It’s already been a busy off season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, with multiple signings and a couple of trades being made.
To me, on paper at least, the team appears to be improved in the positions where they needed it most: defence, experience and grit.
Let’s start with the blueline. Signing T.J. Brodie, formerly of the Calgary Flames, appears to be an upgrade from last year’s acquisition of Tyson Barrie, who’s more offensive style never seemed to fit in with this team.
While Barrie finished the season a -7 in the plus/minus stat, and has finished in the negative stat in the majority of seasons in his NHL career, Brodie ended the 2020 campaign a plus 7. Brodie appears to be a more defensively responsible defenceman who could be used as Morgan Rielly’s partner on the top pairing.
Toronto also added hard-hitting defenceman Zach Bogosian to their team on a one-year deal. Bogosian brings the gritty side to a defence which has been lacking that ‘hard to play against’ aspect. He’s also a recent Stanley Cup Champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning, so he knows how to win playoff games.
For those who worry the Leafs’ defence might have lost some of the offensive capability, there are still high hopes for Mikko Lehtonen, the KHL’s top defenceman who the Leafs signed in early May.
The Leafs have also made an effort to become a tougher team to play against, with their moves in the forward position. So far, the Leafs have added Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Joey Anderson, and are giving Joe Thornton one last chance to win a Stanley Cup. Add in the resigning of Jason Spezza, and the team seems to have a solid core of veterans to help guide the younger side of the roster.
Another upgrade, which may have flown under the radar, was the change in third goalie (usually used as the AHL Toronto Marlies top goalie).
The Leafs let Kasimir Kaskisuo walk away, and signed a goalie, with a number of years of experience with the San Jose Sharks, in Aaron Dell. This gives Toronto a bit more of a safeguard if either of goalies Frederik Andersen or Jack Campbell get injured during the next season.
Plus there is uncertainty around what the 2021 season could look like, given the current COVID-19 pandemic and what the rules for roster size will be. Currently this is just speculation, and a decision will likely come down to whether the AHL decides to hold a season next year, but like the bubble playoffs held this season teams might be able to carry more than the regular two goalies during the season.
Now, as I write this, there are still a few unknowns. Travis Dermott, Ilya Mikheyev and Joey Anderson all still need new contracts, and the current salary cap restrictions leads me to wonder if there might be at least one more trade to be made. But, Leafs’ management seems to have been busy fixing the imbalances apparent in the team after they lost in the playoff qualifying round to the Columbus Blue Jackets.