As we head closer to the start of another Toronto Maple Leafs season, it’s time for me to bring back one of my old traditions.
Those of you who have read my column over the years will likely remember, in the past; I’ve started off NHL seasons with predictions about such things as what fringe players might make the team, player-specific accomplishments, as well as team accomplishments. While I haven’t always had big success with these predictions, it’s still a fun process. So let’s head down the prediction path again.
First off, I think the team is going to be battling for a wild card playoff spot this season, rather than be in the top three of the division. I know the Leafs are coming off a season where they were the top team in the North Division standings. However, since then, forward Zach Hyman and goaltender Frederik Andersen have both signed elsewhere. I’m not confident replacements Michael Bunting and Petr Mrazek are really upgrades on those players. Add to that the fact this season will see the Leafs back in the same division as the always competitive Boston Bruins, reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and an improved Detroit Red Wings squad, and the path to staying competitive in the division could be much harder this time around.
On a much happier note, I predict Auston Matthews will win his second Rocket Richard trophy as the league’s highest goal scorer. In three of his first five seasons, Matthews scored over 40 goals, including last season when he won the Richard trophy for the first time. At just 24 years of age, his best play is still yet to come. Not to mention the team’s best playmaker Mitch Marner appears to still be on Matthews’ line.
Lastly, I don’t think the Leafs will make a big trade at the trade deadline this time. General Manager Kyle Dubas will likely be more cautious, noting trades for Nick Foligno, David Rittich, and Kyle Clifford haven’t worked out in the past. The message this time around will likely be, this roster needs to win a playoff series themselves.
As in past years, feel free to call me on any of these predictions that don’t come to pass. Happy return of hockey season, everyone!