After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is taking a look at where each team stands. Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs:
When Mike Babcock was introduced as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, he predicted there would be pain while experiencing a massive rebuild on their way back to contending for the Stanley Cup.
Tough times are likely ahead again this season, but it will be mitigated by the arrival of some of the young talent expected to lead the Maple Leafs down the road to respectability and, if everything goes according to plan, eventual dominance.
Toronto's past three first-round picks in the NHL Draft are expected to play in the League this season, led by the crown jewel of the Maple Leafs' suddenly impressive prospect pool, center Auston Matthews.
Video: Leafs select Auston Matthews first overall
The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Matthews is expected to develop into a franchise center the Maple Leafs can build around. He should be joined on the roster by William Nylander, the No. 8 pick in 2014, and Mitchell Marner, who was selected fourth last year.
"It's going to be exciting to see some of these kids and how they develop," general manager Lou Lamoriello said at Maple Leafs development camp earlier this month. "No one's going to be rushed, there's nothing that's going to get off track. We're going to continue with the process and the end results should take care of themselves."
The Maple Leafs will not be totally reliant on rookies in their attempt to avoid finishing at the bottom of the NHL standings a second season in a row. The continued development of center Nazem Kadri and defenseman Morgan Rielly, who each signed a six-year contract extension at the end of last season, left wing James van Riemsdyk's return from injury, and the offseason acquisition of goaltender Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks should help the Maple Leafs begin their climb up the standings.
But the focus of this season in Toronto will be centered on youth, and perhaps the beginning of the end to the pain.
Here is what the Maple Leafs look like today:
KEY ARRIVALS: Frederik Andersen, G: The Maple Leafs have not had a goaltender play 60 games in a season since Vesa Toskala in 2007-08 (66). They are hoping Andersen, who will turn 27 on Oct. 2, becomes that true No. 1 goaltender even if he too has never appeared in 60 games in a season over his three-year NHL career. Toronto signed Andersen to a five-year contract worth a reported $25 million on June 20, the same day he was acquired from the Ducks for a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-round pick in 2017. There is a lot invested in his ability to fill that longstanding void in net. … Matt Martin, F: Martin, 27, led the NHL in hits in each of the past five seasons before leaving the New York Islanders as a free agent to sign a four-year, $10 million contract with the Maple Leafs. Martin is a strong skater with good size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) who excels on the forecheck and was tied for the second-most fighting majors in the NHL last season. It would not be surprising to see him skating next to Matthews to start the season to provide some protection for the prized rookie. … Nikita Zaitsev, D: The 24-year-old defenseman signed with Toronto as an undrafted free agent out of the Kontinental Hockey League. He had 58 points in 103 games over the past two seasons with CSKA Moscow and had 13 points in 20 playoff games last season to help Moscow reach the Gagarin Cup Final. … Roman Polak, D: Polak signed with Toronto as an unrestricted free agent after he was traded by the Maple Leafs to the San Jose Sharks before the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. He played in all 24 Sharks playoff games to help them reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their history. The 30-year-old had six goals, 16 assists, 445 hits and a minus-14 rating in 111 regular-season games with Toronto from 2014-16.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm7: Andersen denies Johansen in the 3rd
KEY DEPARTURES: PA Parenteau, F: Toronto's leading goal-scorer with 20 last season, Parenteau signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Islanders. With Marner and Nylander expected to play right wing on two of the top three lines, there was no room for Parenteau. … Jonathan Bernier, G: The heir apparent to the Maple Leafs' goaltending throne prior to Andersen, Bernier was traded to the Ducks on July 8 for a conditional draft pick in 2017. Bernier lost his first 11 starts last season (0-8-3) and allowed at least three goals in 21 of his 38 games. … Michael Grabner, F: Grabner scored nine goals and had 18 points in 80 games and signed a two-year, $3.3 million contract with the New York Rangers as an unrestricted free agent.
ON THE CUSP: Auston Matthews, F: He will turn 19 on Sept. 17, at which point Matthews will be playing in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in Toronto with Team North America. He finished tied for fourth in Switzerland's top professional league last season with 24 goals in 36 games for Zurich and was tied for third with six goals in 10 games at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia in May. Matthews is NHL-ready. … Mitchell Marner, F: Marner had 116 points in 57 regular-season games and 44 points in 18 playoff games for the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights. He has nothing left to prove at the junior level and, since he is ineligible to play in the American Hockey League, is a virtual lock to make the Maple Leafs roster. … Nikita Soshnikov, F: The 22-year-old Russian forward will battle for a roster spot in training camp after he had two goals and five points in 11 games with the Maple Leafs last season. He had 18 goals and 28 points in 52 games as a rookie with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL and had five goals and seven points in 11 playoff games.
WHAT THEY STILL NEED: Lamoriello said the Maple Leafs will sign an experienced backup goaltender before training camp, but otherwise there may not be any other player acquisitions this offseason. The biggest player personnel need is to make a decision on what to do with veteran left wing Joffrey Lupul, whose season ended Feb. 6 because of a sports hernia. Lupul scored 11 goals and had 14 points in 46 games. "I have no comment on that situation right now," Lamoriello said when asked about Lupul's status on July 1. "Joffrey, he's on our roster and I think that's all I have to say." Lupul has two years left on his contract with an average annual salary of $5.25 million, the highest of any Maple Leafs forward. It is possible Lupul starts the season with Toronto, but it is likely Lamoriello is trying to trade him.
PETE JENSEN'S FANTASY FOCUS: Considering how the Maple Leafs' offseason has escalated, van Riemsdyk has become an injury bounce-back candidate. He missed more than half of last season (40 games played) but still had 29 points, including nine on the power play, and 129 shots on goal. With Matthews in the fold, van Riemsdyk has a chance to play with the high-upside rookie or line up next to a more stable, two-way center like Kadri. Toronto should be improved offensively, so van Riemsdyk has a chance to return to the 60-point realm with 250 SOG and 15-20 power-play points, which would equate to a finish among the top 50-60 fantasy players. He will almost definitely be drafted on average outside the top 100.
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Milan Michalek - Tyler Bozak - Mitchell Marner
Matt Martin - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Colin Greening - Brooks Laich - Nikita Soshnikov
Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Martin Marincin - Roman Polak