As the Toronto Maple Leafs embark upon an ambitious rebuild, new coach Mike Babcock warns there will be pain ahead. Lots of it.
COACH: Mike Babcock
2014-15 RECORD: 30-44-8, 68 points (fifth in Atlantic; missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.5 goals-for per game (24th); 3.1 goals-against per game (26th), 15.9 power play pct. (26th); 80.5 penalty kill pct. (22nd); PDO: 99.3 (23rd); Corsi For pct.: 51.9 (9th); Fenwick For pct.: 51.9 (10th); face-off pct.: 51.9 (6th)
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: F Phil Kessel, D Korbinian Holzer
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Michael Grabner
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – PA Parenteau
Daniel Winnik – Shawn Matthias – Leo Komorov
Mark Acrobello – Peter Holland – Nick Spaling
Morgan Rielly – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – Roman Polak
Stephane Robidas – Matt Hunwick
Scott Harrington – Martin Marincin
Babcock has no illusions about the rough road ahead and he’s made it abundantly clear to the team’s devoted and ever-optimistic fan base that pain is in store, probably three years worth of it in the deep Atlantic Division. While Shanahan and Co. keep their eyes out for talent via trades or the draft, you can expect the demanding Babcock to turn this downtrodden and too often lackadaisical squad into one that at least plays hard, takes the body, gets after the puck and turns it over less frequently.who have yet to excel in a starting role. The promise lies in young puckmoving defenders Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, what Babcock can extract from talented but mercurial center Nazem Kadri, and the future of top prospects William Nylander, 19, Kasperi Kapanen, 19, and Mitch Marner, 18, three talented forwards who need seasoning.
Probably the most interesting thing about the Leafs this season will be watching who gets shipped out to make way for the kind of players who fit Babcock's mold or will at least allow themselves to be molded by him. He can be an abrasive guy. It's his way or the highway now.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Michael Grabner
It took a few months, but the Leafs may have found their Kessel replacement when they acquired speedy forward Michael Grabner from the Islanders. Grabner, 27, is probably not the player who scored 34 goals in 2010-11—he’s only reached 20 once since then. Still, he is fast, occasionally electric, and gives the first line a legitimate wing presence. He's also an ace penalty killer. Tyler Bozak is not John Tavares, but Grabner should get plenty of playing time in all situations, enough for him to put up solid numbers.
PREDICTION: 69 points, eighth in Atlantic