because it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot. That’s never stopped us before, get mad. This is important*!
*this is not important in any way
9. Bottom Pairing Defensemen
Oh baby, you can name at least five people in your life who are pissed off that Martin Marincin is back. You can probably name a different five who are losing sleep over the idea that Ben Harpur might make the Leafs. There will be those mad that Schmaltz is sitting, those mad that Holl is scratched, there will be plenty mad that Borgman was traded, and of course there are plenty of people who want to see Liljegren and/or Sandin eased into the league this year so they are ready for a bigger role next year, and will be furious that our pie in the sky vision isn’t coming to fruition. If there is one constant in hockey, it’s that the bottom pairing equals fan rage, and we’ll get plenty of it this year.
10. Salary Cap
The Leafs will struggle to be able to add anyone this year as they are so beyond salary cap hell that MLSE scientists are attempting to reanimate Dante so he can add an tenth circle for them.
Now, the Leafs have a pretty darn good roster right now (and Cody Ceci) and don’t have a lot to worry about (except for Cody Ceci). There will be plenty of folks who will be in favour of staying the course from beginning to end this year and content to live and die by what this roster offers.
On the other hand, there’s going to be plenty of other folks who are going to lose their shit that the Leafs can’t be in whatever half-assed offering the trade deadline will bring.
In my heart of hearts, I know sticking with this roster, and decidedly not throwing away futures for rentals is what I want out of this team, but that doesn’t change that trades are exciting and I like my hockey and my team to be exciting. We will definitely fight about this.
At this the time when the Leafs and Marner have provided us with closure and what should be a sense of happiness as we embark on a season which will see Toronto as one of the top cup contenders in the league, we are going to make this year hell for each other. The same as we always have. I could make a passionate plea for unity and how we all want the same result, but frankly the whole season is more interesting with the chaos and drama along the way, and everyone loves everyone crap doesn’t really have a place in the ridiculousness that is sports fandom. So choose your battlegrounds, and which hills you’ll die on. The more the merrier. We’ve got a reputation as the most obnoxious fan base to uphold.