Soon after the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row, the General Managers (GM) of the National Hockey League (NHL) got on their phones and looked for ways to improve their teams.
The 2017 NHL Entry Draft saw Swiss-born Nico Hischier go first overall to the New Jersey Devils, while Canadian teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who selected Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren, and the Edmonton Oilers, who took undersized forward Kailer Yamamoto, found themselves with later draft positions thanks to their regular season success.
The Leafs got to work in free agency, signing veterans like Dominic Moore, recent Cup champion Ron Hainsey, and a 37-year-old Patrick Marleau. Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock kept his players busy over the summer, regularly checking in on them wherever they were training. Babcock even called his top defenseman, Morgan Rielly, telling him to start preparing to play with Hainsey.
With a year that saw them make the playoffs and push the Washington Capitals to six games last spring, as well as a summer of prepping behind them, the Leafs are looking to improve upon their last season. The boys in blue are hungrier, more confident, and better prepared to skate with the best of the best in the NHL.
Calder Trophy recipent Auston Matthews is centring Toronto’s top line in between Zach Hyman and William Nylander. That line will play against the NHL’s top shutdown pairings and defensive lines, but with the firepower of Matthews, Nylander, and Hyman’s brute strength and shot, the top line is expected to produce well.
Leafs fans can also look forward to seeing Marleau on a line with Nazem Kadri and possibly Connor Brown, whose 20 goals as a rookie were only overshadowed by virtue of being on a team with rookie phenoms Matthews, Nylander, and Mitch Marner.
For what seems like the first time in a long time, the Leafs have a solid top four on the back end. Jake Gardiner seems to be playing with Nikita Zaitsev in Reilly’s old spot, while Reilly plays with Hainsey. Hainsey, a serviceable defenceman, is over 35 years of age, which begs the question of whether he can keep up with this young Leafs team.
Around the league there are plenty of storylines to follow. Did the Columbus Blue Jackets just have a fluke season, or are they the real deal? Can Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers go all the way, seeing as they’re the Vegas favoured team to win it all? Speaking of Vegas, how will the Golden Knights do in their inaugural season? Is it possible we will see a Penguins three-peat?
But the most important question on the minds of Toronto sports fans will always remain whether or not the Leafs are good enough. For that, we’ll just have to wait and see.