Early in the season, one of the big storylines was the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offense. There was a time, however brief, where the top four scorers in the league were Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, and John Tavares. Toronto got off to a 6-1-0 start while scoring 33 goals over that span. Since then though, the Maple Leafs are 2-3-0 and have found the back of the net a far more modest nine goals during that stretch. More importantly, more importantly, Auston Matthews sustained a shoulder injury that’s expected to cost him at least four weeks.
Matthews already missed 20 games last season due to injury, so the fact that he’s going to miss a significant chunk of this season too is concerning. It’s not the end of the world, but Matthews will be a restricted free agent this summer and odds are in favor of the Maple Leafs making a massive eight-year commitment to him, so has to hope that his setbacks over the last couple years are just some anomalous bad luck and not the beginning of a trend.
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Speaking of massive contracts, William Nylander still doesn’t have one. He’s already the first month of the season and it doesn’t seem like anything is imminent on that front. We’re getting towards a point where the Dec. 1 deadline is starting to become more relevant. If he isn’t signed by Dec. 1 then he simply isn’t allowed to play in the NHL this season. The Maple Leafs have thus far appeared to be uninterested in trading him, but if they can’t start to make progress in the near future then they may have no choice but to test the market. Simply letting him sit for the entire season would be a big problem for them, especially because it would put them in a situation where they’d have to re-sign Nylander, Matthews, and Marner all in the same summer.
There’s also Kasperi Kapanen, who is set to become a restricted free agent. That would have been an afterthought when the season began, but he has six goals and 10 points in 12 contests so far this season. Even if he continues down this path and the 2018-19 campaign is regarded as a breakout campaign, he won’t be commanding the same kind of deal as Toronto’s big three. He will be entitled to a deal big enough to be a meaningful cap consideration though. On top of that, Jake Gardiner can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the next 5-10 years of the Maple Leafs will be shaped in large part by what management does over the next 12 months.
While Toronto’s offense cooled, the Colorado Avalanche kept pushing forward. Mikko Rantanen was named the NHL’s first star of the month after scoring five goals and a league-leading 21 points in 12 contests. Linemates Nathan MacKinnon has nine goals and 18 points and Gabriel Landeskog has 10 goals and 16 points. That trio’s hot start can’t be maintained, but they should be able to stay as one of the best lines in the league.
The Avalanche are more than just a team with star power up front though. Even when the Toronto Maple Leafs were firing on all cylinders, there were concerns about their defense. So far the Avalanche are allowing just 2.17 goals per game, which is the second best in the NHL. Semyon Varlamov is playing like an early favorite for the Vezina Trophy while Philipp Grubauer is an overqualified backup. Colorado does look like the full package so far and while the Avalanche didn’t get past the first round last season, 2018-19 might be different.
The only team that’s done better than them so far in terms of goals allowed has been the Arizona Coyotes. Goaltender Antti Raanta deserves a fair amount of credit for that. If you go back from Feb. 12 to present day, Antti Raanta is 16-7-0 with a 1.68 GAA and .946 save percentage in 24 contests. That’s the best in the league in both GAA and save percentage over that span (min. 10 games). This season specifically, Raanta has a 1.99 GAA and .926 save percentage in eight starts, but is just 4-4-0. Three of those losses occurred form Oct. 4-13 when Arizona was shutout three times in four games. More recently, the Coyotes have won four consecutive games by a combined margin of 20-4.
This also makes it the first time in five years that the Coyotes have come out of October with a winning record. The Coyotes still have a lot of work ahead of them, but it finally looks like the Coyotes are trending in the right direction. Arizona looked like an encouraging team on paper going into 2017-18, but ended up with a 29-41-12 record in large part due to a terrible 2-15-3 start. At least they won’t have to face the near impossible task of trying to dig out of that kind of massive hole this time around.
Lastly, I just wanted to briefly note that Slava Voynov has applied to be reinstated into the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings control his rights, so if the NHL does decide to reinstate him, then the Kings will need to decide what course they want to take. It’s too early to say what’s going to happen, but given that he's asked to be reinstated, we're going to hear more on the subject.