So long 2020. You sucked. Kinda on a global scale, but of course from a Leafs standpoint too. Whether it was losing to Columbus in the play-in round, when Toronto was the host city or losing to an emergency backup goaltender who is on your own payroll, the Leafs managed to remind us that this franchise has a unique history in the NHL and some things seemingly can only happen to the Leafs.
Fast forward to 2021 and I think there’s some renewed optimism of most of The Leafs Nation contributors and despite what history has shown us, there is a feeling that 2021 could be a really special year, but this time special in a good way. Though, really whatever happens on the ice I think I can deal with it as long as someone pumps me full of COVID vaccine and I can sit around around an airport Chili’s pounding cold ones on a flight to some place warm again without the fear of feeling like Patrick Dempsey in Outbreak.
We’ll start by wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021, and now onto the Leafs predictions…
Auston Matthews scores 40 in 56 (is this bold enough?)
Matthews was robbed of his first ever 50-goal campaign due to the season abrubtly ending due to Covid-19. After spending the offseason training with the likes of Connor McDavid and others in Arizona, I think we see Matthews fly out of the gate and hit another level.
To quote one James Mirtle, “I say he does it.”
Mitch Marner flirts with 30 goals due to shooting the puck more. Also, Martin Marincin re-signs.
Jack Campbell proves himself a viable 1b (even eventual 1a) goalie option.
As Leafs fans it’s been a while since we’ve had a goalie combination we’ve felt we can reliably count on. Freddie is inconsistent- when he’s good he can be Vezina caliber but when he’s not good he’s really not good. And the back up situation the last few seasons has been dire to say the least. Though Campbell didn’t get to play many games for us yet, he showed incredible promise and a will to succeed unlike anything I’ve seen in ages. I think if he’s given a bit more of an opportunity to prove himself he’s going to step up to the challenge and help change our goalie situation for the better, allowing Freddie some much needed balance, which will hopefully also help him be more of the Vezina level Freddie than the other guy we get sometimes. I’m as confident in Jack Campbell as I remember being in any Leafs back up goalie, in a long time.
I predict that the Leafs will win the North division by more than 10 points. Last year, the Bruins won the Atlantic division with 100 points in 70 games, 8 points better than the Tampa Bay Lightning. This year, the Leafs face neither of those teams at any point in the season, and instead face only their fellow Canadian franchises. The season will be only 56 games long, which should allow for wider variance between teams than with a full season. The Leafs will prove themselves to be the best team in the North division, with Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton in a distant race for second. The gap this year could even be 20 points, but I’m hedging my bet at 10 points. Book it.
Frederik Andersen wins the Vezina. Last season was easily the worst of his career, with a .909 save percentage (vs. a .917 career save percentage), and a .914 5v5 save percentage (vs. a .924 career 5v5 save percentage), and while there’s a chance this could be age-related (he is 31, after all), I think there’s a good chance that he regresses from that total and has a career year as a result, which probably puts him in the Vezina conversation considering he’s been in it while putting up normal Freddie numbers.
There are other factors as well. It is a contract year, and more often than not hockey players seem to put up career years in a big contract year. He’s also going to be playing against easier competition than normal, and he’ll be doing it behind a much improved blueline for Toronto. I don’t think it’s a surefire thing to happen, but it also isn’t a stretch barring age-related decline.
The Leafs will have 4 players among the top 20 in scoring this season.
It’s not a well-known fact that the Leafs were the highest scoring team in the NHL since Sheldon Keefe took over the Leafs bench. Masking this was the mediocre goaltending the team received during this timeframe. I foresee this domination of the leaderboard for a few reasons; (1) Matthews, Marner and Nylander are all in the early stages of their primes; (2) Tavares continues to be extremely productive and will be starting the season healthy unlike last year; (3) the relative weakness of the North Division including some questionable goaltending in Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver; (4) a lethal powerplay unit that should seriously boost point totals. Looking forward to seeing a lot of blue and white at the top of the points board!
I was going to say that they’d win the S****** C**, but saying that will just jinx it. So since that won’t happen, I’m putting my money on a player winning a big award this season. Whether it be the Rocket Richard, Norris, Vezina, or something else — it’s happening.
They probably won’t lose to a member of their AHL rink staff.
Mikko Lehtonen is in the top 4 by February. I’m a little worried the Leafs keep Muzzin – Holl together and make Dermott – Bogosian the bottom pair to start because they want to be more physical out of the gate. I’m glad they got a big RD and all, but I think Bogosian is a 7D at this point in his career. Regardless Lehtonen will at least come in on B2Bs, and he’s going to be a massive change of pace from Bogo. Lehtonen wants the puck on his stick for every breakout, and he’s quite good and it. If the Leafs are going to play high event hockey, fans are really going to enjoy Lehtonen’s ability to break the puck out. He just put up one of the most impressive 17 game performances I’ve seen from a KHL d-man, and Jokerit has not been the same team without him. If he can play anywhere near the same level in North America, Justin Holl won’t have much more time alongside Jake Muzzin.
One of Rielly, Marner, and Nylander won’t be a Leaf beyond the draft.
We’ve had too many position predictions so far, and I’m here to be the Debbie Downer. While it’s nothing short of a miracle that Kyle Dubas was able to build the quality of team he did with the limited funds he had to work with this offseason, certain cap realities seem like they’ll catch up with the Leafs again fairly soon. And with Amirov and Robertson near ready to be discount top six wingers for the Leafs, it seems very easy to point at Marner and Nylander as potential departures. A similar story could be told of Rielly if the rest of the blueline prospers around him, and if Kyle Dubas no longer wants to lose top talent in free agency instead of acquiring an asset for them.
A lot of this changes if this group manages to win together, and the Leafs are in a very good position to do that. Facing the Canadian teams exclusively before the Conference Finals gives Toronto a very good chance, and if they don’t take advantage of that, we could see an overhaul of the Leafs core in the next offseason. History says prepare for the worst with this team, but I will be delighted to be proven wrong.
WOW! What a depressing way to end it. Let’s recap the happier predictions…
- Matthews will score 40 goals
- Marner will score 30 goals
- The Leafs will have 4 players in the 20 scorers of the league
- Jack Campbell proves he can be a starter
- Freddie Andersen wins the Vezina
- Mikko Lehtonen will be a top four defenseman
- Leafs win the division by 10 points
- They don’t lose to their AHL rink staff (editor’s note: Though nothing was said about the ECHL staff)
- They’ll make a blockbuster trade in the offseason
Seems pretty good to me. I think we’re completely right.