The Toronto Maple Leafs finished dead last in 2015-16, winning just 29 of their 82 games.
But while the Leafs are still young and in a rebuilding phase, their head coach, Mike Babcock, doesn’t expect a repeat of last season.
“We’re way better,” Babcock told The Associated Press. “We got kids, but we got skill. It’s a way different program than a year ago. We now have a team. We’re like a fast-climbing stock. You want to buy. Last year, you didn’t want to buy.”
The Leafs, of course, turned all of last season’s losses into the first overall draft pick, Auston Matthews. They’ve also got highly touted young forwards like William Nylander and Mitch Marner, as well as a budding star on defense, Morgan Rielly.
One final thing to consider is that the Leafs were actually middle of the pack in puck-possession last season, finishing with a positive Corsi at five-on-five. If they can maintain that level, their young, skilled players should be able to convert on more scoring chances than last year’s forward group did. And if they get better goaltending and special teams to boot, the Leafs could, indeed, be “way better.”
Granted, that’s a lot of ifs. These young Leafs still have much to prove, and nobody would be too shocked if 2016-17 turned out to be a tough learning experience.
Things are looking up, though. Nobody can deny that. The Leafs have a lot more skill now, a reward for all that losing.