Stanley Cup 2019 Odds: Tavares & Toronto Favorites?
Stanley Cup Winners Dominate Center
A brief survey of Stanley Cup winners this decade reveals clubs which dominate at center. Washington had Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller; Pittsburgh rode Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin; Chicago played Jonathan Toews and puck-dominant winger Patrick Kane; Los Angeles featured Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Toronto’s trio of centers could be the best in the NHL during the 2018-19 season, with superstars Auston Matthews and John Tavares fronting a pair of lethal top lines. Nazem Kadri, an elite two-way pivot, could mark opposing snipers or feast on weak matchups.
Maple Leafs wingers should be salivating, especially Kapanen and Johnsson, who showed elite speed and outstanding skills during the postseason. If one of these youngsters mesh well with Matthews or Tavares, Toronto will likely find themselves with the best forward depth in the NHL.
- Toronto Maple Leafs +700
- Tampa Bay Lightning +750
- Boston Bruins +1000
- Winnipeg Jets +1100
- Nashville Predators +1100
- Pittsburgh Penguins +1200
- Vegas Golden Knights +1400
- Washington Capitals +1400
- Edmonton Oilers +2200
- San Jose Sharks +2200
- St. Louis Blues +2200
- Columbus Blue Jackets +2500
- Calgary Flames +2500
- Los Angeles Kings +2500
- Anaheim Ducks +2800
- Dallas Stars +2800
- Philadelphia Flyers +2800
- Minnesota Wild +2800
- Chicago Blackhawks +3300
- Colorado Avalanche +4000
- New Jersey Devils +4000
- Florida Panthers +4000
- Carolina Hurricanes +5000
- Buffalo Sabres +6600
- New York Rangers +6600
- Montreal Canadiens +7000
- Vancouver Canucks +7500
- New York Islanders +8000
- Arizona Coyotes +8000
- Detroit Red Wings +8000
- Ottawa Senators +15000
Marner, Marleau and Nylander will contribute at a high level, while Brown and Hyman round out the grit and grind roles. Currently, the Maple Leafs employ seven forwards who have scored twenty goals or more, while Kapanen and Johnsson seem to possess 20-goal upside. Unless a rash of injuries strike, Toronto will likely finish top three in scoring.
Scoring and strength down the middle lifts Toronto into the Stanley Cup equation, but common hockey wisdom suggests that the lack of change on defense will limit the Leafs success during the playoffs.
Leafs Without Proven Defense
Tavares signing with the Leafs certainly lays a strong foundation up front, but Toronto forwards were not a concern last season. Maple Leaf defenders were exposed in a first round exit against the Boston Bruins during the 2018 playoffs. Hainsey appeared overused on the penalty kill, while Jake Gardiner continued a history of questionable decision-making that hinders his prodigious natural talent. Zaitsev hit a sophomore slump and hasn’t played well during the playoffs.
Morgan Reilly’s a solid top defender while Travis Dermott could thrive as a fast, undersized defender in a less physical NHL. Even if Dermott or Reilly enjoy a breakout season, defensive depth will remain a valid concern until addressed by GM Kyle Dubas. At first, trading Nylander and draft picks may seem to offer the easy path, but Dubas intends to keep Nylander, Marner, Matthews and Tavares.
The silver lining: instead of overspending on a fading veteran, Dubas remains patient.
Coach Babcock loves playing vets, but reallocating ice time from Hainsey to young defenders like Rosen and Borgman could reveal an in-house solution which increases the speed of the Leafs backline. Any defensive talent unearthed over the next couple of seasons will greatly benefit Toronto. There’s no rule against spending most of your cap space on forwards, but this path require the emergence of at least two top-four defenders from Toronto’s farm system. Otherwise, the Leafs will need to trade or find a steal on the free agent market.
Toronto Should Help Freddy Andersen
At times, Frederik Andersen looks unbeatable, forming an impenetrable wall and bailing out a young defensive core. During these stretches, Andersen’s a top-five goaltender in the NHL. When Freddy plays well, the Toronto Maple Leafs tend to streak. Unfortunately, his first two seasons with the Leafs have established a trend where Andersen appears burned out when the playoffs roll around.
Last season, Frederik faced the most shots of any NHL goaltender, saving a league-high 2029 out of 2211 shots against. During the 2016-17 campaign, Andersen dealt with 2.052 shots, the second-most in the NHL. He maintained a strong .918 SV% during these two seasons, but his goals against average increased from 2.67 to 2.81 – a notable rise.
Even worse, Andersen wasn’t his usual self during the 2018 playoffs, allowing uncharacteristic soft goals during the seven-game series – despite snagging what might be the greatest playoff save in Maple Leafs history.
Some Leafs fans and observers point the finger at Andersen for a relatively unimpressive playoff record with Toronto. However, Frederik finished fourth in Vezina voting fo the 2017-18 season, revealing his value as a savior for the Leafs slow development in their own zone.
Instead of criticism, Toronto needs to protect Andersen against exhaustion. At the very least, Curtis McElhinney should be given a chance to start 25-30 games, which would guarantee that Andersen doesn’t face the largest volume of shots during the regular season.
Toronto stole Andersen from the Ducks, and they need to protect their MVP or risk burning him out again.
Building Predictability In An Era Of Parity
Absolutely no one predicted the Washington Capitals defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Stanley Cup finals. Easy to call last season a miracle, but the fact that these teams defeated the Jets, Penguins and Lightning reveals the league on the precipice of a new era of parity.
Vegas leveraged the collective panic of NHL general managers into an immediate winner, molded by the genius of coach Gallant. Washington lost a bunch of talent, but their real solution was internal growth after years of painful failure.
Signing Tavares represents an attempt to build predictability, creating a scenario where the Maple Leafs remain an elite scoring club for the next four or five years – perhaps longer, considering the ages of Matthews, Marner and Nylander. Sufficient cap space remains to add talent while retaining this core of four.
After a long history of losing, the Toronto Maple Leafs should be considered a genuine Stanley Cup favorite this year and in the foreseeable future.
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