The 2019 season may be the last reprieve of the entry-level contract buffer zone and there's no reason to think that Toronto can't make the most of it.
Many may still question the overall steadiness of the Leafs' defense corps, but they have been gaining hefty amounts of experience, year over year, and this could be the time that even this group of blueliners really get to show their stuff at the top level. It will be a matter of whether or not they can compete with the Penguins, Capitals, Lightning and/or Bruins, all tough teams that bring different levels of compete to the table every night.
Sure, there is a disgusting amount of hope in the centre of the universe and Canada's national sports TV channels are not going to help the rest of the country with their endless banter about this team. At least it will be all somewhat legitimate, in theory.
Table last updated on August 13th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
Welcome home, John Tavares!
Somehow wrangling the top unrestricted free agent from the market is a quick way to being a team's most intriguing player for the coming season. Of course it is, don't be silly. Tavares and his $11 million cap hit will be under the microscope all season long, but it sounds like he will be up for the challenge of playing in front of his hometown crowd and I think I believe him.
His arrival does change the landscape of the dressing room, undoubtedly, as there were some budding superstars grabbing a firm hold of the room and the franchise, but now they are all going to have to share. The Tavares effect will be substantial, but if the team's cards are played right, they will do some serious damage.
First Round Picks
Well, I must be buying into the Toronto hype, since I have three potential Leafs players in my 1st round worth of projections. Tavares, who I've already mentioned at length, as well as his centreman counterpart Auston Matthews and their number one keeper Frederik Andersen. Yes, it could be disturbingly exciting in Toronto this season.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
The rest of the forwards look like they'll be able to play the part this season, with a group that consists of Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and Kasperi Kapanen. Overall, it's a pretty young bunch of forwards on this team, the 7th youngest group of forwards on my projected rosters today and it probably could have been top three, if it wasn't for Old Man Marleau on the team.
Other Pool Worthy Defensemen
There's a lot of talk about the blueline being the team's weakest link and I'm not 100% convinced that it will be the case. Sure, some of these guys have had some tough years, but the team hasn't rounded out until now. Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey and Connor Carrick could evolve very well with this star-studded lineup up front, so I wouldn't be too hasty in making rash judgments there yet.
Behind Andersen will be Curtis McElhinney once again and he has played very well for the Maple Leafs, since coming on as the team's regular number two. Last season, the 35-year old veteran appeared in 18 games and won 11, so he gets the job done, when called upon.
Team to Pick From Late?
You can definitely look down the list of players on this Toronto team and you'll see some names that are not as familiar as the rest. Toronto went out and signed some European talent, which will get some long looks at camp. It was some cheap help, so they could work on affording some of their top end talent, so it will be a question of whether or not they get what they pay for or some good bargains.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
It's crazy to think that this side is still without William Nylander, who is the first among this great crop of youngsters to require a new deal out of his entry-level contract. It could be a tough sell to get that long-term deal right now, but if there was a case for it, Nylander has it in 61 points in 82 games last year. Even with the additions the Leafs have made this year, they still have cap space to run with this season, mostly to the tune of $13.5 million, but there are more entry-level deals about to expire and it will get expensive in a big hurry for this side.
The Maple Leafs will start training camp with a clean slate of healthy bodies, by the look of things. Another scary proposition, looking at their lineup and not seeing any physical weaknesses to start the year. This could lead to getting out of the gates awfully quickly.