This off-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs handed out contracts to eight players that have never worn the Blue and White (not including players drafted by the Leafs and signed to their entry-level deals): John Tavares, Josh Jooris, Adam Cracknell, Jordan Subban, Tyler Ennis, Par Lindholm, and Igor Ozhiganov. Of all of those players, one thing is clear; none of them definitively help Toronto’s biggest deficiency: their blueline. Subban will likely land with the Marlies, Ozhiganov’s a big question mark and his ability to play in the NHL right now is a major unknown and all of the other players are forwards.
Josh Leivo surprised some people when he resigned with Toronto on November 17th, 2017. Up until that point, Leivo had only played in five of Toronto’s first 20 games of the 2017-18 season. The one-year extension seemed to be a sign that Toronto would play Leivo more in remaining 62 games but that wasn’t the case.
Fredrik Andersen is the clearly the number one goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most likely, Curtis McElhinney will back up Andersen. Toronto also has Garret Sparks, Calvin Pickard, and Kasimir Kaskisuo all in the minors. All three goalies look promising (especially the former two).
Toronto Maple Leafs Looming Decisions Before Puck Drop
Now that I’ve laid out those three-story lines, these are the three moves that the Toronto Maple Leafs should consider making before the 2018-2019 season.
Add Something, Anything on the Blue Line
There are six NHL-level defensemen that are likely to be the Leafs top-six on opening night. There are still questions if those six all work together on the same unit. We just have not seen enough from them to think that they can get the job done.
Before Toronto faces off against the Montreal Canadiens on October 3rd, they need to make a change. Specifically, on the right side. As of today, this is the best guess of what Toronto’s top-six will look like on opening night:
Toronto also has 26-year-old Justin Holl and already-mentioned Ozhiganov on the right side. Holl impressed in his only two games last year, scoring twice and not making any glaring mistakes. It doesn’t matter where the change comes from. If it comes from within (Holl, Ozhiganov, another Marlie), or if it comes via trade before or during training camp. Either way, something has to happen before the Leafs start the 2018-19 campaign.
Will Leivo Leave, or Play?
One has to imagine that Josh Leivo has been working extra hard this summer in anticipation of fighting for, and winning, a spot in the lineup for opening night. But if it does not happen and he’s on the outside looking in yet again, one has to think that the Innisfil, Ontario native and his team will get fed up and ask for a trade.
The Maple Leafs need to avoid this scenario as it will just become a distraction before the season kicks off. There are only two ways they avoid it: play him opening night, or move him mid-training camp. Either way, they need to get it done.
Too Many Quality Goalies, Not Enough Crease
It wasn’t long ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs were struggling to find good goaltending. Now it seems that the organization’s depth is the best its been in years. Fredrik Andersen is the obvious #1, and Curtis McElhinney was his backup last year, but the netminder is 35 now and with such a plethora of young goalie talent it isn’t completely out of the question to wonder if someone else will be on the bench with the clipboard come October.
And if McElhinney manages to hold onto the backup job, Toronto can use one of their young goalies in a trade to help fix problem #1, the blueline. Garret Sparks rocked a 31-9-1 record with a .936 save percentage and 1.79 goals against average, leading to being named goalie of the year in the AHL. His backup, and waiver pickup, Calvin Pickard, went 21-9-1 with 2.93 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Pickard is 26, Sparks in 25 and its fair to say both are ready for the NHL. And if one leaves the Toronto Marlies for the big club, Kasimir Kaskisuo is most likely ready to play full time in the AHL (28 games with the Chicago Wolves on loan last season, went 13-13-0 with a .914 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average).
All three of these things are questions, and moves, the Leafs need to answer before the puck drops on October 3rd.