Maple Leafs Stick to Script With Cuts, Let Prospects Develop

Over the course of multiple attempted rebuilds during the 21st century, the Toronto Maple Leafs often ran into the same reoccurring problems. Their drafting in the mid to low rounds was abysmal, and the few valuable prospects they did collect weren’t developed properly.

As a result, the team found itself outside of the playoff bubble for 10 of 11 years. However, the current regime of Leafs management promised a new strategy, based around more efficient drafting and better player development. They common thread was patience.

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Babcock has led the Leafs back to the playoffs in just two years since announcing the rebuild. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

All three of Brendan Shanahan, Mike Babcock, and Lou Lamoriello pounded away the reality of a few tough years ahead. Naturally, they didn’t want Leafs fans to get their hopes up prematurely. However, success was found in just the second year of the rebuild behind a trio of top prospects. Now, heading into year three, expectations have once again sky rocketed.

But, Leafs brass showed some restraint on Sept. 2 when they announced a number of cuts from their preseason roster. Many had projected several prospects to make the jump to the big club for 2017-18, with fans calling for a further youth movement. However, that didn’t end up being the case.

Maple Leafs Trim Roster to 26

Debates went on all training camp and preseason long over who could crack the opening night roster among a group of extreme depth, both up front and along the blueline. In the end, it was a majority of young prospects who got the boot.

Notably, Kasperi Kapanen, Miro Aaltonen, Andreas Johnsson, and Carl Grundstrom all seemed to have impressed throughout the preseason, and were looked upon as a potential move towards speed and skill throughout all four lines. In the end though, it was Dominic Moore, Eric Fehr, and Josh Leivo who managed to stick around. An obvious difference in age and skill sets, the Leafs did well to make it known that they do not plan on rushing any of their top prospects.

Eric Fehr survived the first round of cuts as he vies for a fourth line position. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto arguably has the best depth they’ve possessed in years, meaning they can afford to make these decisions and allow their young guns to round out their game with the Marlies in the AHL.

On the defensive side, the Leafs kept around 10 defencemen with opening night just around the corner. The same bubble candidates remain, including Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Roman Polak, and Martin Marincin. The only notable cut was Travis Dermott, while Timothy Liljegren is sticking around while the Leafs decide whether he’s suited better in the AHL or SHL.

Among the players placed on waivers, Kerby Rychel and Garret Sparks seem to be the only ones at risk of being claimed.

Maple Leafs Show Commitment to Rebuild

If there’s anything to read into with the Leafs first round of major cuts for the 2017-18 season, it’s that the front office is committed to riding out the rebuild as planned. This team was never expected to succeed by this point, and they are entering the new season with a humble approach. Too many times this fan base has watched as an exciting prospect struggles to adapt to the NHL at a young age, as their potential quickly diminishes into the role that they are playing, a bottom-six forward or depth defenceman.

What this group of cuts proves to Leafs nation is that the team isn’t willing to rush the present at the risk of spoiling the future. The likes of Kapanen, Aaltonen, Johnsson, and Grundstrom are all prime examples of young forwards who have the skill to keep up in the NHL but haven’t necessarily nailed down their two-way play. Thus, giving them an extra year, or even weeks, in the minors will allow them to focus on making improvements while playing in a top-six role, something they were never going to get with the Leafs this year.

Kasperi Kapanen seemed like a lock for the ’17-18 lineup after last year, but will once again start the year with the Marlies. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The same idea goes for Dermott and Andrew Nielsen. Both are highly skilled defencemen with the ability to make a difference from the back end, but as 20-year-olds, they need more time and exposure to develop their abilities into a trustworthy, 200-foot game.

While the Leafs are years ahead of their planned rebuild, they are remaining patient in the development of their future as well. The truth is, the fourth line and third pairing that so many critics have debated over during the preseason is not going to be the difference between the Leafs being a true contender or a pretender.

With that said, dibs to everyone in the Leafs management team for continuing to properly rebuild this franchise into not just an exciting flash in the pan, but instead a team that could contend each year for the next decade. In Lou & Co., we trust.