2015-16 Maple Leafs’ 30 Things to Watch For: #21-30
By: Aaron Greenfield
The final part of this series will look at the fans’ influence on the team and what we should look for in the stands and on social media. The preseason has already started and the roster is slowly trimming down so we should get a good sense of what to expect within the next few weeks. Here are 30 things to watch for in the 2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs – numbers 21 through 30.
- LOTTERY TALK
More likely than not, the Leafs will end up in one of the three lotteries. The new lottery system will become more familiar with fans once the season starts, as it will be the talk of the Toronto media all year (especially
whenif the leafs get off to a bad start). Players like Austin Mathews, Jesse Puljujärvi and Jakob Chychrun are the top prospects for ’16 and all would be good assets to add to the ever-growing prospect pool.
- 3 ON 3 OT WILL BE… INTERESTING AND UNPREDICTABLE
It’s about going for it, not sitting back and trying to defend which is perfect for the old-brand of leafs. But without Kessel, and with the goaltending and defence that they have, they might struggle. Then again, 3 on 3 is just as gimmicky as the shootout so the Leafs may be unbeatable in OT. Who really knows? It’s such a toss-up. We’ve now seen the Leafs in a few of these in preseason action. This is a great time for the Leafs to use a defenceman like Rielly or Gardiner, where their speed and offensive creativity, along with their capable defensive ability may give the Leafs an upper hand.
The Leafs and their $50 million bench boss, a former Red Wings coach for a decade, return to Joe Louis Arena in just the second game of the season. Other notable games include the first game Phil Kessel scores a hat trick against the Leafs, the second game Phil Kessel scores against the Leafs and the thir-
OK, you get the point. Phil Kessel’s return to the ACC really shouldn’t elicit boos but likely will anyway. And if he could score at will against every team in the league he should have no problem having similar success against his old team. Other less notable game include games against New Jersey, Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello’s former club, where he had an executive role for nearly 30 years. The Edmonton Oilers first game in Toronto will also be notable because that is when we will see a Connor McDavid Leafs jersey tossed to the ice.
- MARCH AND APRIL SPOILERS
The playoff race in the East will be tight again, and the Leafs, who will likely play more structured, could play spoiler by stealing some wins and cost a team a shot at making the playoffs. Some moral victories will be nice to build momentum if they plan on being competitive in 2017.
Leafs fans love trade rumours and free agent signing speculation. If something sounds even remotely realistic, people will buy it. Tampa Bay’s top goal scorer 5 of the past 6 years still hasn’t signed a new contract and it has been rumoured that either he is interested in playing in Toronto or that Leafs management is trying to make a big push to sign him. Will we see #91 in Blue and White?
We all know the Leafs will draw fans no matter how bad the product is on the ice. But towards the end of last season, the Air Canada Centre was notably emptier especially by the second and third period of games; fans also showed their frustration by tossing their jerseys to the ice. If they get off to a slow start again, how will fans in the building react, and will they continue to stick around by season’s end? Mike Babcock has already warned that “there will be pain” before they start seeing consistent results.
- TICKET PRICES WILL STAY THE SAME
Trivia question: When was the last time the Leafs decided to lower ticket prices because they were losing and fans stopped showing up? I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m going to assume that’s never happened. The Leafs are always a hot ticket regardless of the on-ice product. Ticket reselling site like StubHub may have cheaper options later in the season but directly from the Leafs organization, don’t count on it.
- WINNING MENTALITY
Many Leafs fans happen to also be Blue Jays fans. With the success on the diamond, and the projected losing product on the ice, how will the fans’ sudden winning mentality and patience transfer over? Will Leafs fans be tricked into having sudden unrealistic expectations?
Solidifying the coaching positions is great. Getting a veteran GM to mentor young Kyle Dubas into the role is great too. So is having a top-10 prospect pool. But when the season actually starts and the losses pile up, so will the frustration. How will this team handle another losing season? How will they react to media and fan frustration? If they react like last season with Salutegate and hostile relationships with the media, it could get ugly. Phaneuf needs to side with media and fans not against them. I think Phaneuf is a good captain in a bad situation. With improved play, some of the hostility toward him may fix itself. But the team will at least need to show effort every night.
- NO MATTER HOW BAD THINGS GET, FANS WILL FIND OPTIMISM
Hope sells. The Leafs will surely improve their play from last year, whether the point total increases or not. They will likely have a good pick at the draft and based off of this past draft, will likely acquire multiple picks throughout each round. When the century season rolls around in ’17, a lot of young talented players will make the roster, to go along with a Winter Classic and All Star game or Draft at home, creating a lot of excitement and – hope.