Toronto Maple Leafs: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview

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SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27: Travis Dermott talks with head coach Mike Babcock after being selected 34th by the of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27: Travis Dermott talks with head coach Mike Babcock after being selected 34th by the of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)  

Last Season:

30-44-8, 68 points. Seventh in the Atlantic Division. 

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2014-15 Season, In One Tweet

Photo via Twitter screen shot
Photo via Twitter screen shot

Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?

Worse.

They lost perennial 30-plus goal man Phil Kessel via trade. But they got the world’s greatest coach in Mike Babcock, so that should make up for the Kessel deal to the Pittsburgh Penguins, right? Who knows ...

With the exception of Nick Spaling, the Leafs got mostly prospects for Kessel in forward Kasperi Kapanen a 2014 first-round pick and defenseman Scott Harrington, a 2011 second-rounder along with future draft picks.

Both should be nice pieces for the future, though it’s unclear how they’ll look next season. 

Here's our early analysis on the trade.

We seriously won’t have a clue how this team will play until it gets on the ice, because there’s a lot of mystery surrounding it. Can Babs re-ignite Nazem Kadri from a 39-point season?

How will he handle underachieving and aging old guard players like captain Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul?

Also, will new general manager Lou Lamoriello shake things up during the season?

The Leafs have a long-term plan in place, and it probably doesn’t involve a prolific 2015-16. 

Five Most Fascinating Players

1. Jonathan Bernier, G

Is Bernier a starter with the .923 save percentage from the 2013-14 season or the guy with the .911 save percentage and 2.87 goals against average from last season? Lamoriello gave him some faith with a two-year, $8.3 million contract. Bernier won’t feel any ‘show me’ pressure this season, but it’s time for the former first-round draft pick to display his talent consistently.

2. Nazem Kadri, C

Kadri is a solid young center. And he has produced at a high rate in the past, like in 2012-13 when he had 44 points in 48 games. But as the Maple Leafs fortunes have suffered, so has Kadri’s production. Last season he had 39 points, down from 50 points the year before. And there was his benching that caught fire in the Toronto media. He’s certainly not a bad player and has proven this.

3. Dion Phaneuf, D

The Toronto captain is a Leaf for life, making $7 million per-year on average until 2021. Fairly or unfairly there’s a bit of a soap opera that always seems to surround the guy. Regardless, he’s not the player he once was. Remember when he burst onto the scene as a missile-firing rookie with Calgary in 2005-06? He had 20 goals that season. He had three last year. He's still 30 and still has a lot of raw ability. It's anyone's guess why it hasn't showed recently. 

 4. Tyler Bozak, C

What happens to the center without Kessel on his wing? While playing with Kessel – one of his best friends – Bozak notched 49 points the last two seasons. In 2013-14 he accomplished this in just 58 games. Who is the real Bozak and is he a 49-point player on his own merit?

(Warning: Video includes some curse words)

5. Morgan Reilly, D

One of the very few bright spots for Toronto last season. His 29 points and eight goals in 81 games showed the 2012 first-round pick is indeed moving in the right direction. He’s going to be a restricted free agent next offseason so expect him to get a major raise. In this day and age, this is the time an RFA can cash in. 

Potentially The Best Thing About This Team

All the genius hockey people the Maple Leafs employ and watching them either come together or spectacularly combust.

Look, the Leafs won’t be a very good team on the ice. But the management and coaching group is full of Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers and rising stars.

Team president Brendan Shanahan is the leader of this mix. But how will he deal with Lamoriello, Babs and assistant GM wunderkind Kyle Dubas? How will Lamoriello deal with Babs if the team isn’t playing Lou’s brand of hockey? How will Lamoriello deal with Dubas if the latter tries to ram advanced stats into Lou’s personnel decisions?

Watching all these personalities try to form some level of cohesion will be the most entertaining part of the Leafs this season. 

Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team

There will be no more Kessel to blame for Toronto’s mistakes. The guy was driven out of town after four 30-plus goal seasons. Would have been five probably if not for the lockout shortened 2012-13 year where he played 48 games. 

Watching Kessel spar with the Toronto media was a delicious joy for the same reasons some of us like to watch trash TV.

When the Leafs were bad, this was the best thing about following Toronto. Now it’s gone. And who else will shoulder the blame in spite of being super productive? Certainly not Spaling. Though check out that rebel-like haircut. Now photoshop that in front of a hot dog stand. 

Photo from Josh Cooper's iPhone, circa 2012 playoffs. 
Photo from Josh Cooper's iPhone, circa 2012 playoffs. 

Dream 3-on-3 OT Group

Kadri, Rielly and James van Riemsdyk would be Toronto's top trio.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

3: Maybe three seems a little high for Babcock. After all, he is Toronto’s designated savior. But when Lou is your general manager, your job is anything but safe.

That being said, Lamoriello would probably get the boot before Babs. Still, who knows how the power structure will flow with all these egos. 

Awkward Old School Video Break

Conan's giddiness of playing with Trevor Kidd is palpable.

Their Best Case Scenario Is …

Toronto is somehow able to shed Joffrey Lupul and Phaneuf, get the worst record in the NHL, win the lottery and take Auston Matthews. Then the Leafs will be set at forward for years with Matthews along with 2015 first-round draft pick Mitch Marner and Kadri.

Kadri and Rielly show marked progress in Year 1 under Babcock and Bernier rediscovers himself as a solid No. 1 goaltending option. Bozak has a 50-point season without Kessel on his wing while Kapanen and Harrington show they have NHL-level skill wherever they play this season. 

Their Nightmare Scenario Is …

The Leafs can’t unload their big prima donnas. They finish with the worst record in the NHL and don’t win the lottery and the right to draft Matthews. Bozak has 20 points and proves untradeable. 

Prediction

The Maple Leafs will be in the bottom-10 of the NHL, but will show some level of progress under Babcock. Kadri will make a marked improvement as will Bernier, giving the Maple Leafs a glimmer of hope for the future. Also, Marner will tear up junior. 

Kapanen and Harrington will prove to be solid pieces for Toronto moving forward and they'll continue their strong rebuild with two first-round picks in the 2016 draft. 

I don’t doubt Lou’s ability to unload Phaneuf and Lupul either. 

PUCK DADDY SEASON PREVIEW 2015-16

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