The Toronto Maple Leafs should enter the 2019-20 season as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Not the St. Louis Blues, not the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now, we know that NHL experts tend to put way too much emphasis on what happened last year, so that’s not going to happen.
Contrary to all possible reason and common sense, the pundits will no doubt favor the Blues and Bruins, while overrating the first round troubles of the NHL’s two best teams – Tampa and Toronto.
But they shouldn’t.
Toronto Maple Leafs as Favorites
The NHL favors teams with elite players, and the Leafs are stacked with potential first-liners: Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Nylander, Rielly and Andersen are star players who have “first-line star player” as their floor. (To say nothing of their ridiculous ceilings).
Beyond that, Andreas Johnsson scored at a first-line rate last year (P/60). Alex Kerfoot is considered among the league’s premier defensive players, and Kasperi Kapanen is among the league’s fastest players. All of them could end up putting up first line results.
You’ve also got Jake Muzzin (the league’s best possession defenseman for the better part of a decade) and Tyson Barrie (59 points).
The Toronto Maple Leafs large amount of potentially first-line players is pretty crazy, but they also have a ton of depth.
Their top two lines feature some of the best scorers in the NHL, but the Leafs also have a bevy of cheap, potentially high-impact players they can mix and match for several different lineup looks: Jason Spezza, Nick Shore, Ilya Mikheyev, Trevor Moore, Kenny Agostino, Pontus Aberg, to name a few.
No team’s forward depth is even close.
On the Blue-Line, anyone would be hard-pressed to match Rielly, Muzzin and Barrie as a top-three. Travis Dermott has elite potential, while Timothy Liljegren and Rasums Sandin could provide high-upside from entry-level deals.
Oh and they have no bad contracts!
They’ve got the best centre depth in the NHL.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are still scratching the surface of their potential and have not peaked yet.
Matthews alone is worth the optimism – he’s the league’s best 5v5 goal scorer, bar none, since coming into the NHL. That makes him the best goal scorer in the game. Sorry Alex Ovechkin, but it’s true.
Matthews is 3rd in the NHL in per/minute production, and could easily put up a 60 goal season.
John Taveres is the team’s SECOND best centre.
Mitch Marner is (arguably) their 3rd best player. (The fact that Marner and Tavares play on a team in which neither is the best player is itself completely crazy).
Morgan Rielly (who followed a year in which he was one of three players to face top competition, score 50 points and be a positive possession player with an 80 point Norris-Worthy Season) is one of the top defenseman in the NHL.
To recap: The Toronto Maple Leafs are the deepest team in the NHL, have the most elite players, a top ten goalie, the third best player, the best goal scorer, one of the best defenseman, and have the best centres and forwards. Also, they have one of the deepest blue-lines + two potentially awesome rookies.
Objectively speaking and putting aside all of my biases, they’ve got the best roster in hockey and should be the favorites to win the Atlantic, the East, the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup.