Toronto on a win-now bubble
The plan a few years ago with the Maple Leafs was to establish an All-Star front office comprised of Brendan Shanahan, Lamoriello and Babcock in order to turn around one of the most storied NHL franchises. Last time Toronto hoisted the Cup was in 1967, so a ground-up rebuild was called for.
The Leafs did all the right things. They got hefty contracts like those of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel off the books and invested long-term in younger players who showed promise. After enduring a couple bad seasons, the Leafs have built up their farm system and have seen progress. The interesting news is that the results are ahead of schedule.
Here are some 2016-17 season stats from three rookies on the Leafs that finished in the top five for Calder Trophy voting:
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Auston Matthews (first overall, 2016) – 40 goals, 29 assists
Mitch Marner (fourth overall, 2015) – 19 goals, 42 assists
William Nylander (eighth overall, 2014) – 22 goals, 39 assists
The team is built with a combination of solid veterans and young players who have been with the Leafs through the rebuild. The addition of Brian Boyle should be a permanent one being that he fits perfectly in a bottom-six role with the Leafs. Frederik Andersen isn’t the best goalie, but the Leafs can probably get away winning a Stanley Cup with him.
Looking at the Leafs’ books, they will have a lot of money to spend this summer to upgrade their team. But because their young players have been so productive so early, a bubble so to speak has been created in the rebuild process. They drafted teenagers who are NHL-ready in the top six and are on entry-level deals. Therefore, for two more years, the Leafs will have ample money to spend on players that they can sign for one or two years until their top young players are up for new contracts.
Next let’s look at the trade that could make the Leafs serious contenders for the Stanley Cup next year.