The Toronto Maple Leafs season is less than two months away and the anticipation is growing in Toronto. Maybe it’s because top-end prospects William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are expected to finally play in the same lineup. Perhaps the franchise’s re-branding of the team logo and jersey has Toronto fans excited to see the fresh-faced Leafs. It could possibly just be the usual constant hockey buzz in Southern Ontario. Nonetheless, the acquisitions through trade and free agency to go with up-and-coming home growers brings up the debate on the Maple Leafs expectations for the 2016-2017 season.
Maple Leafs Expectations for 2016-17 Season
Looking at the Leafs expected roster, it’s not far off from how it looked at the end of last season with a few odd additions. Besides Matthews, Frederik Andersen and Matt Martin will have all eyes on them when the season opener arrives. Andersen’s career .918 save percentage will hopefully be enough to keep Toronto competitive, something Jonathan Bernier failed to do for the majority of last season. Martin will draw attention but with far less pressure than Andersen. The 27 -year-old grinder will be expected to use his body more than his stick most nights, but never hitting the 20-point plateau in a season makes him an unproven point producer.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Expectations
The Maple Leafs team as a whole are very likely to improve in the standings. Last year, their 6.36 shooting percentage at even strength was the worst in the league, and they finished 24th in the league in 5-on-5 save percentage, posting 91.93 percent at even strength.
Both of these percentage-based stats combined give them a PDO of 98.29, also worst in the league. Their PDO, also known as “puck luck”, exemplifies how much more damage the Leafs can do. With Toronto’s 15th best 50.56 adjusted corsi-for percentage, it’s quite possible that not only should their goaltending develop more consistency. Their shooters should also find that back of the net more efficiently with the decent possession numbers.
One thing to remember about the Leafs possession numbers though, as talented as the youngsters are; they are still youngsters. They may make the types of mistakes that young players make, as they learn to play in the NHL. There is no guarantee that this line-up; in Matthews, Nylander, and Marner’s first full year will be able to play the system as well as last year’s team. This team has more raw talent, but it may take time to get the same adherence to Babcock’s system.
The lack of talent Toronto’s forwards had last year was one of the biggest reasons why they struggled to score. Winger James van Riemsdyk’s injury and Nazem Kadri’s early season struggles took a toll on Toronto’s offence. Now with both players back this season, along with the talented Nylander, Marner, and Matthews as well as the up-and-coming Toronto Marlies stars, the Leafs have much more talent to work with in their top six.
Looking at Past Bottom-Dwellers
When teams finish last in the standings they tend to improve the following year. Since the 2004-05 lockout, only two teams have finished last place in consecutive seasons. They are 2009-10 and 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers as well as the 2013-14 and 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres. The 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers are the only team to finish last in the league then make the playoffs the following year. They went all the way to the Conference Finals.
Over the past decade, teams have moved up in the standings at an average of 5.4 spots the year after they finished last. Last placed teams also average 15 points more the following year than their season prior. It’s evident that since the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams more often than not improve well enough to get out of the basement. However, they tend to remain in the bottom third of the league. Comparing teams year-by-year is obviously flawed. Each organization has different reasons for moving up in the standings or staying put. Regardless of looking at team improvements by year without context, Toronto has a fair chance of finishing better than last place.
Having highly-touted rookies come in on opening night will be a sight to see for Leafs fans everywhere. If their goaltending can improve as well as the overall top six talent; it’s likely that Toronto will surpass the 69 points they posted last season. Developing new and familiar faces amongst a team of few veterans will be a challenge for Mike Babcock. With that being said, an upgrade in forward skill, steady goaltending and continuing to develop the blueline should be a successful season in terms of maintaining the rebuild.