The start of this hockey season is bringing renewed hope for the fans, especially after the Toronto Maple Leafs perennial playoff demise last year, when they lost to Tampa Bay Lighting in a divisive Game 7. After an accusatory summer, when the blame for inadequate performance was passed from players to coaches, and even COVID-19, viewers are gearing up for another make-or-break year.
On September 24, the Leafs played a doubleheader against the Ottawa Senators. They won the first game 4–1, but lost the second to the Senators 4–2. The line up for this year looks promising, however, with an effective offense and an impactful defense. The team has struggled with finding good goalies, but it looks like that struggle might finally be over.
Ilya Samsonov earned some cheers from fans in Scotiabank Arena against the Senators, blocking all 16 shots he faced. Matt Murray, former Stanley Cup winner, also blocked that same amount of shots against the Montreal Canadiens on September 28. On the offensive end, Calle Järnkrok made a big impression during the doubleheader against the Senators, putting two in the back of the net for the Leafs.
The NHL operates under a salary cap system to help decrease the pay disparities between the different hockey franchises. However, since the Leafs feature an expensive ‘big five,’ Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, and William Nylander, the cap places the Leafs under more restrictions than other teams. The discussion is usually about who can be replaced on the roster as opposed to who can be added, to operate in accordance with the regulations. Some fans want the five to be traded away, but for the most part — other than the goalies — the team remains mostly unchanged.
Interesting games to watch will be the four home games against Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, and the New York Rangers. While traveling, the Leafs will have to compete against intimidating teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Chicago Blackhawks before returning to Toronto to go against the Detroit Red Wings.
An interesting line up combined with early home game advantage and amusing opponents are all good signs for viewers predicting an eventful NHL season. If the Leafs have a strong start and can use their fans in Scotiabank as motivation, they will have a quality position heading into December. For us, it also means more action close to home.
Will we win?
Of course, it is very difficult to win in the NHL and impossible to accurately predict the outcome of all games. 32 teams, with exceptional skills, all compete for the Stanley Cup, and after grueling matches, only one team can win. Up till now, 20 NHL teams have managed to get the trophy. As for the Leafs, the cup has eluded their grasp for 55 years, one of the longest Stanley Cup droughts in the league’s history.
Nonetheless, if you are cautiously optimistic or simply don’t care anymore — that’s code for you don’t want to get hurt again — hockey always has something fun to offer to all those who decide to watch it. Regardless of how you’ll be watching the games — live, at a watch party, or merely looking at the highlights because of the stresses of the semester — the NHL season can provide a way to step away from daily university struggles. After all, we are looking at grown men, wearing metal-bladed shoes, chasing each other on ice. Bonus points if you think they look cute.