The Toronto Maple Leafs’ upcoming season promises to be one for the books. Here are five burning questions that will loom large until their campaign begins.
If you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there’s little doubt this NHL offseason has been everything that you could have ever dreamed of — and then some.
For starters, general manager Kyle Dubas has, in effect, rendered his doubters silent. Though the lack of substantive criticism of the 32-year-old is surely only temporary, the administrator has become one of the brightest stars at hockey’s executive level in a fairly short period of time. A relatively successful performance at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, coupled with the signing of the most desired free agent of this year’s market, John Tavares, has earned the 17th GM in Maple Leafs history high marks from across the league — an impressive accomplishment, indeed, given that the team has yet to net a goal under his watch.
But while Stanley Cup odds have increasingly tilted in the Buds’ favor, questions about the future of the organization continue to loom large. It’ll be up to Dubas and his administrative counterparts to set a season for the books into motion — the outcome of which can potentially alter the dynamic of one of hockey’s most depth-ridden franchises.
Let’s consider five burning questions that lie at the forefront of the Maple Leafs’ primary objective: to translate dreams of contention for Lord Stanley’s trophy into a reality.
5. Is the D-core good enough?
It’s the question that lies at the heart of Leafs Nation and the issue that serves as the driving force behind almost any degree of doubt in the future of the club. And it’ll continue to plague the organization until one of two things happen.
On the one hand, the Maple Leafs’ blue line can potentially prove the skeptics wrong.
Morgan Rielly has increasingly demonstrated the extent of his value and is, without question, a beacon of hope on an otherwise mediocre back end. Jake Gardiner — undoubtedly the most polarizing player among the team’s fans and adversaries — is capable of ushering forth memorable performances, albeit with risks abound. After a subpar 2017-18 campaign, Nikita Zaitsev can seemingly only go up from here. Ron Hainsey has shown that he can clock in hard minutes and tough matchups, but he would almost definitely function better in a bottom-pairing role. Travis Dermott? Beyond promising, though more development is needed before he can be relied upon as a top-four guy. And the sixth spot on the right side will certainly need filling, with the likes of Connor Carrick, Justin Holl and Igor Ozhiganov competing for the position.
Simply put, the Maple Leafs’ defensive unit is far from good — though “good enough” could suffice as a general consensus if some improvements are made and mistakes are minimized.
The other option, of course, is an administrative move — particularly one that is centered on the prospect of upgrading the right side.
A shift of this nature would certainly alter the dynamic of the team, but the cost of aiming high promises to entail long-standing ramifications for a franchise that is aiming to lock up three of the league’s most talented youngsters. So while names such as Tyler Myers, Justin Faulk and Colton Parayko endlessly occupy the talk circuit of Toronto media — all of whom, after all, are adequate players that can provide a level of stability on a right side which is susceptible to falter on a nightly basis — the real issue is one of tactics.
If a defensive upgrade is on the horizon, who — or what, precisely — would the Maple Leafs be willing to part with?