The 2022-23 Maple Leafs, Better Built for Postseason Success

Will the 2022-23 Toronto Maple Leafs be better or worse than last season’s team? More pressing is the question, can this team go further in the playoffs?

Related: Maple Leafs’ Fans Must Stop Blaming Dubas for the Team’s Problems

We recently posted a review of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ competition in the Atlantic Division and how each team stacked up entering the 2022-23 regular season. Now that we know what the final roster looks like for the Maple Leafs, we’ll review this season’s team to evaluate whether it’s better than last season’s. 

Comparison One: The Maple Leafs’ Forwards

Who’s Gone from Last Season’s Forwards?

The following players are no longer with the Maple Leafs: Nick Ritchie, Ilya Mikheyev, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, and Ondrej Kase.

Jason Spezza Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza retired from playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Who’s In for this Season’s Forwards?

The following players are new to the team: Denis Malgin. Calle Jarnkrok, Zach Ashton-Reese, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Nick Robertson.

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The players leaving were known quantities. They all combined in some way to help the team reach some franchise milestones; however, they weren’t enough to carry the team over the top during the postseason.

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The replacement players are mostly unknown quantities to Maple Leafs’ fans. Overall, the forwards coming in are smaller physically than the ones who left, but the incoming players also bring more physicality. They also bring a lot more speed. 

The first line is intact and we expect it to continue to shine. Will Malgin and/or Robertson make the second line better? 

The third line appears to be a little more balanced between offense and defense than last season’s defense-oriented third line. The heavy checking line has now dropped to the fourth line. 

Nicolas Aube-Kubel Colorado Avalanche
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, when he was with the Colorado Avalanche
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The one thing that isn’t in question in regard to the new players is work ethic. Second, these players also bring a team-first mentality. The third thing they have in common, other than speed, is that they are all tenacious. 

While there are questions to be answered, it appears to us that this season’s complement of forwards is a slight improvement over last season’s.

Comparison Two: The Maple Leafs’ Defense

Who’s Gone from Last Season’s Defence?

The only defenseman gone from the start of last season is Travis Dermott.

Who’s New on Defense this Season?

The one defenseman with the team for the season is Mark Giordano.

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Even at the age of 38, Giordano is a much superior defenseman to Dermott. Just swapping these two players is a big improvement on the backend. 

Who’s Gone from Last Season’s Goaltenders?

Both last season’s goalies are gone. Jack Campbell is with the Edmonton Oilers and Petr Mrazek is with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Who’s New in Goal this Season?

Both goalies – Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov – are new to the team.

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, when he was with the Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The crease is the area that has the most questions for the Maple Leafs. There were questions about the abilities of the outgoing tandem of Campbell and Mrazek, but there are as many (if not more) questions about the abilities of the incoming duo of Murray and Samsonov.

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To be honest, despite Campbell’s hot start, goaltending was not an area of strength for the Maple Leafs last season. It would not have to be that much better this season to be an improvement. The bar was set pretty low. Mrazek simply didn’t pan out for the team.

While the preseason is only the preseason, both Murray and Samsonov passed that test with flying colors. Both enter the regular season with some confidence to build on. The players also seem to have growing confidence in their goalies as well.

Related: Maple Leafs Fans Might Not Have Seen the Last of Jason Spezza

Speaking about confidence, something that plays a huge part in a goaltender’s performance is the confidence he has in the skaters in front of him. If the goalie is confident the team can bail him out on occasion when he’s not at the top of his game, that helps. Vice versa: if the players see that their goalie is standing on his head to cover for their mistakes, they’ll play more enthusiastically and confidently.

In Murray’s case, he has to have a lot more confidence in the Maple Leafs’ skaters than he did with the Ottawa Senators. The biggest question with Murray is whether he can stay healthy.

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, when he was with the Ottawa Senators
(Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Samsonov has put up so-so basic stats in his career, with a .902 career save percentage career and a 2.81 career goals-against average. But, he also has had a history of winning games. In the 82 games where he has been the goalie of record, he has a record of 52-22-8. That translates to a solid .671 winning percentage. 

At this point, it’s impossible to say for sure whether the goaltending will be better. We’re going to step out on a limb and predict it will be better. We both agree on that point.

Our Final Evaluation of the Maple Leafs Team

Our final evaluation of this Maple Leafs’ team is that it has slightly better forwards, a much better defense, and questionably better goaltending. Better, better, and better. 

We can come to no other conclusion than that this team will be better this season than last. It might not be by much, but still better. That doesn’t mean it will set franchise records in wins and points as it did in 2021-22. The opposition, as we reviewed it before, is more solid.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Atlantic Division, Stronger Than Ever

As a result, we don’t expect this team to equal or improve on their record-setting 115-point season in 2021-22. We believe the bottom four teams in the Atlantic Division will be stronger this season. Last season, they played very poorly. 

Our Predictions for the Maple Leafs 2022-23 Season

While we predict none of the Atlantic Division’s bottom teams from last season will be in a position yet to battle the top four teams for a playoff position, they’ll be better. As we’ve mentioned, for every point the bottom half of the division improves, the top half of the division will likely lose a point. 

We predict that the competition to be closer. That means ending the 2022-23 season with 115 points might be impossible for the Maple Leafs.  

That said, as all Maple Leafs’ fans know too well, what happens in the regular season doesn’t matter too much. The team must only make it to the playoffs. Here’s where we believe this team is markedly improved.

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and others are ready to carry the Maple Leafs into the postseason.
(Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

We do predict three things. Number one, the Maple Leafs will come close to matching last season’s success. Number two, we predict the Maple Leafs will win their division. 

Finally, we believe that, if the goalie situation stands up as we believe it will, this team is far better constructed for the postseason than last season’s team. The bottom six of this season’s Maple Leafs is as good as it’s been in many seasons. It will play with a philosophy and a purpose. It also seems to have the skill to carry out its roles well.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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