It will be a different Toronto Maple Leafs’ team that takes the ice in 2021-22 than left the ice in disappointment after blowing a 3-1 game lead in the first playoff series to lose to the Montreal Canadiens. First this season’s version of the Maple Leafs have added a few new players and lost a few regulars from previous seasons.
For example, probably the most notable change will be in goal. The team said good-bye to former starter Frederik Andersen, who went to the Carolina Hurricanes, and hello to goalie Petr Mrazel, who came from the Hurricanes to the Maple Leafs.
Related: Why Auston Matthews Is the Best Maple Leafs’ Center in History
Other New Players with the Maple Leafs
Toronto has brought in several new payers other than Mrazek. These players include free-agent forwards Nick Ritchie, David Kampf, and Michael Bunting. Ondrej Kase was also added in free agency, but the jury’s still out whether he’s over his concussion issues and the Maple Leafs will likely be very careful with him and see him – at best – as a long-term potential.
Players Who Left the Maple Leafs
A number of players are no longer on the Maple Leafs’ roster. These include, as noted before, goalie Frederik Andersen (who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes) and forwards Zach Hyman (who signed with the Edmonton Oilers), Joe Thornton (who signed with the Florida Panthers), Nick Foligno (who surprisingly signed with the Boston Bruins), and defenseman Zach Bogosian (who not so surprisingly went back to the Tampa Bay Lightning).
Still, the Core Four and Others Remain on the Maple Leafs’ Roster
At least one thing will be constant on this team. It will be led by the Core Four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and (hopefully if his postseason concussion is completely healed) John Tavares. Matthews recently had surgery on a wonky wrist that had troubled him all during last season, but the scant medical reports we have suggest that it will be healed in enough time to offer him practice time in training camp.
Matthews Goes Out on a Limb to Predict a Great Season
Speaking of Matthews, in an interview with ESPN last week, Matthews went out on a limb by suggesting that he believes the Maple Leafs will be an improved team that will be able to move past last season’s disappointing seven-game loss to long-time rival Montreal Canadiens during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Specifically, Matthews admitted: “It’s obviously really frustrating.”
In fact, he was more revealing when he said “It [stinks] right now. People have opinions and they can say what they want, and rightfully so, but I really believe in the team and I really believe in all of the players on the team — the core group especially.”
However, then Matthews noted, “I truly believe that we’re going to get it done. We’re going to be better from our losses, and from the adversity that we faced.”
Spelling Out that Adversity
Maple Leafs’ fans have lived that adversity for many seasons. So typically of late, the team had a strong regular season and finished with a record of 35-14-7. That regular-season success made the playoffs even more disappointing and surprising. It was the fifth season in a row the team qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs but couldn’t make it out of the opening round.
In fact, Matthews’ comments might have been generated by his own lack of playoff success last season. Clearly he had a great regular season, in which he led the NHL with 41 goals and tied for fifth place in points (66 in 52 games). But neither he nor his high-scoring line-mate Marner (who came in fourth in the NHL with 20 goals and 47 assists (for 67 points in 55 games) could carry the team to a playoff series win. Together, the twosome only combined for a single goal in the series loss to the Canadiens. They need to do better.
So when Matthews’ clearly states that the season was “Extremely disappointing,” it might be he’s talking about his own lack of contribution. He then responded in a determined manner to suggest that: “But it’ll just feel that much better when we eventually get to the top.”
Related: What’s the Rank of Maple Leafs’ Left-Wingers: The Answer, Who Knows?
Matthews Responds to Kyle Dubas “Bet”
Then, during the ESPN interview, Matthews responded to general manager Kyle Dubas’ “bet.” Dubas had gone on record as saying he would “bet everything” Toronto would find a way to win the Stanley Cup.
As Matthews noted, “I don’t think that’s news to us. We know that’s how he feels. When he reiterates that, it gives us confidence moving forward. That’s all you can ask for, that your general manager and all your teammates truly believe in one another.”
Perhaps that’s the most telling comment made during the interview. The connection between Dubas’ comment and the confidence it inspires in the team. To me, right or wrong, it suggests the the team is “tight” – as in close-knit.
Whether this closeness leads to success or not is another question: however, Matthews predicts it will. I’m thinking that Matthews will self-generate the drive to make it so. That, in itself, would be good news for Maple Leafs’ fans.
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