Well Leafs Nation, 2017 was the year our beloved Maple Leafs took a huge step forward in their rebuild. The early results were beyond what anyone could have expected. The start of 2017 saw the Maple Leafs play some of their best hockey in years, the dynamic trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander each broke long standing franchise records all culminating in Auston Matthew’s Calder Cup win for the NHL’s top rookie.
The Maple Leafs made the playoffs in 2017 for the first time since the 2012-2013 season. The first playoffs for the young Maple Leafs was a success as they pushed the heavily favored Washington Capitals to 6 games. They unfortunately lost the series but the seeds of hope of what could be a long Stanley Cup run in the near future was planted in the hearts and minds of a city starving for a championship.
The team also became relevant again in the NHL as free agents Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Ron Hainsey and one of the biggest free agents Patrick Marleau all chose Toronto as their destination of choice. At the summer Entry Level Draft, the Maple Leafs may have drafted one of the steals in the draft when they selected Timothy Liljegren. Liljegren has stood out at the World Juniors and with the Marlies. Visions of him playing in the top 4 with Travis Dermott now flash in Leafs Nation’s imaginations.
But sadly 2017 ended with the news of the sudden passing of Johnny Bower. The grandfatherly figure who truly represented the very best of the Maple Leafs organization. He will truly be missed but his spirit and his support in the Maple Leafs will shine down on the new generation of Maple Leafs and on Leafs Nation. Mr. Bower set the bar high for what it meant to be a Maple Leaf, and his humbleness and kindness will be qualities family, friends and fans will truly miss.
What’s is in store for the Maple Leafs in 2018? Realistically, the Maple Leafs will make the playoffs and win a round or two. What may hinder the team from going deeper will be the defense. Reilly and Hainsey have been the Maple Leafs best pairing all season, and the growth in Reilly’s game playing alongside the wily vet in Hainsey has been noticeable and his offensive stats are finally indicative of the player Brian Burke felt he was getting when drafting Reilly.
But after the top pairing things are up in the air, Jake Gardiner has regressed from a season ago, and Zaitsev may need time to find his game once he is back from his injury. The bottom two pairing has been a mixed bag of Andreas Borgman, Roman Polak, Connor Carrick and more recently Martin Marincin. Outside of Andreas Borgman who has grown with each game he has played the others leave much to be desired. Tonight will mark Travis Dermott’s first game in the NHL, should he make his mark maybe he gets a longer look then a quick 10 game tryout.
2018 will be one crazy ride Leafs Nation, a second appearance in the playoffs in as many years and trades will make for one exciting back half of the 2017/2018 season. All this happening against the backdrop of the most exciting times this franchise has experienced in years. So buckle Leafs Nation, we are set to go on one hell of an exciting charge to the playoffs!