2014 Toronto Maple Leafs Predictions and NHL Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 9/16/2014
Every time I preview NHL teams, something predictable happens. I give my opinion of 29 teams, and people are fine with it. But then I say a few honest things about the Leafs - that they are not built to win, that their management and coaching haven't been ideal, that leadership is a question, that they just aren't very good, and so on - and I hear all about it from angry Toronto fans. Leafs fans are some of the most passionate in all of sports, but unfortunately passion and objectivity don't always go together.
Despite basically printing money and having all the resources imaginable, this is a team that has made the playoffs only once in the last nine years - a first-round exit to the Bruins in 2013. They find new and novel ways to frustrate every year, and they are the definition of underachievement. So, let me be up front about this - I am not likely to be very positive about this team because they just don't give us a lot to be really positive about. My attitude towards them will change when (and if) this team gets on track and becomes even half as good as they should to be - and half as good as those loyal fans who get so mad at me deserve.
Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Moves
Brendan Shanahan became team president late last season, and his presence has resulted in a lot of changes. Randy Carlyle is still head coach, but his staff is completely different. The core of the roster Carlyle will have to work with is the same, but there has been a lot of shuffling of secondary and support players. Out the door are at least nine players from last year. The biggest names there are Tim Gleason, the defenseman the team acquired in trade on Jan. 1 only to buyout at the end of the year, and Mason Raymond, the reclamation project who turned a strong year last year into a big contract in Calgary. To fill all of those holes in the roster the team was predictably active. Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas should provide grit and discipline to a defensive corps that could use some of both. David Booth was disappointing in Vancouver, but he has tremendous talent and was a big contributor in Florida. At his best he would provide a solid offensive upgrade to the team.
The draft was a solid one for the Leafs this year. First-round pick William Nylander, the son of an NHLer, has been playing at a high level in Sweden and has tremendous talent. Keeping 18-year-old Morgan Rielly with the team last year was a controversial choice with positive and negative outcomes, so it remains to be seen if the appetite for keeping this center around this year exists. I suspect he'll get one more year of conditioning elsewhere, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the roster, and I like his long-term prospects.
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Outlook
It's tough to predict what will happen this year because of how much change there is. I really didn't like how Carlyle managed his team last year. Will he be different with a different staff, or will the shortcomings of the team be exposed due to his own shortcomings again? The makeup of the bottom two lines is a total mystery with no clear certainties to play a big role and perhaps too many players in the mix. Goaltending is fine, but only if Jonathan Bernier can stay healthy - something he couldn't do last year. Defensively they should be sound, but Dion Phaneuf needs a new partner, and he has never been the easiest player to find chemistry with. Most likely that opening requires a young player to take a big step up in responsibility, and that is always risky. There is some upside here - this is a team that could easily make the playoffs and perhaps even win a round. Unfortunately, at this point there are still issues like in past years, and they could wind up with yet another very familiar result.
Toronto Maple Leafs Schedule
Every team needs a fast start, but Toronto needs one more than most teams to erase the bad taste of last year's collapse and keep critics in check. That won't be easy - their first nine games are all against tough Eastern Conference opponents, and they don't get a real easy game until Buffalo in Game 10. On the plus side, if they do get a good start they will have earned it.
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Leafs are at 40/1 to win the Stanley Cup, which put them ahead of just 11 teams. They are 20/1 to win the Eastern Conference, which puts them ninth in the conference - just outside of a playoff spot, according to the odds. They are the fifth choice to win the Atlantic Division at 8/1.
2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs Predictions
They have had a solid offseason - aside from the Gleason debacle - and have the potential to take a step forward. I especially like the Booth move at a bargain price. There are a whole lot of questions to be answered, though, and I have no faith in Randy Carlyle, the guy who will be answering most of them. They will be on the playoff bubble this year again, and until they prove otherwise the smart money has shown repeatedly that it pays to be pessimistic about this team.
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