32 for 32: Toronto Maple Leafs Preview

Despite another playoff disappointment, the Maple Leafs remain confident in their core and are confident they are on the verge of taking the next step.

The Maple Leafs went down in seven games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round last season and haven’t won a postseason series since 2004. In recent years, the talented core of attackers Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander and the defender Morgan Rielly was part of the team that lost in the first round of the playoffs for six consecutive seasons.

But the staff has seen enough improvement to give those four key players, general manager Kyle Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe another chance to work together to end the drought.

« The times when you haven’t reached your full potential, the one that everyone, especially internally, knows you have, that’s where you see the level of confidence, » Dubas said. I trust this team. »

There are good reasons to believe it.

The Maple Leafs set regular-season team records with 54 wins and 115 points in 2021-22 and forced the then-two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning into a hard-fought Game 7 – won 2-1 by Tampa Bay. Despite the loss, Dubas felt a different and positive energy around the team.

« The way the team played in the regular season and in this series was different, » said the GM. In Game 5, 6 or 7, I didn’t feel that we were playing on our heels or letting the opposition dictate the pace of the game. I didn’t have the same impression as in previous years, when we were more passive. »

Video: TBL@TOR, #5: Matthews breaks deadlock late in 3rd

Matthews became the third player in Maple Leafs history to win the Hart Trophy, awarded to his team’s most valuable player, after leading the League with 60 goals. These 60 goals represented a record for a Maple Leafs player and for a player born in the United States. He is the second American to win the Hart Trophy after Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16.

“I know that the hope for success in our locker room remains very high, commented Matthews. The way we came from behind against Tampa, it was different. »

The biggest difference for the Maple Leafs this season is in net.

The number one goalkeeper of the last two campaigns, Jack Campbell, used his full freelance to sign a five-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers on July 13. The 30-year-old goaltender was 31-9-6 with five shutouts, a 2.64 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 49 games last season.

Toronto made up for that departure by acquiring the veteran Matt Murray in a trade with the Ottawa Senators and signed the former Washington Capitals Ilya Samsonov in the free agent market.

Murray, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, was traded to Toronto from Ottawa on June 12 in exchange for future considerations. He was 15-25-3 with three shutouts, a 3.23 GAA and .899 save percentage in 47 games over two seasons with the Senators.

« I have to push my limits to try to offer the best of what I have to offer, and I think Toronto is a great place for that, » Murray said. I am very feverish. »

The day after Murray’s acquisition, the Maple Leafs signed Samsonov for one season. The latter went 23-12-5 with a 3.02 GAA and .896 save percentage with the Capitals last season.

Dubas said the two newcomers will compete for the starting position during training camp.

Several other changes have been made to the formation. the attacker Calle Jarnkrokwho had 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 66 games with the Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken, forward Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, who had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 67 games with the Colorado Avalanche, and Adam Gaudettewho has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 58 games with the Senators and Blackhawks, will have the chance to earn a spot on the third and fourth lines.

Excluding goaltenders, Keefe believes keeping the core intact gives the Maple Leafs momentum heading into the 2022-23 season. Toronto is 116-50-19 in 185 regular season games since Keefe replaced Mike Babcock behind the bench in the 2019-20 season.

« We got up in the important moments and we weren’t afraid of losing, » said the coach. I have enormous confidence in our group. »

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