Author: Ryan Dadoun

Joffrey Lupul

Maple Leafs ’15-16 Outlook


After finishing with a 30-44-8 record last season, the Maple Leafs have undergone substantial changes, but none of the decisions made were about getting back into the playoffs in the short-term. When the Maple Leafs dealt Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, it was a clear sign that they were embracing a rebuild and its 2015-16 roster will reflects the early stages of that transition.

Toronto isn’t likely to enter the season with a lot of promising youngsters on its squad, but that will come later. For now, the Maple Leafs have signed veterans that can serve as placeholders like Shawn Matthias and P.A. Parenteau to give the top prospects time to develop properly. Matthias and Parenteau are only inked for one season and both might be traded at the deadline for picks or prospects to continue the Maple Leafs’ long-term goals.

Other veterans like Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, and Tyler Bozak might also end up being dealt either before the season or at the deadline. In addition to providing the Maple Leafs with more assets, moving them would also increase Toronto’s chances of ending up with projected 2016 top pick Auston Matthews.

Meanwhile, Toronto has undergone a massive transformation on the management side as president Brendan Shanahan is now supported by GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock, which provides the franchise with the experience to see this rebuild through to the end. That’s a new thing for Toronto because while the franchise has barely seen any playoff actions since the start of the salary cap era, that hasn’t previously led to the Maple Leafs fully embracing a long-term rebuilding effort.

In fact, trading Kessel is the perfect symbol of the philosophical shift, not just because of what he represented now, but also due to the context of his acquisition. When Toronto got him back in 2009 for two first-round draft picks, it was a sign that then GM Brian Burke wanted to move forward without a traditional rebuild. That didn’t work, so now a new group is trying a different, more patient approach.

Looking to make the leap: William Nylander

William Nylander

Head coach Mike Babcock has predicted that “there’s pain coming” to Toronto, which is pretty much all Maple Leafs fans have known during the salary-cap era anyways. But as difficult as the 2015-16 campaign might be, their fans also have some reasons to be optimistic, with one of the big ones being forward William Nylander.

Taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nylander is coming off a strong and unusual season. He started with MODO of the Swedish League, but left Europe after scoring eight goals and 20 points in 21 contests. He reported to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies where he added another 14 goals and 32 points in 37 games.

That stint in the AHL was a big test for Nylander. Unlike most freshly drafted players, he already had experience playing against men in Sweden, but this was an opportunity to get used to a North American travel schedule as well as adjust to a more physical style of play.

His success under those conditions certainly helped his cause, but he still has a lot of work ahead of him in order to secure a roster spot with the Maple Leafs. Toronto already has 13 forwards signed to one-way contracts (not including Nathan Horton) and some other forward prospects that should get serious looks during training camp, including Kasperi Kapanen, Mitch Marner, and Zach Hyman. Ultimately, what his physical conditioning is like by the start of training camp could go a long way towards determining how well the 19-year-old will do against that level of competition.

“You don’t worry about his speed, you don’t worry about his skill,” Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas said of Nylander, per the Toronto Sun. “You just worry about him, as you would with any 18- or 19-year-old, being strong enough.”

Perhaps having more time to work on his conditioning will prove to be the best route for him, but Nylander could nevertheless force the Maple Leafs to make some tough decisions.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs Day at PHT

Mike Babcock, Brendan Shanahan

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Going into the 2014-15 campaign, the Maple Leafs were trying to end a disturbing trend of late season collapses and…in a way they succeeded.

Toronto got off to a 19-9-3 start, but there were already warning signs of what was to come as the Maple Leafs had suffered two embarrassing blowout losses to the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators earlier in the season. On top of that, the Maple Leafs were struggling from a puck possession perspective even at their height as they had the fourth-worst five-on-five Corsi in the league (45.5%) through Dec. 17.

It seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the other shoe dropped, but the degree to which they collapsed was still stunning. It started with a three-game losing streak from Dec. 18-21 where they were outscored 15-5. By Jan. 6, Toronto had lost seven of its last nine games, prompting the Leafs to fire head coach Randy Carlyle.

At the time, new bench boss Peter Horachek was inheriting a team that still seemed salvageable as it had a 21-16-3 record, but the Maple Leafs only won nine of 42 games under him. During his tenure, they scored just 79 goals, putting them behind every team in the league except Arizona over that span.

The Maple Leafs finished with a 30-44-8 record, their worst of the salary cap era, which says a lot given their lack of success since the system started. But still, the collapse started on Dec. 18, so it wasn’t late season. So there’s that.

Off-season recap

After that disastrous season, team president Brendan Shanahan set out to change the culture of this team. Leafs GM Dave Nonis was fired along with Horachek and replaced with Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock respectively.

Toronto also pushed its rebuild forward by trading Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, and a conditional second-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for prospects Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, as well as a conditional first rounder, a third round pick, and Nick Spaling.

On the free agent front, the Maple Leafs added a slew of veterans to short-term contracts including Shawn Matthias, Mark Arcobello, and P.A. Parenteau to help fill out the roster during the transitional period.