Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 Season Preview

We are under a week away from one of the biggest Leafs seasons in the franchise’s history. This season will decide the future of superstars like Marner and Nylander, the whole bottom six, Sheldon Keefe and Kyle Dubas. The Leafs have failed to get over the knee-high bar of winning one round with the core four of Matthews, Tavares, Marner and Nylander and if they aren’t able to win one this year we will be looking at a whole different Leafs team than we’re used to. It’s going to be an exciting season in a loaded Atlantic division with the Lightning, Bruins, Panthers, Canadiens and a pesky Senators team that should be better this year. I’m going to break down the team from the forwards to the goaltenders so let’s get started.


Starting with the Centres, the Leafs did not change much at the centre position this year with Matthews, Tavares, Kerfoot and Spezza who can all play centre. The Leafs did add David Kampf to this centre core so now you have the option of moving Kerfoot or Spezza to the wing, Kampf could slide into a shutdown line with Mikheyev and somebody like Wayne Simmonds. You can also play Kampf in a fourth-line centre role if you need to give Spezza a rest or if Keefe wants to play Kerfoot at centre which would make Kerfoot the third-line centre. Overall for centre’s you know what you’re going to get, Matthews one of, if not the best goal scorers in the league, Tavares who is a responsible and incredibly smart hockey player, Kerfoot who isn’t my favourite player, Kampf who isn’t defensively and is not easy to play against and Spezza who’ll provide you with depth scoring.

Next, we’ll look at the right-wing position. There’s also not much change there either with Marner who’s one of the best playmakers in the league, Nylander who has great hands and rocket of a shot, Simmonds who’s good in the defensive zone and you also don’t want to go into the corners with him and during the offseason, the Leafs picked up Ondrej Kase. Kase is a very skilled forward who can provide you with depth scoring which the Leafs desperately need. The problem with Kase is he is a good player when healthy but unfortunately, that’s not very often, over the last two seasons Kase has only played nine games. Hopefully, the Leafs medical team can work with him throughout the season to keep him healthy and ready to play because I believe this could be a really good addition for the Leafs with the need for depth scoring in the lineup as we saw in the playoffs. When Matthews and Marner weren’t able to produce the offence went cold and it became very hard to watch with the lack of production and it eventually lost them the series. We’ll see how many games Kase can play this season and if he can produce in a bottom-six role. One more thing to look out for is Nick Robertson, Robertson got a chance with the Leafs early last season but suffered an injury and never made it back to the lineup after. Robertson will be challenging for a role in the team this preseason and I’ll be watching him. Kurtis Gabriel is also a player to watch, I think he’ll make the team but will be in and out of the lineup. I like the fight he brings to the Leafs and it’s another player that is not fun to play against.

Now the position with probably the biggest question mark on the team is left-wing. First, we’ll start off with who we know will make the lineup. Spezza could play on the wing if needed and I think the addition of Kampf will have Spezza playing on the wing more as he gets older. Kerfoot can play on the wing as well and he did a few times last season. Mikheyev lacks finishing ability but is good defensively, penalty kills and is extremely fast which can cause problems for teams if he is finally able to put the puck in the back of the net. Then we get into a tough spot for the Leafs, you have a first-line left-wing spot open and even a second-line left-wing spot open. The Leafs brought in Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie as well as Josh Ho-Sang to try to find a solution to the loss of Zach Hyman and Joe Thornton. Both Bunting and Ritchie are tough to play against and get into a lot of scrums after the whistle as well as laying a lot of hits but Bunting has a better ability to finish than Ritchie. If Bunting can continue to produce and his recent success isn’t just a shooting bender I’d rather him in the role of a first-line left winger than Ritchie as Bunting’s style of play reminds me a lot of Hyman. Ritchie will provide a lot of physicality in the line up which is something the Leafs need in the lineup so I look forward to watching him play.


On the first pairing, I expect the pairing to stay the same as last season with Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie playing together. I liked this pair last year as Brodie was fantastic in the defensive zone which was refreshing to see how easy he made defence look after years of an atrocious blue line being iced every night for the Leafs. With Brodie being so reliable in his own end it allowed Rielly to focus on what he does best and that’s jumping up into the play and provide extra offence from the blue line. When Rielly was on a pairing with Ceci or Barrie in past years he did not look great and I think it was mostly because he didn’t have a partner that was very good defensively so he had to cover for them a lot more than doing what he’s good at in jumping into the play. This pairing is a perfect fit for both guys as both of them allow each other to do what they do best, last season Brodie posted a solid xGA/60 of 2.09 and Reilly posting a xGF/60 of 2.8 I hope there are no injuries to this pairing as this is probably the Leafs most effective pairing.

Now to the second pairing. It will most likely stay with Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl, Muzzin is the best defenseman on this team, he provides a physical aspect, is solid defensively and has a good shot that isn’t used too much but it’s there. Muzzin had a better xGA/60 than Brodie last season posting a 2.03 and was just slightly worse in xGF/60 than Rielly posting a 2.68. Muzzin is up there as the best pick-up Dubas has had in his tenure as Leafs general manager and as we’ve seen in the playoffs, when he’s not on the ice the Leafs are a completely different team. Now for Holl, I don’t think Holl is a very effective defenseman without Muzzin on his pairing, we saw this multiple times but I think it was most evident in the play-in round against Columbus. Holl had a great start to last year but started to fall off a bit as the year went on, I expect Keefe to keep this pairing as they were used a lot as the shutdown pairing.

The third pairing is where things get interesting. Nobody has a spot set in the bottom pairing, the loss of Bogosian was big, he provided stability and physicality on the back end when needed. Now we have to look at guys like Sandin and Liljegren, both guys need to take a step and fight for a spot in the lineup. Liljegren needs to take a step in his development this season, he has played a couple of games with the Leafs in the past and I thought he was okay but I want to see him push for a full-time role. He was very good in the AHL last season and we’ll see if he grabs a spot this year. Sandin is ready for the NHL I want to see him in the lineup this season regularly, he played in the playoffs last season and aside from one mistake that led to a goal I thought he looked good. For a rookie to look good in the playoffs with extremely limited experience was very encouraging and he deserves a role on this team especially with Rielly being on an expiring deal this season you need to get Sandin ready because if he plays well enough he could slide into Rielly’s role in the future. Now you look at a guy like Dermott he was in and out of the lineup last year and I wonder if somebody like Brennan Menell pushes him out of the lineup from time to time if he’s in a rough spot during the season. I thought Dermott was alright during the season but made a horrible mistake in game six in overtime that cost the Leafs the game. The third pairing will be interesting especially with two young defensemen that need to take steps in their game.


Jack Campbell was fantastic last year and it was really unfortunate the Leafs played terrible in front of him in games five, six and seven because if they didn’t there would be a whole different narrative of last season and this team in general. Campbell posted a GSAA of 6.35, a GSAx of 5 and a save percentage of 0.921. There isn’t much to say about Campbell he’s loved by the fanbase and everybody in the room, he’s a fantastic goalie and if he can stay healthy and can replicate those numbers, even if the numbers are a bit worse and he posts a 0.915 I’ll definitely take that.

Now for one of the newest additions to the Leafs roster and I look forward to seeing him share the net with Campbell, Petr Mrazek. Mrazek is an athletic goalie that struggled to stay healthy last year, only playing 12 games posting a GSAA of 4.88 and a GSAx of 11.14. Those stats are in a small sample size obviously so I wouldn’t put much into those stats but he knows what it’s like to be a tandem goalie which could also help Campbell throughout the season. Mrazek brings experience to the Leafs, playing nine seasons and winning multiple rounds in the playoffs with the Carolina Hurricanes. Much like Campbell, Mrazek needs to stay healthy this season or it could be a tough season for the Leafs. Mrazek can be a great addition and just by looking at the team on paper I don’t think goaltending will be the issue with this team.

It’s going to be a fun year with how much is at stake. Hopefully, they can do something this year but the worst part is nothing that happens in the regular season matters if they don’t do anything in the playoffs. I hope they found something inside them this offseason or else their time in blue and white could be over.

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