The NHL season kicks off for actual tomorrow night time (the 2 appetizer video games in Prague don’t rely, particularly as a result of they concerned the Sharks), or because it’s recognized for many of the hockey overlaying world, “Six months of how does this have an effect on the Leafs?” Yep, the game’s largest cleaning soap opera, the query of whether or not or not the Leafs could make it to Might, will get one other go beginning Wednesday night time.
The Leafs are primarily operating it again once more, as there haven’t been many adjustments to the forwards or the protection this yr. Calle Jarnkrok was introduced in to assist enhance the third line, however that’s primarily it. Apart from that, it’s the lineup you’ve come to know and…know. Auston Matthews on the highest line subsequent to Mitch Marner, John Tavares on the second when he returns from damage, William Nylander avoiding all of the rotten greens Leafs followers throw at him whereas declaring he’s the high-priced ahead who ought to be traded as a result of he was the one who wasn’t born in Swift Present or London or no matter. They’ll nonetheless attempt to make up the third and 4th line with no matter they picked out of abandoned workplace areas and alleys, be they draft picks for veterans nobody else needed however billed as simply eager to be in Toronto so desperately.
The one change anybody will discover is as soon as once more in web. The place as soon as stood Freddy Andersen, who was then usurped by Jack Campbell, now stands Matt Murray. And very similar to the earlier two, our questions should be, “Um…you’re like, severe with this?”
The Leafs themselves and their followers will counter that not like Andersen and Campbell, Murray comes with precise Cup-pedigree. And that’s true. He was within the crease for 2 Cup wins for the Penguins in a row, and a kind of he was backstopping your complete run (he got here in midway by means of the 2017 triumph due to damage). Nevertheless, 2017 is getting awfully distant within the rearview mirror, and Murray hasn’t actually efficiently negotiated the marathon of an 82-game common season as a starter and finished it effectively. After that 2017 Cup he took over as starter for the Pens for 2 seasons, and was middling to okay whereas getting round 50 begins. However he wasn’t ok for the Penguins to be satisfied they shouldn’t hand the job to Tristan Jarry, which they rapidly did within the 2019-2020 season when Murray fell aside.
Murray was shipped off to Ottawa earlier than he needed to be paid just like the two-time Cup-winning goalie he was, and issues didn’t go effectively in Ottawa in any respect. In two seasons within the capital, although a kind of was the COVID season that shall by no means be spoken of once more, Murray’s save-percentage didn’t crack .900. And he didn’t make greater than 25 begins in both. Whereas the COVID season is wonky for analysis functions, it’s not just like the Canadian division was filled with heavy hitters. And each time Murray did get on the ice, he was getting pilfered.
Final season may not be as unhealthy because it seems at first look. A .906 save-percentage total positively slants towards puke-tastic with out getting absolutely there, however in these 20 begins Murray did save 3.2 targets over anticipated, due to the precise puke-tastic nature of the Sens final season. At a per-game charge, that’s nonetheless solely in the course of the pack for goals-saved above anticipated, however it’s not less than consultant.
Nonetheless, it’s curious that the Senators, who’re clearly pointed to make an enormous leap this yr with their offseason exercise, didn’t suppose Murray would supply the platform for his or her refurbished lineup to take action. Anton Forsberg was simply that a lot better final yr, and more healthy.
The Leafs, for seemingly the seventeenth consecutive season, will argue that the remainder of the workforce is sweet sufficient that they will get by with mere common goaltending. If Murray can simply make all of the saves he’s purported to, they’ll be high quality. They’ll level to the Avs final season, who received a Cup with Darcy Kuemper placing up a .902 within the playoffs, after which rapidly let him toddle off to the Caps in free company, figuring anybody can put up a .902 when it issues most.
However the Leafs aren’t the Avs. Whereas they could match prime traces with the champs, they don’t have the blue line that the Avs do, not less than not but. They can not push the play on each shift as aggressively as Colorado does, and Morgan Rielly shouldn’t be Cale Makar, irrespective of how a lot they need it into existence. Rielly is sweet, and possibly higher than I’ll admit he’s as a result of I really like needling the Leafs, however Cup champs as of late include a top-five prime d-man. Is Rielly actually that?
The wildcard right here is Rasmus Sundin, who the Leafs have placed on tilt with some barely contentious contract negotiations this season. Sundin’s metrics from final yr are fairly glittering, with an expected-goals share of 58.4 p.c even with beginning lower than half of his shifts within the offensive zone. Will Sandin earn prime 4 minutes? Have they got the stones to demote Jake Muzzin to the third pairing to take action?
There’s at all times a ticking clock for the Leafs, merely due to the warmth the followers and press exert onto the workforce each season. However this time it appears a contact louder than earlier than, as Matthews is within the final two years of his contract and yet one more playoff flameout may begin some intriguing conversations about how badly he desires to be in Toronto for the long-term. The identical goes for Nylander. The massive adjustments that seemingly are at all times promised for Toronto each offseason however by no means occur may occur after this season if they will’t unfuck themselves within the first spherical once more.
One factor going for the Leafs is that the division has come again to them a bit. Tampa has yet one more Last-run added to the odometer and misplaced Ondřej Palát. The Bruins are doing a Spinal Faucet reunion tour. The Panthers are both trusting Sergei Bobrovsky to maintain it going for one more season or to seamlessly let Spencer Knight take over within the crease whereas additionally trusting the entire thing to one of many largest morons round who retains falling upwards as coach in Paul Maurice. The Leafs might win this division simply and possibly lastly duck a horrible first spherical matchup. Although that didn’t do a lot towards Montreal two years in the past, did it? And the underside of this division is swinging upwards, as Ottawa, Detroit, and even Buffalo are going to be higher than they had been earlier than. Successful this division will precise a toll earlier than the playoffs that different divisions received’t.
However it is going to nonetheless come all the way down to Murray sooner or later, whether or not he or the Leafs prefer it or not. The Leafs are an excellent defensive workforce, which will get glossed over within the furor each time they belch up a frog within the playoffs. And it’ll have been six years since Murray was making large saves within the spring by the point these playoffs roll round. It solely takes one large save not made to sink the entire thing. The Leafs have been making an attempt to discount basement this place for some time now, and that is their newest whack at it. If this doesn’t work, then what?