Dec 15, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Toronto Maple Leafs logo at center ice before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have exceeded expectations of many so far in 2016-2017, but they’re far from done.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been playing good hockey for most of the season. They’ve received great goaltending from Frederik Andersen and a lot of offense from the youth who have made the jump to the big leagues.
For the rest of the 2016-2017 season, though, there’s likely more good times to come for the Leafs.
Here are three storylines to watch for the remainder of the 2016-2017 NHL season.
Dec 23, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) looks to pass during the first period against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matthews Chases 40 Goals
As it stands right now, the Leafs franchise center is on pace for 42 goals. Crazy, right?
After scoring four in his NHL debut, Matthews slowed down before getting back into a groove and becoming, as Babcock put it, a dominant center for the Leafs.
It’s not unrealistic to believe that the Leafs superstar can hit the 40 goal mark considering his shooting percentage is at 13.8% – a sustainable number for a star – and his general play has been fantastic.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Leafs have an offensive group that takes some of the pressure off of the 19 year old. Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner need to be watched just as closely as Matthews does for the opposition or they, too, will light the lamp.
The pre-season predictions of Matthews hitting 55 points are almost a guarantee, and it’s looking more and more like this kid is going to hit 40 goals and 70 points.
Dec 11, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen (31) defends against a shot from Colorado Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla (12) in the first period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
The Playoff Push Continues
Counted out by nearly the entire world, the Toronto Maple Leafs are five points back of Boston for 3rd in the Atlantic, while playing four less games.
They’re also five points back of Philadelphia for the last wildcard spot, while playing three less games.
This team is in the hunt, and they’re playing great hockey.
A big step in the right direction of making the playoffs, whether you want to believe it or not, is possession. Being in the top-16 for score-adjusted fenwick is a good place to be, and more often than not means you’re playing hockey beyond the 82-game mark.
The Leafs are 10th right now in SAF at 52.2.
Add a top-10 5v5 goaltender in Frederik Andersen to the mix with good possession and you’ve got a team capable of doing good things.
Nov 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk (25) celebrates his second period goal against Washington Capitals with linemates Tyler Bozak (42) Mitch Marner (16) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
The Trade Deadline: Sell, Buy, or Both?
The Leafs are in an interesting position when it comes to the trade deadline. They’ve got players to deal and holes to fill.
They’re also ahead of schedule in the rebuild by at least a year thanks to how well the young players and Andersen have performed.
So the big question is, what do they do at the deadline?
James van Riemsdyk is in the rumor mill and so is Tyler Bozak. Both of those players likely have no future with the Leafs beyond their current deals.
Losing Bozak isn’t really a big deal, but van Riemsdyk is a significant piece of offense to lose. That being said, the kids are only getting better.
JVR is a player who can bring back a top defender to help plug the holes on defense moving forward, an option that might be too good to pass up considering the money he’ll command on a new deal.