The 2022-23 NHL season is upon us which means it’s a fresh slate for everyone. Of course, there are still pre-season Stanley Cup favorites, but no matter what anyone says the Toronto Maple Leafs are not one of them.
Check the lines for Stanley Cup futures and you will usually see the Colorado Avalanche as the favorite, and for good reason. They are, of course, reigning champions and the bulk of their lineup is back to try to repeat.
Makes perfect sense. For instance, DraftKings has them at +380.
What doesn’t make sense is that you’ll often find the Leafs next on the list at +700.
That’s ahead of the reigning President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers at +900, the Carolina Hurricanes at +1100, and the team that has gone to 3-straight Cup Finals — the Tampa Bay Lightning — at +1200.
It’s completely absurd that the Leafs are ahead of some of those teams.
First, if you were unaware, the Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. That’s a 17-year drought and the longest in the NHL.
I’d be stunned if anything like this has ever happened in sports. A team with so little postseason success being so highly-favored going into the season. Yet it keeps happening with the Leafs. They were third going into last season at +1100.
Now, I’m not saying that the Leafs are a bad team. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re loaded with players like perennial Rocket Richard candidate Austin Matthews, and a supporting cast that includes John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Their blue line is also as good as it has probably ever been in the Matthews era.
But then when we look between the pipes, there’s a problem. Two problems, in fact.
Last year the Leafs had Jack Campbell in the crease. He had 31 wins in 47 starts and a .914 save percentage. Did the Leafs retain him for this season? Of course they didn’t. He’s now in Edmonton.
So who will be in net for the Leafs? Matt Murray, who has two Cups to his credit but doesn’t play anywhere near that level anymore, and Ilya Samsonov. Their save percentages last season were .906 and .896, respectively. In fairness, Murray was playing for the lowly Ottawa Senators last year, but Samsonov was with the playoff-caliber Washington Capitals.
So the team downgraded at arguably the most important position while most of the team remains the same.
And they’re Cup favorites… how?!
That’s an objective downgrade from the goaltending they had a year ago when they failed to get out of the first round.
Not to mention, the Leafs play in the Atlantic Division which features powerhouses like the Lightning, Panthers, and Bruins — who somehow always seem to eek into the playoff picture. Plus, they’ll have to contend with improving teams like the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.
The Leafs managed 115 point in ’21-22, which still wasn’t enough to win the division last season. I expect something like that to happen again, maybe in the 105-range if the lineup is clicking and staying healthy.
The point of this diatribe is to drive home that while the Leafs are undeniably good, counting on them as a Cup favorite is — and will continue to be — asinine.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle