Puck Daddy’s NHL 2014-15 Emoji Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs
(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!)
Last Season In Emojis
Last Season, In Summary
The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the season in an unusual position: As a team that qualified for the playoffs in the previous season.
OK, maybe it wasn’t that unusual: It was still a soul-crushing disappointment for Toronto, a cameo that culminated with the Boston Bruins’ Game 7 rally.
They added goalie Jonathan Bernier and forward David Clarkson in the offseason, and looked to build on that success. Things looked good in October, where they earned 20 points. But the wheels fell off in March, as the Leafs went 4-10-1, lost pace with the rest of the Atlantic Division and plummeted to sixth in the wild card race with 84 points on the season.
All of this played out during a raging debate over the Leafs’ poor puck possession numbers, in which the fancy stats community and the traditional media waged war. The nerds won when new Leafs boss Brendan Shanahan added assistant GM Kyle Dubas and an analytics department in the offseason while dropping Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin.
Last Season’s Definitive Highlight
Randy Carlyle can’t make toast. Or do much of anything else, really.
Outside of the front office moves, the Leafs had a fairly active offseason.
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson was moved to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Roman Polak.
Playmaking center Petri Kontiola arrived from the KHL, as did former Leaf Leo Komarov. The Leafs added Daniel Winnik (Ducks), David Booth (Canucks), Mike Santorelli (Canucks) and Matt Frattin (Kings) to their forward group. Veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas was signed from the Ducks.
Toronto bid adieu to Nikolai Kulemin, Mason Raymond and Dave Bolland, who left for Dale Tallon’s money in Florida.
The Leafs’ top line of Phil Kessel (37 goals, 43 assists), James van Riemsdyk (30 goals, 31 assists) and Phil Kessel’s roommate (19 goals, 30 assists) was one of the best in the NHL for offensive production and puck possession.
Nazem Kadri (50 points) and Joffrey Lupul (44 points in 69 games) clicked on the secondary scoring line; will they drag David Clarkson (5 goals, 60 games, $5.25 million against the cap through 2020) along with them this season?
The big moves for the Leafs came down the lineup, with dramatic changes to their bottom six. Komarov, Santorelli, Kontiola, Winnik, Booth, Frattin and Troy Bodie join Peter Holland, Frazier McLaren, Carter Ashton, Josh Leivo, Greg McKegg and the ubiquitous Colton Orr in the mix for the supporting cast. (Can William Nylander join them at 18 years old?)
Say what you will about Dion Phaneuf (lord knows Scott Hartnell has) but the Leafs inked him to that $7 million AAV deal through 2021 because otherwise they’d be constantly trying to find the next Dion Phaneuf in their lineup. His 31 points were solid, and he was tops on the team in CorsiRel (Quality of Competition).
It’ll be interesting to see how life changes with Gunnarsson shipped to St. Louis. Will Phaneuf be paired with Polak (god willing no)? With Robidas? Or perhaps with someone already on the roster.
Cody Franson (33 points) and Jake Gardiner (31 points) provided more offensive pop from the blue line; Franson could end up as trade bait with unrestricted free agency looming.
Morgan Rielly has tremendous upside and showed more than a little of it last season with 27 points. Like Gardiner, he was a drag on possession, but he still was impressive in 73 games.
That’s a fairly established top six for the Leafs. The depth, however, isn’t there. Pray for good health, Toronto fans.
Jonathan Bernier established himself as the goalie of the present and future for the Leafs last season, with a .923 save percentage in 55 games. That jumped to .933 at even strength, a truly impressive mark.
Many expected James Reimer would be someplace like Winnipeg by now, but instead he signed a new two-year deal with the Leafs at $2.3 million per season. Hey, competition is a healthy thing, right?
Probable Text Conversation Within Organization
The Leafs had the sixth best power play in the NHL last season, converting at 19.8 percent on 282 chances. Alas, their power-play on the road was a paltry 15 percent.
The Leafs were 28th in the NHL on the penalty kill with a 78.4 percent rate on 268 times shorthanded. The addition of Daniel Winnik, a penalty kill ace, will hopefully help.
GM and Coach
Randy Carlyle survived to coach another day, despite many calling for his job after the Leafs failed to repeat as a playoff team. With a new management regime in place, one assumes it’s playoffs or bust for the veteran coach – or that a change could come in-season.
Dave Nonis is still the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pretty much everyone else he worked with last season is gone. Hey, can you read these tea leaves…
And Now, A Blooper
Never Phaneuf your own man.
The Potential Best Thing About This Team
Kessel and JVR. A truly dynamic scoring duo in the NHL; can Phil the Thrill hit 40 goals this season?
The Potential Worst Thing About This Team
The bottom six. It’s a huge makeover with some potential, but there are also a lot of unknown commodities. Frankly, the success of this group rests with how Carlyle deploys them. We have our doubts.
Single Emoji Prediction
The truck with a lot of baggage.
The Leafs are trying to evolve, trying to adapt, trying to become a more complete team. But the architects of their diminishing returns remain in place. Can they be a playoff team? Of course – it’s the East. But to truly contend for the Stanley Cup, they’re going to have to completely dump their dead weight.