Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Toronto Maple Leafs
For the last 15 years (12 with The Hockey News, last year’s via pinch-hitter Cam Robinson) Dobber has reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them.
The 16th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Impact of changes – Bringing in John Tavares upgrades an already-talented forward group and gives the Maple Leafs two lines of high-end scoring threats. He is a 50 percent scoring upgrade to van Riemsdyk and his arrival also pushes the skilled Nazem Kadri down to the third line. Not only is Kadri an effective checker, but he can still put points on the board despite being given that role, which has the domino effect of giving Toronto a third threat.
You will note a lot of players leaving the team this offseason and not many coming in. That, of course, means that youth will again be served. Toronto now (finally) has a nice conveyor belt of prospects ready to be brought in each year and fill different holes. In this case, many of these prospects were probably ready a year ago, or in midseason.
Critics will be quick to point to the team’s lack of addressing the obvious need – defense. And this has been the source of many long, not-always-sober, conversations with friends over the past month or two. I always challenge them to find a defenseman who will solve the Leafs’ problems even a little bit – and how the Leafs will get that defenseman. The answer is – they can’t. None make it to free agency, and none are being offered up in trade. They need to be homegrown. This is why Toronto’s last two top picks were Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. So instead, the team will do what it does best – score goals and rely on its goaltender. And despite what anyone argues, Frederick Andersen is a Top 5 goalie. Playoffs are another matter, but in fantasy hockey he is a young, reliable, safe guarantee.
One more thought on the Ennis signing. I saw many pundits and writers calling this a “great signing” and “nice to give him a chance at that price”. And I respond with this – this is not “a chance”. This is a “doomed to fail” contract. At such a low price point on such a deep team, Ennis is almost guaranteed to be scratched or buried on a checking line, where he’ll be useless. To truly be given a chance, he needs 10 games on one of the top two lines, and my money is on him not getting that. He is a spare part who will be improperly used…and I sure hope I am wrong, because I’ve always liked him (i.e. small, skilled).
Ready for full-time – Andreas Johnsson dominated the AHL in his second full season there (54 points in 54 games), then he made a strong impression playing a couple of different roles for the Leafs during the regular season. After that, he had a pretty good showing during the tough NHL playoff hockey. This season he has to clear waivers in order to be sent down. Needless to say – he won’t. So he’s on this team no matter how terrible his camp will be, and it’s pretty safe to bet that it won’t be terrible. There are several options regarding who will play on Tavares’ other wing if you subscribe to the theory that Mitch Marner will be on one side. Johnsson is a candidate to play on the other side, though my guess is he won’t get that shot for a month or two. Still, that makes him worth of a late draft pick and hold on your bench for two months in most leagues. (Read Johnsson’s scouting profile here)
Par Lindholm finished fourth in SHL scoring last season and he is also strong at the faceoff circle and is responsible in his own end. He is penciled in as the fourth-line center because he turns 27 in October and he’s likely not crossing the pond to play for the Marlies. He’s a little on the small side so his work ethic will determine his success at the NHL level. (Read Lindholm’s scouting profile here)
Kasperi Kapanen also has to clear waivers in order to be sent down, so there’s no way that will happen. Last year he was ready to play in the NHL but the fact that he didn’t have to clear waivers factored into the decision to send him down. However, when he was called up as an injury replacement he quickly made himself irreplaceable and has solidified himself as a great checking-line player who can create offense and move up and down the lineup in whatever manner he is needed. As a result, you can probably expect his production to come in spurts in the year ahead. (Read Kapanen's scouting profile here)
Travis Dermott was recalled from the Marlies in mid-January and the Leafs couldn’t send him back down because he was head and shoulders better than the bottom two or three defensemen they had on the roster. Dermott saw careful, sheltered minutes and I would expect more of the same as he eventually works his way into the Top 4 perhaps as early as next season. (Read Dermott's scouting profile here)
Calvin Pickard and Garret Sparks are coming off ridiculously-good AHL campaigns that saw Sparks when the AHL’s goalie of the year award and Pickard playing nearly as well. Pickard has a solid 87 NHL games under his belt already (0.913 SV%) and both goaltenders could find themselves on new teams. A likely scenario is that one is traded, while the other takes the backup role if Curtis McElhinney stumbles early on. (Read Sparks' scouting profile here)
Igor Ozhiganov is a KHL defenseman who the Leafs have been going after for a long time. He’ll be 26 in the fall and it’s hard to imagine that he sees time in the AHL this season. He is a stay-at-home defenseman with good size and strength and could be just what the Leafs have been lacking.
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect depth chart and fantasy upsides can be found here (not yet ready for mobile viewing, desktop only right now)
Fantasy Outlook – The Leafs were tied for second in goals scored last season and they just upgraded JVR with JT. Furthermore, most of the key players on the team are in their early 20s and not even close to their prime yet. The prospect pipeline, after years of neglect, is finally doing well – especially from a fantasy standpoint. If one of the players I owned was traded to Toronto my first reaction would definitely be a fist pump.
Fantasy Grade: A+ (last year was A)
Other Offseason Fantasy Outlooks: