The first half of the Toronto Maple Leafs season is in the books. There have been ups and downs, but overall, the 2018-2019 season has been very successful for the Maple Leafs. They’re tied for second overall in the NHL with the Calgary Flames. Mitch Marner leads the team in points with 55. He’s sixth overall in league scoring. And Morgan Rielly is having a career season on his way to Norris trophy consideration. The ups have definitely more plentiful than the downs.
Toronto Maple Leafs Season After 41
Pace For 300
This past summer, I speculated this Toronto Maple Leafs season could be the first team to reach 300 goals since the Washington Capitals scored 313 in the 2009-2010 season. After 41 games, they have 152 goals and are on pace to reach 304. Auston Matthews and John Tavares have 20 and 27 goals respectively and are on pace for over 100 goals combined. They may not reach that lofty total, but they should get close. Marner has found a goal scoring touch with 15 goals of his own, and William Nylander finally got his first of the season against the Minnesota Wild after failing to find the back of the net in his first 11 games.
If there are no significant injuries, The Maple Leafs have an excellent chance of reaching 300 goals but they’re overshadowed on that front by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not only is the Lightning the only team ahead of them in the standings, but they’ve also scored 174 goals after 41 games. That puts them on pace to score 348 by season’s end.
Man Games Lost
This Toronto Maple Leafs season hasn’t been devastated by injury, but they’ve had some key personnel miss time. Matthews missed 14 games with a shoulder injury. Nylander missed 28 while negotiating a new contract. Currently, Zach Hyman, Tyler Ennis, Frederik Andersen and Garret Sparks are all out with injuries. The most notable of that group is Andersen who has kept the high-risk Maple Leafs in a lot of games due to his excellent goaltending.
While the Maple Leafs can endure losing some scoring power from time to time due to their depth, losing Andersen for any lengthy period of time would be problematic. He is 20-9-1 with a save percentage of .923. Michael Hutchinson is the current starter with Andersen and Sparks injured. Hutchinson is 1-1 for the Maple Leafs thus far, including a shutout against the Vancouver Canucks, but it’s a stretch to expect him to replace Andersen long term.
The Maple Leafs aren’t a team known for having players that win trophies. Although Matthews won the Calder last season, and that may be just the beginning. Rielly is second in defensemen scoring with 44 points. And he leads all defensemen in goals with 13. He’ll likely be one of the Norris trophy candidates.
Andersen has played well enough to be in the Vezina conversation. And a strong second half from any of Marner, Matthews, or Tavares could vault one of them into Hart consideration.
It’s more likely the Maple Leafs fall just a little short in the trophy category this season, but the fact that they’re even close at the halfway point is an indicator that this season is going very well.
The Toronto Maple Leafs season has relied on new, cheap players to provide adequate depth. It’s part of Kyle Dubas’ plan to afford all of Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander. Pay the main core considerably and find value throughout the roster. It’s worked out for him so far this season.
Less Than One Million Club
Igor Ozhiganov has a Corsi For of 53.7 percent and has done a good job in his first season in the NHL. He makes good decisions in his own zone and as he gets used to the NHL, he could prove to be a valuable commodity come playoffs.
Tyler Ennis is doing a great job rejuvenating his career with seven goals in 33 games, mostly from the fourth line.
Garret Sparks is 6-2-1 as a backup. He gets a lot of flak from people that don’t appreciate his flip-flop style. And while he does have to work on his rebound control, he is playing like a young goaltender might be expected to play. With more patience and grooming, Sparks is still a potential solid backup goaltender or better.
Frederik Gauthier didn’t look very good last year, but he’s looked a lot better this year. His line has been able to control play and spend considerable amounts of time in the opposing team’s zone night after night. He may not score much, two goals in 32 games, but he’s looked good as fourth line center. He’s even used his massive body once or twice.
Par Lindholm is another newcomer to the league. He’s still adjusting to the NHL. But he’s shown the potential to be a good depth player.
Travis Dermott has proven he’s either top-four defencemen calibre now or will be soon. He has a Corsi For of 55.1. That’s second best on the team after Nylander. He’s still behind Rielly and Jake Gardiner on the depth chart. But Gardiner is a UFA at the end of this season. Dermott may be in that top four spot as soon as next season.
Tampa Bay isn’t just raining on Toronto’s offensive parade by besting them in goals scored by quite a margin. They’ve also surmounted a considerable lead in the standings. They’re on pace for a whopping 132 points with 66 after 41 games. The Maple Leafs are only on pace for 112. That’s seven points better than their best season ever, which was last season. But it’s hard to be too proud of the team’s best season ever points-wise when you lose the division race by 20 points.
The Maple Leafs are not likely to catch the Lightning in the standing, and the Boston Bruins are currently sitting in third. A rematch between the Boston and Toronto is brewing. But unlike last year the Maple Leafs are looking to take home ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens are chasing Boston and either could catch them. Unlike last season, we may need to wait until the last week of the season to know who the Maple Leafs will meet in the first round.
Dubas will try to improve this roster for the playoffs. He’ll likely be looking to upgrade the defence, but he may also want to add some depth scoring. He’s a little too shrewd to overpay at the trade deadline. But the Maple Leafs have to be all in on winning a Stanley Cup this season and bolstering this line up via trade is probably going to happen one way or another.
There’s a lot of hockey left this season. And the playoffs is where most will measure up this team. But the Maple Leafs are halfway through what is shaping up to be their best season in a very long time.