There were a lot of questions around the Maple Leafs heading into the 2017-2018 season, Could the dynamic group of sophomores led by Auston Matthews match or better their output from last season and could Frederik Andersen continue on in his development as a starting goalie in the NHL. Just how much growth could be expected when all eyes were now on the re-surging Maple Leafs and could the Maple Leafs repeat and get back into the playoffs.
With only a handful of games remaining and the Maple Leafs clinching their ticket into the playoffs in back to back years earlier this week, I would have to say all those questions have been answered as the young Maple Leafs continue to shatter franchise records along the way for points and wins in a single season. And with Frederik Andersen finding himself just one win away from setting a franchise record for wins by a goalie in a single season (surpassing a record currently shared by Ed Belfore and Andrew Raycroft) this season has been mission accomplished. The Maple Leafs also are currently the only team in the NHL to have three 30 goal scores on their team.
That’s not mentioning that the Maple Leafs accomplished all this at times without their best player in Auston Matthews as he missed 20 games with varying injuries throughout the season. The development and consistency in the absence of Matthews from the likes of Nylander and more so Marner helped drive the success of this team all year. Even though there were some early season criticism surrounding veterans like James Van Reimsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, each turned around their seasons and have achieved career numbers. When you combined all these factors, you have a team that easily clinched a playoff birth almost two weeks earlier than last year.
The stated goal all year was to repeat and make the playoffs again. Once in the playoffs, anything can and often does happen so who knows what will happen as the Maple Leafs take to the ice in the first round of the playoffs against either the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightening. The Maple Leafs match up well with Tampa as both play a similar style of open hockey which lends well to the Maple Leafs. When it comes to the Bruins, the Maple Leafs have won the season series over the Bruins the last two years, so anything is possible.
When we look back over the last 82 games, not all were a masterpieces and there were a few points left on the table as a consequence of poor starts and lack of discipline. However, when you take a step back and look at the larger picture a lot was accomplished with a defense that is still a work in progress and core group of players all in their sophomore years in the NHL. Who could have predicted that two years ago? For now, let’s enjoy this ride and let’s celebrate what has been achieved. Let’s keep BeLeafing as our boys are playoff bound! Go LEAFS GO!!