How did it happen again. The Maple Leafs lost in the first round of the playoffs, but no one was really surprised. It felt like the confirmation of a curse existing. This past offseason was divisive in the Leafs’ community, but in the end it feels like GM Kyle Dubas built a team destined for playoff failure. He re-tooled the goaltending and had to adjust the bottom-six. Is it enough? Well, the last few Toronto teams should have delivered a lot more than they did.
Offseason additions: G Matt Murray, F Calle Jarnkrok, G Ilya Samsonov, F Nic Aube-Kubel, F Adam Gaudette, D Victor Mete, D Jordie Benn, F Zach Aston-Reese (PTO).
Offseason subtractions: G Jack Campbell, F Ilya Mikheyev, F Jason Spezza, F Ondrej Kase, D Ilya Lyubushkin, F Colin Blackwell, G Petr Mrazek.
Sorry Alex Ovechkin, but there is a new goal scoring champion in town. For the second consecutive season, the Rocket Richard went to Auston Matthews. Scoring 60 goals with 106 points in 73 games, Matthews also took home his first Hart Trophy. Not only did he have a 4.57 goals for per 60 at even strength, but Matthews had a ridiculous 64.16 xGF%. The entire Toronto top line was above sixty, making up three of the eight forwards to do so (minimum 500 TOI). Mitch Marner crushed his career-high in goals by scoring 35. He also added 62 assists in 72 games for a total of 97 points. Marner finished fourth in Lady Byng voting, and sixteenth for the Selke. The only wingers ahead of him in the latter were Marcus Foligno and Brad Marchand. Twenty-six-year-old rookie Michael Bunting finished third in Calder voting, scoring 23 goals with 63 points after signing with the Leafs as an unrestricted free agent, and not because of a non-tender. Bunting was the perfect replacement for Zach Hyman, as an undersized winger who brings the tenacity next to Matthews and Marner.
Toronto has a few injuries that could cost a few weeks to start the season, with captain John Tavares being one of them. As of now, it doesn’t appear that he will miss significant time. While he is noticeably slower and hasn’t gotten any awards hype since his first season with the team, Tavares still produced last year. He scored 27 goals with 76 points in 79 games. The biggest thing to be concerned about is that Tavares’ goals per game in his last two seasons are the second-and-third-worst of his career, ahead of only his rookie season. In the games that Tavares does miss, Alex Kerfoot will likely move over to center. Kerfoot’s 51 points were a career-high, a refreshing sight to see after his Leafs tenure started with some disappointing scoring paces. The 2021-22 season felt like the one where Leafs fans finally shut up about William Nylander, at least in a negative way. It was easily Nylander’s best season, as he scored 34 goals with 80 points, both career-highs. He also performed in the playoffs again, with seven points in seven games.
Surviving the usual Leafs’ trade buzz is Pierre Engvall, who broke out offensively last season. He scored 15 goals with 35 points. Engvall’s 20 assists alone would have been a career-high. He also led the team with a goals against per 60 of just 1.69. A lot of that could be attributed to the impact brought by David Kampf, who received a Selke vote while scoring a career-high 11 goals. Kampf had a 2.09 xGA/60. Now famous for fumbling the Stanley Cup, Nic Aube-Kubel was a very solid waiver pickup for Colorado last season, scoring 11 goals with 11 assists in 67 games. While he didn’t have any points, Aube-Kubel played in 14 games during Colorado’s winning run.
With Jason Spezza retiring, the Leafs need a fourth line center. That could cause Calle Jarnkrok to drop down to the bottom line. He had 26 points in 49 games for the Kraken before struggling after a trade to Calgary. Jarnkrok has scored 97 goals over the last seven seasons, providing solid secondary scoring for Seattle and Nashville. Wayne Simmonds doesn’t provide offense anymore, but he has been a physical veteran for Toronto’s lineup over the past two seasons. While playing less than ten minutes a night, Simmonds had 148 hits and 16 points in 72 games in 2021-22. The Maple Leafs have a very solid option in training camp on a professional tryout in Zach Aston-Reese. He had 15 points with 231 hits for the Penguins and Ducks last year. Before that, he was a staple of a shutdown Pittsburgh fourth line. If they don’t Aston-Reese, then Kyle Clifford would be in line for a role. After being re-acquired from the Blues, Clifford had three points and 48 hits in 23 games. Adam Gaudette has bounced around from team to team over the past two seasons, with Toronto being his newest stop. Gaudette had 14 points in 58 games for the Blackhawks and Senators last season.
Some defensive concerns remain, but Morgan Rielly had another productive season in 2021-22. Rielly finished 11th in Norris voting while scoring ten goals with 58 assists. While injuries limited him to just 47 games, the numbers on Jake Muzzin were surprisingly rough last season. Muzzin had 14 points with 105 hits. However, his GF% was just 45.72 percent, with a 3.17 GA/60.
Rielly played a ton with TJ Brodie last year, but that could change with Brodie’s old Calgary captain, Mark Giordano, staying with the Leafs. Giordano signed a very team-friendly deal to stay with the Maple Leafs after they acquired him at the deadline. Giordano had 12 points in 20 regular season games after a trade from Seattle. Brodie himself is no scrub, with his 2.33 GA/60 being the best on Toronto’s defensive core last season.
The Leafs just signed restricted free agent Rasmus Sandin after he had encouraging numbers in 51 games last season. Sandin had a 59 percent expected goals for rate, while putting up 16 points in 51 games. The Leafs will be down Timothy Liljegren for about a month after he too had very impressive numbers last season. That opens the door for Justin Holl to play more. Holl had a career-high 23 points in 69 games last season, while adding 104 blocked shots and 129 hits. While he only has five goals in 236 career games, Victor Mete has given the Habs and Senators a power play option during his five-year career. Mete had seven assists in 37 games for Ottawa last season.
The Maple Leafs completely changed their goaltending tandem during the season. But will it work? Ilya Samsonov was supposed to be the guy of the future in Washington, but he was non-tendered after a rough season. Samsonov had a -11.15 goals saved above expected in 44 games, with a .896 save percentage and a 3.02 GAA. The other option is Matt Murray, who has been on the decline for a number of years now, but still had a positive GSAx last season. Starting only 20 games while dealing with injuries, Murray had a .906 save percentage and a 3.05 GAA for Ottawa.
Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Alex Kerfoot – John Tavares – William Nylander
Pierre Engvall – David Kampf – Nic Aube-Kubel
Zach Aston-Reese – Calle Jarnkrok – Wayne Simmonds
Scratched: Kyle Clifford, Adam Gaudette
Morgan Rielly – Jake Muzzin
Mark Giordano – TJ Brodie
Rasmus Sandin – Justin Holl
Scratched: Victor Mete