After finishing dead last in the NHL just two seasons ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs could very well enjoy their best regular season ever in 2017/18. As of March 18th the team was third in the Atlantic Division and sixth overall in the standings with 93 points. They were carrying an impressive record of 43-22-7 with the second-most goals scored at 243 and a respectable 204 goals against. However, they’re seven points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in their division and five back of the Boston Bruins, so will very likely meet one of those squads in the playoffs.
The Leafs have also been red hot at home and their 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saint Patrick’s Day was their franchise-record 12th
in a row. It was also the eighth shutout of the season for the previously defensively-inept squad. Toronto now just has to earn another 11 points in their final 10 games of the campaign and another three wins to set new franchise records in both of those departments. Since finishing last overall in 2015/16 the Leafs have strengthened their squad with Auston Matthews, the first overall draft pick in 2016, along with goaltender Frederick Andersen and young players such as Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott and Kasperi Kapanen.
Their AHL farm team the Toronto Marlies is also one of the top teams in their league and head coach Sheldon Keefe has been doing an excellent job of grooming his minor leaguers for the major league. And speaking oh head coaches, The Leafs’ bench boss Mike Babcock definitely deserves some credit for the job he’s done and what he’s achieved in his third year at the helm. Previously the Leafs best regular season performance came back in 2003/04 when it boasted some of the league’s top players such as Tomas Kaberle, Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Bryan McCabe, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny and Darcy Tucker with Ed Belfour between the posts.
That squad was filled with veterans and coached by the late Pat Quinn and went 45-24-10-3 for 103 points. They managed to down the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the first round of the postseason, but then fell in four at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The team basically fell apart after that and didn’t reach the playoffs again until 2012/13. That season will always be remembered for their epic collapse in game seven of their playoff series in Boston when they held a 4-1 lead midway through the third period.
There’s been quite a bit of housecleaning in Toronto since then as forwards Andreas Johnsson and Frederik Gauthier are the only two players from the 2013 NHL draft still with the franchise. In addition to hiring Babcock the Maple Leafs also brought in Lou Lamoriello as the new general manager. The 75-year old has done a fine job helping rebuild the team, but his status is up in the air as his contract runs out at the end of the season. In addition, forwards James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov may find themselves elsewhere in the summer as they’re all unrestricted free agents on July 1st
Their contract status may not be dealt with until after the playoffs and will likely depend on how far Toronto can go. They were knocked out of last year’s postseason in six games by the Washington Capitals with five of the contests being decided in overtime. So while the Leafs are likely to set a new franchise record for regular season play, their season will really be judged on what they do in the playoffs. There’s no question the organization is heading in the right direction, but another first-round exit in the postseason will be a bit of a disappointment to their fans, regardless of how well they performed over the first 82 games.