Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 Season Preview

The Maple Leafs blew it again because of course they did. With a 3-1 series lead against the wildly inferior Canadiens, Toronto should have punched their ticket to the second round for the first time since 2004. Aaaannd Montreal won three straight. Toronto’s two main stars just did not show up. The Leafs did not have a total blow-up, which is generally smart. They brought in a bunch of low risk, high reward players to help them turn around. Will it work?

Offseason additions: G Petr Mrazek, F Nick Ritchie, F Ondrej Kase, F David Kampf, F Michael Bunting, F Josh Ho-Sang.

Offseason subtractions: F Zach Hyman, G Frederik Andersen, F Nick Foligno, F Joe Thornton, F Alex Galchenyuk, D Zach Bogosian, D Ben Hutton, G David Rittich.

Forwards

Playing on an injured wrist all season, Auston Matthews was absolutely incredible. He played in 52 games, and scored 41 goals, winning his first Rocket Richard. Matthews was also a finalist for the Hart and Lady Byng. His career minimum goal total is 34, and that came over 62 games when he was 20-years-old. He scored just once in the seven playoff games, which does null a bit of his credibility with the fanbase. But Matthews is a stud. The same could be said for Mitch Marner, who had four assists and took two penalties while averaging almost 25 minutes per game. The very talented winger had 67 points, 47 of them helpers, over 55 games. He is not afraid to block a shot, and is a very underrated player defensively. The excellence of Matthews and Marner started to overshadow John Tavares last year, who put up another stellar campaign. He had 50 points while winning 55.3 percent of face-offs. Tavares did not miss a regular season game, but unfortunately was out after a gruesome injury in game one of round one. The ire of the Toronto fanbase, William Nylander has played well enough to get that title off his back. He scored 17 goals with 25 assists over 51 contests, while being the one guy to really show up in the playoffs, which earned him some fan points. There, Nylander scored five times with three assists. The real debate in Toronto camp is about who will play on the top line alongside Matthews and Marner. Nick Ritchie has the grit factor that a lot of traditional fans would like. The 230 pound 25-year-old scored a career-high 15 goals last season, while completing 102 hits. He even has that “disappear in the playoffs” function, scoring just once in 11 games. Michael Bunting is a much more interesting option. The 26-year-old earned a call-up to the Coyotes after scoring seven times with 12 assists in 16 AHL games. He rode a 26.3 percent shooting rate to ten goals over 21 games. He was good, but his results are unsustainable. In his first full season with the team, Ilya Mikheyev was disappointing. He scored just seven times with ten assists in 54 games. Mikheyev may be the only left wing on the team with a set spot entering the season. The Leafs traded for Jared McCann, just to lose him in the expansion draft the next day. The purpose of this was to protect everyone else on the team, most notably Alex Kerfoot. He scored 34 goals over his first two NHL seasons with Colorado, but he has just half of that in an equal amount of seasons for Toronto. Kerfoot’s eight goals and 23 points in 2020-21 were a career low, although the shortened season played a big role in that. He has the flexibility to play the wing and center, although his 40.8 percent face-off rate from last year is ugly. Ondrej Kase has a ton of potential, but concussions have derailed his entire career. He missed all but three games for Boston last year. The season before, he scored seven goals with 17 assist in 55 games. That itself is a solid pace. If he can stay healthy, Kase is a good third-line weapon. Jason Spezza really wants a Stanley Cup, and he believes that he can get one with the Maple Leafs. Ignoring the sad reality of that, Spezza was great last season, prompting him to return. He scored ten times with twenty assists in 54 games while playing a solid two-way game. He received a Byng vote, taking just three minor penalties all season. The Leafs hoped that Wayne Simmonds could re-ignite his scoring prowess, and he did for a bit, finding the back of the net five times in the first month of the season. Unfortunately, he would miss time due to injury, and add just two more goals the rest of the way. Simmonds had nine points with 45 penalty minutes in 38 games. Pierre Engvall was limited to 42 games last year, and he scored at a decent rate, with seven goals and five assists. That is a pace of 14 goals a season, which you would take from a bottom-six winger. The next step for the six-foot-five winger is cementing himself as an everyday player. The Leafs have two big wild cards in camp this year. Despite playing in every game for Chicago last year, David Kampf only scored one goal. He is a good defensive player, meaning that he could be Toronto’s third line center for game one. The ultra-talented Josh Ho-Sang has not played in an NHL game since 2018-19, but he has been great in the preseason. In 53 games for the Islanders in his career, the now 25-year-old has scored seven goals with 17 assists.

Defensemen

For the first time during their playoff window, the defense is a strength for the Maple Leafs. Morgan Rielly is the best offensively of the bunch, although his defense is questionable at times. In his eighth season for the team, Rielly scored 35 points, with 12 of them coming on the power play. Toronto found the perfect partner for him in TJ Brodie, who is the steady, top-pairing guy that the Maple Leafs desperately needed. The Ontario kid only scored once in the regular season, but matched that in the playoffs. He blocked 84 shots without missing a game. Veteran Jake Muzzin may not be on the technical top-pairing, but he is very much a top-two defender for most teams. He had 27 points with 94 blocked shots and 101 hits in 53 games last year. In every season since 2014-15, Muzzin has averaged over 21 minutes on ice a night. There was a fair amount of buzz over Toronto’s decision to protect Justin Holl as the fourth defenseman in the expansion draft. The undrafted, six-foot-four Minnesotan had a career high 20 points in 55 games in 2020-21, blocking 84 shots with 82 hits. After the crazy market for defensemen that followed the expansion draft, Kyle Dubas and co. must be happy with keeping Holl and his $2 million cap hit for the next two seasons. Travis Dermott has always been someone who played a lot for the team, but was clearly never trusted. He missed just five regular season games last year, and despite playing in his fourth NHL season, averaged just 13 minutes and 13 seconds of ice time a game. He had a career low six points last season. The team even trusts 21-year-old Rasmus Sandin more, as he averaged more ice time in just nine games last season. Sandin had four assists in those games. The very talented defender scored his second career goal versus Montreal in the postseason. Former top pick Timothy Liljegren is yet to make a major impact on the Leafs’ organization. He played in 23 games last year, but just two of which were in the NHL. Over the rest, he scored twice with nine assists in 21 games.

Goalies

The Maple Leafs have their new goaltender. Jack Campbell was dominant as he took the starting job right from Frederik Andersen. The late bloomer had a .921 save percentage with a 2.15 GAA over 22 starts for Toronto, winning 17 of them. Carey Price’s insane playoffs overshadowed Campbell, who had a .934 SV% and a 1.81 GAA. The veteran backup for him is Petr Mrazek who comes from the Hurricanes, who just signed Andersen. Mrazek lost the starting job last year to Alex Nedeljkovic. He was limited to 12 games, and was very good, with a .923 save percentage and a 2.06 GAA. The Leafs have a competent third goalie in Michael Hutchinson, who had a .919 save percentage in eight games last season.

Projected Lines

Nick Ritchie – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner

Ilya Mikheyev – John Tavares – William Nylander

Michael Bunting – Alex Kerfoot – Ondrej Kase

Pierre Engvall – Jason Spezza – Wayne Simmonds

Extras: David Kampf, Josh Ho-Sang

Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie

Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl

Rasmus Sandin – Travis Dermott

Extras: Timothy Liljegren

Jack Campbell

Petr Mrazek

Extras: Michael Hutchinson

Projection

It has been said before, but the Leafs’ lack of depth is going to hurt them this year. Their solution to that was to bring in some low risk, high reward players. However, when you give those guys high ranking, it becomes a high risk. If that doesn’t pan out, then this team could be in trouble. Still, they have the star power to work things out. This is still a third place team.

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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