Better Luck Next Year: Toronto Maple Leafs edition

As NHL teams are eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, theScore NHL freelance writer Katie Brown looks back at the highs and lows of their seasons, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The 19th edition focuses on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Good

Freddie Andersen. Andersen was one of a few Leafs players who had a career year. He won a career-high 38 games while facing the most shots of any goalie in the NHL and boasted a .918 save percentage. The team wouldn't have gotten so far without Andersen’s efforts.

A talented core. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, and Connor Brown were Toronto’s best players, and signal an incredibly bright future. Matthews and Kadri became the first center pair in Leafs history to score 30 goals. Matthews also became the third player in Leafs history to score 30 goals in each of his first two seasons.

A franchise record. The team's 46th win, recorded against the Florida Panthers in the last week of the season, secured a place for this year’s Leafs squad in the franchise record books - remarkable for a club that’s been around since 1917. The Leafs finished the season with 49 wins.

The Bad

Too many shots allowed. The Leafs allowed the fourth-most shots per game during the regular season (33.9). Andersen faced the most shots of any goalie in the league (2,211) and made the most saves in the NHL (2,029), a whopping 120 ahead of anyone else. Combined with Andersen playing in 66 regular-season games, this might have contributed to some fatigue in the Leafs’ first-round loss to the Boston Bruins.

Kadri’s suspension. Losing one of their most important centers and their second-highest goal-scorer for three games in a playoff series against the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference wasn’t ideal. The Leafs still took Boston to seven games despite Kadri being suspended for checking Bruins forward Tommy Wingels in the head, but his absence made a difference.

Another first-round exit. For most of the season, this iteration of the Leafs looked destined for playoff greatness. Instead, they were eliminated by the Bruins in seven games, the second year in a row that their season ended in the first round. In 2017, Toronto was knocked out of the playoffs in six games by the Washington Capitals.

The Questions

What’s in store this summer? It’s a critical offseason for the Leafs; they've done well at drafting and developing talent over the past few years, but they need to address the shortcomings that have prevented them from taking the next step in the playoffs. One of those is a top-pairing defenseman; Jake Gardiner had his best NHL season, but he can’t do it all alone.

Who’s on their way out? Tomas Plekanec, acquired at the trade deadline, is all but guaranteed not to return. There’s been talk that free agents James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Leo Komarov won't be back either. This will open up more opportunities for players like Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson next fall. The Leafs could look a lot different, especially if their younger players take the next step.

Where does Lou land? General manager Lou Lamoriello’s three-year contract expires soon, and there's been no word on whether he will return next season. There’s a provision in his contract that would allow him to spend two years beyond his contract in an advisory role with the organization. Lamoriello’s fate might be tied to those of his assistants, Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas. Either or both could be up for a promotion this summer.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Better Luck Next Year: Toronto Maple Leafs edition
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