As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare for the upcoming 2023-24 regular season, new General Manager (GM) Brad Treliving finds himself with several crucial decisions. Unless he can figure these out, the team’s desire for a successful season is filled with challenges.
Specifically, Treliving needs to address salary cap constraints as well as tackle depth deficiencies in key positions. In this post, I’ll share what I think are three pressing dilemmas that the Maple Leafs must navigate as they strive for a competitive edge.
[As a note, I’d like to thank my long-time collaborator Stan Smith for some of his insight on this post.]
Maple Leafs’ Dilemma 1: Goaltending Gaps
To me, the team’s goaltending seems promising. However, things with goalies can often be iffy. The starting goalie will be Ilya Samsonov. He had a surprisingly good first season with the team and seems locked in as the team’s first choice in the net. Joseph Woll’s strong performances (in limited action, however) make him the potential backup.
However, is that enough? After this twosome, there’s a void of experience. Keith Petruzzelli seems good, but he has limited NHL exposure. As well, Eric Kallgren’s departure exposed the need for more goaltending depth. Will Treliving try to find another experienced number three goaltender? Does he believe he needs to bolster the team’s depth in the crease? In short, is the goalie depth deep enough?
Maple Leafs’ Dilemma 2: Defensive Depth
The team has seasoned defenders like Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Mark Giordano, John Klingberg, and Jake McCabe. That’s a strong core; and, despite some critique, I believe the defensive lineup appears solid. However, the challenge emerges when examining depth beyond this group.
Timothy Liljegren showcases potential; but, beyond him, the physical edge Treliving wants in his defensive corps is lacking. Balancing salary-cap restrictions with the need for a tougher defensive presence is key paramount. Potential implications for Brodie’s contract and his salary cap hit make this decision a complex puzzle to solve.
Fortunately, there are often experienced (and cheap) defensemen not yet signed. A player like Jordie Benn, for example, can play limited but steady minutes. In a pinch, someone like Benn might give the team an edge.
Maple Leafs’ Dilemma 3: Forward Composition
The forward lineup offers a mix of options, but key decisions await. The looming waiver exemption for Nick Robertson adds interest to the situation. Constructing a cap-compliant lineup that avoids waivers is a puzzle that demands careful consideration.
Additionally, integrating emerging talents like Matthews Knies, who demonstrated promise, adds another layer of complexity. And Knies is not the only Toronto Marlies player who deserves a chance to make the big club. Is Treliving willing to put together a group of depth prospects to carry the mail for the team?
Striking the right balance between established players and emerging stars is crucial for the team’s forward dynamics. I, for one, want to see a blue-collar player like Bobby McMann get a chance.
The Bottom Line
As the clock ticks down to the start of the new season, the Maple Leafs face these three critical dilemmas. Treliving’s ability will be tested as he maneuvers within the salary cap, addresses depth concerns, and works to create a competitive roster.
The Maple Leafs’ ability to tackle these dilemmas could shape their journey throughout the season.