The NHL drops the puck on the regular season tonight, in the first meaningful game since Sidney Crosby and the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup months ago. Crosby led Team Canada to a win at the World Cup of Hockey just a couple of weeks ago as well. Unfortunately, Crosby will start the season out with a concussion. Nevertheless, remember how slowly Crosby started the 2015 season? Goodness gracious, he looked like a player over the hill who was never going to hit an elite level of play again. Or, so said the trigger happy fans who can’t wait an extra few months to see how he plays with a much larger sample size of games. He will start this season nursing his head, something he has had to do in the past with a concussion.
Predictably, Crosby returned to his statistical average and poured it on all the way to the Stanley Cup, and then the World Cup of Hockey. Crosby was named the MVP of the playoffs and World Cup of Hockey, only to add to his ever growing mantle of accolades. We can’t ignore the enormous presence of Phil Kessel as well for the Penguins.
Kessel’s old team, who Mike Babcock wanted to get rid of the moment he signed on with the Maple Leafs, will take on the Ottawa Senators on the opening night of the NHL. Babcock’s team holds a lot of promise and excitement. In his second-year behind the bench, major improvements are expected to be made. They did a terrific job at botching the 2015 season, perhaps by design, to earn the right to draft the ultra-coveted Auston Matthews.
Matthews spearheads the youth movement in Toronto. In fact, the Maple Leafs enter as one of the youngest teams in the NHL. The plan is for Matthews and Mitch Marner to combine to be a major force in the league, ala what Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane did for the Blackhawks. If you recall, the Blackhawks were nothing before those two showed up in Chicago. The rest is history there.
The Leafs are hoping to create some newfound history of their own, searching to create a team to bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto for the first time since 1967. William Nylander provides another interesting wrinkle on this Leafs’ roster, a young 20-year-old who is expected to improve on 2015-2016, where he saw his first NHL action. In 22 games, Nylander scored 6 goals and 7 assists. He will be up in the NHL, or should be at least, for the duration of the season. The Battle of Ontario commences in Ottawa tonight, as the Senators look to show the youngsters how it’s done.
The Maple Leafs are expecting significant contributions from their young guns. Mitch Marner was a stud for the London Knights in his OHL career, as was Auston Matthews in Europe a year ago. It just all has to come together for the Leafs. One thing is certain, the Leafs should be a fun team to watch this season. Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who decided to sign with the Leafs, after spending two years as an All-Star in the KHL is going to provide intrigue on the blue line in Toronto, too. The Leafs will look to another new goaltender in net for them, as they signed Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks. In three years of action with the Ducks, Andersen posted a GAA of 2.29, 2.38, and 2.30.
We’ve seen the Leafs do this before with goalies, notably Jonathan Bernier and Vesa Toskala. Acquiring castoffs from other franchises, who have shown they can perform, but haven’t had the opportunity to be the clear starter. While goaltending has been a problem, their defence has been the larger problem, in my opinion. The Maple Leafs are going to be a dynamic team in 2016-17. There are offensive players littered all across their roster. The Leafs are going to be playing in plenty of high scoring games throughout the year. The Leafs were 24th in goals against last season. They may improve some in that respect, but I fully expect their offensive production to improve drastically. The Senators have their core intact this season, with Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, and Erik Karlsson offering their services again this season. Ex-Maple Leaf Dion Phaneuf is also back in Ottawa.
The Senators finished near the back of the NHL defensively, allowing an average of 2.94 goals per game, two spots back of the Leafs. The Sens have dabbled with Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond between the pipes across the last two years, with Hammond providing a spark in the Senators’ playoff run two seasons ago. However, Anderson has provided the steadier hand, and will get the call tonight. He’s coming off a season which saw him post a GAA of 2.78. It’s a battle of Anderson vs Andersen tonight in Ottawa. I expect the Leafs to come out with plenty of flash and speed. Although, their struggles on defense should continue this season, including tonight. The Leafs catching an OVER at plus-money is always going to be worth a look this year. I’m going to pull the trigger on it tonight. Note I am playing smaller units through the first month of the regular season. Bet accordingly.
PICK: OVER 5.5 GOALS (+105)