What to expect from the Maple Leafs this season: TLN Roundtable
By Jon Steitzer1 month ago
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who is celebrating. Hopefully you are getting a chance to spend some time this weekend with people you are thankful for and likely you are also thankful that we are exiting the offseason/preseason hockey void and beginning the long marathon of a regular season. The regular season, at least for the Leafs, seems like a bit of a formality and in many ways is an extended preseason to the hockey we care most about. That being said, there are still expectations, and that’s why we are kicking off the 2023-24 TLN Roundtable with the question: What are your expectations for the 2023-24 Maple Leafs? Feel free to play along at home in our comment section, but here are the responses:
The easy answer to this question is “Winning the Stanley Cup”. And to be fair, there’s some truth to it – coming off a 19-year drought without getting out of the first round, when you’ve got a team as talented as the Maple Leafs have been in the Auston Matthews era, these types of expectations are par for the course.That being said, they only took that first step of getting out of the first round a few months ago. So, realistically, I would say that an appearance in the Conference Final would constitute a successful season.The reality is, as much as Leafs fans have zero appetite for words like “progress”, to assume that they’ll automatically move forward and win a Stanley Cup this season is premature, and doesn’t factor in the performance of other teams. As it stands right now, the Bruins will be without their top two centres from last season, the Lightning didn’t really make any notable additions, and while teams like the Senators and the Sabres are chomping at the bit to make the playoffs, they need to prove they’re ready before we can start penciling them in for the playoffs.The Leafs SHOULD have the easiest path to a deep playoff run of anyone in the Atlantic, but they had that in 2020-21 and choked it away to the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1. I’d like to believe now that they’ve got some playoff success under their belts and some more characters added over the offseason, they’ll have a little more pep in their step when it comes to the postseason. If this reigns true, making it to the Conference Final would probably keep me from demanding every firing/trade imaginable next summer.
My expectations for the 2023-24 Maple Leafs includes a trip to at least the Eastern Conference Final. If they can somehow manage to sneak into the Stanley Cup Final, great, but they need to at least make it to the Conference Final for me to consider this season a success. Fully expecting them to compete for the President’s Trophy this season as one of the best regular season teams, but it’s time to see multiple playoff rounds won.With the new additions up front, including the development of Matthew Knies, their forwards are going to score at will. The Leafs d-core still keeps me up at night and there’s no doubt when the first trade goes down, it’s likely going to include a proven NHL defenceman coming to Toronto. Treliving loves long and lanky/physical blueliners so Leafs Nation should expect some movement on D.In net, Samsonov and Woll are stellar and considering their contracts, one of the best duos in the league.In closing, if the Leafs don’t go deep in the playoffs, it will be tough for Treliving to bring Keefe back as coach, given that this is one of the most talented Maple Leafs’ teams that have been rostered in the past two decades.
I think the Leafs will have a regular season that is similar to how things went last year. There will be some growing pains at the start with all of the new additions getting accustomed to the system along with the returning players adjusting to their new roles (ie Matthews on the PK). While there are some concerns with the defence, the overall team has enough quality that it can help mask some of the shortcomings in their own end, even if they give up a few more goals than last year.This season will likely see a lot of the younger players gain bigger roles and fill in the gaps left by the cascade of free agents that departed this summer. I expect Liljegren establishes himself as a top four defender because it would have a huge impact on settling the nerves of the fanbase. Robertson will finally be an NHL regular by seasons end health permitting. Knies and Minten continue to showcase their chemistry and provide quality value in the bottom-six.Regardless of whether Jones remains on the team or not, the Leafs should be fine in net. Samsonov will get the bulk of the starts and Woll will be used more as the backup for this season given his minimal experience at the NHL level. Whether or not this combo gets them through the playoffs is another story, but for now they should do the trick in the regular season.The heighten pressure of getting past the first round is now just a memory and the Leafs can shift their focus back to doing the damn thing. I am not confident that this is the year, but this season seems like one where they get to the conference finals before falling to either the Hurricanes or the Devils.
I expect the Maple Leafs this year to win the Atlantic Division. Their roster as of now (on paper) is stronger than every other team in the division, and barring major injuries (knock on wood) they should finish first. In terms of playoffs, I should state that this current roster will be different come playoff time. I foresee a steady veteran addition in the bottom 6 and at least two physical/defensively adept additions on the back end. This roster will change between now and playoffs. I expect this team to win at least two rounds. It’s time to exercise their demons, and make a legitimate Cup run. Carolina and New Jersey likely pose the strongest threat in the East, but Toronto should contend.
I always hate when people suggest that a team emulate one that has just gone on a cup run and that they should follow their playbook but that being said I’d expect the Maple Leafs to mirror the approach taken by the Florida Panthers in the past couple of seasons. The 2021-22 Panthers were a Presidents Trophy winning team that certainly made some major changes and almost appeared to take a step back in 2022-23 until we saw this team in the playoffs. You can make a case that it was a matter of having a hot goaltender for the earlier rounds, but there is absolutely something to be said for other worthwhile changes like swapping Jonathan Huberdeau for Matthew Tkachuk and benefiting from a healthy Sam Bennett in the playoffs among other things also working to the advantage of the Panthers.
I’m not saying the Maple Leafs need to play the way the Panthers did but I am saying that I expect the Leafs to take a day one approach to trying to play a style of hockey that will serve them well in the playoffs even if it comes at the price of some regular season success. The William Nylander at centre experiment is one example of embracing the regular season as an 82 game window of getting everyone ready for the playoffs and I’d expect to see the Leafs commit more to giving everyone extended looks in the roles that are needed to be played starting in April.
I’d also expect the Leafs brass to have a far more critical eye on Sheldon Keefe this season to see if he is in fact the coach best suited to help Toronto achieve playoff success. If things are going right for the Leafs that probably looks like Florida or possibly another team winning the division in the regular season if the Leafs take time to find their groove, but Toronto should be capable of putting together a more impressive looking playoff performance. How far they go will likely depend on their goaltending and it is safe to say that is still a question mark heading into the season, even if it was the right call to go with Samsonov and Woll this year.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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