Outlook on 2016-2017: Toronto Maple Leafs

The first post in a series, outlining a few predictions for a few of the bottom teams heading into the 2016-2017 season.

First up: The Toronto Maple Leafs

2015-2016 Important Notes:

Finish – 16th place in the Eastern Conference, 30th overall

Goals for vs. goals against – minus 48 (29th overall)

Picked 1st overall in 2016 NHL Entry Draft – Auston Matthews

Where will the Leafs finish?

While the Leafs are sure to improve overall as a club from last season, it’s difficult to predict how much of an improvement it will be overall. There will be an injection of youth into the lineup, with the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and perhaps (most likely) even Mitch Marner, but how much will this improve the club?

While the Leafs fate will rely mostly with the youth movement, goalies Frederik Andersen and Jhonas Enroth will also be required to step in and perform better than the tandem they are replacing. The majority of this responsibility will rest on Andersen’s shoulders. He has posted good numbers during his time in Anaheim (77-26-0-12 in 114 starts, 125 games played), however this isn’t the same type of team he was backstopping in Anaheim. The Leafs will need Andersen to stay healthy (which is another cause for concern for Leafs fans) and contribute 50-60 starts in order to have any hope of improving over last year.

It’s hard to see the Leafs improving more than 13th position in the East, and out of the bottom 5 of the league. It appears that the Leafs are headed for another lottery pick, which isn’t a bad thing for on the rise. One thing’s for sure, this team will be a lot more fun to watch than it has been in previous seasons.

How will Auston Matthews perform?

The saviour!! No, calm down Leafs fans. While Auston Matthews projects to be a star in this league for many years, no single player can carry an entire franchise on it’s back. What Matthews does bring to Leafland is Hope and Optimism, something that has been lacking for many years. With players like Matthews in the fold, it’s sure to attract better and better players to Toronto, which hasn’t exactly been at the top of the list in desired locations among free agents.

So what can we expect out of Matthews in his rookie season? Mike Babcock will surely have him focused on learning the game at both ends of the ice, with a heavier emphasis on his defensive game to begin with. He has already stated Matthews will start as the 3rd line centre, and while we know this shouldn’t (won’t) last for long, Matthews won’t be starting out at 20 minutes of ice time per night. He’ll be eased into everyday life as an NHL’er, as he’s never before dealt with the rigorous schedule of an 82 game season. Still, Matthews has performed at exceptional levels in every scenario he’s played. He played his first full professional season last year in the Swiss National league, where he had 46 points in 36 games. He followed this up with an impressive performance at the World Championship, playing against NHL players.

The NHL is whole different level, however if Babcock was able to get 40+ point seasons out of PA Parenteau and Nazem Kadri on a weaker team, it’s not difficult to foresee Matthews reaching the 50 point plateau in his first season. I will go out and predict that if Matthews plays a full 82 game schedule, he will hit the 60 point plateau in his rookie season (64 pts for an exact prediction).

Biggest Surprise of the season?

Joffrey Lupul stays healthy, plays well, and gets traded to a contending team. If Lupul can stay healthy, he will surely face the weaker sets of defenders on most nights, playing on the 2nd or 3rd line. Maybe he can find some of the magic only a few short years ago. Plus, the Leafs somehow seem to be able to boost players’ values and then find teams willing to give up assets for them.

 

All in all, the Leafs are a team on the rise, just not as quickly as some fans would hope after drafting future star  Auston Matthews.

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NHL 2016-2017: Early Playoff Prediction

Being that it’s end of August, and not a lot going on in the hockey world, I figured I’d take a long shot at predicting the playoff teams for the 2017 NHL playoffs. I would love to be able to say that the Leafs have a shot at a playoff position going into this season, but I don’t see them fairing much better than bottom 5 overall in the upcoming season.

Let’s recap last season’s playoff teams:

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Washington Dallas
Pittsburgh St. Louis
Florida Chicago
NY Rangers Anaheim
NY Islanders Los Angeles
Tampa Bay San Jose
Philadelphia Nashville
Detroit Minnesota

If you look at the list, there’s not a lot of teams that are poised to fall-off at a rate that will see them miss the playoffs this year. But there are a few. Here is who I think will fall out of the playoff picture this upcoming season:

Eastern Conference

Detroit Red Wings – Will the streak reach 25 straight seasons? It’s possible, but I view this team as on a decline. Losing one of the most skilled players in the game in Datsyuk will hurt Detroit, who as a team who barely scraped into the playoffs last season. They’ve made strides to make up for losing Datsyuk in signing Frans Nielsen and taking a chance on Thomas Vanek, but it feels as though this team is destined to miss the playoffs sooner rather than later. How can they avoid this? A good start would be to see Gustav Nyquist have a bounce-back season after posting only 17 goals last season, versus 27 the year before.

NY Rangers – This is a long-shot here, as the Rangers still boast the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, but they’ve quickly gone from a Cup-contender to a fringe playoff team in the past few seasons. Barring significant injuries, King Hank is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, fully capable of carrying his team to the playoffs alone, however if he is to go down with an injury, they remind me a lot of the Montreal Canadiens of last season. While the Rangers have been better offensively than Montreal in previous seasons, swapping out Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad seems like a downgrade for the Rangers, who heavily relied on the offense Brassard provided last season (1st on team with 27 goals). Again, this is a bold prediction, but one that seems more plausible than ever.

Who will replace these teams?

Montreal Canadiens – It could be as easy as saying “with a healthy Carey Price”, but they’ve also added more grit in Andrew Shaw, and potentially addressed a lack of scoring with Alexander Radulov. Sure there’s some concern around the maturity and dedication of Radulov, but a 1-yr deal is a very acceptable gamble by the Canadiens. Their biggest questions come on defense, with all eyes on how Shea Weber performs, after replacing dynamic player in PK Subban. I don’t see how this team misses the playoffs with a healthy Carey Price.

Buffalo Sabres – Is this team ready to make a run at the playoffs? I believe so. They’ve upgraded in both ends of the ice in adding Kyle Okposo up front, and Dmitry Kulikov, the only real question remains can Robin Lehner remain healthy and how will he perform as a full-time starter. If Eichel can avoid the sophomore slump, and  if Lehner performs as the Sabres hope he does, this young team could carry the momentum of an excited fanbase into the playoffs. They’ll be a fun team to watch in the upcoming season.

Western Conference 

Minnesota Wild – While the wild did add Eric Staal into the mix, in such a competitive Western Conference, the Wild feel like a team that outplayed their potential last season. This isn’t so much of the Wild team falling off in value as it’s more of a feeling that a non-playoff team from last season will push them out of a spot.

Who will replace Minnesota?

Winnipeg Jets – With the emergence of Mark Scheiffle last season (61 pts in 71 games), and a blueline that consists of Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba, this is a team on the rise. With the biggest question mark coming in goal, the Jets have plenty of young options in Michael Hutchinson, Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie, that if Ondrej Pavelec fails to perform, they have no shortages of options. The home crowd in Winnipeg is a fun one, and seeing them in the playoffs again would be great for everyone (except Minnesota that is).

Again, these are bold predictions, as we sit here 50 days before the start of the season. I’m sure there will be a team that surprises us all and makes a strong push for the playoffs (I’m looking at you Edmonton).

 

“NOOO!” – Every Team’s Worst Contract Heading into ’16-’17 NHL Season

We’ve all been there, eagerly awaiting the start of the free agency season every July 1st, only to be overly disappointed when we see a signing that just doesn’t make sense. I’m going to pick a contract on each team that I’m sure each fanbase would rather not have on their team. Every team has them, whether it be the length of the term given, or the amount of money some of these players have somehow convinced a GM to give them.

  • Anaheim Ducks – Ryan Kesler – I was inclined to pick Jared Boll here, just for the fact that I cannot believe he convinced a team in today’s NHL to give him a 2-year deal worth almost $1 million per, BUT, the fact that Ryan Kesler is signed to an AAV of $8.2 5 million until the end of 2021 season is just too bad to pass up. Nothing against Ryan Kesler, he’s not a terrible player by any means, but when your contract compares to the likes of Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel, and Steven Stamkos, you need to be putting up better numbers.
  • Arizona Coyotes – Mike Smith – One of the harder teams to pick a contract from. Arizona is built for the future, and with veterans like Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata signed to short, low money deals, it was hard to choose a contract that really didn’t fit with the team. I went with Smith because he’s 34, only played slightly more than 30 games last year, and is still signed for 3 more seasons at an AAV north of $5.6 million. That’s a lot of money for an aging goaltender on a rebuilding team.
  • Boston Bruins – David Backes – It’s hard to pick on Backes here, before he’s even suited up for a game for Boston, but an AAV of $6 million until he turns 37 seems like a very risky contract. Backes is most certainly a well-respected player and leader, but with the way he plays, I have a hard time seeing him being worth $6 million towards the end of this deal.
  • Buffalo Sabres – Matt Moulson – An easy pick. Moulson owes this contract entirely to playing on the wing of a young John Tavares. That being said, it’s difficult to predict the kind of fall-off in production that Moulson has shown recently. Three 30 goal season with the Islanders, and has combined for 21 over 158 games in the last 2 seasons. That’s a tough pill to swallow for fans, especially with 3 more years left at a $5 million cap hit.
  • Calgary Flames – Derek Engelland – While this is the last year on Engelland’s deal, a cap-hit of just under $3 million is too much for a guy who should not be in the lineup for the Flames on a regular night. Calgary is a team on the rise, and are much better off filling Engelland’s spot with the a younger player, such as Jyrki Jokipakka. Thankfully for fans, the future looks bright with a few older defensemen coming off the books after this season, including Engelland, Dennis Wideman and Ladislav Smid.
  • Carolina Hurricanes – Jordan Staal – An AAV of $6 million until the end of the 2022-2023 season for a player who has only once hit 50 points in his career, Staal has not lived up the 10 year contract he signed prior to the 2013-2014 season. He will continue to be a leader on a young Carolina team that looks poised to be a formidable force in a couple of years, however I’m sure Canes fans are left looking for more from their highest paid player.
  • Chicago Blackhawks – Marian Hossa – This one is simply because of the term. Hossa will be costing Chicago an AAV of $5.275 until he turns the ripe age of 42. While his performance hasn’t dipped much in previous years, and you can argue that with Hossa Chicago may not have been the force they’ve been since he joined the team, it’s hard to see him being the same player for the remaining 5 years on his deal.
  • Colorado Avalanche – Carl Soderberg – Here’s another team that doesn’t have an abundance of bad contracts like so many other teams do. Soderberg is by no means a bad NHL player, he’s a middle 6 center for the Avalanche, but would be at most a 3rd and most likely 4th line center on a cup contending team. His contract isn’t awful at $4.75 per for the next 4 seasons, however I find it hard to believe that there aren’t cheaper options for a guy who will likely be playing fewer and fewer minutes as the years pass on. This one will be hard to take in 2 years, when the Avalanche have their recent draftees having a larger impact in a game for far less money.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets – David Clarkson – It’s still mind-boggling today that the Leafs managed to get out of this contract. Clarkson became the beneficiary of a weak free agency class, and cashed in on a contract that should never have been handed to him. Limited to only 23 games last year, Clarkson only managed 4 points, which is about $1.3 million in salary per point. Columbus is still on the hook until the end of the 2019-2020 season at an AAV of $5.25 million before they can get away from this horrendous deal.
  • Dallas Stars – Kari Lehtonen/Anit Niemi – The Stars are a team built for a cup run, until you take a look in net. Having 2 goalies to share the workload isn’t a bad thing when you’re hoping to make a long run into the playoffs. However, having $10.4 million in salary cap tied up in both of the next two seasons for two goalies who are on the decline is a scary scenario. Dallas would love to move one of these contracts, however with so many better options available around the league before next summer’s expansion draft, it doesn’t look likely that they’ll rid themselves of this mistake any time soon.
  • Detroit Red Wings – Darren Helm – This one is both too much money and too long of a term. Helm signed this deal this past offseason, 5-year deal worth an AAV of $3.85 million. Helm is 29, and has never hit 35 points in an NHL season. Detroit hav a lot of young players that could use the ice time that will be given to Helm over the duration of this contract. This is one of those contracts that doesn’t seem to make much sense from any angle you look at it. Can’t be too mad at Holland though, he managed to move the Datsyuk contract and still win the trade.
  • Edmonton Oilers – Andrew Ference – Too easy. On a team that is so desperate for quality NHL defensemen, every Oiler fan would be more than happy if they were to never see Ference in an Oiler’s jersey again. I’m sure the hope is that Ference doesn’t recover from his surgery last season, and remains on LTIR for the last year on his contract. A young team like Edmonton could use the roster spot, and not to mention the $3.25 million cap hit, for a player that will help improve their team for the future.
  • Florida Panthers – Dave Bolland – a $5.5 million cap hit for a guy who hasn’t played more than 55 games or scored more than 25 points in the last 4 years? Yikes. It’s hard to understand this signing, since it came after a season in Toronto where he was playing a larger role than he ever had, but he only played 23 games. Unfortunately for Florida, they’re locked in for 3 more seasons of this high cap hit, just as they’re becoming what looks to be a very competitive team.
  • Los Angeles Kings – Dustin Brown – Yeeeesh. AAV of $5.875 for 6 more years for a player who belongs on the 4th line. Brown had his captaincy revoked this year, leaving not much reason to keep him around. This is one that doesn’t need much explanation. I see a buyout coming (hopefully for Kings fans’ sake).
  • Minnesota Wild – Ryan Suter – Yes, he is on of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL, and plays more ice time than almost anyone, but the term of this deal is tough. At 31, Suter is signed for 9 more seasons at a hit of $7.5 million. It’s hard to imagine any defensemen being worth that kind of money in his late 30’s in the speed of today’s NHL. Suter has rarely missed time over the last 3 seasons, so we will see if he’s an exception to the age factor.
  • Montreal Canadiens – Jeff Petry – Shea Weber is also a good choice here, but I still think the Petry contract is worse. An AAV of $5.5 million for the next 5 years, for a guy who only put up 16 points in 51 games last season, who really doesn’t play that well in his own end (-6 last year). You could try and chalk this up to what was a horrendous year for Montreal, but Petry has never had a season with a positive plus/minus, or more than 25 points. I don’t see the value in either the term or money in this contract. All signs point to bad.
  • Nashville Predators – Mike Ribeiro – This is one guy I wouldn’t want in my dressing room, let alone for $3.5 million per season. There are so many better options than choosing Ribeiro here, plenty of caliber NHL players still available, not to mention young players in the organization that could slot into Ribeiro’s spot. I don’t understand the thinking behind this decision, it’s time for Ribeiro to ride off into the sunset.
  • New Jersey Devils – Travis Zajac – Signing a 28 year old player to an 8 year contract is always risky, especially with a cap hit of $5.75 million per year. The part that I question the most is that Zajac was signed after putting up 22 points in 48 games. Those are exactly mind-blowing numbers. New Jersey is a team that has the space to accommodate this deal for now, but with bringing Taylor Hall on board now, the Zajac money could be better spent somewhere else.
  • New York Islanders – Mikhail Grabovski – Spending the majority time on the Islanders 3rd line the last couple of seasons, Grabovski has yet to live up to the $5 million cap hit he carries. With Frans Nielsen moved on, and 2 years left on his deal, perhaps Grabovski will now see an increase in ice time, which could help boost his production. He has struggled to stay healthy the last few seasons, having played less than 60 games in all 3 of the previous seasons. He’s tying up a lot of cap space on a team that could use a secondary scoring punch worth that contract.
  • New York Rangers – Rick Nash – Long-gone are the days where you know what you’re going to get from Rick Nash. His play has flip-flopped the last few seasons, going from bad to good, and then bad again. This isn’t what you want out of a guy making $7.8 million per year for each of the next two seasons. Other players in his cap-range have given their teams a lot more stability – see Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos.
  • Ottawa Senators – Dion Phaneuf – Another bad contract given out by a Leafs management member, yet somehow he’s also no longer their problem. There are only a few defensemen in the NHL making more money per season than Phanuef’s $7 million cap hit, yet he’s not even the best defensemen on his team! While still an effective player, he will never live up to this monstrous contract as he still has 5 more seasons left.
  • Philadelphia Flyers – Andrew MacDonald – It’s a little early to call the Voracek contract a bust, but the first year of his new deal didn’t look great for him. But then there’s Andrew MacDonald. He signed a 6 year, $30 million deal prior to the 2014-2015 season and has played 86 NHL games and 43 AHL games since. That’s pretty much all we need to say here. Not to mention the mountain of defensive prospects the Flyers have coming this season and beyond, this deal will be a stinker until it expires in 2020.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins – Chris Kunitz – Kunitz owes a lot of thanks to Mr. Crosby, which includes his current contract. Locked in for one more season at $3.85 million is tough for the Penguins when they’ve already invested so much in their offense. Kunitz should be at most a 3rd line winger this coming season, which will likely be his last with any sort of high money value.
  • San Jose Sharks – Paul Martin –  Signed for another 3 seasons at $4.85 per, and at 35 years old, Martin is beginning to shows signs of slowing down. He looked exposed multiple times in the Cup finals against a fast Penguins team. While there’s still value in having Martin on your team, it would be much better for the Sharks if that cap hit were about half of what it currently is.
  • St. Louis Blues – Paul Stastny – A $7 million cap hit is tough to live up to, for anyone, and Stastny is another example of someone who hasn’t. He goes into the ’16-’17 season with 2 years remaining, and with Backes now in Boston, it opens the door for more critical minutes. Now it’s up to Stastny to play to the level that earned him this contract. You’d think it would be easier for someone who has the likes of Vlad Tarasenko and Alex Steen on their team to put up better numbers.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning – Ryan Callahan – Tampa is a team that should be in the run for a cup for the next few years, and Ryan Callahan is part of that mix that makes them so tough to play against. However, a cap hit at $5.8 is a bit too high for what he brings to the table, especially on a team that has so many key pieces to sign in the next couple of years. Callahan doesn’t come off the books before 2020, however if I was a betting man, Steve Yzerman and team would like to move on from this contract sooner rather than later.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs – Joffrey Lupul – AHH Toronto, so many options. Bozak? Yes, bad. Robidas? Yikes. Matt Martin for 4 years? Too long. Lupul is my choice simply because of how injury prone he is, on top of the decline in quality of play he’s been displaying the last couple of years. 14 points in 46 games last season is not the only reason this is the Leafs worst contract, it’s also the fact that he’ll be taking up a roster spot on a young team on the rise, when he’s headed in the opposite direction.
  • Vancouver Canucks – The Sedins – It’s time for a rebuild in Vancouver. They’ve already got some young/key pieces in place, so it shouldn’t be as drastic as it has been in Edmonton, or currently is in Toronto. However, having $14 million of the cap tied up in the Sedins over the next two seasons is something that will only delay the process. Not only are they eating up a majority of your cap space, but they’ll be taking away major minutes from young prospects that could benefit from more action at the NHL level. The problem Vancouver has, is finding someone to take on (presumably) both of these contracts.
  • Washington Capitals – Brooks Orpik – At $5.5 million per season, Orpik is far too one-dimensional. He’s heralded as a defensive specialist (even though there’s some compelling stats that prove this to be wrong), yet he managed to only be +11 last year, despite playing on the best regular season team in the NHL. If I were paying someone $5.5 million per season, I’d want a little more bang for my buck.
  • Winnipeg Jets – Toby Enstrom – Not a lot of bad contracts in Winnipeg, however Enstrom’s play has declined at a high rate over the past few seasons. After a couple of 50 point campaigns in his Atlanta days, Enstrom has not adjusted well to life in Winnipeg. With 2 more years of his contract remaining, it appears to be a waiting game for the Jets, as they have been taken significant steps as a young organization over the past few seasons.

 

Follow me on twitter @RubberOnIce

Credit: http://www.hockeydb.com/ and http://www.generalfanager.com/ for some great info on contracts and stats.

Who Am I?

I’m your typical, hockey-obsessed fan.

I’ve never been much of a writer, but I love the sport so much, and find myself constantly reading countless of articles about all things hockey, that my girlfriend suggested I try my hand at writing. I don’t see myself as more of an expert than most, and don’t claim to know everything about every team, but I feel overall I understand the game. I do play my fair share of fantasy hockey, and always finish at the top of the standings (before imploding in the playoffs).

I work in a finance role in a large company, so taking the time to write will hopefully be good therapy. My girlfriend is hoping it means I leave her alone about the constant useless information I spew at her. I’d love to hear some feedback on what I post, nothing better than engaging in some hockey talk with fellow hockey lovers!

I should warn you, while I may think I know what I’m talking about on here, I’ve been a Leafs fan for many years…