In-Depth In The Division: Toronto Maple Leafs

<em>Leafs swap Hallander for McCann, sign Mrazek, Menell and Ritchie</em>

Over the next few weeks, Die By The Blade staffers will take an in-depth look at each of the other teams in the Atlantic Division as the Buffalo Sabres prepare for the 2021-22 season.

Next up: our friends at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Last Season’s Results: 35-14-7 77 points (1st in the North Division)

Key Offseason Acquisitions: On April 7, the Leafs acquired defenseman Ben Hutton from Anaheim for a 2022 fifth-round draft pick. The team also received forward Nick Foligno from Columbus for a 2021 first-round pick, forward Stefan Noesen from San Jose for a 2021 fourth-round pick and goalie David Rittich from Calgary for a 2022 third-round pick. On July 28, Toronto acquired defenseman Brennan Menell from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a conditional 2022 seventh-round pick.

Key Offseason Losses: On July 17, the Leafs traded forward Filip Hallander to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Jared McCann and a 2023 seventh-round draft pick. On July 21, the Seattle Kraken acquired McCann as part of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. On Sept. 6, center Denis Magin left Toronto to sign with the Swiss hockey club ZSC Lions. Zach Hyman signed with the Edmonton Oilers, while Frederik Anderson and Stefan Noesen signed with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Other players who left include Kenny Agostino (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod of the KHL), Joe Thornton (Florida Panthers), Nick Foligno (Boston Bruins), Zach Bogosian (Tampa Bay Lightning) Calle Rosen (St. Louis Blues), Riley Nash (Winnipeg Jets) Alex Galchenyuk (Arizona Coyotes), Nic Petan (Vancouver Canucks), David Rittich (Nashville Predators), Scott Sabourin (Ottawa Senators) and Martin Marincin (HC Ocelari Trinic of the EHL).

NHL Contracts Added: Rodion Amirov, Kirill Semyonov, Erik Kallgren, Alex Biega, Kurtis Gabriel, Michael Amadio, Carl Dahlstrom, Michael Bunting, Petr Mrazek, David Kampf, Brett Seney, Pavel Gogolev, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Brennan Menell, Braeden Kessler

Season Outlook: The Toronto Maple Leafs have developed a habit of playing really well during the regular season and making the playoffs on a consistent basis. Then they hit an invisible brick wall and are inevitably and inexplicably eliminated in the first round. Last season, the Leafs thrived in the all-Canadian North Division, getting their first division title since 2000. Auston Matthews scored 41 goals in just 52 games, Mitch Marner led in scoring with 67 points and goaltender Jack Campbell had 17 wins and a .921 save percentage.

Toronto was expected to roll over rival Montreal, who finished the season with only 59 points compared to the Leafs’ divison leading 77. The Leafs even won three out of the first four games. Unfortunately, captain John Tavares became injured during Game 1 and in spite of Toronto’s strong early start, the Canadiens prevailed in two of the last three meetings to win the series 4-3.

Sheldon Keefe remains head coach, a position he’s held since 2019, when he replaced “Canada’s Team” Mike Babcock.

The Leafs will have a much tougher time this season playing in the Atlantic Division with strong competitors such as the defending Stanley Cup champions the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers. Toronto needs to rely heavily on offensive talent such as Marner and Matthews, but the team’s biggest challenge will be filling out the left side of their forward lines, according to Chris Gallagher of Prime Time Sports Talk. Losing Hyman and Foligno left their offense thin and Ritchie and Bunting must pick up the slack.

Fellow SB Nation contributor Lachlan Irvine of Fear the Fin is even more blunt about the Leafs’ upcoming season prospects. The franchise has a much shallower offense and Irvine believes Toronto will struggle to clinch the third playoff spot. Maybe they’ll do better and surprise their critics. Then again, fans could watch them try to roll a boulder up a hill come playoff time.

If the Buffalo Sabres manage to make the playoffs, something the team hasn’t done since 2011, the Sabres could have a relatively good chance of eliminating the Leafs, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. The two teams last met in 1999, when Buffalo beat Toronto in five games.

Games vs. Buffalo: Nov. 13 (in BUF), Mar. 2 (in TO), Mar. 13 (in BUF), Apr. 12 (in TO)