With the 2018-19 season fast approaching, we're running snapshots of all 31 NHL teams, including point total projections, positional previews, best- and worst-case scenarios and more.
How they finished in 2017-18: 49-26-7 (105 points), Finished 7th in NHL, 3rd in the Atlantic Division
The future appeared to be now for the Leafs. Their three leading scorers were all 21 and under, leading an offense that was sixth in the NHL in goals scored. Frederik Andersen gave Toronto 66 games of strong goaltending. The team advanced to the playoffs for the second straight season, taking a superior Boston Bruins team to seven games. Then, in July, it happened: Ontario's own John Tavares picked the Leafs, signing a seven-year, $77 million free-agent blockbuster contract and bringing Toronto ever closer to potentially breaking their decades-long Cup drought.
Over/under projected point total (per the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook): 106.5
Best-case scenario: Andersen is the best goalie in the playoffs, and the Leafs' collection of star forwards is enough to overcome the lack of a star defenseman in their championship recipe.
Worst-case scenario: Often lost amid the John Tavares hoopla is this truth: The Maple Leafs are still shoddy on defense. OK, no matter. Toronto still finds a way into the playoffs. But they don't win the Stanley Cup -- in fact, they barely look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The worst-case scenario is the anxiety that would inevitably mount in Toronto. Maybe our time will never come.
Forward overview: Despite his lofty status as an elite center, Tavares has never hit 90 points in a season. One assumes that changes if he's paired with Mitch Marner, the Leafs' leading scorer from last season and an offensive dynamo. Auston Matthews has seen time with Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Patrick Marleau and William Nylander. Nazem Kadri had a remarkable 2017-18 season as their third-line center, scoring 32 goals. As deep a forward pool as you'll find in the East, although one assumes they'll miss James van Riemsdyk a little on the wing. NHL rank: 2nd
Defense overview: The Leafs were 11th in the NHL in goals against, and that was mostly thanks to their goaltending. Toronto gives up too many shots (33.9 per game) and their solid but unspectacular defense -- featuring Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev, Morgan Rielly, Ron Hainsey and Travis Dermott -- could still use a couple of upgrades before the Leafs are in the upper echelon of Cup contenders. NHL rank: 17th
Goalie overview: Andersen was tremendous last season in spite of a heavy workload. He had a .918 save percentage in facing 2,211 shots in 66 games. Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks are in the mix as backups. Louis Domingue is the backup. NHL rank: 15th
Special teams: The Leafs were already a stellar second in the NHL on the power play (25 percent) before Tavares arrived. Their penalty kill was a respectable 81.4 percent, good for 11th in the league.
Pipeline overview: The Leafs have a pair of Swedish defensemen with a lot of talent. Timothy Liljegren played for the defending Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies last season, and the team just drafted Rasmus Sandin out of the OHL. Both anchor a prospect pool that has quite a few older players who could make their way to the NHL roster at various points this season, including Andreas Johnsson, Carl Grundstrom, Calle Rosen and goalie Garret Sparks. Read more -- Chris Peters
Fantasy nugget: Matthews was due a boost in his overall ice time this season. But, in a seemingly impossible coup, the Leafs managed to make him the No. 2 center by acquiring one of a handful of guys in the league who could justifiably relegate him to the second line. John Tavares easily lifts all boats, including Matthews', but I think it still takes Matthews down a notch from where I would have ranked him for this season without Tavares. Matthews' 18:08 per game last season was criminally low for an elite superstar pivot and should have pushed into the 20-plus-minute range. Now I'm not so sure he'll get those extra opportunities to ply his trade. Read more -- Sean Allen
Coach on the hot seat? Mike Babcock has made the playoffs in 12 of his last 13 seasons, missing in his first year in Toronto (which was pre-Matthews and pre-Marner). He's demanding and he's got the confidence of a championship coach, which can sometimes lead to some friction -- as Matthews discovered last season. It's hard to argue with a career .611 winning percentage. But with Tavares aboard and the kids maturing, there are palpable expectations on Babcock to succeed.
Bold prediction: Matthews outscores Tavares, but Tavares finishes higher in the Hart Trophy voting.