2015-16 Maple Leafs’ 30 Things to Watch For: #11-20
By: Aaron Greenfield
In part two of this three part series, the focus shifts from the coaching impact, to roster players’ impact. Which players will have bounce-back seasons, and which players will set career-low totals? We also note the players to add to everyone’s trade rumour tracker. Here are 30 things to watch for in the 2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs – numbers 11 through 20.
- BOZAK’S VALUE DIMINISHES
Tyler Bozak was slightly above average on faceoffs, but not enough to have significant value as a centre. He often missed defense assignments and his production will drastically drop playing this year without Kessel, making him virtually untradeable (even more than he already is). Kessel paired with Bozak boasted one of the worst Corsi For%, hovering around 46%, and it was even worse when Bozak played without Kessel on his line. Bozak may improve possession and defensive responsibilities with Babcock but his offense won’t keep up with Kadri and he will ultimately drop down the depth chart.
LUPUL PLAYS THE MOST GAMES HE’S PLAYED IN YEARS
Maybe it’s the lack of pressure on the team to perform this year, maybe some of his injuries were fluky, but I think he will play most of this season and play well. In 2008, Lupul played 79 games with the Flyers and hit 50 points. I think Lupul will play closer to 70 games than 80 but still an improvement from the past few seasons. The key for Lupul will be generating offense, especially if Bozak is the centre on his line.
- GOALIE “CONTROVERSY” CONTINUES
Bernier will not run away with the starting job and neither will Reimer. The team won’t give up as many shots as they have in the past but inconsistency behind the pipes will continue. Team management will be pressed to find a number one starter as part of final touches on the rebuild.
PACKAGE FOR KESSEL LEAVES FANS WISHING FOR MORE
On paper, the package wasn’t great. Obviously the Leafs wanted no part of Kessel or had little confidence in any chance he could raise his value by staying with the Leafs and playing this coming season in Toronto. Kapanen is a good prospect and should be play well with the Marlies, but he won’t challenge Nylander for any scoring titles. Harrington is still young and may still be a year away from the NHL. Spaling will get his minutes but has never been a high offensive player and will likely be assessed more for his penalty killing ability.
- DEPTH PLAYERS INCREASE THEIR VALUE
There aren’t any true stars on this team so offense will be spread among the four lines. The Leafs made a lot of depth acquisitions including P.A. Parenteau, projected to play on the top line, Mark Arcobello, Shawn Mathias, Nick Spaling, who was acquired in the Kessel trade, and defensemen Matt Hunwick and Martin Marincin. Wild cards are players on a professional tryout trying to rejuvenate their careers, including Devin Setoguchi, Curtis Glencross and former Leaf draft pick Brad Boyes. Lamoriello just opened a few spots by trading multiple prospects for Michael Grabner. Daniel Winnik was also brought back and may not be one of the players traded at the deadline because of how much he brought to the Leafs and because he was given a multi-year deal, but management will listen to all offers.
- POLAK IS TRADED
It was speculated right up to the deadline and again in the offseason that the rugged defenseman would play elsewhere but he remains a Leaf as the season begins. He may have stayed to mentor younger players, or the Leafs felt he would garner a higher return in 2016. Roman Polak will be playing elsewhere by season’s end, likely playing well into the warmer months.
- TEAM CORSI IMPROVES
Last year’s possession stats were so bad there’s almost no way they can be worse. Randy Carlyle’s teams never had great Corsi stats with teams he has coached and last season was no exception. The Leafs had one of the worst shot differentials under Carlyle and it remained that way to the end of the season, as there was little improvement once Horachek took over midseason. Mike Babcock pays attention to detail like very few other coaches and will be more scrutinized than ever on every flaw of this team. He will try to get the most out of his players so those factors alone should at least lead to a more respectable differential. The team may not have a ton of scoring chances all year but they won’t be as hopeless without the puck either.
- WILL THE LEAFS PLAY THE TRAP?
The hiring of Lou Lamoriello, as GM and Jaques Lemaire, as Special Assignment Coach were interesting moves that seemed to come out of nowhere. While Babcock is primarily responsible for implementing systems for the players, it will be interesting to see how much of a say the former Devils coaches have. In the 90s, the Devils gave the trap system such a great reputation by winning their cups and limiting goals allowed by playing that style. If things go sour for the Blue and White, will other voices hovering over Babcock make drastic moves such as bringing back the trap?
- THE MARLIES WILL BE MORE FUN TO WATCH
Nothing changes from last season in this regard. The Marlies made the playoffs again last year and showcased how well some of the team’s prospects are developing. The overall prospect pool went from bottom five to one of the most enviable and a full season from William Nylander will be well worth the cost of the much cheaper Toronto Marlies tickets. Mitch Marner won’t be there but watch for Nylander, Brown and Leipsic to establish themselves as starsready to make the leap in 2017. Also watch to see if Kasperi Kapanen lives up to the hype as the main piece of the Phil Kessel trade.
- MITCH MARNER WINS THE OHL SCORING RACE
Even if 2014-2015 OHL scoring champion Dylan Strome is sent back down, he won’t have as strong of a team he did this past year. Marner on the other hand will be playing on the always-strong London Knights and should win the scoring title (he only missed it by 3 points last season and that was only because of Dylan Strome’s ridiculous 6-point final game; Marner also played 5 fewer games than Strome that season.)