NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs.
1. Is Frederik Andersen the answer in goal moving forward?
After the Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season, the goalie became the focus of trade speculation. General manager Kyle Dubas gave the 31-year-old a vote of confidence, pointing out that his postseason numbers (1.84 goals-against average, .936 save percentage) were better than his 2-3 record indicated.
“I expect him to be the starting goalie for [this season],” Dubas said.
Andersen ranks fifth in wins (136), third in save percentage (.916, minimum 100 games) and seventh in games (244) in Maple Leafs history, but he is 10-14 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Toronto.
Andersen is entering the final season of a five-year contract he signed with Toronto on June 20, 2016, so management will have to decide whether they want to re-sign him. The Maple Leafs added depth at the position behind Andersen and backup Jack Campbell by signing free agents Aaron Dell and Michael Hutchinson this offseason.
2. How much does 41-year-old Joe Thornton have left in the tank?
Heading into his 23rd NHL season, the center’s playmaking ability, especially on the power play, could help the Maple Leafs. Thornton, who is penciled in as the center on the third line and the second power-play unit, had 24 assists and scored eight power-play points (three goals, five assists) averaging 15:30 of ice time per game for the San Jose Sharks last season. He leads active NHL players in assists (1,089) and power-play points (540; 143 goals, 397 assists).
Thornton, who signed a one-year contract Oct. 16, has been keeping in shape by playing for HC Davos of Switzerland’s National League.
“He still shows an ability to drive play, even at this stage of his career,” Dubas said. “It is not like his minutes have diminished all too much over the last couple of years. They are still around that 15 minutes-a-night mark.”
3. How will TJ Brodie fit in?
Brodie signed a four-year contract Oct. 9 and is expected to play with Morgan Rielly on the top defense pair. Each player is a left-handed shot, but Brodie has played the right side for much of his 10-season NHL career.
Brodie scored 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 64 games for the Calgary Flames last season and has scored 266 points (48 goals, 218 assists) in 634 NHL games, all with Calgary.
“[He] just fits the needs that we feel we have on the back end, the ability to play on the right side, where he’s thrived throughout his career,” Dubas said. “He can play alongside Morgan, or Jake (Muzzin), whatever (Maple Leafs coach) Sheldon (Keefe) feels is best and whatever the best fits are.”