The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently doing something that seems strange. It’s something they are not supposed to be doing right now. If you’re still wondering what that is, it’s rather simple. It’s winning.
The Leafs’ record currently stands at 26-35-11. That is record bad enough to be worst in the entire NHL. Of course, if you remember what is basically the Leafs’ slogan this year (“There will be pain.”), this was to be expected. The Leafs are supposed to be rebuilding.
To that point, the Leafs signed plenty of players to one-year contracts. More than a few players they acquired by trade only had a year left on their contracts as well. The next part of the plan was to deal as many of those players at the trade deadline. They did that and that is where we are now.
With all the players the Leafs moved out at the deadline, prospects started to get called up. This season alone has seen 11 prospects make their NHL debuts. Those players are Connor Brown, Byron Froese, Frederik Gauthier, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Leipsic, Viktor Loov, William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Garret Sparks and Rinat Valiev.
While their have been growing pains, the Leafs have gotten better with all the young players in the lineup. Since the deadline, the Leafs record is 5-6-1. Those five wins have come in the past seven games as they are one of their best hot streaks of the season. As noted before, the Leafs are in last place in the NHL. However, they have crawled within one point of the Winnipeg Jets and two points of the Edmonton Oilers. The Leafs also have games in hand.
So there is the possibility that the Leafs could climb out of the basement. Who knows, if the Leafs finish 28th overall and lose all three lotteries, they would draft sixth overall. The young kids could potentially keep the Leafs from getting an even better young kid.
They Can Be Better Than They Were Before
Let’s look at this a different way. The Eastern Conference seems to have a lot of parity in it this season. Why would I say that? Well, the Leafs were just eliminated from playoff contention just a few days ago. As bad as the Leafs have been, it took them this long for them to be eliminated.
Whose to say that next season, the Leafs could perform much better with a full season of having these young players in the lineup? Players like Nylander, Soshnikov and Hyman have done very well in their time up with the Leafs. Other Leafs prospects could also see time with the Leafs next season. Add in the fact that Mitch Marner could graduate from the OHL to Toronto next season and the Leafs could be even better. Lets leave out the possibility of the Leafs signing Steven Stamkos for now.
The Leafs are 20 points behind the second wild card team, the Detroit Red Wings. Lets say at the end of the season, the difference in points is that same 20 points. With the potential improvements the Leafs could make in the off-season, I wouldn’t say that an additional ten wins isn’t out of the question. The young players seem to be playing well under Babcock and who knows what could with a full season under him.
This isn’t just because of a recent hot streak. Even throughout most of this season, the Leafs have looked pretty good. They might have lost a lot, but they have been playing well even in those losses. Not to mention, they continued to look good in their losses with an ever-changing lineup. That speaks volumes to how good of a coach he is. The Leafs could improve a lot in their second season under Babcock. The Leafs might not make playoffs next season, but they could get pretty close. This rebuild might not take that long to get through if Leafs management can continue making smart decisions.