1. Will the Maple Leafs allow fewer goals this season?
The Maple Leafs finished 9th in the NHL in scoring with 279 goals for, and the 2023-24 season is looking as though they will continue to be one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL. The issue facing Sheldon Keefe and his roster is how to allow fewer goals so that their offense can do more than be an impressive regular-season weapon. Finishing with the NHL’s 7th best defense last season may seem like they’ve shifted to a more responsible structure of play, and while it has been a marked improvement over previous seasons, to truly be a Stanley Cup Contender, it does need to improve.
Last season saw an improved defensive structure, led by the impressive defensive play of TJ Brodie. His impeccable positioning emphasized better coverage in his zone which helped to limit high-quality scoring opportunities for opponents. But wait, there’s more!
A very nice breakout by Jake McCabe and TJ Brodie leads to Alex Kerfoot hitting the inside of the post pic.twitter.com/uX3mBIT4xC
— Rink Rat Report (@RinkRatReport) March 5, 2023
Goaltending. The tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov played excellent hockey, especially Samsonov who took the role as starter and never looked back. This season Justin Woll will play backup to Samsonov. Woll only played 7 games. But his 6-1 record, including a .932 save percentage, provides hope. Even if his play drops to a .600-win percentage over 30 games, which is very possible with a drop in save percentages to .910, that’s 18 wins and 12 loses or overtime loses, that would be more than enough to outdo Murray.
The second pairing of Jake McCabe and John Klingberg will play a large role in the defensive outcomes. Because Klingberg is an offensive defenseman that has problems defending, the bulk of the defensive responsibilities falls to McCabe. His defense-first mindset and ability to play big minutes at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill will be pivotal for Toronto if they hope to improve defensively, the key for him is to remain healthy.
Have the Leafs finally found forward depth?
The Leafs and their fans seem to be supremely confident that they have finally answered the question on depth forwards. The addition of Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi has fired up the fan base. And why not? These two are exactly the type of players the Leafs have been missing in their forward group, consistently gritty agitators who have offensive skills. These skilled forwards were a strategic coup for Brad Treliving, giving Toronto a far more formidable, and versatile group.
Max Domi “Montreal is better”
— Drew Livingstone (@ProducerDrew_) July 3, 2023
oops….not that one, wh
MAX DOMI GOING OFF 🔥 pic.twitter.com/GbCXUuWOma
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) February 23, 2023
But the question isn’t about improving an already impressive top six, it’s about depth forwards. The bottom six is expected to be centered by David Kampf and Pontus Holmberg, who has all 37 NHL games under his belt. Some question whether the Leafs should have tried to find a more cap-efficient option at center than Kampf. While he is good in the faceoff circle and can eat up minutes on the penalty kill, relying on him as a third-line center to match up or shut down top lines is out of his reach. Followed up by a promising, yet untested Holmberg on a fourth line isn’t ideal for the bottom two lines.
Unfortunately, the answer to the depth question falls unfairly onto rookie Matthew Knies. If he can step up and play a top-six role, then Domi can shift down to a third-line role where his abilities as an agitator can only help him to open offensive opportunities for that line to offset any defensive issues. Or, at the very least Knies steps into the third-line role and can play the style he was drafted to play, as a big-body forward who is a puck hound that plays a responsible 200-foot game.
Maybe this is finally their year? Maybe it’s just going to be another year of amazing regular-season success and ultimate disappointment in the playoffs