What to Expect From the New Look  Toronto Maple Leafs

Salvador Vaughan

12/5/2019

 


 

Yahoo Sports Canada/Kishan Mistry 

 

After a season that left many, if not all Leaf fans disappointed, Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan knew they needed to shake things up when it came to the roster of the Maple Leafs. They responded by making big trades that shipped notable Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev, out of town. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs the ladder was notable for all the wrong reasons. In exchange the Maple Leafs acquired cap space and a few new players. But you might not be the most diehard fan and not know who these new players are. So, in this article,  I’ll introduce the brand new Maple Leafs and see if they’re really an improvement from last year. 

 

Tyson Barrie:

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Tyson Barrie, the newest Leafs defenceman came to Toronto from the Colorado Avalanche in a four player trade on July 1st. The trade saw former Leafs players Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen head to Colorado, and the Leafs acquire Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot (who we’ll talk about later). The Leafs biggest problem over the past three seasons has been their defence. For three years all you heard from the media and the fans was “The Maple Leafs would be complete if they had a top pairing right handed defenceman.” Well Leafs management finally heard the pleas and went out and got one. Tyson Barrie is an elite defenceman in this league who will vastly improve the Leafs depth on the back end. To give you an idea of how good this move was for the Leafs, over the past two years the Maple Leafs acquired the 6th highest scoring defenceman in the NHL. Oh and by the way we already have the 3rd highest (Morgan Rielly). So is this an improvement for the Maple Leafs? Yes. No question about it.

Alexander Kerfoot:

Alexander Kerfoot came to Toronto in the exact same trade as Tyson Barrie, although he wasn’t the most sought after player in the trade he might just be one of the most important. Yes Tyson Barrie is a much needed addition to the team but the Leafs had to give up Nazem Kadri, the teams 3rd line centre. One of the Leafs strongest attributes over the past three seasons was their depth in the centre position. Whether it be a combination of Matthews, Bozak, Kadri or Matthews, Tavares, the Leafs have been one of the league’s strongest teams at centre. So if the Leafs were to acquire that coveted right shot defenceman understandably they’d have to give something of value away. That is exactly what the Leafs did when they traded for Barrie. Nazem Kadri was a very important player for this team, and his departure might seriously affect the team in a negative way. That would be the case if it wasn’t for Alex Kerfoot. How Kyle Dubas managed to acquire Kerfoot in this trade I’ll never know. Kerfoot, who is four years younger than Kadri, has over 40 points in each of his two NHL seasons. This trade managed to acquire the right shot defenceman they needed so desperately, while keeping their phenomenal depth at centre. So even though Kerfoot may not be an improvement on Nazem Kadri, the trade he was apart of made the Leafs a stronger team.

Ilya Mikiheyev:

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This might just be the most low risk-high reward signing the Leafs made in the offseason. Mikiheyev has never played a single game of North American hockey going into the 2019-2020 season. The last two times the Leafs have tried this kind of free agent signing have not worked at all. In 2016 the Leafs signed Nikita Zaitsev, a defenceman out of Russia. Zaitsev had a good rookie season which prompted the Leafs management to give him a 4.5 million 7 year contract. That experiment proved to fail miserably as Zaitsev play quickly deteriorated to the point where the Leafs had to trade him away. The second time they tried to sign a european player with no North American experience, was last summer when the Maple Leafs signed Sweedish centre Par Lindholm. The Leafs expected him to be a stable 4th line centre, but Lindholm was so bad the Leafs traded him before the season ended. So the Leafs really had to try and get this one right, and I think they have. Mikiheyev has 7 points in 10 games to start this season, which is good for 3rd on the team in points. Mikiheyev is looking to be a fast, strong, impactful player on the Leafs this year. Which is a big improvement on some of the low impact wingers we had last year. Just don’t give him a 7 year contract based on this season, please. 

Jason Spezza and Nick Shore:

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The reason I put these two together is because they’re pretty much the same player.

Both are old, right handed centres who aren’t going to be on the team when Zach Hyman returns from injury. I originally thought that Jason Spezza was a lock to make the 4th line centre spot on this years Leafs. The only problem was Mike Babcock. Babcock did not like Spezza’s training camp. Spezza is a very slow player and when you’re competing for a spot against a very speedy, very big Frederick Gauthier who’s already a Babcock favourite, it’s not going to go well. You can see why he isn’t having the same success as we hoped when we signed here. As for Nick Shore, he is in the exact same scenario as Spezza. He is not going to end up as the Leafs 4th line centre when it’s all said and done. These two signings would have been great if it we had signed the 2011 versions of these players, but unfortunately they are not. Thankfully   2020 Frederick Gauthier looks like a big improvement from 2019 Frederick Gauthier. With the cap problems that are going to come up when Hyamn returns I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs pulled the plug on these two and send them down to the Marlies, or hopefully can trade them for assets.

Cody Ceci:

 

This is an interesting one. Cody Ceci was traded to the Maple Leafs along with Ben Harpur, in exchange for Nikita Zaitsev (who we’ve talked about) and Connor Brown, both of whom went to the Ottawa Senators. This trade had to be done. The Leafs are in a cap crunch and having a player making 4.5 million for the next 5 years (Zaitsev) would have been very problematic for the Maple Leafs. Cody Ceci is worth 4.5 million but it’s only for this season which is much better for the team. Connor Brown was making 2.1 million scoring 8 goals on the 4th line, so you can see why his contract needed to be moved as well. After hearing all that you might be thinking that this was a great trade for the Leafs. They managed to give away two contracts they needed to get rid of, while acquiring a defenceman. The only problem is Cody Ceci is not a good NHL player. When Ceci was in Ottawa he was heralded as their top pairing, shut down defenceman. The fact is Cody Ceci is far from a top pairing defenceman. After the trade was completed Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, went on record saying “Cody Ceci will be used in a different role in Toronto”. I wish that were the case. Mike Babcock has been using Cody Ceci on, you guessed it, the top pairing. That is somewhere that Ceci doesn’t belong, and he has proved that over his seven years in the NHL. Now maybe he is just a placeholder until Travis Dermott comes back from injury, and then he’ll be demoted. But if this

 is not the case when Dermott returns, I think it’s time we seriously re-evaluate Mike Babcock’s coaching. Now all that being said, he is an improvement on Nikita Zaitsev, but he’d be even more of an improvement if he was deployed correctly within the team.  

The 2019-2020 Maple Leafs are a very different team than previous years. For the first time since the year Matthews, Marner and Nylander broke into the league, this team is going to have to search for their identity. Which among other issues, is why this team is off to a slower start than normal. Now even though I’m giving them a pass for the first 10 games, the Maple Leafs can not use all season to figure out who they are. Because if you do that? Good luck making any kind of noise come April.