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As we wait for news from the NHL and the Players Association about when the 2021 regular season will begin and how long it will be, it is a good time to consider the changes the Toronto Maple Leafs made this offseason and whether they addressed the main shortcomings.
The Leafs began last season with Michael Hutchinson and Kasimir Kaskisuo backing up Frederik Andersen, which cost the club valuable points in the standings until GM Kyle Dubas dealt for Jack Campbell in February. This season, Toronto will have Andersen backed up by Campbell, former Shark Aaron Dell and Hutchinson. In the end, the Leafs success will depend mostly on Andersen coming up big in the playoffs, but the club is positioned to weather an injury issue better than they have in a long time.
Injuries exposed the most vulnerable spot on the Toronto roster, forcing the club to press rookies Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren late in the regular season and play the horrific Martin Marincin in the playoffs. The moves by Dubas appear to be a significant upgrade from last season, replacing Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci with TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian, and signing KHL blueliner Mikko Lehtonen. We will not know how these additions will gel with Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Justin Holl, and Travis Dermott, but Toronto’s defensive corps looks much better on paper.
The qualifying round loss to Columbus exposed one aspect that the Leafs attempted to address this off-season. In the five-game series, Toronto scored 10 goals and eight of them were from their top two lines and top defensive pairing (Tavares, Matthews, Nylander (2), Hyman, Rielly (1)). Other than Cody Ceci’s fluky short-handed goal, the only offense the Leafs got was from 18-year-old Nick Robertson.
Dubas had to move out Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson to clear cap space to upgrade on defense, but it is likely that Ilya Mikheyev will move into the top six to play with either John Tavares or Auston Matthews. The additions of Jimmy Vesey, Wayne Simmonds and Joe Thornton to go along with Alex Kerfoot, Jason Spezza, KHL import Alexander Barabanov and possibly Robertson are clearly aimed at giving the Leafs more depth of scoring up front and take some of the pressure off the core group.
Overall, the Leafs look like a balanced club with the potential for an impact top pairing of Rielly and Brodie and a better depth in all three areas. The character and experience added with Simmonds, Thornton, and Bogosian, along with the unknown commodities of Lehtonen and Barabanov will determine whether Toronto will have success this season or more disappointment.
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