The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto Maple Leafs 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 36-25-9 (81 points); third in Atlantic Division; eighth in Eastern Conference
Leading scorers: Auston Matthews (81 points), Mitch Marner (67 points)
The enigma that is the Toronto Maple Leafs might have gotten the luckiest draw of the division realignment. In an all-Canadian grouping, the Leafs are the clear best team; and, they get to compete sans the Bruins and Lightning.
That said, the NHL is weird and anything could happen, and the Leafs have a bunch of on-ice turnover coming off a disappointing bubble showing. Their elite talent is under as much scrutiny as ever and they have to revamp some of their chemistry that’s departed.
Plus, their travel schedule is tougher than most others, having games cross-continent, like all teams in the North Division.
Michael Hutchinson (free agency), Travis Boyd (free agency), Joe Thornton (free agency), Jimmy Vesey (free agent), Aaron Dell (free agent), Joey Anderson (trade), Wayne Simmonds (free agent), T.J. Brodie (free agent)
Andreas Johnsson (trade), Tyson Barrie (free agency), Kasperi Kapanen (trade), Kyle Clifford (free agency), Frederik Gauthier (free agency)
3 Most Interesting Toronto Maple Leafs
• Auston Matthews: The 23-year-old forward saw an uptick in production when Sheldon Keefe put him on the same line as William Nylander and Mitch Marner. He’ll almost no-doubt work with at least Marner the entirety of this season, and his numbers should benefit. His scoring production hit new marks last season with 47 goals in 70 games, a league-leading 30 of them coming on 5-on-5. Those quantity stats won’t jump out in a 56-game season, but in context, he could be on pace for his best season yet with a full season with Marner. Matthews should be expected to be in the running for the Art Ross.
• Frederik Andersen: We’ve seen Andersen carry the Leafs through tough stretches multiple times over the years. This season, the 31-year-old goaltender enters the final year of his deal. One of Toronto’s limitations the past couple of seasons has been overworking Andersen. They haven’t found that balance all too often, but they’ll certainly rely a bit on Jack Campbell especially with a condensed schedule. That should keep Andersen fresh for an inevitable postseason run.
• Joe Thornton: Thornton spent some time with Matthews and Marner in early training camp, but he’ll more realistically plug in in the third line, at least at some point. The 41-year-old adds a veteran presence — the Leafs have added a few of those, including Wayne Simmonds — on a young team. And, the Sharks legend shouldn’t be counted out for his impact ability; he added 31 points for the Sharks last year. Playing with Matthews and potentially getting some power play time could give Thornton an uptick in those numbers, too.
The Leafs have one of the most talented rosters in the league, and given their recent postseason disappointments, there will be a lot of pressure to take advantage of a season away from Boston and Tampa Bay. If all goes well — or, as expected if you ask some people — the Leafs should be at the top of the North Division and breeze through it to the semi-finals.
This is the Maple Leafs we’re talking about, so perhaps their worst-case scenario is something we can’t yet imagine. It’s nearly impossible to see any situation where they aren’t at least one of the four playoff-qualifying teams; it’s tough to see them in a position that isn’t first or second. They have some meshing to do still with a re-worked defensive unit and a lot of age added in the offseason, so some slow starts or injuries could have them digging out of a whole.
Pointsbet – Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup odds
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Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.