Plan the parade, lord Stanley will once again come to Toronto despite a 51 year drought and here is why (even if fellow writer Ollie Hampson thinks otherwise).
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been the butt of many jokes, all relating back to the fact that their last cup win was in 1967. However other teams will need to get in their final digs as the longest cup drought in the NHL will soon come to an end. Every year, many Leafs fans convince themselves that their team can pull off a miracle but with Toronto having failed to even win one playoff series in the salary cap era these fans have always been left feeling disappointed. So what has changed?
The answer that will spring to most people’s minds is that in 2016 the Leafs won the draft lottery and drafted Arizona native, Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. Matthews has given the team a number 1 centre (one of the rarest commodities in the hockey world) and has definitely sped up the rebuilding process but he isn’t the reason that the Leafs are approaching their window of opportunity. Since Brendan Shanahan become president of the club in 2014 things have been going exactly according to what most fans now dub, the Shanaplan.
The first step in this plan was to go out and get a top level coach, which was done by throwing a serious amount of money at Mike Babcock, $50 million dollars to be precise. After this, the Leafs needed to draft well and develop prospects well, which is where the luck of winning 1st overall in the 2016 draft really sped things up. However, the Leafs already had Mitchell Marner and William Nylander amongst many other promising up and comers already in the system. In fact, the Leafs have such a plethora of talent on the wings that they have had to trade assets away (such as Soshnikov). Even if the team lets pending UF, James Van Reimsdyk walk, which is looking likely, they won’t be losing too much in terms of goal scoring abilities.
With a coach who installed a winning mentality along with great offense talent it was time for the team to secure a consistent goaltender. This was found in Frederik Andersen who has been nothing short of sensational for the team and on many occasions carried his side to victory. He was quickly locked up at $5million for 5 years and every penny has been worth it.
So lets recap:
- World class coach – Check
- Strong offensive talent – Check
- Top notch consistent goal tending – Check
It’s looking pretty good for a Stanley Cup contender so far, the last piece to the puzzle, and the one that the Leafs definitely lack the most, is a defensive core. Toronto has become notorious for blowing leads (all stemming back to the infamous 2013 game 7 against Boston) which is primarily due to their poor defensive capabilities. Current D-men on the roster include Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner (although the team may have to let Gardiner walk, see below). Travis Dermott has definitely earnt his spot on the rooster following his breakout year this season. Then the likes of Hainsy and Polak are the supporting act who may or may not be around in coming years. On the Marlies, 17th overall Timothy Lillgren and teammate Calle Rosen are both looking like promising prospects that will be NHL ready in a few seasons. So although the team has been leaking goals for a few seasons now, some smart trade acquisitions, developing the prospects and teaching forwards the invaluable lesson of playing two way hockey, the defense should be championship worthy in the next couple of seasons (defence isn’t the most important thing anyway, take a look at the Pittsburgh 2015 and 2016 championship rosters for example).
Many hockey fans have been questioning whether the Leafs have the cap space for the so called ‘holy trinity’, that is Matthews, Marner and Nylander along with all the other elements of the team. To put a long answer short, yes (we even have room for Tavares if he wants to be a Leaf though we would have to give up Gardiner), this wont be a problem as shown here. This has been helped by locking up Reilly and Kadri, both key parts of the core, at $5million and $4.5million respectively. These are absolute steals when you consider the caliber that these players are.
As you can see, the Leaf’s window is just opening and there is no-one better to manage this crucial period than Kyle Dubas who replaced Lou Lamoriello as general manager on the 11th of May. He is the final piece to the puzzle. It has always been the plan for Dubas to replace Lamriello this season and he has the number crunching brain needed to take this team to the next level. If you’re still not convinced just take a look at his reaction to the Marlies winning the Calder Cup.
Things within Leafs nation are on track, lets just take a look to see if any of the other Canadian teams are in a position to win Lord Stanley before the Leafs plan is fulfilled.
The Ottawa Senators are in complete disarray, going from one goal away from the finals to being the car crash that the franchise is today.
The Montreal Canadians are intent on trading away their centre’s leaving them with very little options. Plus they’ll struggle to build a competitive team when they are paying their goalie $10.5million a year.
The Edmonton Oilers’ management have shown they are inept in almost every way and can’t build a team even with the generational talent of McDavid at the core
Vancouver are rebuilding with the Sedins now retiring. Brock Boeser had a sensational rookie year but it will take more than one player to get the team into the playoff.
Calgary didn’t have an awful year but have failed to conjure anything up for quite a while now and don’t look like doing much in the coming years.
That just leaves Winnipeg, the only other Canadian team to make the playoffs this year. They made it all the way to the western conference final before falling to Vegas in 5 games. They have a lot of the pieces in place and I think both the Leafs and Jets will be in contention in the next few years. However, the Leafs window is just opening whereas the Jets window might close sooner than they expect as they have quite a few hefty contracts to negotiate.
Fear not Leafs fans, its been over 50 years of disappointment, but the best is just around the corner.