The Toronto Maple Leafs, despite a first round exit, managed to prove their worth in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Toronto’s bout with the Washington Capitals was nothing less than a stepping stone in the right direction for the young club. After partaking in arguably the most exciting series thus far, they will shift their focus to the future. Above all, Toronto’s playoff participation has enhanced the outlook of a steady leafs rebuild.
Leafs Rebuild to Continue Post-Playoffs
Looking to the future, Lou Lamoriello and his head office will continue to build upon a now-competitive roster. Coming off a respectable playoff performance, the Leafs will take the summer months to focus on outstanding weaknesses.
Babcock says it's a big summer for Shanahan, Lamoriello and himself to improve the Leafs.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) April 25, 2017
One of Toronto’s main concerns this season has fallen on their defensive core. They finished the year with 3.00 goals against average, placing them at 22nd overall in this department. Frederik Andersen was a driving force in the first round, but could only do so much against the Capitals renowned offence. The Leafs number one was left hanging to dry in the crease on occasion, further proving that the blue line has holes. Washington was given a noticeable amount of breathing room throughout the series. Lamoriello will most likely build around Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev, two defenseman with loads of potential that is due for development. Zaitsev was unable to perform at his usual standard in the playoffs after suffering an upper body injury. Rielly collected five points and posted an astounding ATOI (average time on ice), at 26:53.
Acquiring a defensemen in the near future is likely. The Maple Leafs management will begin to find ways to account for defensive flaws shown this season. Two names that have been mentioned include Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals and Chris Tanev of the Vancouver Canucks. Adding a reasonably affordable piece that can improve blue line consistency will do the Leafs well heading into next season.
On the other hand, gaining experience against the Capitals front line in the playoffs will help to mature inexperienced defensemen. Steady competition against one of the league’s best was an important developmental stage, but also bore witness to the ways in which the Toronto Maple Leafs can improve.
A Season to Review and Remember
In the wake of a successful campaign, the Maple Leafs will enter next season determined to grow. Toronto’s front office opened their arms to a rebuild, one that has been promised to be tedious and rewarding. The 2016-2017 season enabled the young club to build confidence while reviewing gaps and strengths over the summer.
By building around a core of young guns, the key pieces of the Leafs roster had never before witnessed playoff action. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander were pegged as the ‘Big Three’ earlier this season, a nickname that was lived up to in the playoffs. Auston Matthews recorded four goals and 16 shots, continuing to prove his worth as the Leafs top goal scorer. William Nylander and Mitch Marner clocked in at four points a piece.
In retrospect, falling in the first round to the Washington Capitals is nothing to be ashamed of. While the Leafs were hoping for a win, they treated the hockey world to a stellar playoff performance. By taking the Capitals to overtime on five separate occasions, the Maple leafs portrayed a sense of urgency and competitiveness that has been absent for years. Heading into the series, regardless of the outcome, Toronto enabled themselves to become a contending force within the NHL, now and in the foreseeable future.