The Toronto Maple Leafs have finished six seasons of the Auston Matthews era, and I think it’s fair to say that they have achieved all of their goals except for one.
The Toronto Maple Leafs got so good, so fast, and expectations got so high, so quickly, that even though pretty much every expectation has been met, the conversation surrounding the team is often about what they haven’t done (win) more than anything else.
In fact, I’d say it’s needlessly, excessively, stupidly, negative.
Given what this team was obviously capable of, it is disappointing they haven’t made it farther in the playoffs, but outside of Chicago and Pittsburgh (who both had elite young stars on entry-level contracts against an entire league just learning the cap system) teams don’t generally win when they first start getting good.
It takes a while.
The Future Is Bright for the Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have established themselves as a legitimate Cup Threat, with a .675 winning percentage under Sheldon Keefe, including almost winning the President’s Trophy in both of the last two seasons.
Going forward, Matthews is 24, Marner is 23, Nylander is 25, and they will be augmented by Liljegren, Sandin and Nick Robertson.
The cap is going up.
The team has no bad contracts and has established a complete mastery of the salary cap.
The farm system, and the Leafs strategy of drafting high-end talent, is starting to pay dividends which are going to keep this team competitive for years to come.
On one hand, losing six straight times in the first round is a major blow to the confidence, and just not at all what was expected of this team. However, the fact is, that is a lot of experience to gather, and a lot of potential character built, for what is still a very young team.
Colorado just made the Stanley Cup Finals after nine seasons with Nathan MacKinnon. I guarantee you the Leafs make it to round two by the time Matthews has done eight years, which is all it will take to equal them. (all stats naturalstattrick.com).
Tampa didn’t win a cup until 2020, and they drafted Hedman and Stamkos in 08 and 09.
Auston Matthews’ Hart Trophy, 2x Rocket Richard Trophies, and three straight years as one of the NHL’s top teams are massive achievements for a team that was dead last in 2016.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are and have been extremely successful over the last several NHL seasons, fluky first round defeats not withstanding. The future should be met with unbridled optimism because this is a team that has every chance of becoming a modern dynasty just like Tampa.
The way the Leafs out-performed their goaltending this year suggests they are in fact the best team in hockey. Hockey is a game where the best team seldom wins the actual championship. All you can do is stick to the plan and try again when you fail.
Matthews winning the Hart breaks the curse of having won no major awards since expansion. Next year, it’s time for the Stanley Cup. Probably.