Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Toronto Maple Leafs.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 35-14-7 (77 points) first place in North Division
• Postseason: Lost in First Round to Montreal Canadiens in seven games.
• Offensive leader: Mitch Marner (55 games, 20 goals, 47 assists, 67 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Ondrej Kase, David Kampf, Michael Bunting, Petr Mrazek
• Free Agent Subtractions: Zach Hyman (Edmonton Oilers), Joe Thornton (Florida Panthers), Frederik Andersen (Carolina Hurricanes), Alex Galchenyuk (Arizona Coyotes)

Biggest question facing the Toronto Maple Leafs?

• Is Jack Campbell for real?

Campbell took over the Maple Leafs’ crease late last season and put together a 17-3-2 run to close out the regular season and then played great in their First Round loss to the Canadiens. He played so well that Toronto was content to let Frederik Andersen leave in free agency (Hurricanes) and will go ahead with Campbell and Petr Mrazek (signed from Carolina) in goal. Both goalies will play a lot, but there is a great deal of pressure for Campbell to at least come close to repeating what he did a year ago.

He has shown flashes of potential throughout his NHL career but is entering his age 30 season and never been more than a backup.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

If he can consistently play at that level the Maple Leafs will be in good shape when it comes to contending. If he does not it creates a pretty big question mark at the most important position. Mrazek is a solid safety net, but they might need more than just him.

What’s the salary cap situation?

It is pretty well known that Toronto’s salary cap situation is tight given the major contracts to their core players — Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares. They are pressed to the cap ceiling and have to find ways to piece together complementary players around them. That sort of salary cap structure can absolutely work, and has worked on pretty much every Stanley Cup winning team in the salary cap era.

They have three $10 million players in Matthews, Marner, and Tavares. Nylander makes just over $6 million.

Their next big contract is going to have to be defenseman Morgan Rielly, if they want to keep him. That might take some maneuvering to get him re-signed. If the Maple Leafs lose early in the playoffs again you can be certain that at least one member of the core is going to be traded, so that would certainly create some additional room if it gets to that point.

Breakout Candidate

Rasmus Sandin

The Maple Leafs are not really a young team anymore and most of their young players have already had their breakout season. Sandin seems like the next logical candidate if he can secure a spot on the blue line. The 2018 first-round pick has appeared in 37 games so far in his career and still has a ton of potential. The hope is that he can blossom into a top-four defender in short order to not only help improve the defense, but perhaps be a long-term replacement for Rielly if the Maple Leafs can not get him re-signed.

Best-Case Scenario

It is simple. The best-case scenario here is Campbell and Mrazek are able to solidify the goalie position and everything comes together for them in the playoffs and they finally accomplish something and win a round, something they have not done since the 2003-04 season. Time is running out for this core, coaching staff, and front office and it can no longer be acceptable to simply make the playoffs and lose in the First Round. They are now more than six years into this thing with this group and all they have to show for it is five First Round exits. That is ridiculous given the talent level of this team. They have to do something meaningful.

Worst-Case Scenario

Honestly, it would be doing what they always do — finish in third place in the Atlantic Division and lose in the First Round of the playoffs. That might be a boring analysis, but this is the last thing Maple Leafs fans — or the Maple Leafs front office and organization — wants to see.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.