Chicago Blackhawks-Toronto Maple Leafs Preview With Steve Dangle

By Mario Tirabassi
Jan 15, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) gets rid of the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 15, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) gets rid of the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Oct 20, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) looks on during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Auston Matthews and the future of the Maple Leafs

Mario Tirabassi: So, Steve, looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs, this year has been pretty interesting with everything that has been going on over the last couple of years finally culminating with the first overall pick in this last summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

Toronto selects Auston Matthews and in his first game, pretty much shows why he was so coveted as the top draft pick. What is the vibe been like in Toronto since last season ended and through the first week of the season?

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Steve Dangle: I think fans, for a couple of years now, have been cheering for a full-on ‘tank.’ You know, it’s been three or four years since I genuinely cheered for a Leafs win because I knew losses were probably what was best for the team.

Auston Matthews has excited and electrified the fanbase from the beginning of the World Cup and onward. We knew we were getting the first overall pick. We didn’t know how good he was going to be and holy smokes has he looked go so far. And, if anything, it has been the rest of the Leafs that have let him down. He has five goals, obviously after the four-goal game, and has given the Leafs four leads, spread over two games, and they have won neither of those games.

I think it’s really about balancing our expectations, because man was I excited after the first two games and then they way they responded with that terrible collapse against the Winnipeg Jets and then losing the second half of the back-to-back against the Minnesota Wild. Only four games into it and I’m already on an emotional roller-coaster.

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MT: And it’s been so long, like you said, that Leafs fans have had something to really cheer for so it’s understandable you want to jump on that roller coaster already.

Now it’s not just Matthews who has become the future of the Maple Leafs, this is a very young team when you look at the prospects and recent draft picks they have, guys like Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, and Zach Hyman, they have really become key parts of the Leafs already this year. William Nylander is another guy that is going to be part of the future.

What is the outlook like for a team that is so young at the moment, when you look two or three years down the road?

SD: The Leafs have, probably, the best forward group in terms of any system, in the NHL. They’re so gross. They’re so young upfront and like you mentioned, William Nylander is so young and so skilled already and he is pretty much an afterthought because he has fallen behind Matthews and Marner, and rightly so. Those are two sick players.

I mean, any Blackhawks fan can remember something like this from 2006 or 2007. The difference is that Leaf fans are waiting for their Duncan Keith and waiting for their Brent Seabrook, right? Morgan Reilly on defense, you know, people are talking about him as a future Captain and I think while that’s definitely possible as the team’s best defenseman, the guy was picked fifth overall in 2012. I think he is still only 22 years old, so the Leafs need to shore up their back-end. They have a couple of pieces with Reilly and Jake Gardnier, but they need to get better there.

I wrote an article on the Toronto Marlies and the forwards group and it’s visible down there too. Their AHL team has a few lines that could be fourth-lines in the NHL, maybe even third-lines. But then you look at their defensive pairings and it’s a lot more thin. So, I look at their young group of forwards and I wonder if they find some way to trade a couple of them for a defenseman or two. Because there is no way all of the forwards they have are going to make it to the show. There is just not enough spots.