Tuesday, September 26, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Toronto Maple Leafs

GM: Lou Lamoriello (since 2015). 8/10
Coach: Mike Babcock (since 2015). 9/10

2016-17 record: 40-27-15, 95 points, 14th overall. First-round playoff exit.

Departures: Matt Hunwick (D), Antoine Bibeau (G), Brian Boyle (C), Seth Griffith (C), Brendan Leipsic (LW).

Arrivals: Patrick Marleau (F), Ron Hainsey (D), Dominic Moore (C).

Top forwards: Auston Matthews (70-75 points), Mitch Marner (60-65 points), William Nylander (60-65 points), James Van Riemsdyk (60-65 points), Nazem Kadri (55-60 points), Tyler Bozak (40-45 points), Marleau (40-45 points), Connor Brown (35-40 points), Zach Hyman (30-35 points).

Must-improve forward: Joffrey Lupul will likely be assigned to LTIR for the second-straight season, despite some reports saying he feels like he should be playing. Two years on LTIR will likely hamper his chances of securing a new contract next summer, as few teams want to take a chance on a guy who has been forced to sit out two consecutive seasons because of purported health reasons. What he can do is go the Clarke MacArthur route and try to get healthy on his own and force his way into the line-up.

Top defensemen: Nikita Zaitsev (35-45 points), Jake Gardiner (35-40 points), Morgan Reilly (25-30 points), Hainsey (15-20 points), Connor Carrick (10-15 points), Alexey Marchenko (10 points).

Goalies: Frederik Andersen (85/100), Curtis McElhinney (74/100).

Top rookies: Kasperi Kapanen (21 years old, RW, 2014 first-round draft pick), Travis Dermott (20, D), Jeremy Bracco (20, RW), Adam Brooks (21, C), Carl Grundstrom (19, LW).

Hey, it's in my DNA to hate the Leafs as much as anyone else, and I do think they're on the clock to take one step backwards in their development - after all, Coach Babcock did say the rebuild was going to be "painful"...

That being said, let's face it, there's no way they miss the playoffs while playing in the Atlantic Division this season. Even if they just coast through, their line-up will win them 40 to 45 games, and that's enough to finish in third place to set up another chapter in the Battle Of Ontario.

The NHL will pull out all the stops to make this season - the league's and the Leafs' 100th Anniversary - one for the books, but as we've seen countless times before, that's exactly when things never work out. The pressure will just be too great for these kids, who can't handle it yet.

Prediction: 3rd in the Atlantic Division.

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