It was an interesting 2020-21 NHL regular season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Honestly, I enjoyed the regular season more than any during the recent past. However, similar to most Maple Leafs’ fans, I found the postseason playoffs less than enjoyable – far less in fact.
Given that, as a fan, because I’m tired for the moment of looking back at the Maple Leafs’ 2020-21 playoffs, it simply seemed more fun to look ahead. In this post, once again I’ve collaborated with THW reader, frequent commentator, and long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith to put out a list of eight predictions we have for the 2021-22 NHL regular season.
If you’re a reader and interested in this topic, I invite you to add your own predictions for the 2021-22 season in the comment section. If I receive enough, I’ll share some of the best and attribute them to your THW handle.
Here we go.
Prediction #1: Alex Galchenyuk Will Re-Sign and Have His Best Season in Seasons
Both Stan and I agree that the Maple Leafs will re-sign Alex Galchenyuk to a one-year contract for close to $1 million. I believe Galchenyuk will score 25 goals – if he plays top-six minutes regularly. Stan isn’t so sure and believes that Galchenyuk got a lot of his goals in the past by ignoring the defensive aspect of his game and putting his effort only on offense.
I believe that because Galchenyuk’s a highly skilled player, because he only averaged about 13 minutes of ice time over the past few seasons, and because he often wasn’t playing with high-skill partners, his skills got rusty. I think he needs skilled partners to perform at his best.
Stan and I both agree that Galchenyuk’s in the process of reinventing himself as a 200-foot player. Stan believes that will cost him offensively and predicts 20 goals (maybe). He’d only have a chance to score more if he were partnered with Matthews and Marner, which would give Marner another option to feed the puck to.
Prediction #2: Jack Campbell Will Be the Maple Leafs’ Number One Goalie
For me, this is probably a heart pick rather than a head pick. We both agree he’ll be the starter. But Stan is more cautious and wonders if Campbell will be closer to the second coming of Tim Thomas or the second coming of Andrew Hammond. And, if you’re unsure who Hammond is, that’s probably the point.
[Hammond burst on the scene as an Ottawa Senators rookie goalie in the 2014-15 season, played 24 games, strung together a 2001-2 record with a goals-against-average of 1.79 and a save percentage of 0.941. Then, after one sterling season, only was able to put together – by the end of his NHL career – a 7-14-4 record. He was out of the NHL by 2018.]
We both believe Campbell’s earned next season’s starting job. The question is whether he can keep it.
Prediction #3: The Maple Leafs Bottom Six Will Look Different in 2021-22
I believe that, except for Jason Spezza, the team’s bottom-six will be made up of younger players all hungry for playing time. I looking for one player to burst from the pack to have a strong season. My call is that player will be Adam Brooks. I also see Spezza’s informal role expanding to the point where he becomes the leader of this bottom-six unit and become an on-ice mentor for the team’s “kid lines” – sort of like Spezza’s Army.
Stan sees the team signing a physical veteran player for a bottom-six role but doesn’t believe it will be Wayne Simmonds. He also agrees the team will look internally within the organization to flesh out this unit; and, like me, sees Brooks as a regular.
Prediction #4: Nick Robertson Will Score at Least 40 Points but Differently than Fans Think
Because Nick Robertson had such an outstanding scoring season with the Peterborough Petes in 2019-20 with 55 goals and 31 assists (for 86 points) in 46 games, we tend to see him mostly as a sniper. However, I predict fans will be surprised with his ability to dish off the puck instead of only shooting it. I see Robertson as a good shooter; but, with his on-ice vision, he’s a player who can also create chances.
Stan agrees that Robertson not only has a good shot but good vision and will become a decent playmaker. Stan’s desire – but perhaps not a prediction – is to see Robertson play alongside Matthews and Marner. Like his Galchenyuk comment above, he I’d love to see Marner have another shooter to feed.
Prediction #5: Both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljigren Will Become Regulars
Here Stan shows Rasmus Sandin more love and Timothy Liljigren less love than I do. Although I believe Sandin will be good, Stan notes that Sandin has impressed him more in his first 42 games than any rookie defenseman he’s ever seen for the Maple Leafs. He sees Sandin miles ahead of where Morgan Rielly was at the same point in his career and thinks Sandin’s a lock to become a full-time player next season.
Here I’ll defer to Stan because I don’t have enough history with the Maple Leafs to be so effusive. However, he’s less sure about Liljigren and thinks his development stalled for a while. He believes Liljigren will make the roster but isn’t sure he’ll be a regular.
My call is that Liljigren’s last season with the Marlies showed he was back on track and only needs experience to become a regular. I predict he’ll get both this season.
Prediction #6: Mitch Marner Will Have a Career Season in 2021-22
Stan notes that Mitch Marner’s a very smart player, with exceptional vision. He’s also a hard worker who’ll internalize the criticism he’s received during the past seasons and channel it into drive to make himself better. Stan believes he’ll play even better next season.
I don’t disagree. I think the biggest offseason job for Matthews and Marner will be sitting with the coaching staff, watching film, and figuring out what they can do as a duo to overcome their opponents’ defensive efforts. Like Stan, I believe they’re smart enough to do it, confident enough to believe in themselves, and willful enough to make it happen.
I see Matthews as angry, frustrated, driven, and skilled – that’s a good sign for Maple Leafs’ fans.
Prediction #7: Ilya Mikheyev Will Become a Scorer
One player both Stan and I agree will improve is Ilya Mikheyev. Stan notes simply that Mikheyev will start to bury his chances. He believes the old hockey adage that, if a player is getting scoring chances, he’ll eventually start to score. Stan points to Mikheyev’s 42 Goals in 116 games over his last two KHL seasons, which would translate into 30 goals in an 82-game season.
As Stan points out, the KHL differs from the NHL, but it’s traditionally a low-scoring league. Scoring 30 goals in a KHL season gives a player a chance to win the scoring title. Last season Dmitri Jaskin led the KHL in goals with 38 goals in 59 games, but Teemu Hartikainen was second with only 28 goals. In total, only 15 players in the entire KHL scored more than 20 goals during the 2020-21 season.
Although I hear fans suggest that Mikheyev has to go, I think he’s an amazing defensive player who’ll get better. We both agree he’s a bottom-six player unless there are injuries. If he stays in the bottom-six, scoring 20 goals might be tough, but 10-15 goals are in reach.
Final Prediction #8: The Maple Leafs Will Get Past the First Round of the Playoffs
Both Stan and I see the Maple Leafs breaking the jinx and moving past the first-round into at least the second round of the playoffs. We also see Matthews and Marner leading the way. Every season they’ve gotten better and have learned how to win. And they’re still growing – Matthews is only 23 years old and Marner 24 years old.
They just haven’t quite learned what it takes to win in the playoffs, but in 2021-22 we predict they’ll figure it out and take the next step.
As a reminder, if you have predictions you’d like to add, go for it in our comments’ section. I’d like to share them.