The John Tavares signing took the Toronto Maple Leafs offence to the next level last season, but it still wasn’t enough to get passed the Boston Bruins in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Leafs lost in seven games to Boston for the second straight season, and the third time in seven years. There was, of course, plenty to be optimistic about come season’s end. The team finished eighth in the NHL with 100 points in the regular season and saw some key members of their core take major steps forward.
General Manager Kyle Dubas finally finished locking up that core this off-season, but it came at a steep price. The team announced on September 13 they had reached an agreement with RFA Mitch Marner on a six-year, $65.358M contract extension. Marner’s $10.893M cap hit will be the third-highest on the team, but the seventh highest in the NHL. With so much of their future cap space dedicated to a small, core group of players, the Leafs are under even more pressure to win now.
Marner wasn’t the only player Dubas was able to retain in the off-season. The team announced a pair of contract extensions on June 28 for forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. Johnsson’s contract is a four year deal with an AAV of $3.4M, while Kapanen’s deal carries a $3.2M cap hit for three seasons. Just three days later, Dubas acquired defenseman Tyson Barrie, forward Alexander Kerfoot, and a 2020 sixth-round pick from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 2020 third-round pick. Barrie should fit nicely into the top four, filling a longstanding void on the right-side of Toronto’s defence. Kerfoot will take over as the third-line centre for Kadri, who had fallen out of favour with the club after he was suspended in the post-season for the second time in as many years.
The Maple Leafs boast one of, if not the best, top sixes in the NHL. William Nylander looks set to play a full season on the right-wing of Auston Matthews, with Johnsson starting the year on their left side. Tavares and Marner played nearly every game together last season, a trend that will continue into the start of 2019-20. Kapanen is expected to fill in on their wing so long as Zach Hyman remains sidelined. Kerfoot has been centring the third line in the pre-season alongside Trevor Moore and Russian import Ilya Mikheyev. Jason Spezza was originally pegged as the fourth-line centre, but he’s been forced to the wing in pre-season by Frederik Gauthier, a favourite of Mike Babcock’s.
Auston Matthews (C)
- — The only knock on Matthews from a fantasy perspective is a lack of durability. The 22-year-old phenom has missed 34 games over the last two seasons. Matthews has 111 goals in 212 games across his three-year career, a 43-goal pace over a full 82 games. All he needs to do to cement himself as a top 10 fantasy player is stay healthy. His shot volume was on the rise again last season, and we could see his production take another step forward if he gets the increase in ice time he’s been asking for. The sky is the limit for Matthews, but there are safer players at more shallow positions that you should be taken before him.
John Tavares (C)
- — Tavares delivered in his first season as a Maple Leaf, posting career highs in goals (47), points (88), and shots on goal (286). His on-ice SH% was a tad high last season at 12.4%, but considering he’s playing with Marner, Tavares should be able to maintain above-average conversion rates at 5v5. It’s hard to imagine him topping last season’s totals, but another 40-40 year seems like a sure thing. I would draft him with confidence at his current ADP of 17.9.
Mitch Marner (RW)
- — A long, dreadful off-season paid off in a big way for Marner, and he was able to come to terms on a deal just a few days into training camp. After being resigned to skating on the second and third lines throughout his first two seasons, Marner took advantage of playing a full season alongside Tavares last year. He broke out in a major way, racking up 26 goals and 68 assists for 94 points in 82 games. He did all that with a modest 21 power-play points, suggesting we haven’t’ seen Marner’s pique just yet. Perhaps most encouraging was the 233 shots he fired on goal last season, a drastic increase from the 194 he registered in 2017-18. He’ll need to continue to improve on his goal-scoring if he’s going to provide first-round value, but I like him at his current ADP of 15.8.
William Nylander (C/RW)
- — Nylander’s prolonged contract dispute no doubt played a role in his dip in production last season. The young Swede managed just seven goals and 20 assists in 54 games. By his admission, Nylander had trouble getting his game up to speed, but he also saw a decrease in his role and usage. He averaged just 15:31 a night and was forced to fill in as the third-line centre on multiple occasions. A full season on the right-wing of Auston Matthews should restore Nylander’s production and fantasy value. He is an obvious breakout candidate this season, but you’re not getting a ton of value at his current ADP of 100.2.
Andreas Johnsson (LW/RW)
- — Johnsson managed 20 goals and 23 assists last season while playing less than 14 minutes a night. His ice-time should see a dramatic increase to start the season while Hyman is out, and he could continue to be an integral part of the offence even after Hyman’s return. Early indications are Johnsson will start the year on the top power-play unit, which also features Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Rielly. He is a talented player with ideal opportunity and offers decent value at his current ADP of 168.4.
Kasperi Kapanen (RW)
- — Kapanen is a valuable piece of this Maple Leafs’ team, capable of playing in all situations at an above-average level. He’ll be worth rostering so long as he’s with Tavares and Marner, but it’s hard to imagine him staying fantasy relevant after Hyman returns and Kapanen is relegated to the third line. Given his limited shelf life, I’d be wary of investing too highly in him on draft day.
Alexander Kerfoot (LW/RW)
- — Kerfoot is cemented as the Leafs’ third-line centre, a spot that doesn’t offer a ton of fantasy value considering the top-heavy nature of the Leafs’ offence. It’s hard to imagine his production improving in such a limited role. I’d imagine he finishes around the 42 points he put up with Colorado last season, limiting his relevance to the deepest of fantasy leagues.
One of Dubas’ more savvy moves in the off-season was unloading the contract of Nikita Zaitsev on the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs got RFA Cody Ceci in return and signed him to a cap hit identical to Zaitsev’s, but for four fewer seasons. Ceci is projected to start the season on the Leafs’ top pair with Morgan Rielly, while Jake Muzzin and Barrie make up the second pair. With Travis Dermott nursing a shoulder injury, the last two spots on the Leafs’ blue-line are still up for grabs. Ben Harpur, Rasmus Sandin, Martin Marincin, and Justin Holl are all still in contention for a spot on the third pair.
Morgan Rielly (D)
- — Rielly exploded last season for 20 goals and 52 assists from the backend, but there’s more than one reason to expect some regression from him in 2018-19. While Rielly did improve his shot volume, he shot 9.0%, an incredibly high rate for a defenseman. His 12.1 on-ice SH% is also due for some regression, and he could potentially forfeit some power-play time to Barrie. As it stands though, Rielly is set to start the year on the top power-play unit. He might not put up 72 points this season, but he’s still a starting fantasy defenseman and the Toronto blue-liner you want to own.
Tyson Barrie (D)
- — Barrie moves from one offensive juggernaut to another, but in a lesser role. No longer the uncontested number-one option among his team’s defenseman on the power-play, Barrie will be relegated to the second unit to open the season. That could very well change as the season unfolds, but the Leafs’ first unit saw a lot of success last year with four forwards and Rielly up top. Barrie is still an efficient goal-scorer at 5v5 and is a safe bet to hit double-digit goals as a result, but 23 of his 45 assists last season came on the man advantage. His current ADP of 66.1 is well ahead of where I would be comfortable taking him.
Jake Muzzin (D)
- — Muzzin remains on the fringe of fantasy relevance in standard leagues but is worth rostering if your league rewards hits. He should be able to maintain the half a point per game pace he averaged with the Maple Leafs last season, but a lack of power-play time caps his upside. His ADP of 135.6 is fine for banger leagues, but I wouldn’t even burn a draft pick on him otherwise.
Frederik Andersen will continue to carry the load in goal for the Maple Leafs in 2019-20. The Great Dane is a model of consistency, posting a SV% between .917 and .919 in each of the last four seasons. He’s started at least 60 games in all three of his seasons with the Maple Leafs. The team will hope Michael Hutchinson can help lighten that load this season. Toronto sent Garrett Sparks to Vegas in the off-season and just recently released Michal Neuvirth from a PTO, leaving Hutchinson to back up Andersen.
Frederik Andersen (G)
- — Goaltending is a very volatile position in fantasy, so stability is incredibly valuable. Andersen is a talented goalie on a talented team, which is all you need to know. He should continue to be right around the top of the league for goalies in terms of games played, meaning he should rack up plenty of wins again this season. There’s only a small handful of goalies who have an argument for going ahead of Freddie on draft day.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|A. Matthews (42)||M. Marner (60)||M. Marner (86)||J. Tavares (10)||M. Marner (25)|
|J. Tavares (42)||M. Rielly (50)||J. Tavares (85)||A. Matthews (10)||M. Rielly (25)|
|M. Marner (26)||J. Tavares (43)||A. Matthews (75)||M. Marner (6)||J. Tavares (23)|
Maple Leafs in the DFO Top 300
- 9 — Auston Matthews (C)
- 11 — John Tavares (C)
- 18 — Mitch Marner (RW)
- 41 — Frederik Andersen (G)
- 45 — Morgan Rielly (D)
- 109 — Tyson Barrie (D)
- 121 — William Nylander (C/RW)
- 193 — Andreas Johnsson (LW/RW)
- 195 — Jake Muzzin (D)
- 236 — Kasperi Kapanen (RW)
- 280 — Alexander Kerfoot (LW/RW)
|1||TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING||50-24-8||108 PTS|
|2||TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS||46-27-9||101 PTS|
|3||BOSTON BRUINS||45-28-9||99 PTS|
|4||FLORIDA PANTHERS||44-29-9||97 PTS|
|5||MONTREAL CANADIENS||40-34-8||88 PTS|
|6||BUFFALO SABRES||39-36-7||85 PTS|
|7||DETROIT RED WINGS||33-40-9||75 PTS|
|8||OTTAWA SENATORS||29-44-9||67 PTS|
Toronto should have no problem locking up one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division again this season, but they’ll have a hard time leapfrogging the Bruins and Lightning. The best way for the Leafs to finally break through the first round of the playoffs is to improve their regular season results. Boston is always going to be a difficult matchup for them, no matter who has home-ice advantage. Winning the division is the most logical path to playoff success, but it’s hard to imagine the Lightning not finishing atop the Atlantic again in 2019-20.