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Maple Leafs seen by opposing players as top contender for Stanley Cup

Addition of Tavares, development of Matthews raise Toronto's stock

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CHICAGO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are considered Stanley Cup contenders by analysts and fans because of their offseason of change. NHL players also are convinced about their credentials.

"If you see young and hungry, I think it's Toronto," said Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins forward who has won the Stanley Cup three times.

Several players at the NHL Player Media Tour picked the Maple Leafs as one of the teams who should be considered a favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season.

 

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Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, also a three-time Cup winner, said his favorites other than the Penguins are the Washington Capitals and the Maple Leafs. The Capitals won the Stanley Cup last season, defeating the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round and the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto was knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season in the Eastern Conference First Round, losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

Video: Keys to success for the Toronto Maple Leafs

But much has changed since then. Toronto signed free agent center John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract July 1. He had 84 points (37 goals, 47 assists) in 82 games with the New York Islanders last season.

Forward Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had 63 points (34 goals, 29 assists) in 62 games last season and continues to mature into one of the game's best players.

"I like watching Matthews. So big and physical and just so naturally gifted, his hands and shot," said Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, a three-time Cup winner. "Really fun to watch, especially up close and personal when I've skated with him. It's pretty impressive."

Kane listed the Maple Leafs among his favorites to win the Cup, as did Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin.

"It's a tough one, but I think with the moves, I think Toronto has a really good chance this year," said Slavin, who has not won the Cup. "I think it's a trend. I think they have a pretty solid [defense] corps, but with the pickup of Tavares, [William] Nylander and Matthews maturing more, I just think they're going to be a dangerous team this year."

Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin, who was born in Brampton, Ontario, about 25 miles west of Toronto, also said the Maple Leafs could be a major challenger for its first Stanley Cup since 1967.

"There's such a big buzz about them right now," said Seguin, who won the Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011.

Matthews said the Maple Leafs are looking forward to the challenge.

"I think it will be good for us, honestly, because we have high expectations for ourselves," he told TSN. "I think everybody is going into this year pretty hungry, pretty driven to be better individually and as a team, and obviously those expectations go up quite a bit when you add a guy like [John]. I think we're all ready for that though."

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