I’ve concluded my preseason projections for the Pacific Division teams likely to challenge for a playoff spot, reviewing the Kings, Sharks, Flames, Ducks and Oilers as well as the rest of the Pacific Division.
But of course this all just leads to one question which lies at the heart of every hockey discussion.
How does this affect the Leafs?
There is so much hyperbole and a constant stream of analysis on that team that I wanted a chance to cut through the fog of words that spew forth every week and get a handle on this team from my own point of view.
So here it is:
Toronto Maple Leafs – 272 goals for, 224 goals against (6th in the Eastern Conference, 2nd in the Atlantic)
Matthews – High-skilled forward, principally a scoring center rather than a playmaker. God’s reparations to TSN for that McDavid mixup.
Nylander – Highly skilled forward, likely to develop into more a playmaking forward, can thrive playing behind Matthews.
Kadri – Eclipsed his previous point totals last season by 11, benefits from Matthews matchups, carving out reputation as a shutdown forward and abrasive competitor.
Marner – High skill, diminutive forward, excels against weaker opposition.
Bozak – Ideally suited for a 3rd line center role, deployed to his strengths.
Brown – Effective forward, deployed against top and middle-tier competition.
Komarov – Very useful forward to play against opposition’s best.
Hyman – Excelled playing with Matthews, but not a wise bet to carry this performance outside of that partnership.
Moore – This is not good. At all.
Riemsdyk – Depth player who can fill up that middle-tier of the roster effectively.
Leivo – Insufficient data.
Martin – Deployed in a 4th line role, surprisingly effective possession results against tougher competition.
Soshnikov – Early returns, but promising results.
Smith – Struggling against bottom-tier competition.
Marleau – This does not bode well.
Greening – Insufficient (or unavailable) data.
Fehr – Effective forward when deployed in a depth or support role.
Zaitsev – Strong season that awaits more information on the player, promising thus far.
Marincin – The offense will likely never come, but the defense, though limited, is capable and steady,
Carrick – Strong mid-pairing defender, posts good results on the 2nd pairing, offense is largely non-existent.
Gardiner – 2nd pairing defender with good offense, strong possession numbers across the board.
Rielly – Expect the points will come for him this season, shows 1st pairing potential.
Hainsey – Good depth defender, excels when deployed on the 3rd pairing.
Andersen – Still establishing himself in the league and trying to earn a reputation as a starter. I’m not convinced, but recognize that goalies take a long time to develop. Were I GM, I’d look elsewhere in a hurry.
McElhinney – Something about this player reminds me of Jamie McLennan, a career backup player who struggled even there. He’s a journeyman at the position in a situation that calls for a better fallback option. You can’t have a question mark in the starter’s position and a weak hand at plan B.
The Leafs have a very exciting (and marketable) group of young, skilled forwards. They are going to try and outscore their errors and will likely find some measure of success in doing so. I’m certain that if they find the same levels of productivity this year as last that we’ll see glib articles on TSN pronouncing this collection as being the heirs to the Boys on the Bus and with the Leafs as having brought back the good old days of firewagon hockey. Leaving aside the deep psychological scars felt by the Leafs fan base towards the Gretzky-era Oilers and how they may or may not be exacerbated by the McDavid lottery results, this team requires some work to reach the next level, though it must be said that of all the Canadian teams, the Leafs’ future is second only to that of Edmonton’s, and that only because of the presence of Connor McDavid. Yes, that’s right, the Leafs are further along in their rebuild than the Flames and even with Andersen and McElhinney in net arguably have as good or better odds to make the playoffs.