Tampa Bay Lightning Rival Report: Toronto Maple Leafs

Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the course of the off-season, I’ve taken a closer look at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Atlantic Division opponents and what kind of transactions they’ve made. Finally, let’s review what the Toronto Maple Leafs has done.

At this point in the NHL off-season, most teams, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, have already made most of their big moves and look to get ready for training camp and the upcoming season. Some teams have traded away their valuable assets for big name players or made a splash in the free agency market, while others have remained relatively quiet during the summer months.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been taking a look at what the Lightning’s divisional opponents have done in the off-season thus far. There have been some moves within the division as well as blockbuster trades and questionable acquisitions among the eight teams in the Atlantic.

The seventh and final team that I’ll look at is the Toronto Maple Leafs and review what the front office has done for a team in transition that only has one playoff appearance in the past 11 years. However, there has been much excitement surrounding the organization as of late with all of it’s young, up and coming prospects, and this year’s number one overall pick, Auston Matthews, which the Leafs drafted, of course.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

After their last playoff appearance in 2013, the Leafs slid down the standings and have found themselves as one of the league’s worst teams the past few years, including last season when Toronto finished dead last in the NHL with 29 wins and 69 points and was awarded the first overall pick.

Many of their struggles can be pointed to the lack of quality goaltending and overall youth and inexperience on the team. The Maple Leafs have some exciting prospects and talent on the rise, but it’ll be a couple of years before they get back into the playoff conversation.

With a new coaching and management regime in place in the Great White North, the Leafs look to be heading in the right direction, but as usual, it will take some time for the team to contend again.

Head coach Mike Babcock has more than a decades’ worth of experience behind the bench and Team President and Alternate Governor, Brendan Shanahan, brought in long-time New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello to serve in the same position for the Leafs, so while there may be uncertainty with the on-ice product, there’s some steadiness above and alongside the ice.

In addition to adding some experience in the front office and on the bench, the Leafs brought in several NHL veterans over this past off-season and the last few years to help guide and mentor the younger players on the team. Such veterans include P.A. Parenteau, Roman Polak, Matt Martin, Michael Grabner, and others as well.

With a great talent pool in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies and some promising players on the way up, including the number one overall draft pick, the Leafs’ future is bright, despite what the critics say. It won’t be quick, but Toronto will improve year by year and eventually get back to competing for a playoff spot. Let’s take a look at what the front office accomplished this off-season.

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Major Transactions

On April 13, just after the conclusion of the regular season, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed forward Nazem Kadri and defenseman Morgan Rielly to six-year contract extensions, with an average annual value (AAV) of $4.5 million and $5 million, respectively.

Kadri, originally drafted 7th overall by the Maple Leafs in 2009, led the team in points last season with 45 in 76 games and notched a career-high 50 points during the 2013-14 season. Overall, the 25-year-old London, Ontario native has 197 points in 326 games played, all with Toronto.

Rielly, whom the Leafs drafted 5th overall in the 2012 draft, led all Toronto defensemen in points last season with 36 to his name and has 92 total points in 236 games played since entering the league in 2013. The 22-year-old Vancouver native has quickly emerged as one of the Leafs’ top blueliners and will look to continue in that role down the road. [Toronto Maple Leafs]

The Maple Leafs acquired goaltender Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for the 30th overall pick in the 2016 Draft and a second round pick in 2017. Originally re-drafted by the Ducks in 2012, Andersen posted 35 wins during the 2014-15 season and has at least 20 wins in each season that he’s played.

The 26-year-old Denmark native has a 77-26-12 record, .918 save percentage, and a 2.33 goals against average in 125 games played. More details of his signing can be found here. [Toronto Maple Leafs]

More from Lightning News

On the opening day of free agency, the Maple Leafs signed forward Matt Martin from the New York Islanders to a four-year contract with an AAV of $2.5 million.

The 27-year-old Windsor, Ontario native is well-known for his physical presence and throwing the body around, especially on that formidable fourth line of Martin, Cizikas, and Clutterbuck the Islanders have deployed the past couple of seasons.

Since entering the NHL, Martin has 2,023 hits and has averaged 335 hits per year since the 2010-11 season, which are incredible numbers of the sort.

As you can see, the Leafs are definitely in on his physicality, but they also signed him for his veteran leadership. It’ll be interesting to see how this deal works out in the long run. [Toronto Maple Leafs]

Toronto announced on July 8 that the team acquired a conditional pick in the 2017 Draft from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who now finds himself on the other side of the Ducks-Kings SoCal rivalry after all those years in Los Angeles. Bernier, originally drafted 11th overall in the 2006 draft by the L.A. Kings, has an 88-88-23 record to go along with a career .915 save percentage and 2.67 goals against average with 12 shutouts. [Toronto Maple Leafs]

Possibly the second biggest announcement of the off-season from Leafs came when the team signed the number one overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, Auston Matthews, to a three-year, entry-level contract with an AAV of $925,000. Much of the off-season hype surrounded the young forward from Arizona and as you can imagine, Leafs fans everywhere jumped for joy when it was announced that he finally signed the contract.

The 19-year-old center played for the ZSC Lions in the Swiss League A last season and recorded 46 points in 36 games played, in addition to the 117 points with the U.S. Development team in 2014-15. The best is yet to come, though, as he represents the future of the Leafs and will help to define what they want to accomplish as a team. [Toronto Maple Leafs]

Finally, on August 22, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed goaltender Jhonas Enroth to a one-year contract worth $750,000. Enroth has spent the past few seasons jumping around the league, but now he finds himself with the rebuilding Leafs and he will compete for the starting job with fellow newly acquired goaltender Frederik Andersen.

Since entering the NHL in 2009, the 28-year-old Stockholm, Sweden native has a 50-66-15 record to go along with a .911 Save Percentage as well as a 2.80 goals against average. [Toronto Maple Leafs]

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Minor Transactions

May 5 – Toronto Maple Leafs sign defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year, entry-level contract

June 25 – Maple Leafs acquire winger Kerby Rychel from the Columbus Blue Jackets and sign him to a two-year contract with an AAV of $863,333

July 2 – Maple Leafs sign defenseman Justin Holl to a one-year, entry-level contract

July 2 – The Leafs sign free agent defenseman Roman Polak to a one-year contract worth $2.25 million. Polak spent most of last season with the Sharks on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. [Toronto Maple Leafs]

July 15 – The Leafs sign goaltender Garret Sparks to a one-year, two-way contract

July 21 – Maple Leafs sign forward Josh Leivo to a two-year contract

July 22 – Maple Leafs sign defenseman Connor Carrick to a two-year contract

July 25 – Toronto signs forward Peter Holland to a one-year contract worth $1.3 million

July 25 – Toronto signs defenseman Frank Corrado to a one-year contract

July 26 – The Maple Leafs sign forward Trevor Moore to a three-year, entry-level contract

July 29 – The Maple Leafs sign defenseman Martin Marincin to a two-year contract with an AAV of $1.25 million

After all of those transactions, the Maple Leafs are left with less than $700,000 in salary cap space before the regular season begins, per General Fanager. Basically, they’re in a bit of a tight squeeze, even though most of the roster is comprised of young, “cheaper” talent.

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At the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo, the Toronto Maple Leafs added 11 new players to the organization and you can find all of their selections below.

Round 1 – (1st overall) Auston Matthews, Forward, Zurich SC

Round 2 – (31st overall) Yegor Korshkov, Forward, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (KHL)

Round 2 – (57th overall) Carl Grundstrom, Forward, MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik

Round 3 – (62nd overall) Joseph Woll, Goaltender, USNTDP

Round 3 – (72nd overall) James Greenway, Defenseman, USNTDP

Round 4 – (92nd overall) Adam Brooks, Forward, Regina Pats (WHL)

Round 4 – (101st overall) Keaton Middleton, Defenseman, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Round 5 – (122nd overall) Vladimir Bobylyov, Forward, Victoria Royals (WHL)

Round 6 – (152nd overall) Jack Walker, Defenseman, Victoria Royals (WHL)

Round 6 – (179th overall) Nicolas Mattinen, Defenseman, London Knights (OHL)

Round 7 – (182nd overall) Nikolai Chebykin, Forward, MVD Jrs

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Though it’s been nearly 50 years since their last Stanley Cup victory and 14 years since their last appearance in a conference final, things are finally looking up a bit for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their large fan base. It’s been a rough few seasons as of late and the team has endured a few setbacks along with parting ways with some key players and dealing with the growing pains of a younger roster.

However, the fans hope that all of this losing and negativity surrounding the organization will one day turn into great success. Fortunately for them, the team is led by an experienced coaching staff and front office that can guide the Maple Leafs in the right direction, and with all of the talent circulating in the minors and those players already developing in the NHL, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Toronto will improve each year, especially if they attract some notable free agents.

And, hey, let’s not forget about Auston Matthews. The kid is sure to be a star in this league a couple of years down the road.

This coming season should be an interesting one for the Maple Leafs and the rest of the Atlantic Division. The two Florida teams are expected to be competing for the division crown and playoff positioning throughout the season, while the Leafs will look to steadily improve during the year (maybe get back to .500) and evaluate all of their talents to see who fits the system well and who gives the team the best chance to win on a daily basis.

Next: Tampa Bay Lightning Rival Report: Montreal Canadiens

That will do it for my Tampa Bay Lightning rival report series! I sincerely hope that you enjoyed taking a look at what the Lightning’s Atlantic Division opponents have done throughout the off-season and how those moves have affected each team going forward. The NHL regular season is quickly approaching and we cannot wait for the puck to drop a brand new year. Go Bolts!