Welcome to the “NHL Stanley Cup window” series, that focuses on the current Stanley Cup window of teams around the NHL.
Each article provides an overview of a team’s current window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. We will also discuss improvements the team needs to make, to be considered a serious Stanley Cup contender.
Finally, we will give a realistic prediction and forecast of a team’s likelihood to win a championship in the near future.
This time around, we head out to “ The Six” and take a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto Maple Leafs’ current Cup window
The Toronto Maple Leafs may not be there yet, but their window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup is quickly opening. They have potential to be one of the biggest risers in the Eastern Conference for the next few years and is definitely a team one should look out for in the near future.
After only making the playoffs once in the past 11 seasons, the Maple Leafs took a huge leap forward during the 2016-2017 season. Despite losing in the first round of the playoffs, Toronto had an impressive showing under this new regime.
They were able to hold their own, in a tight six-game series against a stacked Washington Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Throughout the season were able to see several intriguing storylines surrounding this team, most notably with the emergence of the exciting trio of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. All of them made an immediate impact on the team as rookies and was a big reason why Toronto was a playoff team.
Auston Matthews had a historic rookie season and became only the second rookie in the last 20 years to score over 40 goals, with the other being Alexander Ovechkin. Matthews also finished the regular season as the Leafs’ leading scorer with 69 points.
On top of that, he took home the Calder Trophy, as the NHL rookie of the year.
Meanwhile, Nylander and Marner also had respectable rookie campaigns, as both finished in the top five on the team in scoring, with 61 points a piece. Along with Matthews, the three finished in the top four amongst all NHL rookies, and became only the second trio of rookies in the NHL history, to all score over 60 points.
We saw a couple of the more seasoned Leafs significantly step up their game as well. Six-year veteran defenseman, Jake Gardiner, and forward Nazem Kadri, both finished with a career high in points with 43 and 61 respectively.
Kadri also showed great improvement in his overall game, especially with his superb two-way play. He became one of the Leafs’ most important forwards and was called upon to shut down the opposing team’s best players. Maple Leaf fans have waited a long time for Kadri to break out offensively, and he didn’t disappoint either, scoring a career-high 32 goals last season.
What the Maple Leafs need to do to possibly win a Stanley Cup
Right now, one of the biggest weaknesses on the Maple Leafs roster is their defense. They seem to be missing a number one defenseman on the right side to round out their top four. They need someone who can not only log big minutes but also with the ability to shut down the opposing teams best players.
Although, Nikita Zaitsev was a pleasant surprise for the Leafs last season, scoring 32 points and averaging over 22 minutes of ice-time per game. It still remains to be seen if he can be the number one option on the right side. Right now, he seems most suitable as a second pairing guy with Morgan Rielly.
Which in part, makes sense for the Toronto Maple Leafs to try and get someone who can play ahead of him and insulate his minutes.
With the recent signing of Patrick Marleau, the Leafs now have options to move out another top nine forward for immediate help on defense. They likely won’t have the cap space to keep James Van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak next year.
In fact, if they don’t plan to extend them, using them in a deal to get a quality defenseman would be a logical move.
Right now, some of the more notable names rumored to be available on right defense include, Justin Faulk, Jacob Trouba, Tyson Barrie, and Chris Tanev. In my opinion, acquiring any of these names would instantly solve a lot of the problems on their blue line, and will elevate their entire team to a new level.
It is uncertain if offering up a player like James Van Riemsdyk would get a deal done, but it would at least start the conversation with other teams.
As many should expect, Matthews, Marner, and Nylander should continue to take big steps forward in the next few years. Aside from the trio, the Toronto Maple Leafs will need more internal growth amongst their depth players.
As every championship depends on this factor to various degrees, Toronto definitely needs a few more players to step up in the next few years.
Fundamentally, these players will excel in their complementary roles, and give the “big three” the support they need to go deep into the postseason. Some of those players that fall into this category include Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Connor Carrick, and Kasperi Kapanen.
Essentially, the sooner they are able to develop into their roles, the greater the Leafs chance of winning a Stanley Cup will be.
Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup predictions
With all of their major signings this offseason, including the likes of Dominic Moore, Ron Hainsey, Curtis McElhinney, Patrick Marleau, all being thirty-four years old or older, Leafs’ management is showing us that they are trying to win soon.
Right now, their biggest roadblocks in the eastern conference include the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, and the Montreal Canadiens. There are also newly emerging teams in the Ottawa Senators, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who can serve as a threat to them in the future.
Nevertheless, with a generational talent like Auston Matthews, along with a staff that employs Lou Lamoriello, Brendan Shanahan, and Mike Babcock. The Leafs have all the tools in place to become a championship team some day.
As a hockey fan, it is hard not to see the Maple Leafs make the Stanley Cup finals at least a couple of times, in the next five to seven years. Boldly speaking, I believe they will play in their first Stanley Cup finals within three years, and quite possibly win a Stanley Cup within four.
Overall, this is definitely an organization on the uprise, and it is an exciting time to be a Maple Leaf fan.
Expectations will be a lot higher from now on, and simply making the playoffs won’t be good enough!
Hang tight Toronto fans; your 50-year Stanley Cup drought will likely be over soon!
Do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs can win a Stanley Cup in the near future? If so, how soon? Let us know in the comment section below.
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