2018 Toronto Maple Leafs Predictions with Futures Odds and Expert Picks
You know how as you get older there are things you see that remind you that time is passing, and you get a little sad for a moment? This preview is one of those for me. For many years, writing a preview of the Leafs was an easy and repetitive process. Regardless of the expectations, all I had to say is that the Leafs suck because they always suck, that they were going to disappoint because they always do, and that they weren't making the playoffs. Leafs fans would argue because they are like that, but they couldn't use things like logic or precedent to actually dispute what I said. And I was always right. But now we are seeing something alarmingly close to competence in Canada's largest city. They have talent. They have coaching. They have good management. They are progressive. Times change. I'm not sure that I buy that they should be Stanley Cup favorites - they haven't won anything yet, and they still have a pretty significant problem - but they are a very good team. And I feel old.
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Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Moves
The obvious headline here is the addition of John Tavares, one of the biggest free agent prizes ever in the NHL. The former New York Islanders captain returned to his hometown, but there was no hometown discount - he will make $11 million per year the next seven years. He's one of the top players in the league. And combined with Auston Matthews, they have two centers that no other team can exceed. Add in depth at wingers, and this is a team that is set in the forward ranks. Great move.
The man who gets the most credit for winning that race is new GM Kyle Dubas. Dubas is a huge departure for the team. Previous GM Lou Lamoriello is 75 and is as old school as it gets. He's the old NHL. Dubas is 32, he believes in analytics, and he is all that is new about the league. Another great move.
To make room for Tavares and his contract, some goodbyes had to be said. Gone are Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and, most significantly, James van Riemsdyk, who all signed surprisingly sold deals elsewhere. They are all nice enough depth pieces - and van Riemsdyk is more than that - but they won't be missed. Defenseman Roman Polak is gone as well.
The team's first pick this year wound up being 29th overall, so the
short-term impact isn't going to be significant.
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Outlook
I said there was one big question, and there is. The goaltending is good. The forwards are deep and ridiculously good up the middle. As long as chemistry can be found, they are going to be fine. But the defense hasn't been addressed. And while Dubas insists he has faith, I'm not sure he should. Morgan Rielly seems on the verge of becoming a true No. 1 defender, and he is only 24. But behind that the questions start. Jake Gardiner is 28, so he's probably mostly done developing, and he isn't good enough for a team like this one wants to be in the role they need him to play. Ron Hainsey is ancient. Nikita Zaitsev seems to be regressing. This is a world-class forward group with a defensive unit that isn't in the top third - or half - of the league. In this NHL that is a potential issue - a big one.
Aside from the defense, the biggest concerns have to be mental. This is a team that hasn't done anything for decades. They made massive steps forward last year but still got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. They have all sorts of talent but no experience winning when it matters. But they play in the most ridiculous fish bowl in the sport, and they are entering the season as Stanley Cup favorites. Every stride will be broken down from 30 different angles. A slump will slow down the rotation of the earth. Pressure is tough on any team, never mind this one. It's certainly something to watch.
Toronto Maple Leafs Schedule
The second last game of the season is a home contest against the Lightning. It's a long shot that it will come down to that, but imagine if that was the contest for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. It sure feels like these teams are on a second-round collision course, so it could happen.
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Futures Odds
At +650 at Bovada , the Leafs are the favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Their fans are obsessive, so like the Patriots you can always be sure that they are going to be overbet. Toronto had 105 points last year, and oddsmakers expect a slight improvement - the season point total sits at 106.5. Tavares and Matthews are tied as the third choice to win the Hart Trophy as MVP at +100, behind only McDavid and Crosby.
2018-19 Toronto Maple Leafs Predictions
Are they good? Yes. Quite good. But they are going to run into Tampa Bay in the second round of the playoffs in all likelihood, and at this point I don't feel good about that for them. They are on a good path, but the expectations are just too high. Call me the professional pessimist here. But I will admit that they don't suck anymore.
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