Toronto Maple Leafs: A Look at the Off-Season and What Lies Ahead

Jul 13, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (left) and president Brendan Shanahan (right) watch a NHL workout at the Ford Performance Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 13, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (left) and president Brendan Shanahan (right) watch a NHL workout at the Ford Performance Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent off-season considering that they lost their number one goaltender and a main piece of their top six.

General manager Kyle Dubas did well with his salary cap space and added much-needed depth to the roster. The departure of Zach Hyman was hard for many fans to see. However, Dubas added three players to the team using the cap space that Hyman would have taken up.

I think players like Nick Ritchie and Michael Bunting will surprise fans and show that Dubas made the right decision. One or both of these players will see playing time in the Toronto Maple Leafs top six.

I recently chatted with Toronto Maple Leafs beat reporter Terry Koshan from the Toronto Sun and Mike Wilson, who is the “Ultimate Leafs Fan,” according to ESPN. I asked both of them the same five questions regarding the Leafs off-season and a bit about this upcoming season. Here is what they had to say.

Toronto Maple Leafs Review With Terry Koshan And Mike Wilson

JR: What are your thoughts on the Leafs adding Nick Ritchie?

TK: It’s a good signing. Once camp starts, it will be Ritchie’s responsibility to prove he belongs with Auston Matthews or John Tavares. Will he be ready to take that next step? Last season was the first that Ritchie averaged more than 15 minutes a game. Ritchie shouldn’t be seen as a complete replacement for Zach Hyman, but as a player who can possibly help fill that hole. A great opportunity awaits Ritchie. 

MW: I think this is a decent signing, probably not the one they wanted, but with cap restraints the options obviously were limited. However the upside is, local boy, played for the Marlies as a kid so is aware of the added stigma wearing the blue/white. He will be motivated. 

It’s been said to me by players, Toronto is a hard a place to play with media, fan expectations with every minor issue dissected, therefore it’s critical a players grasps that and isn’t overwhelmed especially as a young player. Ritchie has enough experience in the league to expect the unexpected having played in a non pressure market in Anaheim to a serious environment in Boston.  That’s a good foothold.

Talent wise, he’s big, goes to the net, is hard on the puck and can score (15/11/26 in 56). He’s not Hyman speed but as long as he ‘gets there’ he can and should be a fit for Matthews or Tavares. I’d almost say more-so for JT because he’s been pounded the last few years; gets no physical help from Nylander and it’s so imperative that he gets some room. Ritchie can provide that. No coincidence Tavares’ production went up when he finally got some grit on the left side. 

At 2.5 a year, Ritchie isn’t sitting or playing 3rd or 4th line to start, so it’s his job to lose. It’s a good risk to take. 

JR: How do you feel about the Campbell/Mrazek tandem?

TK: I think it has potential, but we won’t know for sure until the playoffs. As much as the duo is being billed as a tandem, the net should be Campbell’s to lose through camp and then into the regular season. Two keys will be in play for Campbell and Mrazek — their respective performances, obviously, and whether both can stay healthy. 

MW: I think the Mrazek signing is good because three years is manageable (again no choice; best case scenario if he steals net and has to be upped next year Campbell becomes a trade chip) and hopefully Woll is ready to make the leap. Worst case the contract is very buyout friendly.

As far as the tandem?  Look at the final 4 goalies in this years playoffs; do either replace one of them, never mind in the finals. Thats what it takes and unfortunately for the Leafs these two are good enough to get them to the post season tournament but not sure they are good enough to go deep. Quite frankly no one knows that answer including the players themselves. 

Therefore more pressure on the defense too limit the shots and in a perfect world spend as little time as possible in their own end, but isn’t that the objective of the game? Bottom line, during the regular season they’ll be fine but come playoff time, fans better have oxygen close by.  

JR: Should the Toronto Maple Leafs trade Morgan Rielly if he doesn’t sign an extension by training camp?

TK: Not a chance. There is no viable replacement on the roster or in the system.

MW: With the recent signings of defensemen around the league Leafs management must be cringing while Reilly is licking his chops.

Two thoughts; Reilly smells the opportunity; he can light it up knowing there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; that can only benefit the Leafs with his play. Most teams assess where they are around US Thanksgiving (roughly 20 game or quarter season mark) so Toronto will have a pretty good idea how they stack up at this point; if it looks fruitless to get his signature on a ticket then a decision should be made to ride the season, go for it or capitalize with a trade. 

My thought would be not to wait to trade deadline if things don’t look to work out because it’s desperation at that point and the return won’t be close to value expected. They can not however afford to not replace with him with equal value because they are thin on the backend. That is in my view the more pressing issue. 

JR: Is this the year that Matthews breaks Rick Vaive’s record of 54 goals in a season by a Leaf?

TK: If Matthews stays healthy during the entire season — even if he misses no more than a handful of games, I think he will break Vaive’s record. If not, he’s going to come close and should score 50. We can make a safe bet that Matthews will break Vaive’s record at some point during the next three seasons. 

MW: Matthews is a generational player and arguably the most talented player to ever don the Leaf colours. He is a goal scoring machine and I expect with everything remaining status quo (injuries, etc.) he’ll break it one year. 
Now if per chance the Leafs rebrand their game to more playoff efficient and his goal scoring suffers slightly but they give up less and win more? That’s the winning formula. But to answer your question, of course he can and probably will do it. 

JR: How would you rate the Toronto Maple Leafs off-season ( _/10 ) & why?

TK:  6/10

I might be inclined to give a higher mark, but we’re not sure how the Leafs’ additions will play out. Each certainly has potential. What I would take into consideration is of all the players that departed the organization or were acquired, the best of the bunch is Hyman. Kyle Dubas didn’t — or hasn’t yet — got a replacement for Zach Bogosian on the blue line. What we can say with confidence is that competition for spots at camp, especially at forward, will be high. The tougher it is for coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff to make decisions, the better it will be for the team overall. 

MW:  5/10

With the dire cap situation they’re in, I thought Dubas did a very good job squeezing in all those players.

Next. How the Leafs Supposedly Failed. dark

They are definitely an upgrade over the crop from last year. So that’s a good thing. The depth will provide good competition at each position and of the dozen or so players new to the lineup (including Marlies) if they can find success in two or three? It’s a big win. This is all dependent on the core playing to their ability or all bets are off. I see no reason they won’t.