The 2021-22 season is fast approaching and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a number of interesting roster decisions to make at both ends of the ice.
The Toronto Maple Leafs enter the new season hoping to once again compete at the top end of the standings and, after consecutive years of disappointment, finally progress beyond the first round of the post-season.
Before the team can even look to the business end of the season, the final roster will need to be selected before their season opener against the Montreal Canadiens on October 13th.
This year’s Leafs will look somewhat different to the 2021 edition of the team, thanks to a number of new additions on offence allowing the team to make some adjustments to a formula that had been successful in the regular season, but ultimately did not do enough beyond that.
How Will The Offence Shake Out?
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ top six will retain the familiar pairings of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner along with John Tavares and William Nylander, but their partner on the left wing looks set to be a brand new face for both lines.
Zach Hyman is gone and in his place projects to be Nick Ritchie, formerly of the Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins. Ritchie has a monstrous frame at 6-foot-3, 236lbs and he could be a physical presence alongside the talents of Matthews and Marner.
He is capable of putting up decent points and having top-line minutes should see him excel in Sheldon Keefe’s system. In addition to Ritchie, the name that seems to be destined to slot into the second line left wing role is Michael Bunting.
Bunting was another free agent signing this summer and he has already been turning heads with in pre-season, scoring a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators, with his style of play considered to be similar to Hyman’s also.
He isn’t shy to get into the tough areas and play a little dirty to help his team out, and his offensive upside is something that should compliment John Tavares and William Nylander nicely this season.
Further down the line-up, however, is where things become less clear and the tough decisions need to be made by the Leafs hierarchy.
The team has the likes of Ondřej Kaše, who could be utilized in the top six at times this season if necessary, but appears his future lays on the third line alongside Alexander Kerfoot and whoever plays on the left side.
At this time, Ilya Mikheyev appears set to hold down the third-line role, but Nick Robertson is knocking on the door and veterans such as Wayne Simmonds could find themselves putting themselves forward for that role if the Russian doesn’t play to expectations.
The bottom line could see new face David Kämpf hold down the fourth line centre role, with Jason Spezza expected to play on his right side. But there’s also the question of Josh Ho-Sang, who has looked good with the Leafs so far in pre-season.
Ho-Sang is a player that still has plenty of potential and could be a top-six player with the Leafs if he continues to improve and play with the renewed confidence that has been seen so far. The biggest question is where the Leafs fit him into the line-up.
He is on a PTO right now, meaning the Toronto Maple Leafs have no real commitment to him for this upcoming season, but it looks clear that they like what they’ve seen and a one-year deal, likely league minimum, is likely on its way in the coming weeks.
While Ho-Sang is a new player looking to earn a spot, there’s also the question of what happens with Pierre Engvall, who looks more and more likely to be the odd man out this season, with his cap hit mostly able to be buried in the minors – with just $125,000 counting towards the cap if he is.
How the Leafs handle their offensive lines will be an ongoing topic for discussion, especially once the team puts together a set of results and their overall performances once again go under the microscope.
How About Defence?
One decision that will likely surround the team for the majority of the season is what happens on the bottom pairing of the defence, with Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren both competing for that sixth spot.
Liljegren is a promising player that needs to be getting more time in the NHL in order to further his development, while Dermott is a player that looks solid at times and then makes questionable decisions that make people wonder if he’s the right player to use.
By the end of the season, will both players still be with the Leafs? Will Liljegren play another year with the Marlies? Will Dermott find himself traded by the deadline?
There are plenty of possibilities for the Leafs to consider, but this could be one of the bigger depth position decisions that the Leafs need to make as the new season approaches.