We’ve done a fair amount of speculating about this Leafs roster and how much Mike Babcock might be able to prop it up, but going on the record with our standings predictions is the last step before the season gets underway on Wednesday.
Obviously there are a ton of questions surrounding this team. Their defence group is, at best, marginally improved from last year with the additions of Marincin and Hunwick, but they’re still desperate for another real difference-maker back there. And in terms of name value, up front it’s basically van Riemsdyk, Kadri, and a whole bunch of complete question marks or journeymen. Babcock will try to squeeze any amount of scoring out of this limited bunch, but the bottom line is, most people don’t expect this team to be able to climb from the league’s basement, with some even pegging this as a “Tank for Matthews” sort of year.
We asked our writers to weigh in on how they see the conference standings shaking out, and had them provide reasoning for where they ranked the Buds. Here are their responses.
|NOT GOOD||3.||Red Wings|
Saying I put much thought into my predictions is a bit of a lie, and we’ll take this as learning my lesson after predicting the Leafs would make the playoffs last year after having the good sense to fire Carlyle early in the year.
So many of these teams in this weak division are just one injury away from falling further in the standings, it’s hard to imagine the Habs being second in the division if Price is injured. Taking all that in consideration, why the Leafs probably have the worst roster in the Eastern Conference, I think that Babcock gives them enough of a bump that they “overachieve” and somehow manage to pass Carolina, Buffalo, and New Jersey. Carolina will be victimized by a tougher division pummeling them on a regular basis, Buffalo’s defense and goaltending is nowhere near it’s forward group, and New Jersey is essentially just Cory Schneider.
I’d love to be wrong and have the Leafs finish lower, but I’m going in with cautious expectations. While selling off players throughout the season is the name of the game, the young prospects the Leafs use to replace the departing veterans will likely make this team even better.
|GARBAGE HEAP||3.||Blue Jackets|
This past offseason, the Leafs added the best coach in the world, got rid of 200 lbs of dead weight, and added a ton of character. That’s a recipe for success. I see the Leafs as the best team in the Atlantic, other than Tampa Bay.
It is quite obvious to me that the Leafs are better than Montreal, who essentially employ a fuller-headed Randy Carlyle as their coach. As for the other Atlantic teams: Boston’s D is somehow worse than Toronto’s, Florida pays Dave Bolland to play hockey for them, Ottawa could quite literally buy themselves up the rankings but won’t, and Buffalo’s goalie is a walking concussion.
Now you’re probably asking – how the heck are the Leafs not in first? Well Tampa Bay is pretty good, but only in a minor way. The difference between the two? Steven Stamkos, who will turn the Leafs into the full-fledged best team in the East when he signs here on July 1, 2016.
|TRASH BIN||3.||Red Wings|
I have a lot of faith in Mike Babcock and his ability to transform this team into a shift-in and shift-out hard working group. I just don’t think it’s talented enough to do anything of consequence with that hard work.
The funny thing is, Toronto may end up playing pretty well against their own Divisional rivals. Outside of Montreal and Tampa Bay, I don’t see a whole lot of talent in the Atlantic. The Leafs may fare pretty well here, but will be in tough to pick up wins when going up against the Metropolitan Division and the Western Conference.
The good news for Leafs fans that still believe this team can get by on just hard work is that the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes are both pretty damn bad. The bad news for Leafs fans that think this team could use another year or bottoming out is that the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricans are both pretty damn bad.
I’m expecting an 14th place finish in the 16-team Eastern Conference, thought I wouldn’t be surprised if Toronto finished dead last, or if they eked out a couple more wins than expected and finished just outside of the playoffs.
The Leafs have had a decent preseason and there’s been plenty to get excited over, especially when it comes to upcoming youth and confirming a lot of our thoughts on players like Nylander, Kapanen, Marner, Brown and Harrington. It puts your mind at ease a little to see these prospects and their skill levels after a summer of talking heavily about the future. But this team, the Maple Leafs that will grind out this season in the NHL, is bad. And at times in the preseason you really got that gutting feeling when watching the lack of skill with the big club. Mike Babcock has been going on record as being not too impressed with his veteran group, and how could he be any other way? There’s just nothing there.
I think the Leafs will get into a decent groove mid-way through the season and maybe clock off a few close-game wins, but they’ll be particularly weak to start the schedule. It’ll take some time to get into the flow of Babcock’s systems, and by that time I think they’ll be well back and nearly in Auston Matthews territory. A sell-off at the deadline will put the fork in them.