Everyone knew that there would be massive changes to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup this season. It was completely expected, yet no one knew exactly how the team would look after it was all said and done. Nearing the end of the season, we now have a much better sense of exactly what has happened.
Dion Phaneuf, James Reimer, Roman Polak and Daniel Winnik have all been sent off across the National Hockey League in exchange for picks and young prospects with upside. Then there are the Leafs who have been shut down for the season such as Joffrep Lupul and Matt Hunwick. Tyler Bozak has been sidelined with a concussion since February, and may or may not get into a game before the season ends.
For now, the team that started the year, currently looks nothing like the team that will end it. The kids have taken over and are ruling the roost, and with their level of play so far, they are in no hurry to give it up.
Marlies Making Names for Themselves
The Toronto Marlies knew that they would be in for a big year. They were built with talented players like William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, Garett Sparks and many more. What’s the common factor with all of these names? All have spent time with the Maple Leafs and have gotten some valuable NHL experience.
Many will stay with the Leafs until the season is over. Nylander will play in his tenth game and in the process, burn the first year off his entry level deal. This basically means that in 2018-19, Nylander is going to need a new contract. It will just come a year earlier.
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It’s a smart move to keep them all up with the big club. They have made names for themselves with their unique styles of play and Mike Babcock and the Leafs management team have to be impressed with what they’ve seen so far.
They will be sent back to the Marlies before the American Hockey League playoffs begin, but for now they’re growing and learning what it means to succeed at the NHL level. This experience should come in handy, as the Marlies are looking to make a deep run and potentially win the Calder Cup.
Babcock has completely changed the way this organization plays. Gone are the days of minimal and lackadaisical efforts. If Babcock catches any of his players not showing determination or hustle, they will see immediate repercussions in the form of reduced ice time or a benching.
The kids are being brought up right. It’s a culture that rewards hard work and hustle, something Maple Leaf teams of the very recent past desperately lacked. Everyone buys into the system early and is on the same page. It represents a positive change for the franchise and one that will need to continue to happen if they want success in the future.
What’s the Move With Marner?
While we’re on the topic of the young guns and their impacts, the Maple Leafs will very soon have to make a call on how exactly they want to proceed with Mitch Marner.
The former fourth overall pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has amassed a staggering 114 points in 55 games with the London Knights this season. His draft year saw him score 126 points before being selected by the Maple Leafs early in round one. The team is in a strange place for next year.
They will have to make the call on whether Marner plays in the NHL or the OHL next year. He’ll be 19 and will not be eligible to play for the Marlies in the AHL. There are benefits to playing him in either league. On the one hand, if he returns to junior, he could dominate again and hopefully help Canada win at the World Juniors.
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On the other hand, however, with 100 points in each of the last two seasons, there may not be much more for Marner with London. It will probably serve him well to get under the tutelage of Babcock, who can only help his development. Both sides have pros and cons, but the decision is fast approaching. There will be a bevy of young players on the Buds roster next year. Maybe Marner will be one of them.
Questions continue to pop up as the Leafs get closer to the end of the season. One thing that everyone agrees on however, is that exciting times are ahead and the franchise is truly trending upwards.