Thank Christ that the 2019 offseason is finally over. What consumed most of Leafs fans’ consciousness this summer was the whole Mitch Marner show. How many other teams have had their star RFA, his agent and his dad publicly beat the pulp out of their GM? All the while watching every other RFA imagine-able sign a more “team-friendly” deal. Say what you will about Point or Rantanen signing more palatable deals than Mitch’s six year $65 mil. But the Charlie McAvoy signing, to me, was the biggest gut punch. How can you call yourself “Chuckie Bright Lights” only roll over to let the Bruins pet your belly and sign for $4.9 mil a year? Watching the Bruins masterfully manage their salary cap makes me sick.
And after months of restricted free agent brain damage Auston Matthews hit Leafs fans with an underwear clad RKO just when we thought they were out of the woods. Now, supposedly, he won’t be named captain after it was reported that he was management’s choice prior to his charges becoming public. And now media and fans alike are debating whether Matthews deserves the captaincy or if it should be Tavares or Reilly… For the record could not care less.
But maybe, once the Leafs finally get a captain named we can finally just dial back and play some hockey…
What a circus. I give this lineup move a 9.1 Babcocks out of 10. Honestly, what are we even talking about here? Spezza only has 53 points in 154 games over the past two years which isn’t great. But–and I can’t stress this enough–WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE FOURTH LINE HERE! We have a veteran taking a pay cut to chase a Cup with his hometown team and we’re already benching him!? For better or worse Toronto is a cap team for the next five years and will need some guys on the veteran minimum to round out the roster. If this is the precedent, who in their right mind will sign here?
If Spezza truly stinks, trot him out there on the fourth line for a few weeks and let fans and media come to that conclusion on their own. This is social suicide and just wreaks of Babs marking his territory. I wouldn’t be shocked if at the captain’s reveal press conference today Babcock just appears from behind the curtain with a C sewn onto the breast of this blazer. Babs doesn’t want you to get it twisted, he drives this ship with soy boy Kyle Dubas clinging on in tow.
The game at hand
The Battle of Ontario record currently sits at 102-108-12-11 in favour of the Senators. This includes Ottawa’s record pre-1934. The Leafs and Sens haven’t been relevant at the same time since the early 2000’s. The Senators owned the post 2005 lockout era with the likes of Alfredsson, Spezza, Heatley, Redden, Chara, Havalat etc. while the Leafs puttered around with the Muskoka Five. The Sens then ran into some success with Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and kind of Bobby Ryan during the whole Double Dion + Phil the Thrill marriage.
The Auston Matthews era signals a time where it is decidedly in Toronto’s favour in the next chapter of the Battle of Ontario. While Leaf fans are worrying about who their next captain is and who will be on the fourth line the Senators are trotting out this lineup:
P U this team stinks out loud.
Let’s just say that if the Leafs truly want to have Stanley Cup aspirations, they have to take care of business at home against teams of Ottawa’s ilk. If they can’t win these games, let’s just say that there’s much bigger problems than who’s bumping and grinding on the fourth line.
Players of Interest
Battle of the Swedes
Erik Brannstrom vs. Rasmus Sandin figures to be a glimpse of the future of both teams bluelines for years to come. Brannstrom will immediately be thrown into the fire considering he’s one of the few non-cardboard cut-outs not occupying the Senators blueline. Conversely the Leafs can bring Sandin along slowly considering their depth on the left side of the blueline.
Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Rielly, Barrie, Muzzin, Andersen
What a murderers row of NHL talent. By season’s end I’ll have a nickname drawn up for this core. T-shirts and merch will quickly follow.
The Other Guys
There’s still come things that need to be sorted out as the season progresses. Kerfoot needs to step into the 3C slot previously occupied by the best third line centre in hockey. I obviously don’t expect him to replicate Kadri’s production but he has to be good.
I like Kapanen and Johnsson and hope that they can both hang in the top two left wing spots respectively.
If Ceci can’t hang on the right side of the second pairing there’s going to be an issue. A solid back-up goalie would help Andersen stay healthy.
Hutchison gets the first crack at the role, but who’s to say Kaskisuo or Mr. Outside hire won’t supplant him.
Also some penalty killers need to emerge considering last year’s unit ranked 17th in PK%.
The Young Sens
Believe it or not there is a pulse on this Ottawa team. Between Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White and the aforementioned Brannstrom, there is a semblance of a future elite core. Say what you will about the owner alienating players and staff alike, but Pierre Dorion (in the organization since 2007 and general manager since 2014) is a solid talent evaluator.
Not Jason Spezza
This has been the most fatiguing offseasons that we’ve had in the Dubas era. But now that we’ve gotten through it, we’re entering the 2019-20 season with a truly outstanding roster. This is a core that finished with the 7th best regular season record in the league last season. And now they’re adding a full season of Jake Muzzin and swapping the walking suspension, Nazem Kadri, for Alex Kerfoot (sure) and Tyson Barrie (!!!!!). They also took away Babcock’s favourite toys in Ron Hainsey and Patrick Marleau so Babs will have to get creative to keep his best players on the bench (cue his campaign for Gauthier at 20+ minutes a night!).
A lot has been made of Toronto’s future cap situation and Kyle Dubas’ negotiating skills. While they may have overpaid their core, at least they overpaid elite talent. We’re not talking about the David Clarkson contract here. Toronto has Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Nylander and Reilly locked up until 2022. To make a final judgement on Dubas’ tenure right now, good or bad, is absurd. We won’t know for years if this core is a failure or note.
But as of right now, this is the best team the Toronto Maple Leafs have dressed in decades. This is a team currently in its Stanley Cup window. Full. Stop. Quit counting the team’s 2023-24 cap hit and buckle in for what should be a wild season.