The Toronto Maple Leafs season has just begun, but already there are plenty of storylines to keep tabs on. Some of them are lingering issues from last season, ahem defence, but there are also feel-good stories about the newest members of the Maple Leafs.
Toronto Maple Leafs Season Storylines Early Edition
Third Line Magic
There were a lot of questions surrounding the third line before the season began. Who are these guys? Alexander Kerfoot was acquired in the off-season in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche. Trevor Moore and Ilya Mikheyev are both rookies with Mikheyev new not only to the Maple Leafs but new to North America. Before the season began the three players had a combined 175 games and 157 of them belong to Kerfoot. The main concern was if the triad would have any chemistry at all, and if they do find some, how long would it take. The quick answer is right away.
Each player already has three points and the line has looked comfortable for much of the three games so far. Kerfoot in particular looks like an excellent replacement for Nazem Kadri. That’s not to sat Kerfoot is likely to pot 30 goals, but he’s looked like an ideal third-line centre.
Mikheyev has also impressed both on and off the ice. He appears to be adjusting well to the NHL, even if there’s a lack of soup on our side of the planet.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the criticism of Mike Babcock and his utilization of players. Last season, it was how little he played Auston Matthews in the final game against the Boston Bruins. This season, it started early with Babcock’s decision to sit Jason Spezza in the home opener against Spezza’s former team, the Ottawa Senators.
For many, games against former teams are special, but let’s not blow this too far out of proportion. Spezza hasn’t played for the Senators is over half a decade, and he’s played against them many times by now. This game perhaps would be a little special for him playing for his home team in the Battle of Ontario for the first time, but there will be plenty of time for that. In fact, if Babcock keeps his word of alternating Spezza in and out of the lineup, Spezza is in line to play the next game against Ottawa. That game isn’t until February though. Spezza will have plenty of time to earn a regular spot by then.
At least Babcock is consistent. He’s never been one for sentimentality regarding former teams. Just ask Frederik Andersen. He sat on the bench in his first game back in California against the Anaheim Ducks because it happened to be the second game of a back-to-back.
Ceci’s Ups And Downs
About 25 seconds into the season it looked as though Kyle Dubas made a huge mistake expecting Cody Ceci to log minutes in the Maple Leafs’ top four on defence. Ceci couldn’t tie-up Brady Tkachuk in front of the net and the Senators took the first step towards ruining the Maple Leafs’ home opener. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to think the worst at that point. The Maple Leafs ended up beating the Senators and Ceci hasn’t looked that bad so far. He even scored a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets two nights later.
The jury is still out on Ceci. He didn’t have a great game last night against the Montreal Canadiens. He wasn’t alone in that department though. His Corsi stats so far are interesting. Keep in mind the small sample size. He’s got a Corsi For of 47.6 percent so far this season. That’s not great, but it’s his best since the 2014-2015 season. His relative Corsi For is a -10.2 though. These numbers will even out, but it might not be a stretch to think Ceci may have his best season in years and still be one of the worst players on the Maple Leafs. That’s good for the Maple Leafs.
Matthews For Hart
Matthews has shrugged off his off-season distractions and has five goals already. He’s scoring from further out than he typically does as well. That’s a bad sign for opposing teams’ goaltenders. His shot, already lauded as one of if not the best in the league, seems to get better and better every year. The comparisons to video game stats are not outlandish. He has five goals and zero assists. Why pass the puck if you’re just going to score yourself every time?
Assuming Matthews plays the full 82 games, is it too early to say he’s a shoo-in for 50 goals this season?
Rielly And Barrie
There was some thinking that Rielly’s numbers could take a hit with Tyson Barrie joining the team. Barrie has broken 50 points three times in his career, including 59 last season. Rielly broke 50 for the first time last season with 52. The thinking is that Barrie would steal Rielly’s opportunities one way or another. Perhaps the real story is both of them having career seasons.
Rielly already has five points and Barrie is right behind him with four. If the Maple Leafs continue their offensive dominance, is it too far out of the question to think they’ll both be near 60 points this season.
The ugly skeleton in the closet hasn’t gone anywhere. The defence is still a weakness on this team. Specifically at keeping the puck out of their own net. They move the puck up ice well, but they give up too many chances. Andersen was able to bail them out in the first two games, but Michael Hutchinson wasn’t up to the task. The Maple Leafs blew a three-goal lead in the third period last night against the Canadiens. They can’t rely on superb goaltending every night.
The good news is it’s still only three games into the season. Every team needs to work on things this early in the season. There’s time for them to get a lot better. The main concern is if they feel they need to trade for a player to help on the defensive side of things, where do they find the cap room?
Kasperi Kapanen clearly wants to earn his place with Mitch Marner and John Tavares, but it hasn’t happened yet. If the third line continues to click, where does Kapanen land once Zach Hyman returns? Plays like last night’s stick throwing incident don’t help. I can see his thinking, get rid of the broken stick plus poke check equals a penalty shot. It’s a quick game, mistakes happen. The best thing Kapanen can do is forget about it and move on. He’s got a lot of games left with two amazing players. It will work out for him if he doesn’t sabotage himself. He’s too good for it not to.
William Nylander has a goal and two assists in three games with Matthews. Safe to say he’s back yet? If he continues to produce, his $6.9 million dollar contract may look like a steal compared to Matthews’ and Marner’s deals.
Toronto Maple Leafs Season
The Toronto Maple Leafs season can’t move fast enough. There’s little doubt they’ll make the playoffs. The real storylines this season will be who do the Maple Leafs play in the first round and will they beat them.
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 13: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck during a game against the Boston Bruins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 13, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)