It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
How they did last season: 29-42-11 (69 points), 8th in the Atlantic, 16th in the Eastern Conference. Did not make the playoffs.
Notable acquisitions: C Auston Matthews, LW Matt Martin, D Roman Polak, D Nikita Zaitsev, G Frederik Andersen, G Jhonas Enroth
Notable departures: RW Michael Grabner, RW P.A. Parenteau, D Stuart Percy, G Jonathan Bernier
When they will play the Caps: Nov. 26 in Toronto; Jan. 3 in Washington; April 4 in Toronto
Analysis: Get coach of the future: check.
Get potential star in the draft: check.
Get a starter in net: check.
The rebuild seems to be going just fine thus far in Toronto. After what we all expected to be a tough season, Toronto finished with the worst record in the league. Remarkably, Edmonton didn’t win the top overall pick for once and the Maple Leafs got the chance to select the top player in the draft, Auston Matthews.
Matthews does not appear to be one of those “generational” talents like Connor McDavid, but still looks like he will be a very good player. He will join a stable of young talent that the Leafs hope to develop this year such as William Nylander and Mitch Marner.
Mercifully, the Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer goalie tandem is no more. Instead, the Leafs have bet the farm on Frederik Andersen as they traded a first-round and a second-round draft pick to Anaheim to get him. That’s a pretty big price tag for a goalie who I’m not all that convinced can be more than just an average starter. With Jhonas Enroth as his backup, he’s clearly the top guy and will be expected to start 55-60 games.
The trade was also curious in terms of timing because the Leafs are still quite a ways away from being anything close to competitive for a playoff spot. It seems a bit odd to bring in a 26-year-old netminder to be the goalie of the future when the future is still probably another two or more years away.
All that said, Andersen is certainly better than what they had.
Season prediction: This is a critical year for Toronto not because they are going to do anything in the standings, but because they can’t lose sight of the overall goal.
The worst and hardest part of a rebuild is not tearing the team down, it’s building it back up. They have young talent, now they have to develop it. That means there will be more growing pains as the team turns its roster over to inexperienced youngsters.
One need only look at the team’s cap situation to understand what this season means for Toronto. Brooks Laich and Joffrey Lupul are still on the books as well as Nathan Horton and Stephane Robidas, two players who will never step foot on the ice. Those aren’t the kind of contracts you find on the rosters of teams looking for a playoff push.
The goal for this season is not to win, it's to develop players like Matthews, Nylander and Marner as well as determine if Andersen is indeed good enough to carry the load as a starter by himself. The fans and the management need to keep sight of the overall goal of rebuiling the team and be patient.
Patience, however, can sometimes be a struggle in Toronto.
MORE HOCKEY: DIPAULI LIKED THE 'FIT' IN PITTSBURGH BETTER
2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
— Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)