NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 32 teams from Aug. 8-Sept. 8. Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs remain confident in their core and feel they are on the cusp of taking the next step toward winning the Stanley Cup following another disappointing postseason.
The Maple Leafs lost the Eastern Conference First Round in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning last season and have not won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004. More recently, the talented foundation of center Austin Matthews forwards Mitchell Marner and William Nylander and defenseman Morgan Rielly have been part of a Toronto team that has lost its opening-round postseason series in six consecutive seasons.
But management and ownership have seen enough improvement to give their four key players another chance, along with general manager Kyle Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe, to work together in order to get over the hump.
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“I think in the moments where you have not reached the potential that everyone knows that you have and that you especially know internally that you have, that’s when true belief is measured,” Dubas said. “I do believe in the group.”
There is legitimate reason to feel that way.
The Maple Leafs set Toronto records with 54 wins and 115 points in 2021-22 and took the Lightning, who came into the series as two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, to Game 7, a 2-1 defeat. Yet in losing, Dubas said he felt a different vibe around the team that leads to optimism for the future.
“I think that the regular season and the playoff series, the way that the group played was different,” Dubas said. “I didn’t feel in Games 5, 6 or 7 that we were on our heels or reacting to another team dictating to us the way the game was going to go. I didn’t feel like in the previous years, where we were passive.”
Matthews became the third Maple Leafs player to win the Hart Trophy, voted as NHL most valuable player, after leading the League with 60 goals, the most in NHL history by a Toronto player and United States-born player. The 24-year-old was the second US-born player to win the Hart; Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane won it in 2015-16.
“I know the belief in our room remains very high,” Matthews said. “The pushback we had against Tampa [Bay]it just felt different.”
Video: Auston Matthews wins Hart Trophy for NHL MVP
The most significant change for the Maple Leafs this season will be their goaltending.
Gone is Jack Campbell, Toronto’s No. 1 the past two seasons, who signed a five-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers as an unrestricted free agent on July 13. The 30-year-old was 31-9-6 with a 2.64 goals-against average, .914 save percentage. and five shutouts in 49 games (47 starts) last season.
Toronto filled that hole by acquiring veterans Matt Murray in a trade with the Ottawa Senators and signing Ilya Samsonovformerly of the Washington Capitals, in free agency.
Murray, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, came to the Maple Leafs on July 11 for future considerations. The 28-year-old was 15-25-3 with a 3.23 GAA, .899 save percentage and three shutouts in 47 games (45 starts) during two seasons with the Senators.
“It’s all about pushing myself to try to be the absolute best that I can be,” Murray said, “and I think Toronto is a great place to do it. A whole lot of excitement on my part.”
Two days after trading for Murray, Toronto signed Samsonov to a one-year contract. The 25-year-old was 23-12-5 with a 3.02 GAA, .896 save percentage and three shutouts in 44 games (39 starts) with the Capitals last season.
Dubas said the two will battle it out at training camp for the starting job.
There were several other tweaks to the roster over the summer, but no big-name splashes. Centers Calle Jarnkrok and Adam Gaudette and forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel each will get a chance to land spots on the third and fourth lines in training camp; Jarnkrok had 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 66 games for the Seattle Kraken and Calgary Flames, Gaudette had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 58 games for the Senators and Blackhawks and Aube-Kubel had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 67 games for the Colorado Avalanche.
Goaltending aside, Keefe said he believes keeping the nucleus of the team together, including Dubas and himself, gives the Maple Leafs momentum heading into 2022-23. Toronto is 116-50-19 in 185 regular-season games since he replaced Mike Babcock as coach Nov. 20, 2019.
“I felt we stepped up in key moments and were not afraid of losing,” he said. “I have tremendous faith in our group and continue to have tremendous faith in our group and the effort that they gave us.”