Another NHL season has come to an end and with it another year that the Toronto Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs. The benefit this season is that Maple Leafs’ management told everyone to expect this and we did. Nobody was shocked to see the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs and finish last in the NHL standings. Most of the excitement this season has been about what to expect next season. So what do fans have to look forward to during the playoffs and the summer?
NHL Draft Lottery
The first thing Maple Leafs’ fans have to look forward to is the NHL draft lottery on April 30th. After narrowly clinching last place it now comes down to the luck of the draw to determine their actual draft position. Since the Leafs finished last it means that the lowest they could pick in the draft is fourth overall. This will not only decide who they will draft since the top three players in the draft seem to have been set for months with Auston Matthews expected to be drafted 1st overall, followed by Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. After that the 4th to 10th spots are constantly changing, which looks like a good sign that any of those players would be a great pick at 4th overall.
Despite the Leafs finishing last, the odds are not in their favor to get the first overall pick. If you want to have a look at the teams that could win the top three positions in the draft then give the NHL Lottery Simulator a spin. Regardless of the Leafs draft position, they are guaranteed to get a great player.
The 2016 NHL draft. The day that every Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan is looking forward to is June 24th. Any of the players that the Leafs pick with their 1st round draft pick could make an immediate impact in the lineup as early as next season. It could also affect the priorities of management and even the quality of the team next season. Matthews is considered a top line center that can make an immediate impact to the team he’s on, so it might mean that William Nylander will move from center to the wing. The Leafs already have Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak at center, so by drafting Matthews it would force Nylander to the wing. Also, by drafting Matthews it would give the Leafs no reason to pursue Steven Stamkos in free agency. Getting Laine or Puljujarvi would strengthen the team’s top line and give the Leafs an incredibly skilled line of James van Riemsdyk, Nylander, and Laine/Puljujarvi.
The Leafs also have a second 1st round draft pick because of the Phil Kessel trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a conditional pick based on Pittsburgh making the playoffs this year, which they have, so this means that not only do the Leafs have a top four pick, but also a late 1st round pick as well. The exact position of that pick won’t be determined until the playoffs are over. This late pick gives the Leafs flexibility in the first round because they can use this pick to address their defensive issues and get a defenseman. If there isn’t anyone they specifically want then the pick could be used to trade down and get even more draft picks in return. This looks to be a very strong draft year with the amount of great players outside of the top ten and with twelve picks in this draft the Leafs look set to bring in a new era for the franchise.
NHL Free Agency
On July 1st teams get to dive into NHL free agency with the main target of most teams being Steven Stamkos. If the Leafs miss out on getting Matthews, then a good consolation prize could be found in signing Stamkos. There have been rumblings all season that Stamkos wants to sign with the Leafs. From reportedly leaked contract negotiations of Stamkos turning down a $8.5 million annual salary contract from the Tampa Bay Lightning to something as silly as Stamkos accidentally liking a tweet about the rumors of him going to Toronto. Once it’s free agency then we will know if any of these rumors have any truth to them.
Now if Stamkos were to sign with the Leafs then it would finally give the team the elite center that they’ve craved since the days of Mats Sundin. Most people expect Stamkos to ask for a contract around $10 million a year for seven years. Although the annual salary is way more than the Leafs are probably willing to pay, the length of the contract isn’t. Kadri was recently re-signed to a six-year contract, which doesn’t make the length of Stamkos’ supposed contract all that outlandish for the Leafs. Kadri is only 25 years old, which is only a year younger than Stamkos. So if Kadri is expected to be part of the Leafs longterm core, then bringing Stamkos in for seven years doesn’t seem as bad.
The next few months will decide the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs for years to come from the 2016 NHL draft to NHL free agency. By next season the Leafs will be drastically different and most assuredly improved. So make sure that you’re ready for what is shaping up to be an exciting offseason.
Toronto Maple Leafs contributor for The Hockey Writers.
I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid and have always had an interest in writing. At The Hockey Writers, I get to enjoy both of my passions as well as writing about small convoluted details in player contracts and stats.