For the past couple of years, Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been through a lot of ups and downs. The ups usually come during the regular season, and the downs come during the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a playoff round since 2004, a few days before I was born. Now that we are halfway through the season, let’s break down the Leafs’ season so far.
The Leafs currently sit second in the Atlantic division behind the Boston Bruins and third in the entire league. This season, the Leafs hold an impressive home record of 20–5–4, which is the best home record behind the Bruins. They do, unfortunately, have a disappointing 11–8–4 away record, which is 18th in the league. The Leafs are also fifth in the league in goal differential. This year, all signs are pointing toward a repeat of last year’s first-round matchup between the Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning, in which the Lightning won in seven. This should be an exciting rematch that all hockey fans will be excited about.
This season, the Leafs have seen many additions to their team, some of the most impactful are Calle Järnkrok, Conor Timmins, and obviously Ilya Samsonov.
Järnkrok has been a player that the Leafs have been eyeing for a couple of seasons now, so when he became a free agent this offseason, the Leafs were not going to miss their opportunity to sign him. Järnkrok has been a solid signing, as he is a very effective defensive forward who has produced 25 points in 45 games.
Timmins was a mid-season acquisition that has surprised many fans so far. The 24-year-old Ontario native was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes earlier this season when the Leafs struggled with injuries. Timmins does fill a need that the Leafs had, with him being a right-shot defenseman.
The most impactful addition this year has been Samsonov. The Leafs’ goaltending was a big gamble after they let Jack Campbell go to free agency after a career year. The Washington Capitals were not impressed by Samsonov’s performance as the starting goaltender last season and elected not to sign him for another year. He signed with the Leafs on July 13 on a one-year 1.8 million dollar contract, and with the way he has been playing recently, it looks like that was a total steal. His current goals-against-average stats rank him near other top goalies this year.
The Leaf player that is having the best season, though, has to be William Nylander. He leads the Leafs with the most goals, closing in on 30, and is second on the team in terms of points. He is having a career year and has really improved from last year. The Leafs also improved their forward depth with Zach Aston-Reese, Pontus Holmberg, and Dryden Hunt making appearances.
With the trade deadline a month away, what do the Leafs need to do to improve before the playoffs? I believe the obvious answer would be to get another top six winger. Names like Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko have been tossed around, and both could find new teams in the coming month. The Leafs could also look to add another defenseman, but I don’t think that is as big of a priority, as the defensive core has taken a big step forward and has been better than last season.
Overall, this Leafs team looks more put together compared to the last couple of seasons. The Leafs saw improvements to their goaltending and depth forwards that will help them in the postseason. As Leafs fans, we know not to buy into the hype this early, but this year does look very promising.