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Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-14-7, 77 points

1st in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Montréal

Additions: F Michael Amadio, F Michael Bunting, F Kurtis Gabriel, F Joshua Ho-Sang (signed to a PTO), F David Kämpf, F Ondrej Kaše, F Nikita Gusev (signed to a PTO), F Nick Ritchie, F Brett Seney, D Alex Biega, D Carl Dahlström, D Brennan Menell, G Petr Mrázek

Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (KHL), F Nick Foligno (signed with BOS), F Alex Galchenyuk (signed to a PTO with ARI), F Zach Hyman (signed with EDM), F Denis Malgin (NL), F Jared McCann (acquired from PIT, expansion, SEA), F Riley Nash (signed with WPG), F Joe Thornton (signed with FLA), D Zach Bogosian (signed with TBL), G Frederik Andersen (signed with CAR)

Still Unsigned: D Ben Hutton

Re-signed: F Wayne Simmonds, F Jason Spezza, D Travis Dermott, D Joseph Duszak, G Joseph Woll

Offseason Analysis: Whereas the Maple Leafs loaded up on veterans you may have heard of before last offseason in Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and others, then acquired Nick Foligno and Riley Nash at the trade deadline, this year’s approach for Toronto has gone in a different direction.

This year, Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, is signing guys you might not even know exist, plus a few underdogs.

Michael Bunting and David Kämpf might not be the first players you think of when you think about quality depth down the lineup, but Toronto is out to prove the naysayers wrong this season and show forward progress in the postseason– at the very least, if not win it all.

Though it’s a small sample size, Bunting had 10-3–13 totals in 21 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season. In 26 career NHL games, he has 11-3–14 totals, but again, that was with players not of the same caliber as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares or William Nylander.

Now he finds himself in competition for a top-six role– if he can beat his competition in Nick Ritchie and Ilya Mikheyev among top-nine forwards on the left wing.

Kämpf, meanwhile, can switch out with Jason Spezza at center on the fourth line and amassed 1-11-12 totals with Chicago in 56 games last season.

In 2019-20, Kämpf had 8-8–16 totals in 70 games– three points shy of his career-high 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 63 games in 2018-19 with Chicago.

Playing alongside Simmonds and Spezza should make Toronto’s fourth line more competitive with Kurtis Gabriel rotated in for some added oomph.

Speaking of Ritchie, however, Leafs-centric media might have you thinking he’s the next Matthews, but buyer beware– his 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games with the Boston Bruins last season wasn’t so much of a breakout or a fluke as it was a return to his expectations.

Ritchie played up in Boston’s lineup due to injury and became a unique piece of their power play at one point in that (strangely enough) it worked.

He spent pretty much the first half of last season playing with David Krejci at center and that’s not to say Matthews isn’t as skilled or better than Krejci, but rather a testament to Krejci’s status as a playmaker that elevates all around him.

Luckily for Toronto, Krejci’s gone back to Czechia to play in front of family and friends in his home country, so the Maple Leafs are better matched down the middle against the Bruins.

Yet, Ritchie’s impressive first half of the season regressed to the norm by the second half and down the stretch. He’s no Zach Hyman, but anything over 30 points in the upcoming season is a success for a player that had 9-22-31 totals with the Anaheim Ducks in 60 games in the 2018-19 season.

At the very least, Ritchie’s two-year deal worth $2.500 million per season is manageable. In fact, it’s the most Dubas spent on a skater this offseason.

If you can’t beat them– steal them.

Former Bruin, Ondrej Kaše, also joins Ritchie as a new Leaf and Kaše’s really looking to turn over a new leaf, since he’s coming off of a season in which he played three games and was sidelined by a concussion between Game 2 and Game 55 of a 56-game regular season.

In nine games as a Bruin, Kaše amassed one point, an assist, after he was acquired by Boston for David Backes, Axel Andersson and a 2020 1st round pick on Feb. 21, 2020.

Whether or not Kaše can get back up to speed– let alone continue his career– remains to be seen, but for now he’s signed to a one-year deal worth $1.250 million per season.

The defense is the same, Alexander Kerfoot did not get selected by the Seattle Kraken at the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and Toronto essentially traded goaltenders with the Carolina Hurricanes without actually making a trade.

No, David Ayres isn’t taking his talents to Scotiabank Arena in a Leafs uniform, but Petr Mrázek is on a three-year deal worth $3.800 million per season.

At 29-years-old, he’s the same age as Jack Campbell and signed through 2023-24, whereas Campbell is a pending-unrestricted free agent as of July 2022.

Mrázek was limited to 12 games due to injury last season and went 6-2-3 with three shutouts, a 2.06 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in that span.

It was his best performance in three seasons with the Canes, though in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, he played in 40 games, so was last season just a testament to Carolina’s defense or….

Nevertheless, when the Hurricanes faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Second Round, Mrázek was called upon to replace Alex Nedeljkovic for a pair of starts.

Though he extended Carolina’s postseason to a Game 5 against Tampa in the Second Round, Mrázek went 1-1 with a 3.90 goals-against average and an .873 save percentage.

So it appears as though there’ll be healthy competition for the starting job– at least come time for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs as it wasn’t entirely Campbell’s fault the Leafs blew a 3-1 series lead against a low-scoring Montréal Canadiens offense.

Anyway, Frederik Andersen left for the Hurricanes– the team that originally drafted him in the 7th round (187th overall) in 2010, before he re-entered the draft and was selected in the 3rd round (87th overall) by Anaheim in 2012.

Before we grade the Toronto’s offseason, let’s review a pair of trades that Dubas made this summer.

First, on July 17th, he dealt Filip Hallander and a 2023 7th round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jared McCann, who was then left exposed for the Kraken to take over Kerfoot. Whoops.

Then on July 26th, James (J.D.) Greenway was traded to Boston for future considerations.

Maybe that’s all it takes to get out of the First Round for the first time since 2004.

Offseason Grade: B-

With about $80,200 in cap space, the Maple Leafs aren’t doing themselves any favors if they’re looking to add without subtracting around the 2022 trade deadline.

That said, Dubas would likely have to get creative if things are dire anyway, since the runway is getting shorter and shorter year-by-year.

Nylander is not the problem when a trio of players are getting paid more than him against the cap and producing… …not as much.

Sometimes points per dollar in the playoffs should be accounted for more than points per game in the regular season or something like that– not looking to stir up any more arguments than there already are on Leafs Twitter.

Though it may not look it on paper like last season, Toronto has made improvements where it counts and trimmed the excess where it dragged them down in crucial moments, but if all else fails yet again this season– they still need to resolve a true “goaltender of the future” problem, tweak the defense and make some big, bold, moves.

By Nick Lanciani

I have a degree in communication and yet I cannot find the words for this bio. Anyway, I write stuff on Down the Frozen River, make/appear on podcasts, used to write stuff for Couch Guy Sports and apply to jobs for a living when I'm not painting something cool to distract myself from my unemployment.