Maple Leafs Have 2 Years Before Atlantic Division Catches Up

The Toronto Maple Leafs without question are among the favorites in the Eastern Conference to make the Stanley Cup Final in 2022-23. But time is starting to run short on them. Sort of.

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The Maple Leafs have the next two seasons to seriously make their run at the Stanley Cup. Their current core is in tact and have never been better than now as a group. There won’t be a better opportunity to win than the next two seasons.

But why only the next two seasons? You might be thinking we are talking about the Auston Matthews decision. While that’s a valid concern, we are not talking about his contract situation here. No, the Maple Leafs are going to have something to worry about that will make it harder for them to find success.

Related: Auston Matthews’ Future is Filled With Options & Possibilities

The Maple Leafs have two seasons before the rest of the Atlantic Division catches up to them. That’s the real story.

Setting the Scene

As long as Matthews stays in Toronto, the Maple Leafs will have a chance to win every year. As they should. He’s one of the best players in the world. However we need to look at this situation from a different lens. Do you see how “easy” the Atlantic Division is now? Kyle Dubas’ team has a leg up on most of the division.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs GM
Kyle Dubas has the Maple Leafs in prime position to win for the next two seasons. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Montreal Canadiens are rebuilding and could conceivably win the right to pick Connor Bedard in 2023. The playoffs are not even in the conversation for this season.

The Buffalo Sabres are not the same old Sabres. Jack Eichel is gone. A new core is in place. But to say they’re better than the Maple Leafs overall in terms of talent is hard to fathom. But the Sabres are heading in the right direction.

The Detroit Red Wings are quietly building one of the best teams in the NHL. If you look at their young core pieces, you can make an argument that they’ll be among the elite over time. However that time is not right now. The Maple Leafs are still better than the Red Wings in 2022-23.

The Ottawa Senators won the offseason in the eyes of many. They have a remade top-six that is primed to take the next steps to become a playoff contender. But in 2022-23, the Maple Leafs carry the superior talent overall.

The Boston Bruins have significant questions on their roster. Their core is getting older and some fresh faces need to step up. If you had to choose who is better between the Maple Leafs and Bruins, it’s a no-brainer. The Maple Leafs have the superior talent.

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers are each good and have the pieces to compete with the Maple Leafs now. The battle for first in the Atlantic between these three teams will be must-see TV all season long.

That’s the point here. The race at the top is three teams deep. The Maple Leafs have an easier road at this time given the state of the other teams in their division. But in two years, that will not be the case anymore.

Atlantic Foes Starting to Catch Up

The Atlantic Division has already started the process of catching up to the big-three teams. While the 2022-23 season will be a tall order for any of them to break into the top-three, each of them has a shot to do so starting in two years time.

This is what the Maple Leafs have to worry about more than anything.

The Maple Leafs will be a good team in two years and beyond. But their path to a top-three finish in the division will be a tougher one.

The Red Wings have potential elite stars in the making in Sebastian Cossa, Moritz Seider, Simon Edvinsson and Lucas Raymond heading into their best days. The Sabres have a pair of defensemen who were former number-one picks in Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power to build around along with one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. The Senators top-six could eventually catch up to the Maple Leafs given the talent on it.

Moritz Seider Detroit Red Wings
Moritz Seider and the Red Wings will give the Maple Leafs fits in future seasons. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Do you see where this is going? Winning the Atlantic will be much harder to do in two years than it will be now or next season. This is why the Maple Leafs need to take full advantage of where their division rivals are at. Teams are going to continue building with the mindset of defeating the Maple Leafs in a potential playoff series.

In Conclusion

As we all know in hockey, nothing is promised and nothing is guaranteed. Although the Maple Leafs are favored to win and have the superior talent, the gap between them and their rivals is shrinking.

Imagine if they were in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers, Hurricanes, Capitals, Penguins and Islanders are all in the playoff conversation. The 2022-23 season for the Maple Leafs does present them with an easier road to the playoffs.

The Maple Leafs better take advantage of their situation now. Their path to glory will become much harder over time. This is not to say they won’t be good. But it is to say they will have a lot more resistance.

This is why the clock is ticking on the Maple Leafs. They will have unwelcomed company soon.