In early September, the Toronto Maple Leafs were ranked by NHL.com as the number two team in the fantasy rankings – after the Tampa Bay Lightning. I don’t disagree with this ranking. Last season the Lightning had a stunning 319 goals (3.9 per game), with the Maple Leafs in fourth place with 286 goals (3.5 per game).
I think there’s a chance the Maple Leafs will beat the Lightning in scoring this season. However, that will be difficult. Nikita Kucherov won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player last season by leading the NHL with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) in 82 games. He’s a consistent 100-point scorer. Now that Braden Point has re-signed to a three-year deal, that line should have as strong a 2019-20 season as it did in 2018-19.
I think the Maple Leafs will be better. I’m not saying they’ll win the Stanley Cup, but I believe they’ll give it a run.
Why the Maple Leafs Will Be Stronger this Season
The Maple Leafs roster is much improved offensively over the 2018-19 season. Furthermore, they have something to prove.
First, the team has all the pieces back now that Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews have signed. Both young stars have something to prove – Matthews for his disorderly disappointment to the team and Marner to earn his large salary and the fans’ trust. Last season, he was everyone’s Golden Boy: this season, not so much – yet.
Second, winger William Nylander is back with a chip on his shoulder. Nylander’s scoring tanked last season after he signed just before the deadline. He redeemed himself in the World Championships by leading all scorers, although he played fewer games. He even changed his Maple Leafs number back to #88 (the number he wore with Team Sweden) to show he wanted a new beginning.
Third, I am not sure how Maple Leafs prodigy and general manager Kyle Dubas did it; but, working with a difficult salary-cap situation, he improved last season’s weak link – the defense. Trading for Tyson Barrie was a huge win. Young defenseman Rasmus Sandin, at 19-years of age, has taken the preseason by storm. He’s a lock to make the team and to stay on the roster – regardless of his waiver exemption. If he’s as good as he’s been throughout the preseason, he’ll make everyone better around him. He can also score.
Put that all together and the team’s ready for an offensive explosion. Unless there’s an injury problem, I predict an offensive tsunami. I could be thinking with my heart instead of my head, but I don’t think so. I believe the stars (and the team has many) have aligned to make the Maple Leafs one of the most offensive teams in recent history.
Top-Five Scorer Predictions
First: Auston Matthews
Matthews might have disappointed Dubas and the organization with his Arizona behavior, but he won’t disappoint in his play and scoring. In fact, if he has the willful determination of an elite player (he already has the skill), he’ll use it as motivation to earn back the trust fans and team
Matthews has been tearing up the preseason, and it looks like the team’s plan is to dig him the puck while he floats into open space, waiting for one-timers. In the games I’ve seen this season, that strategy has worked perfectly. He now has Nylander as a permanent fixture on his right. That won’t hurt either player.
Matthews will have his best season. He might not pass Doug Gilmour’s 1992-93 season total of 127 points, but he could pass Gilmour’s 1993-94 total of 111 points. If he stays healthy, I believe he’ll break 100 points but will come short of 111 points.
Last Season: 68 games, 37 goals, 36 assists, 73 points
This Season: 82 games, 55 goals, 52 assists, 107 points
Second: Mitch Marner
Marner signed his six-year, $65.4 million
One thing Marner noted was that, when he was walking his dog, a 13-year old yelled at him. He cares, and that will drive him.
Marner’s been great with the man advantage during his career, racking up at least 21 power-play points in each of his three seasons. He won’t stop. The team’s total offense will draw more penalties, generate more man advantages, and Marner will have more power-play time. That equals an even better season in 2019-20 than in 2018-19. He won’t top Matthews, but he’ll be the second Maple Leafs player to beat 100 points.
Last Season: 82 games, 26 goals, 68 assists, 94 points
This Season: 82 games, 24 goals, 79 assists, 103 points
Third: John Tavares
Last season, the 28-year-old center had a career season, with highs in goals (47) and points (88) while playing all 82 games. If he’s named captain – and that looks likely – it might hurt his scoring. But. he also has Marner on his right and a much-improved Kasperi Kapanen on his left. Kapanen’s determined to play nasty. That line will be strong.
Last Season: 82 games, 47 goals, 41 assists, 88 points
This Season: 82 games, 53 goals, 45 assists, 98 points
Fourth: Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly is one of the great offensive defensemen in the NHL, although he hasn’t received the accolades he deserves. His defensive partner this season – taking Ron Hainsey’s place – is newcomer Cody Ceci. Ceci’s role will be simpler than in Ottawa – be a steady, defend-the-net player and let Rielly join the offense. That role benefits both players.
I believe a pairing like this will allow Rielly to flourish both at even strength and on special teams. Certainly, Rielly will take his regular place on the top power-play unit. I predict a strong season, although it might not be his time to win the Norris Trophy – not quite yet.
Last Season: 82 games, 20 goals, 52 assists, 72 points
This Season: 82 games, 22 goals, 59 assists, 81 points
Fifth: William Nylander
Nylander’s back in his old wing position beside Matthews this season. Both young men have something to prove and I believe Nylander will bust his rear trying to prove it. He seems to have a hunger that might push his game to an elite level. Nylander’s said he wants to be a dominant on-ice force. If he becomes that force, and I think he will, he’ll have a breakout season.
Last Season: 54 games, 7 goals, 20 assists, 27 points
This Season: 82 games, 28 goals, 64 assists, 92 points
Who Else Might Surprise?
In looking through the Maple Leafs roster to predict team scoring, a number of other players rose to my attention. Barrie has a huge potential upside, but I don’t feel he’ll steal Rielly’s time in scoring situations. Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson have the ability to score but I believe they’ll be used more in the roles of muckers to dig the puck to teammates.
Still, there is so much talent on the team that someone might rise to surprise. Should that happen, the team should be even better. It will be a fun season to watch.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act). He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf