‘Tis the season, and while it’s unlike any other we’ve experienced before, there’s still a little bit of holiday spirit in the air, as households are finding unique ways to celebrate this year.
Much like the holidays, the Leafs are also about to head into a season unlike any other, as it’ll not only be shortened and rushed, they might also face off against only Canadian teams, at least to start the season.
The holidays are also a time of giving (and receiving) gifts, and everyone has something that they really want. So, to have a bit of fun, let’s figure out what the Leafs want for the holidays as they approach the beginning of their 2020-21 season.
Auston Matthews: Leaguewide Respect
Last season saw Matthews rise to elite status, as he almost hit 50 goals for the first time in his career and stepped up his defensive game. And yet, it seems crazy to mention him in the same conversation as MacKinnon or Draisaitl when he is as good (or even better) than them, just because hockey fans are afraid to admit that a Leafs player is good. He’s easily a top 5 player among the younger talent rising up, and he needs to start getting that respect.
John Tavares: A Less Chaotic Year
I’m sure Tavares would’ve preferred to not deal with all the drama that the Leafs as a whole dealt with in his first year as captain. The pandemic, Babcock’s firing, David Ayres, the list goes on, and him having a quieter (but still a really good season) didn’t help the media pile on him. Hopefully this year, it’s a bit more normal for him, and he can have a bit less pressure on him as the captain.
Mitch Marner: More goals
Marner’s game has evolved to see him become one of the league’s premier playmakers in the league, but unfortunately, his shot and goal scoring ability aren’t quite there, something that has cost him and the team on many occasions. He’s already said he wants to get to the dirty areas more this season to get those goals, but hopefully he spent the offseason working on his shot so he could even become more of a threat on that half-board spot on the power play so the opponents aren’t always playing the pass.
William Nylander: More of last year’s magic
Nylander had a spectacular bounce back season with 31 goals after a disappointing 2018-19 campaign when he held out for the first third of the season, but unfortunately, his critics still want him gone. At this point, you can just hope for another year like last season to keep the momentum going, although shooting 15% last season probably means we’ll see a few less goals. Can’t wait to see how that drives the narrative!
Jake Muzzin: A couple more years from Father Time
This season will be the first year of Muzzin’s four year contract, and at age 31, the biggest concern is how much longer we’ll get elite play from him. It’ll play a big part in the Leafs window to win, so hopefully we can get more of the same from him for the next couple years at least.
Frederik Andersen: May the PDO gods be ever in his favour
Andersen was really bad last year. Not only was it his worst season in his career, he was actually the worst starting goalie in the league for the second half of the season. Going into a contract year, it’d be best for both himself and the Leafs if that season was because of PDO and goalie voodoo as opposed to age. Maybe it swings so much that he has a Vezina season or something like that, but at the very least, he finally has a decent blueline in front of him, so just be competent.
TJ Brodie: Praying that his ability isn’t all Mark Giordano
Brodie was arguably the biggest signing for the Leafs this offseason (at least as far as on-ice value goes), and while that itself will come with pressure, there’s also his biggest concern: was his strong play due to playing with Giordano. It’s probably the biggest question mark surrounding his game, and while his RAPM stats (which isolate a players stats from things like quality of teammates) say that shouldn’t be a big issue, going from Giordano to Rielly might be a bit of a difference in his game.
Morgan Rielly: Finally having a good defense partner
Rielly is entering his eighth NHL season, and up to this point, his best defensive partner that he’s actually had steady ice time with is either Jake Gardiner or Tyson Barrie. Yikes. With the Brodie signing, he’ll likely get his best partner yet, so let’s hope that they can play well together, otherwise the search will continue for him.
Alex Kerfoot: More offense
Kerfoot has the unfortunate situation of being the replacement for longtime Leaf Nazem Kadri, and while he had a good first year, it was very quiet, which was still a problem for most fans. The best thing for him this year is for him to get some more points this season, and really settle into his role as the third line centre, and maybe we can finally be at peace with the Kadri trade, or the best we can.
Zach Hyman: Good health
Hyman’s evolution from “Why is he playing with Matthews all the time?” to “legitimate top six forward” is one to behold, but he’s also unfortunately had a couple big injuries in the last two seasons. While he’s still not going to get a full 82 game season because of COVID, hopefully he can play the full 56 games at the very least.
Justin Holl: Proof that he can play without Muzzin
Holl had a breakout year on the backend, emerging as a legit top four option for the Leafs, particularly when paired with Muzzin. Of course, take Muzzin away and he struggles a little bit more, but he’s still a legit NHL defenseman without him. He’ll probably get another shot in the top four to start the year, but with Travis Dermott right on his heels, he’d probably like to prove that he can play in a top four role even without Muzzin. He had solid numbers when Muzzin was hurt in the Columbus series, so there’s a chance.
Jack Campbell: A bigger role
With Andersen on the last year of his deal, this will be a big year for Campbell, who might want to try and prove that he could maybe be a starting option for the Leafs if Freddie leaves. Last season, he started 26 games for the Kings and Leafs, a career high for him, but not enough to be a starter, so a good season for him could give him the opportunity for it 2021-22.
Ilya Mikheyev: Forgetting the playoffs
The Mikheyev hype train was real in 2019-20, as the forward broke out for 23 points in 39 games before his wrist got cut by a skate and sidelined him for the rest of the season. Come playoff time in August, he had an amazing training camp before doing nothing in the playoffs, and letting down a lot of Leafs Nation. Hopefully this season he can put it in the past and focus on returning to his regular season form.
Wayne Simmonds: Faces to punch
It’s pretty clear we won’t be getting 30 goal Wayne Simmonds on this team, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get the aggressive, face punching Wayne Simmonds. An all Canadian division could bode well for rivalries for the Leafs, which means there might be a few more scraps than seen in previous seasons for the Leafs, which might be an outdated way of looking at his value, but I really just want to see a bit more team toughness on the Leafs.
Pierre Engvall: A guaranteed spot
The Leafs brought in a fair amount of bottom six depth this season in free agency and trade, making Engvall’s spot a bit less guaranteed. He had an overall good season, and played well in the playoffs, so hopefully he gets the first crack at it, but it definitely isn’t safe for him this season.
Zach Bogosian: Not getting overplayed
I’m sure Bogosian would love a top pair role if you asked him, but let’s be real, it’s not the best idea for him. If he plays well enough in a bottom pair role, he’ll get no complaints. If he plays poorly in a top pair role (which would be likely), there will definitely be problems from the fanbase, which is the last thing he wants.
Mikko Lehtonen: Some power play time
It sounds like up to this point he might man the second power play unit, but even then, he’s not going to get a lot of playing time with how loaded the first unit is, but that might be his best opportunity to excel as a rookie this season.
Alexander Barbanov: To be an Ilya Mikheyev and not an Igor Ozhiganov
The Leafs European signings have always been pretty hit or miss, so I’m sure both Barbanov and Leafs fans hopes is that he ends up as one of the better ones like Mikheyev. He’ll likely get a shot on even the third line, so we’ll see how he is to start.
Jimmy Vesey: A rebound year
While Vesey hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype he had as a college free agent, his 2019-20 season wasn’t good, even by his standards. Thankfully, he’s not playing on Buffalo this season, so he should probably get a few more points this time around.
Rasmus Sandin: Stats that match the hype
Sandin was a very weird case study this season, as he got a crazy amount of hype from fans despite not really having the stats to back it up. Those will obviously improve as he gets more experience, so hopefully that happens a bit more this season, although he’ll be fighting the depth chart to do so.
Travis Dermott: A top four role
This has been on Dermott’s list for a while, although this might be the first time that he won’t get it because there’s actually better depth in front of him as opposed to the coach thinking Hainsey, Zaitsev, and Ceci are better than him. He’ll probably get a chance on the right side as well, but this will be a big season for Dermott to finally get his wish.
Nick Robertson: A strong rookie season
I mean, this one’s pretty obvious. He played well in four playoff games, but that unfortunately came with a lot of hype that he’ll probably have to live up to this season. He’s probably not gonna score a crazy amount of goals, but playing well enough might feed the beast that is the Toronto fanbase and media for now.
Jason Spezza: A spot on the opening night roster (especially if it’s against the Sens)
I mean, he’s still waiting on it after last year…
Joe Thornton: Less pressure
There seems to be a lot of hype for Thornton joining the Leafs, albeit more for name value than on-ice value, but I just hope for his sake that we remember that we have 41 year old Joe Thornton, not prime Joe Thornton.
Martin Marincin: Another one year extention
He’s managed to survive this long, might as well.