For a while, it’s been tough for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans. Not because they’re not good or are stuck in a tumultuous situation. Rather it’s quite the opposite. They have such an excellent team. They built themselves into what could always be a lethal contender year in, and year out. But they go nowhere in the playoffs. In each of the last six seasons, they have not made it past the first round. In fact, the Maple Leafs haven’t made it past the first round since 2004. With an amazing core featuring Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Morgan Reilly, and William Nylander it would be crazy to think they have no major playoff success to stand on. But they don’t. This past season was no different but I truly believe there is a chance for them this season. The Maple Leafs took the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink of elimination. But unfortunately, they would lose in game seven 2-1.
And it’s not for a lack of trying in Toronto. General manager Kyle Dubas and the front office have done everything they possibly can to create the best roster possible with the very limited cap space they have to remain as competitive as they have been. It’s pretty debatable that no team was impacted more by the pandemic and the flat cap, and yet, the Maple Leafs have done extremely well to navigate that with a very top-heavy structure. Their “poor” cap management is a myth and they’ve built an extremely competitive roster. Toronto unfortunately hasn’t won much with nothing to prove with this current roster, but neither have several franchises that had higher expectations than them this season. And with their moves this offseason, they are icing a clear contender. The Maple Leafs revamped their goaltending for this year with Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov after replacing Jack Campbell and moving on from Petr Mrazek. Toronto also added forwards Calle Jarnkrok, Nicholas Aube-Kubel, and Adam Gaudette in an effort to make a deep playoff run
Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov started for their respective teams last season but didn’t have the years they believed they should have had. Toronto believed it was time for a goaltending change with no real dedication from Jack Campbell to stay. They’re taking a big risk on both goaltenders, but they did that last time when they acquired Campbell and Mrazek. And it turned out somewhat well when both were healthy. Now Samsonov will battle Murray for the starting job, and hopefully both put up good numbers to sustain the Maple Leafs’ hopes of playoff success. My major concern, as always with this team, has been one major key. Depth. After the Matthews-Marner-Tavares-Nylander core, there are no sure things as to where the rest of the goals will come up front. On defense, Morgan Rielly has established himself as a number one, but there is no standout candidate to be the number two. In goal, Murray was limited to 47 games over the past two seasons and has shown a penchant for being injury prone. Now adding Aube-Kubel, Jarnkrok, and Gaudette could sweeten their top nine forward group out but it doesn’t make it an elite group, outside the big four, by any means. They still have a strong team, but they are going to need to get help from every inch of the roster if they finally want to break their curse and go far in the playoffs.
I always ask myself what to think of the Maple Leafs every offseason. Always so much promise and they always perform in the regular season. They always look ready to win it all. Should I be impressed with them for staying the course anyway, or judge them for not achieving anything? I have no idea. I really think the Leafs got screwed by the timing of their big contracts just before the pandemic and the flat cap. They paid a king’s ransom to retain Mitch Marner, which was entirely necessary, but otherwise, the management of the team has been solid. I may look at this team a lot differently next year if the goaltending gamble blows up.
Back on June 2nd, 2021 I wrote an article called “What’s Next For The Leafs?” It was after their game seven loss to the Montreal Canadiens who they should have easily walked over that year. And I asked myself the question that was in the title. The Maple Leafs have what it takes to win it all. Zero questions asked. They just have to put the pieces together in the postseason. Which is always easier said than done in arguably one of the hardest playoffs in professional sports. I suggested that depending on how this season panned out that they might need a re-tool. For now, I hold my breath because they had one of their best seasons in recent history. A fourth-place finish and a high seed to brag about. Not to mention one of the best goal-scoring seasons by a forward in Austin Matthews with his 60 goals. Most teams in their situation would blow things up, and I considered the thought last time around. That might be in their future, but depending on the success they have this year it could determine what comes next for them. Until then, let’s hope they surprise us all and make a run for the championship that goes in the history books.