Toronto Maple Leafs Roundtable: Early season predictions

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 29: Head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs Mike Babcock calls a timeout late in the third period and gives instructions to his players during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on October 29, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 29: Head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs Mike Babcock calls a timeout late in the third period and gives instructions to his players during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on October 29, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

With the puck set to drop on another season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the roundtable returns to give some predictions for the season.

After months of waiting, the Toronto Maple Leafs season is finally here and with expectations rising the Leafs look ready to make a longer run in the playoffs.

In this version of the roundtable, David Morassutti, Omar White, Jake Middleton and Austin Owens share their thoughts on the season looking at the biggest surprises from training camp, players with the most to prove, where the Leafs will finish in the division and any potential weak points on the team.

What was the biggest surprise coming out of training camp?

David Morassutti: For me it has to be the emergence of Swedish defenceman Andreas Borgman because for the longest time, people thought Calle Rosen was going to make the team. While he came in with the pedigree as the top rookie from the Swedish Hockey League, some players have a tough time making the adjustment to the smaller NHL ice surface.

However, Borgman has shown that he is not afraid to throw his body around, and Mike Babcock doesn’t just see him as a player who will hit anything that moves. It will be a learning experience for him starting right away in the NHL but playing on the third pairing with Connor Carrick shouldn’t present too many challenges for Borgman.

Austin Owens: It’s hard not to consider Andreas Borgman as a surprise in terms of cracking the opening night lineup. Not to say that he doesn’t have the ability to play in the NHL this year, but going into the preseason, it looked like he could be behind Calle Rosen and even Travis Dermott. 

He definitely has the pedigree that should give fans a lot of optimism. SHL Rookie of the Year has been won by future NHL’ers like Victor Hedman, Tobias Enstrom and Mattias Ekholm; Pretty good company if you’re an up and coming defender. Once the Leafs began playing, Borgman absolutely deserved his spot in the lineup. He showed he’s got an aggressive style, good stick checking ability as well as the willingness to throw his weight around and battle for loose pucks. 

He’s going to be extremely exciting to watch. Hopefully he blooms into a solid piece for the Leafs this season. 

Omar White:  As much as I’d like to say that Borgman was the surprise, it wasn’t for me. There was something about him that intrigued me when the Leafs first signed him and I legitimately thought he had a chance to make the team. For me it’s that Martin Marincin is still on this team. I don’t want to continue to pick on the guy, and I understand the analytics say something else, but he’s too much of a liability to play for this team. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves here, as great as last year’s season was, they were the 8th seed.

The Leafs can’t afford to give up points from bad turnovers or poor decision making and that’s Marincin to a T. You’d think that with the other faces in the system that Babcock would be ok with letting him go, but I guess he still feels he can better his game.

Jake Middleton:  How could it be anybody but Borgman? The rookie of the year in the SHL, I thought Borgmann was behind not only Travis Dermott, but also fellow swede Rosen for playing time. To my surprise he was fantastic in the preseason and looked like yet another gem unearthed by the management and looks slated to start against the Jets. I’m really excited to see how he handles playing NHL minutes this early into his career.

Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON – APRIL 19: Auston Matthews /

Where do the Leafs finish in the standings and who leads the team in scoring?

DM : They will challenge Tampa Bay for the division but it will be tough to see the Leafs overtake a team that has a consistent track record and is integrating youthful players with a legitimate core. The Leafs have done enough to be in a better position than Montreal, Boston, and Ottawa especially if they get off to a better start to the season.

The only way the Leafs can win the Atlantic Division is if the Lightning have the same unlucky run of injuries like they did last season. It will be fun to see how Brendan Shanahan‘s Leafs stack up against Steve Yzerman‘s Lightning squad as the former teammates have earned a solid reputation for the stability they have provided their teams.

As far as who leads the team in scoring? I think it will be a battle between Matthews and Nylander. With a full season together this will be a close one especially considering how Nylander was bouncing up and down the lineup before he was finally left on Matthews’ wing.

Both had the same number of points after the all-star break and Nylander saw his shooting percentage rise from 8.5% to 13.5%. If Nylander gets more opportunities to score on the powerplay and is feeding Matthews the puck like he did in preseason this could be a close one but right now the edge is probably going to Matthews as he will probably have more than the 29 assists he had last season.

AO: I’d love to say that the Leafs are a lock for the first spot in the Atlantic Division, but I don’t believe they will be tops in the division, not yet at least. 

Tampa Bay has a great squad this season. They have a returning Steven Stamkos lined up with 40 goal scorer Nikita Kucherov. That’s a scary duo. Add top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev to an already strong defensive core, and you should see them take the top spot in the Atlantic. 

As for the Leafs, I see them taking second spot in the division. The Canadiens look like they may take a step back, and the Senators and Bruins will be pushing for the second and third spots. But barring any major setbacks, the Leafs should be able to slide into the second slot. 

The slam dunk pick for the scoring lead is Matthews. It’d be stupid to think he won’t lead the team. I’ll be that idiot though and bet that Mitch Marner has a massive year and beats out both Matthews and William Nylander. He’s looked extremely dangerous all preseason, and he’s packed on some muscle over the offseason, so his production should see a boost. 

James van Riemsdyk needs to have a good season with his contract expiring this season. Marner should be able to get some more assists with JVR, assuming he plays to the level he was at in the preseason. 

Marner will also have significant power-play time and should quarterback the Leafs second unit. He had 21 points on the man advantage. Can he improve on that this season? We’ll see soon enough.

Would love to see him have a great year and push for the team lead in points. 

OW: Tampa Bay is winning the Atlantic Division. There’re no reason that they shouldn’t be able to with the team they have. That being said, I think the Leafs will be right behind them. It’s another year of growth for the entire team. I think the days of blowing third period leads and losing in a shootout are behind them.

Frederik Anderson won’t have the same early slump he did last year because he knows the team and the system. Additionally, it’s Mike Babcock that we’re talking about here. He won’t let the team falter, and he’ll make sure that everyone is playing the right way.

As for who will lead the team in scoring, it’ll be 34. I’m not going to guarantee that he’ll score 40 goals again but he’ll get close and his assists will increase if William Nylander reaches a new level offensively as well.

JM: This is a tough one, while I am a believer in Tampa Bay, I don’t see how much better they got this offseason going into this season, I mean Sergachev is poised to be a stud top 4 defenseman sooner than later, but can he handle that responsibility right now as a 19 year old?

I don’t know that answer, and signing Dan Girardi was a really bad idea, as he legitimately cannot skate anymore. Regardless I’m a fan of who they have coming back and that should allow them to squeak out the division by a couple points followed by the Leafs and then the Bruins.

As for who leads the team in scoring, it’s shockingly going to be Auston Matthews! After a fantastic debut season where he had nearly 70 points, it wouldn’t surprise me if he had 80-85 this season following his entire line gaining a full year of experience, also him and Nylander in the playoffs caused the Capitals nightmares, I don’t see that changing, even with Zach Hyman on their wing.

Toronto Maple Leafs
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 26: Goalie Curtis McElhinney /

What is a potential weakness that the team will need to keep an eye on throughout the season?

DM: While it is not an issue right now, injuries could be a problem for the Leafs at certain positions. The team is fortunate to have depth at almost every position which will be helpful if injuries start to pile up. However, if Frederik Andersen were to be out for an extended period of time (knock on wood), do the Leafs feel comfortable going with Curtis McElhinney for a long period of time? If Ron Hainsey were to suffer an injury, who would take his place? Will he be able to handle a top-four spot on the Leafs blueline? These are some things the Leafs will have to look at but they are certainly in better shape then last season.

AO: I can’t say that there is a glaring weakness on the team, but there are definitely some players to keep an eye on. 

The first is Hainsey, who will be playing alongside Morgan Rielly this season. He is meant to be a calming presence at the back end who will allow the offensive minded Rielly the chance to jump up in the rush. At times, however, Hainsey had had trouble getting the puck out of his own zone. 

He’s coming off the best season of his career and with a Stanley Cup in hand, he’ll try provide a steady presence with one of the Leafs biggest stars. 

It will be interesting to see how the pair works together. 

OW: Yes Marincin *hold for laughter*. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Curtis McElhinney has a bit of a rough patch this season. He’s proven that he can hold down the fort as a backup, but he’s not getting any younger. This isn’t to say that he’s a bad goaltender, but there was a reason why the Leafs were in on Mike Condon during free agency.

Next: 2017-18 Preview - Looking at the forwards

JM: Outside of the obvious defensive deficiencies, I’m really worried about the backup goalie position and what we would do if Freddy was out for more than a week or two. As we saw last season, in a pinch, Mcillheny is a useful NHL goalie, as evidenced by his performance against Pittsburgh in game 81 last season, but if he were to be a consistent starter? We would be in a tough position. I really would have liked to have signed a better backup like a Mike Condon or someone like that, but if Mcillheny stays in his normal 15-18 starts we should be okay.