NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are banking on an influx of experience and grit to push their talented core over the postseason hump.
Forwards Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds, and defensemen Zach Bogosian and TJ Brodie were added in the offseason to a team that has been eliminated in its first series each of the past four postseasons. Toronto lost 3-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season.
“We have to stop waiting,” general manager Kyle Dubas said. “We’re waiting for our potential just to happen and we have to start going out and exercising that and making it happen and forcing the other teams to respond to us.
“I think part of it is maturity, I think part of it is experience. But I think both of those things go into mindset and what the mindset of the group is.”
Thornton is as experienced as they come. He is ninth in NHL history in games (1,636) and 14th in scoring with 1,509 points (420 goals, 1,089 assists), but the 41-year-old has never won the Stanley Cup in 22 seasons. He said he feels he has a shot with the Maple Leafs, who haven’t advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004.
“I truly believe Toronto, with the roster they have with the guys they picked up this offseason, I think this team is ready to win now. I’m ready to win,” said Thornton, who agreed to a one-year contract Oct. 16. “I need to win.”
Simmonds, who is from Toronto, signed a one-year contract Oct. 9. The 32-year-old said his physical style (1,125 penalty minutes in 909 NHL games) should complement talented forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.
“The amount of skill that’s on this team is unbelievable, and I think I can be a piece,” Simmonds said. “I’m not saying I’m going to be the be-all, end-all and bring this team a Stanley Cup because that’s a team thing, not [something] one guy can do that single-handedly. But I definitely can be a piece to the puzzle, where my physicality and the way I play the game helps elevate other guys, makes space and just overall helps out the morale of the team.”
The Maple Leafs hope Simmonds, who scored 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) and had 66 penalty minutes for the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils last season, will add intensity and doggedness, something they must improve on, according to Dubas.
“When we talk about toughness with our group, it’s very simple the way that we define it,” Dubas said. “It’s, if there’s a 50-50 puck, do you desperately want to win that puck every single time? And are you willing to be the first one on the puck? Are you willing to go to the difficult areas of the ice with and without the puck and be successful? Are you willing to endure the physical duress that’s going to come on to you if we’re going to go as far as we want to go?”
Toronto signed Brodie to a four-year contract Oct. 9 to address the departure of defenseman Tyson Barrie (signed with Edmonton Oilers). The 30-year-old scored 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 64 games for the Calgary Flames last season and four points (one goal, three assists) in 10 postseason games.
“Playing against [Toronto last season], they’re fast, skilled,” Brodie said. “I’m pretty much up for anything and want to contribute and make them better.”
Bogosian, who scored seven points (one goal, six assists) in 27 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Sabres last season, signed a one-year contract on Oct. 10. The 30-year-old adds depth on defense with the Maple Leafs looking to use a lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen, something the Stanley Cup champion Lightning did often last season.
“Our team, of course, has greater levels to get to,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We’re not happy with how things finished off in our series against Columbus. But we’ve made some changes. We have new people coming in that I’m really excited to work with.”