The Toronto Maple Leafs key to success is depth at forward. There’s no doubt they are among the best teams in the NHL at the forward position. It’s true that the core players typically dominate the headlines in Toronto. Especially Mitch Marner‘s contract negotiations these days. This season, however, it’s the second-tier players, specifically Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson that could make the difference between the Maple Leafs taking the next step towards winning the Stanley Cup and falling well short again.
Toronto Maple Leafs Key Players Includes Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson
Mike Babcock likes to look at pairs when setting his lines. Marner and John Tavares are one pair. Auston Matthews and William Nylander are another. The Maple Leafs success depends on those four players. Without them, the Maple Leafs might not even be a playoff team. Without depth, they might not win a playoff round let alone a Stanley Cup.
Balanced Scoring From Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnson
Teams that are top-heavy usually don’t fare well. A superstar or two will sell tickets, but he needs players around him to have team success. See the Edmonton Oilers for more details. One or two players, or even four, simply can’t score enough to win vital hockey games. Even Connor McDavid has an off-night, although that sometimes means a measly two assists. Without someone to pick up the slack, those off-nights can pile up the losses.
Depth scoring will wreak havoc with opposing team’s line matchups. Kyle Dubas has built a team that is loaded with talent through all four lines. That will allow at least one if not two lines to escape the pressures of other talented top lines and shutdown lines every night. Not every player is going to score 20 goals, but for the Maple Leafs to have success, they’ll need Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson to score their fair share at least. Both will get their opportunities either playing on a line with Matthews or playing against weaker competition.
Top Line – Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson
One of Andreas Johnsson or Kaspri Kapanen will play on the top line with Matthews. The other may see time with Tavares and Marner as the Maple Leafs will need to wait at least a month for Zach Hyman to return to the ice. There were rumours that Matthews doesn’t want to play with Kapanen, although it’s hard to believe they’re true. A line consisting of Matthews, Nylander, and Kapanen would be difficult to contain, but Johnsson may turn out to be the better finisher. Whoever plays with Matthews will see open space as teams try to contain the Leafs’ young superstar centre.
Although they both scored 20 goals last year, it’s a better bet that Johnsson will find himself as the third wheel on Matthews’ and Nylander’s date nights. Kapanen has an 11 percent career shooting percentage compared to Johnsson’s 14.8. If either Kapanen or Johnsson struggle, however, a switch is certainly not out of the question. The bottom line is that whoever plays with Matthews will need to be productive, and both Kapanen and Johnsson have shown they’re capable.
A wild card that could steal that top-line spot from Johnsson and Kapanen is Ilya Mikheyev. Mikheyev is big, for the Maple Leafs, at 6′ 2″. If Babcock can see him playing a similar role to Hyman he’ll put him with Matthews. If that’s the case, Johnsson and Kapanen could find themselves playing with Alexander Kerfoot on the third line. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it may be ideal. Three potent lines are better than two.
The Third Line
One of them at least will play significant time on the third line. It may not be a relatively even split of time between top-line duty and third-line duty. The two could be interchangeable throughout the season. Whoever finds himself on the third line the most may not have as much 5-on-5 offensive success as the other. That doesn’t mean the drop off in points will be gigantic. Sure it’s nice to play with a bonafide superstar in Matthews, but the Maple Leafs third line won’t see top lines very often. Not with lines centered by Matthews and Tavares ahead of them. That bodes well for whoever is on that line.
Both players are likely to see their fair share of power-play time. Whomever they play with, they’ll be playing with top tier talent and will have the opportunity to put up considerable power-play points.
Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are similar players overall. They both scored exactly 20 goals last year. Both have positive Corsi stats. They also both signed new, team-friendly deals this summer. Johnsson signed a four-year deal with a cap hit of $3.4 million per season while Kapanen signed a three-year deal worth $3.2 million per season. Kapanen still has more potential overall, but either or both could wind up be key contributors next season and beyond.
If they both find success, it could mean the difference between another first-round Game 7 in Boston and a Game 7 in Toronto. If the hockey gods want another Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins Game 7, where that game is played could be the story of the season.
Salary Cap Considerations
With both players signing for reasonable rates, Dubas will be able to find the room he needs to fit Marner in under the cap. While the Maple Leafs defence is likely going to be much better next season with the addition of Tyson Barrie on the right side, it remains the club’s weak point. It’s likely only going to get worse next season as both Barrie and Jake Muzzin are set to become unrestricted free agents. Toronto will only be able to afford one, and even that will put them at the cap ceiling once again next year.
Signing depth players that can contribute to team-friendly deals is monumentally important for Dubas. It allows him to spend big money on players like Tavares, Matthews, Marner, and possibly Barrie next season without sacrificing depth.
Toronto Maple Leafs Key Players
It’s not just Kapanen and Johnsson that make the big signings possible. We’re also beginning to see what Babcock predicted. Players want to play in Toronto. Jason Spezza is a prime example. While he is a little long in the tooth and not fleet of foot, he is an example of a player that’s willing to play for less to play for the Maple Leafs. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth is another example. Neuvirth is with the Maple Leafs on a personal tryout after turning down contracts from other teams. As long as Dubas can sign middle of the lineup players to reasonable contracts and count on veterans to come in during the offseason on short, inexpensive contracts, he can afford to spend big on the top line players.