The Toronto Maple Leafs enter the 2016-17 season looking to snap a three-year playoff drought. Scott Wheeler from the greatly-named Pension Plan Puppets visit the LBC to give us Florida Panthers fans the 411 on the Buds.
What are your thoughts on the Maple Leafs performance during 2015-16 in a tidy nutshell?
I think despite the results, that the Leafs' season had to be considered a success. For the first time in years, they played a sound possession-driven style while also giving some of the youth a much-needed test. From a management standpoint, the staff made few mistakes while turning cheap one-year deals into future value at the deadline. Largely, I think the season was a step in the right direction for the Leafs.
What was the team's best offseason move thus far?
Besides blocking out all the noise to draft Auston Matthews, the Leafs offseason has been a rather peculiar one and has focussed too much on adding size and physicality in my opinion. The move that will have the most positive impact will be the signing of top KHL defensemen Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year ELC — I'm not in love with the Matt Martin, Roman Polak and Frederik Andersen moves.
What departure will hurt the Leafs the most?
I think if the Leafs can't land a decent backup for Frederik Andersen that the loss of both Reimer and Bernier could hurt them a little. I think the team would have been better of re-signing Parenteau for cheap than brining in veterans like Martin for twice the price, but I'm of the mind that there's some talented youth ready to step in and fill that void regardless.
What prospect (other than Auston Matthews) is most likely to crack the lineup and make an impact?
I think the two prospects not named Matthews and Nylander ready to make the jump and really make a difference are Connor Brown and Mitch Marner. Brown should have been in the NHL last year, and the Leafs shouldn't keep him with the Marlies any longer. He's ready, and he's arguably one of the team's most talented wingers after Marner and James van Riemsdyk. As far as Marner goes, I think it goes without saying that he's done with junior hockey and that it's time he be challenged in the NHL.
Realistically, what would constitute a successful 2016-17 campaign?
I think a successfully 2016-17 Leafs season would see the team incorporate more youth and put Marner, Matthews and Nylander in positions where they can succeed and grow while continuing to play a positive-possession system. I would probably argue that veterans like Martin, Polak, Laich, Greening and Michalek need to play further down the lineup, be bought out, or be healthy scratches to make room for Brown and co. to develop. At this point, the Leafs also need to start finding results. That doesn't mean they have to make the playoffs, but growing as a team and picking up some more wins should definitely be the goal.