The Maple Leafs had one of their worst seasons in franchise history this year, finishing 27th Overall and missing the Playoffs for two consecutive years. This left Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan no choice but to start over and make some changes to both the management and the players.
It started with the addition of Mike Babcock. With Babcock at the helm, the Leafs get one of the games elite coaches who can bring out the best in his players, has a desire to win and more importantly, he can bring the team together when they are not doing well. Because of these qualities, he has made the playoffs ten consecutive times while winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings. He also won two gold medals with Team Canada at the Winter Olympics in 2010 and 2014. Along with Babcock, they decided to make more changes to their coaching staff. During that process, they hired former Detroit assistant coaches Andrew Brewer and Jim Hiller, as well as former Oshawa Generals head coach DJ Smith.
Then changes happended before, during and after the draft. On the day that former general manager Dave Nonis and head coach Pete Horachek were fired, eighteen scouts were fired on the same day and they hired Lindsay Hofford and a couple of other scouts to replace them. During the draft, the Leafs used most of their picks to draft skill instead of size because a lot of the guys they drafted with size ended up being busts. Drafting skill made this draft one of the best drafts in recent Maple Leafs history. Afterwords, the Leafs hired Ari Vuori, one of Detroit's top European scouts as Director of European scouting.
On July 1st, the Leafs pulled the trigger and traded star sniper Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins after much anticipation. In exchange, the Leafs got Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling as well as 3rd and 1st round picks in 2016. However, Pittsburgh also received a 2nd round pick in 2016 as well as Tim Erixon and Tyler Biggs. Although the Leafs didn't get add much as they wanted for Kessel, they got rid of a player who had off ice issues and still got some good prospects in return. Kaperi Kapanen is a potential top line forward and Scott Harrington is a potential top 4 defensive defenseman. They also signed PA Parenteau, Shawn Matthias, Mark Arcobello, Matt Hunwick and Martin Marincin to one year deals and signed Daniel Winnik to a two year deal.
Later, they hired former New Jersey Devils general manager and president Lou Lamoriello as general manager on July 23rd. He spent 28 years with New Jersey Devils and made the playoffs 21 times in 28 years during that span. He also won three Stanley Cups and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. However, he had trouble drafting and building a team in the Salary Cap Era but that is no concern for the Maple Leafs. What Lou is here to do is mentor Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas, Mark Hunter and Brendan Prindham as well as teach them the ropes on how to manage a team.
With all of that being said, here is the Leafs projected lineup for the upcoming season.
James van Riemsdyk-Nazem Kadri-Joffrey Lupul
1st Line is an Excellent 2nd Line on a contender
Daniel Winnik-Tyler Bozak-PA Parenteau
2nd Line is an Average 3rd Line on a contender
Shawn Matthias-Peter Holland-Nick Spaling
Average 3rd Line on a contender
Mark Arcobello-Leo Komarov-Richard Panik
Excellent 4th Line or Decent 3rd Line on a contender
Morgan Rielly-Dion Phaneuf
1st Pair is an excelleny 2nd Pair on a contender
Jake Gardiner-Martin Marincin
Excellent 3rd Pair or Decent 2nd Pair on a contender
Roman Polak-Matt Hunwick
Average 3rd Pair on a contender
Excellent Backup or Decent Starter on a contender
Excellent Backup on a contender
Despite all of the major changes that occurred in the offseason, the Leafs are not expected to make the Playoffs with their current lineup and should be in the battle for the first overall pick in 2016. Don't be surprised if they fall just short of a Playoff spot either. However, the only way that happens is if Mike Babcock can motivate the team to bring out the best in them but they're still not making the Playoffs. Even if they don't make the Playoffs this season or next season, the Leafs are putting themselves in a position to be legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders for years to come in the future because of their great staff, drafting and the direction that they're going in.