2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs Predictions and Futures Odds Picks
For the last decade (well, all my 40+ years, really) I haven't had to work too hard to summarize expectations for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are a bad team run by morons that is going to fail to meet the bizarrely, delusionally-inflated expectations of the team's fans, who are among the least tolerable in all of sports. Short of making fun of Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals, there is no target I have hit more consistently than the Leafs or worried about less that my prediction was going to be wrong.
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The Leafs were going to be bad because they are the Leafs. It was reliable as the sun rising in the east. So it makes me a little sad, then, that things are really starting to be different in Toronto. They have hired people to run the team who aren't idiots. Those competent people hired the best coach in the game, and luck helped them draft a generational talent and plenty of talent to support him. This is legitimately a team on the rise, and that means I have to shift my narrative.
I'm not sad about their success - I'm not particularly emotionally invested in their failure these days, though I certainly was as a kid. What does make me sad, though, is that this is a reminder that time passes, things change, and even the most stable of certainties can shift right in front of your eyes. The Leafs getting young and good just makes me feel old.
Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Moves
The team didn't lose anyone through free agency, retirement or the expansion draft that is worth losing a second of sleep over. Defenseman Matt Hunwick and center Brian Boyle both left, but their new teams both overpaid them, and they are the definition of truly replaceable players. On the acquisition side the team went almost to an extreme to counteract the youth that the team is dealing with at the core. The big splash was $6.25 million a year for three years for Patrick Marleau. He's a truly elite offensive presence who has shown in his years with Joe Thornton that he is an excellent complementary player who makes his linemates better. He turns 38 on Sept. 15, though, so it's hard to believe that at least the third year of that contract will be anything but a financial anchor on the team. It's a risk but a move that should pay off in the short term this year. Also a risk was the addition of defenseman Ron Hainsey, who just won his first Cup with Pittsburgh after joining them at the trade deadline. Even though that Cup run marked his playoff debut, the veteran will turn 37 before this season ends. That's very old for a defenseman in the increasingly speed-oriented NHL, and again, there is a decent chance that his usefulness will decline before his two year, $6 million contract expires. So, all in all I understand why the moves were made, but I wish they'd spent the money in other ways.
After a couple of years of elite draft picks, they will have to be more
patient this year. Defenseman Timothy Liljegren, who they picked 17th, is a
smooth skater who has played against men in Sweden, but he's at least a
couple of years away from the NHL in the best-case scenario.
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Outlook
In Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, the Leafs had three rookies who each had at least 61 points. That's amazing and by far the biggest reason for all the success the team had last year. They wouldn't be the first players to struggle as sophomores after flying out of the gates, though, so they really need to avoid that slump or the impact on the team would be significant. Beyond that there are two not insignificant areas of concern for the team. The defense is not where it needs to be. The elderly Hainsey will be on the top pairing, and the third pairing at this point is just a dog's breakfast of speculative options. That's not ideal. Also not ideal is in net. Frederik Andersen is a very good starter, and he showed last year he can effectively handle a very heavy load. If he gets hurt, though, things are scary. Backup Curtis McElhinney is fine as a backup, but no team wants him as a starter. And Garrett Sparks, the top guy for the team in the AHL, is hardly the next Ken Dryden - at least not at this point. The backend issues on this team just put more pressure on those top forwards, and that's not necessarily ideal.
Toronto Maple Leafs Schedule
When I write these previews I can typically quickly look at the schedule for just a few seconds to find the storyline that jumps out - a rough start, a brutal stretch of road games, and so on. What stands out here, though, is that there is really nothing that stands out. The start is not too soft or too hard. There are some road trips and homestands but nothing profound. They obviously play lots of tough games, but there is no brutally-relentless stretch of torture. This is a schedule without excuses - which is great as long as the team wins.
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Futures Odds
Bovada has the Leafs at +1400 to win the Stanley Cup, which has them tied with five teams at fifth overall. That seems a little generous, but this is a very public team so that is inevitable. BetOnline has Toronto at +1000 to win the Eastern Conference, which has them tied for fifth in the conference. So, BetOnline is generally less optimistic about the team than Bovada - the team is +2000 to win the Cup at BetOnline. Toronto is the second choice to win the Atlantic Division at +375, behind only Tampa Bay at +300. Of note, Montreal and Boston are also right in the mix in what is clearly a very wide-open division. The season win total sits at 44.5. They won 40 games last year, so this is not an insignificant improvement.
2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs Predictions
The team is going to be solid and should certainly be a playoff team. I can't see any value at all in that season win total, though - their defensive unit is too uncertain and underwhelming to expect a five-win improvement at this point.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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