Leaf Report: Let The 2018 Off-Season Begin In Toronto
Toronto Aims To Push Forward With The "Shana-Plan"
When Toronto brought in Brendan Shanahan as their president back in the spring of 2014, Shanahan knew he had to come in with a short and long-term plan to restore the then-struggling Maple Leafs back to prominence in the league. Well, four years later, and now loaded with young talent, the Toronto Maple Leafs are learning to cope with much higher expectations then they've had in the past and it's important for them to stick the script. What Shanahan's "script" entails is something hockey fans should see over the coming months, and it will be very interesting how it all plays out.
After tanking and tanking hard for Shanahan's first couple of seasons at the helm in Toronto, the Leafs have built a team that is clearly on the upswing in terms of a championship contender and should be playoff threats every year for the next decade or so. Locking up guys like Matthews and/or Mitch Marner to extensions may be something we see from Toronto this summer, but with others like Komarov, JVR, and Bozak likely gone in free agency, there is also some free-agent shopping for Shanahan and the rest of Toronto's brass to do.
Becoming A Better Defensive Team Is Priority #1
Outside of locking up the talents of Matthews and Marner for the long-term future, the main goal of Toronto's off-season should be to improve defensively. The 2016-17 season was a good one in the sense Toronto got back to the playoffs for the first time in years, but routinely blowing leads became an issue they couldn't really overcome.
When the 2017-18 season started, Leafs fans were hoping blown leads and the inability to close games was a thing of the past, but they still reared their ugly head quite a bit this year, and often at the most inopportune times. There was definitely some improvement in that regard as well, but blowing a lead entering the 3rd with their season on the line is what still stands out right now.
Obviously the first thing to look at here is the much maligned defence core that the Leafs currently have. Jake Gardiner had an awful Game 7, but he isn't likely to go anywhere unless a trade this summer completely blows people away. But when you look at the teams that are still alive in the 2018 playoffs and how many of them (Nashville, Winnipeg, etc) are built from the back end out, the Leafs are likely ones to follow a bit of that blueprint this summer if they can.
Are Maple Leafs Futures An Option?
Considering next year's futures odds is something to keep in the back of your mind right now, but it's probably better to enjoy the rest of the 2018 NHL playoffs, even if it is just as a general hockey fan. Toronto's team next year should look quite different then the one we just saw, and probably be a better one as well. Standing back and letting all Toronto's moves in free agency and the draft play out is really where we are at right now.
But next year should be a good one to be a Leafs fan again, and while they still might be a year or two away from reaching a Stanley Cup Final, expect these young Leafs to take more steps forward in 2018-19. Whether that is winning their division, making it past the first round of the playoffs, or both, this is an organization that bettors should be backing more then fading for the foreseeable future and that includes futures wagers over this summer.
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