Skip to Main Content
Season Recap

Maple Leafs feeling optimistic about next season

Babcock, young players have Toronto excited about future

by Mike Brophy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs enter the offseason with plenty of uncertainty and optimism for next season.

The Maple Leafs (29-42-11) finished last in the Atlantic Division and 30th in the NHL. They have the best odds (20 percent) to win the No. 1 selection at the NHL Draft Lottery on April 30 and are guaranteed a top-four pick at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo on June 24-25. They also have an idea of what they have in the system after auditioning a number of top prospects following the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 29.

Coach Mike Babcock said there would be pain in his first year behind the bench after coaching the Detroit Red Wings the past 10 seasons. He was right; the Maple Leafs scored 192 non-shootout goals and allowed 240 (minus-48). Forward Nazem Kadri led Toronto in scoring with 45 points in 76 games.

Video: Mike Babcock at Sunday's locker clean out

However, there was also plenty of encouragement. For the second straight season, the Maple Leafs stocked their roster with veterans on short-term contracts and traded many of them to acquire draft picks and prospects. Many of their top prospects were promoted from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League in the final third of the season and it's evident the organization has players who are ready or close to being ready for full-time NHL employment.

"I don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about last place," Babcock said. "What I do evaluate is the work we have done. I like the attitude of our guys. I like the changes we have made. I like how we are set up to move ahead."

WHAT THEY SAID: "Having spent six weeks here and getting to know the guys and direction we are heading, I woke up this morning thinking, 'wow, I'm really lucky to be a part of this.'" -- Veteran center Brooks Laich, acquired by the Maple Leafs from the Washington Capitals on Feb. 28.

THE BURNING QUESTION: Who will be the No. 1 goalie next season? The Maple Leafs traded pending unrestricted free agent James Reimer to the San Jose Sharks. Holdover Jonathan Bernier has one year remaining on his contract but has yet to establish himself as a top goaltender in three seasons in Toronto. Garret Sparks, 22, had a shutout in his first NHL game, but has plenty of work to do before he is ready for the League and is a restricted free agent. Antoine Bibeau, 21, has yet to play in the NHL.

Video: Jonathan Bernier at Sunday's locker clean out

INJURIES: Left wing James van Riemsdyk missed the final 42 games of the season with a broken foot, but is close to being able to train and skate. Right wing Joffrey Lupul and defenseman Matt Hunwick each completed the season on IR with a sports hernia. Hunwick had surgery and will begin training in May. Defenseman Stephane Robidas missed the entire season because of a shoulder injury and has one year remaining on his contract.

WHO COULD GO: Michael Grabner (UFA), Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (UFA), Brad Boyes (UFA), TJ Brennan (UFA), Kadri (RFA), Peter Holland (RFA), Sam Carrick (RFA), Morgan Rielly (RFA), Martin Marincin (RFA), Frank Corrado (RFA), Sparks (RFA).

WHO COULD ARRIVE: If the Maple Leafs win the draft lottery, they most likely will selecting Auston Matthews to be their No. 1 center. There's also been plenty of talk that the Maple Leafs would like to sign pending UFA center Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a Toronto native. The Maple Leafs could also make a pitch for UFA goalie Cam Ward.

Video: Lou Lamoriello at Sunday's locker clean out

2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Maple Leafs have 12 picks in the draft. They have two in each of the first four rounds, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The biggest reason for optimism is not on the ice, it's behind the bench. Babcock holds players, regardless of age or experience, accountable and brings out the best in many. Despite their 30th place finish, the Maple Leafs were competitive in most games even when using prospects. The young players responded positively to Babcock's tutoring.

"It would be an understatement for me to express how important Mike is," general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "I have said this continuously, for me he is the best coach in the game and he is the best coach for the Maple Leafs because he is a teacher and what is needed is to get a system in place and to stick with it. What impresses me the most is Mike looks at the positives and what the players do right and accentuates that."

Video: James van Riemsdyk at Sunday's locker clean out

View More