Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
The season gets going tonight for the Leafs in Ottawa, and that means we need to tidy some things up here at the site, including passing along our final standings predictions. I mean, we’ve covered this team in detail all summer, but the standings seem sort of important, do they not?
Some of us may be overconfident in our outlook for this group, others are perhaps terrified of predicting any kind of success. But either way, we all have opinions on what kind of season this is going to be for the ol’ blue-and-white before real life proves us right or wrong.
For the purposes of keeping this concise, and due to our very real east coast bias, I asked the staff to pass along their Eastern Conference standings in full and explain why they had the Leafs slotted wherever they settled upon.
For the Metropolitan, I have the Cup champions closely beating out the regular-season-dominating Capitals for 1st. Well behind them are the Islanders, Flyers, Hurricans and Rangers in a close battle for playoff spots, which is eventually lost by the Rangers. New Jersey is a bit of an enigma, with fantastic goaltending and the addition of Taylor Hall they sound good, but the fringes of their roster are still mediocre. Columbus is likely a pretty consensus pick for last place, as they have been saddled with terrible contracts and were forced to take a step back from a team that wasn’t good last year either.
After a year spent in last place I think this year’s Leafs will be much closer to the playoff bubble than the bottom. The team will have a bevy of fresh new faces, most of whom are young and exciting talents ready to set the league on fire. Adding Matthews and Marner isn’t nothing, nor is a full season of Nylander and van Riemsdyk. The defense is still sketchy, but with (hopefully) less of Hunwick and Polak it’ll be much better than last year’s version. A lot of people are counting on the Leafs to pick high again this season, but I don’t really see it. I see a lot of the 2007-08 Blackhawks in this year’s Leafs. One season after finishing in the bottom five and drafting Patrick Kane, and just before their dynasty started, they finished with 88 points and three points out of a playoff spot. That’s what I expect this year.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are squeaking in. People point to last year’s team being a last place team, but fail to remember that the team suffered the 10th-worst shooting percentage of any team in the past decade and had horribly inconsistent goaltending throughout the season. While they weren’t close to competing, their puck luck was pure Worst Case Ontario despite being a top-half adjusted possession team.
The new group is improved, too. The big three kids give the Leafs a huge injection into their top six, the already existent core is a bit more mature, and their depth veterans aren’t slouches. A team that had just one right-handed defender to start 2015/16 now has three good ones that are 25 years old or younger. While Frederik Andersen looked shaky in his post-injury preseason games, he and Enroth should bring some stability.
Combine that with the fact that every team in the Atlantic Division outside of the Florida clubs has some level of uncertainty attached to them, and this is a situation ripe for Toronto’s taking. Let’s not talk rings yet, but the renaissance may be coming sooner than advertised.
I really can’t predict the Leafs are going to make up about 27 points from last year and get into the playoffs this season. I mean, I want to do it, but I can’t, even with the Atlantic division being a complete shit show. It’s just too steep of a hill to climb.
Toronto will improve in basically every way, I believe that. They’ll be a strong possession team again but with added scoring, and they’ll be one of the funnest teams in the league to watch. Unfortunately it’ll only be enough to bring them a few spots up the table from where they were a year ago. They’re just not there yet, the roster is too raw.
84 points got the Devils 12th in the conference last season. That’s where the Leafs finish in 2016-17, which would be a fifteen point improvement.
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