It’s been the summer of “JT” for starry-eyed Leafs fans, thrilled that free agent John Tavares (37G-49A-86 Pts) chose Toronto as the place to make $11 million US a season.
Pretty good money for a guy who might be a second-line centre.
With Tavares added to a lineup that already features Auston Matthews (34-29-63) and Nazem Kadri (32-23-55), the Leafs have world-class depth down the middle.
Those three are complimented nicely by scoring wingers Mitch Marner (22-47-69), Patrick Marleau (27-20-47) and William Nylander (20-41-61), presuming the restricted free agent signs a deal.
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If the pre-season is an indication, the team will score goals, some suggesting it could become the first to surpass 300 since the 2009-10 Washington Capitals (318).
In net, Frederik Andersen (.918 SV%, 2.81 GAA) has established himself as an all-star calibre No. 1. Behind him, Garret Sparks can provide the rest Andersen will need if the Leafs are to go deep in the playoffs, but like most teams, an injury to their No. 1 will send the season off the rails.
Where there is still a question mark for the Leafs, fairly or unfairly, is on defence. The numbers of Morgan Reilly (4-46-52) and Jake Gardiner (5-47-52) might suggest otherwise, but to this point, neither can be considered an all-star-calibre No. 1, capable of providing that shutdown 28-30 minutes that the league’s best defencemen provide.
Ron Hainsey (4-19-23) is dependable but limited at age 37, and Nikita Zaitsev (5-8-13) is talented but prone to mistakes.
The third-period collapse in Game 7 against Boston last spring was a reminder that the Leafs still had a ways to go.
Toronto will be able to run-and-gun it with the best in the league this season, but the fans and its organization are singularly focused on the spring. Offence alone won’t win a Stanley Cup.
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2017-2018 record: 49-26-7 (105 points) 3rd in Atlantic Division, lost to Boston in first round
New faces: F John Tavares, F Tyler Ennis, F Par Lindholm, D Igor Ozhiganov, F Josh Jooris
Key forwards: John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander (unsigned), Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri
Key defencemen: Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev
No. 1 goaltender: Frederik Andersen