During the Toronto Maple Leafs preseason, several positive things happened. The team went into the 2021-22 preseason coming off a disastrous first-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Maple Leafs’ fans were discouraged. Few seemed to look forward to the season at all.
The Maple Leafs’ training camp and preseason changed many of those perceptions. However, the operative words are “So far.” Whether these changes will last or not remains to be seen. But, as I’ll note later, so far – so good.
In this post, I’m going to look at two big takeaways from the preseason. I’ll look at two more takeaways tomorrow.
Related: Maple Leafs’ Pierre Engvall’s Get’s His Big Chance: Can He Deliver?
Takeaway #1: Michael Bunting Is a Greasy Rat
When is Zach Hyman left the team during the offseason, Maple Leafs’ fans lamented that they lost one of their best puck-diggers and hardest on-ice workers. They did. However, the Maple Leafs tried to replace Hyman with a committee of players – each with different skills.
One of those players was Michael Bunting. Bunting came to the team by accepting a lower contract than he could have received to have gone elsewhere. Instead, he choose to be in Toronto and with the Maple Leafs. Perhaps he wanted to play closer to home. Perhaps he liked the team’s chances to win during the regular season and find success in the postseason. When he came, he brought something different to the team.
After one preseason game, during Bunting’s post-game interview he was interrupted by Kurtis Gabriel who called him a Greasy Rat. It was a term of respect by a teammate.
Bunting’s a bit of a rat on the ice. Gabriel meant that Bunting doesn’t just play physically, he gets under the skin of players on the other team. He plays with an edge. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice. He scores from close.
He seems to bring a ton of skill to the team as a late-bloomer. Just one season ago, who would have seen him as a capable replacement? However, from his body of work during this preseason – as small as it was – he’s so far shown that he might become a capable replacement who adds value to the team in several different ways.
He’ll score. He’ll play with physicality. And, he’ll be a pest.
Although the jury remains out, one takeaway is that Michael Bunting looks to be a keeper.
Takeaway #2: The Power Play Is Going to Be Much Better This Season
Because there’s no salary cap for hiring coaches in the NHL, the Maple Leafs have the advantage of being one of the wealthier NHL teams. During the off-season, in addition to adding new players to the team’s roster, the organization found and hired several new, solid, and intelligent coaches.
One of those coaches was Spencer Carberry. Before Carbery was hired by the Maple Leafs, he had been the highly successful coach of the AHL’s Hershey Bears. When Carbery came to the team, he was put in charge of the Maple Leafs’ woeful – as of last season – power-play unit. He was also charged with answering how a team like the Maple Leafs, with so many highly-skilled offensive players, could have one of the worst power plays in the NHL.
During the preseason, Carbery instituted several changes to the team’s unit. He moved Mitch Marner, who has great on-ice vision and a strong hockey IQ, into a more creative position where he could assess and engage the entire ice. He made the power play more mobile and created a larger number of new options. He removed the predictability of Marner always looking to pass to Auston Matthews.
Carbery made these changes even without Matthews on the ice at all. Matthews hasn’t seen a single preseason minute because he’s still nursing his surgically repaired wrist.
So far, things look to be much improved for the Maple Leafs’ power play. It’s scoring at a much higher rate than it did last season. The predictability that stuck it in the mud seems to be gone. It’s early in the season, but so far – so good.
Tomorrow’s Takeaways will discuss the team’s depth and the proposed changes to the penalty kill.
Related: Four Predictions for the Maple Leafs’ Defense & the 2021-22 Season
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October 12, 2021 at 10:00 am
As far as I am concerned Filipe Dimas in his article this morning is spot on. This year The Leafs will be playing an 82 game preseason. We the fans all felt totally let down by last spring’s playoff bust and that will make this season a “show me” season with a lot of this fan base hanging back with their hype to see what this team is really all about.
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