It’s Week Two of our cross-country trek through the NHL, profiling each of the Canadian franchises and trying to figure out how they’ll do in the upcoming season.
The Toronto Raptors have won back-to-back division titles and seem poised to raise another Atlantic Division banner this season.
The Toronto Blue Jays are in first place in the American League East, going head-to-head with the Yankees right now at the Rogers Centre and ticketed to make the playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years in a couple of weeks.
The Toronto Maple Leafs? They’re at the start of a rebuild, so just to be clear, this isn’t a “Every team in the city is thriving!” situation. They’re not. The Leafs are starting over, but they’ve started in on the process the right way.
Outgoing: F Phil Kessel (Pittsburgh), minor leaguers, draft picks
Incoming: F Michael Grabner (New York Islanders), F Nick Spaling (Pittsburgh), F Shawn Matthias (Vancouver), F Daniel Winnik (Pittsburgh), F P.A. Parenteau (Montreal), F Mark Arcobello (Arizona)
Prospects: F Frederik Gauthier, F Kasperi Kapanen, F Mitch Marner, F William Nylander
As a Red Wings fan, the initial stages of Toronto’s rebuilding pains me in a major way, since, you know, they lure our coach away. No hard feelings, though, Babs – good luck in “The Big Smoke.”
Scanning what the Leafs have done during the offseason heading into Year One of “Project: Get Back to Good,” you have to be impressed with the moves this team has made. In addition to the veteran names listed above in the “Incoming” line – all of whom should find a place on the squad this year to varying degrees – they also re-signed goaltender Jonathan Bernier, handed out training camp invites to a few more veterans (Brad Boyes, Curtis Glencross) and still have a number of the solid players from last year’s not-so-solid team.
They’re still not going to make the playoffs, but as I said during the summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be a pain in the ass to play on a nightly basis because Mike Babcock & Co. won’t let them be anything different.
As much as I’m intrigued by some of the youngsters in the system, I’m not sure Kapanen and Nylander – the two players closest to making the club in my estimation – are going to spend the season with the big team because it would be even better to let them earn top six minutes with the Marlies for a year, unless they’re absolutely dominating.
Here’s why Toronto fans should be even more excited about their club than I am: they still have moves they can make to void themselves of salaries and bring in more young players. Guys like Tyler Bozak and Dion Phaneuf are still on the roster, which is a net positive while they’re on the ice and even better if the brain trust can get something for them by shipping them out of town.
If the prospects pan out as expected and the club sticks to the blueprint, the Leafs will be where the Calgary Flames are right now in two or three years. Considering how bad they’ve been in recent seasons, that’s a big step forward and a far quickly ascension than you would have projected this time last year.