The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrated the new year in second place in the overall NHL standings.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a ten point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs as they completed a perfect December, and have basically run away with the President’s Trophy.
That shouldn’t concern the Leafs too much however, as the Lightning will eventually go through a rough patch where the Leafs can gain some ground.
And if not? Who cares. The NHL isn’t about first place in the regular season, it’s about winning the Stanley Cup.
Here are three things we can expect from the Leafs in the new year as they attempt to win the Cup.
New Years for the Toronto Maple Leafs
- Trading for a defenseman
The Leafs aren’t going to enter the playoffs with their current blue line. That is about as much of a certainty as there is in the world. It is ridiculous to have Ron Hainsey on the top pairing and Nikita Zaitsev is hardly worth of a roster spot at this point.
I would expect there is a 100% chance the Leafs acquire a new partner for Morgan Rielly, as seeing what the NHL’s arguably best defenseman can do with a partner who doesn’t drag down his play significantly, is a tantalizing prospect.
I also expect the Leafs to add a second defenseman. This isn’t as much of a sure thing, but I’d suggest it’s pretty likely. Once teams start to fall out of the playoff race, the Leafs will make a couple of moves.
2. Trading for another goalie
You can never be too careful, and I don’t think the Leafs will want to risk having to rely exclusively on Garrett Sparks. If Andersen goes down, Sparks deserves a chance to start, but they’ll definitely want more back-up to the back-up than recently acquired AHL goalie Michael Hutchinson.
Once teams are satisfied that they can’t make the playoffs, the Leafs should have no trouble adding a quality back-up for emergency purposes.
3. The Breakout of William Nylander
Since Nylander has returned, the Leafs are + 34 shot attempts when he’s on the ice (his 56%CF leads the team) + 10 shots and +12 scoring chances.
He makes everyone he plays with significantly better, and has been his old self for several games now. Babcock had him practicing in his old spot before New Years, and he will start getting the points to match his play anytime now.
Nylander has 20 shots individually, and a zero percent shooting percentage. He has an on-ice shooting percentage of 3.66% (the combined s% of everyone who has been on the ice simultaneously with him). This is three percentage points lower than anyone else on the team, and is a function of bad luck and nothing more.
Of course, his lack of points fits an lazy and easy narrative, so hardly anyone has been talking about his excellent play or his stats, but what can you do? People have made up their minds and are loathe to change them.
The idea that Kapanen is somehow a better player is perhaps the most hilarious narrative the NHL has ever seen, and we are talking about a league in which people defended the trade of MVP Taylor Hall for a third pairing defenseman because ‘he can’t win in the playoffs.’
Take it to the bank: the Leafs will flourish in the second half with the addition of another superstar to their team (Nylander), at least one new defenseman and an emergency goalie.