Other Maple Leafs Season Preview:
The Toronto Maple Leafs are as unpredictable as they come unless we are only talking about playoff success. Regardless of going nearly two decades without a playoff series win, the 2021-22 roster is lining itself up for success, and from management down to the team’s best player, the Leafs are ready to take the next step. Let’s have a little fun with this one and highlight a few of my predictions for the 2021-22 season.
Auston Matthews Scores 60 Goals
There were some points of last season where Matthews couldn’t shoot the puck during games because of how bad his wrist hurt. He even missed time mid-way through the season to try and get things right. All he did was score 41 goals in 52 games, taking home the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in the league.
Expect an even more productive season out of Matthews in 2021-22 as he’s undergone wrist surgery, will get even more playing time, and another full season with the magical Mitch Marner should help give the Arizona native everything he needs to have a monster season. Matthews has been robbed of 50 goals a couple of times now and next season, I’m predicting his best season yet. Expect 60 goals and to hear his name in the Hart Trophy conversation.
One of Morgan Rielly or Travis Dermott Gets Traded
Dermott wasn’t selected by the Seattle Kraken and it surprised a number of people. He recently signed a two-year extension worth a reasonable $1.5 million per season. His six points in 51 games last season isn’t anything to write home about, however, he is still 24 years old and as he has some team control, there will be interest. Dermott appears set for the Leafs’ bottom-pair alongside Rasmus Sandin, which is slightly ironic because Sandin’s development is one of the reasons Dermott’s expendable.
As for Rielly, with Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie and Sandin on the Maple Leafs left side, the veteran defenseman heads into 2021-22 as a contract year with a massive raise looming. Rielly recorded 35 points in 55 games last season and should get back to his 50-plus points production this upcoming season. His 5-on-5 numbers will also improve with having Brodie as his partner for a second straight season. And if he gets enough power-play minutes with the big unit, Rielly could essentially make himself a boatload of money. His $5 million salary will likely jump up to something around the $7.5-$8 million neighborhood for his contract extension, which could very well be coming from a team not named the Maple Leafs.
Petr Mrazek Starts Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs
The goaltending duo for the Maple Leafs will be fascinating to watch and I expect to see almost a 50/50 split throughout the regular season. Jack Campbell will have to struggle in training camp and the preseason to lose the opening night start. It’s likely Campbell starts as the 1A goalie in 2021-22, but there’s an excellent chance he doesn’t finish the season in that top spot.
Mrazek is used to the tandem approach from his days in Carolina and general manager Kyle Dubas admitted, it was one of the biggest reasons he was brought into Toronto. Last season Mrazek was banged up and only appeared in 12 games but was sensational, posting a 2.06 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. The Leafs play a little bit more of an open free-wheeling style than the Hurricanes, but regardless, Mrazek is motivated as ever to take over the number one spot in Toronto.
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At this point, Campbell’s sample size as a number one netminder is very small, but you can’t just turn your head to the amazing season he had in 2020-21. Campbell carried Toronto for most of the season and he was solid in the postseason. The goaltender battle will be fun to watch this season and kudos to Dubas as the Maple Leafs’ pair in their crease is one of the more affordable duos in the league, making only $5.45 million next season.
Marner Reaches 100 Points with Ease
The last time the Maple Leafs played an 82-game schedule, Marner finished the season with 94 points and that’s when he was playing less than 20 minutes a night. His ice-time has increased since the 2018-19 season and this upcoming season, we will see the trend continue. Marner is expected to start the season on Matthews’ right wing and given their chemistry and development path, the sky is the absolute limit for those two.
Marner’s vision and hockey IQ are off the charts and it’s the perfect recipe for success with having him feed Matthews the puck all season long. While they may have lost Zach Hyman and are likely to see one of Nick Ritchie or Michael Bunting on their left wing, expect much of the same from numbers 16 and 34 in blue and white. Marner and Matthews are going to have monster seasons and it won’t take long for Leafs Nation to forget Hyman was even on their line. There’s a very good chance both Marner and Matthews take home some hardware at the season’s end.
Maple Leafs Reach the Eastern Conference Final
The Chicago Blackhawks had to lose before they won, most teams do. Think about the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, St Louis Blues, and the Washington Capitals. All recent Stanley Cup champions who had to taste defeat before they could enjoy success. Some teams take longer than others, but the Maple Leafs are on their own planet, not winning a playoff series since the 2003-04 season. The last time the Leafs won a playoff series, Ron Francis, Aki Berg and Ed Belfour were on the team. Let that sink in for a second…
The time is now. From management down, the team is sick and tired of losing, and considering how they’ve lost, makes them even hungrier for some playoff success. The team has made strides and even though it was a disappointing finish to last season, their core developed their games and have become better players because of the failure they’ve gone through. While I mentioned Marner and Matthews are expected to have big seasons, the likes of William Nylander, TJ Brodie, Justin Holl and Alexander Kerfoot all showed last postseason they have it in them to take their games to the next level. Another season for Sheldon Keefe to developing as a coach and a general manager who isn’t shy to add pieces, expect a huge season out of the Maple Leafs that lands them all the way to at least the Eastern Conference finals.
Leafs Nation, get ready. You are in for one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory with a team that will take the next step. Dubas is willing to bet his job on it and while I don’t recommend you do exactly that, I certainly encourage you to get your popcorn ready because it’s going to be a hell of a show in Toronto in 2021-22.