Toronto Maple Leafs Among Early Stanley Cup Contenders

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When the puck dropped on the 2017-18 NHL season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins were coming off of their second consecutive Stanley Cup so picking Sidney Crosby and company was a no-brainer. However, after just 12 games into the season, bookies have already changed their minds.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, along with the Tampa Bay Lightning, are currently the bookmakers favorite to win the Stanley Cup, according to Bovada. The Leafs are listed as +700 to lift the cup. Meanwhile, the Penguins have dropped back to +1200 along with the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, the third-best odds among NHL teams predicted to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Are the Toronto Maple Leafs that Good?

The year was 1993 and top song on the billboard charts was Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” the last time a Canadian team captured the NHL Stanley Cup. That season saw the Montreal Canadiens defeat the Los Angeles Kings, 4-1, in the best-of-seven series. Since then, it has been a long hard battle for teams north of the border.

But sports books remain high on the Leafs thanks to their early season successes against both the Blackhawks and Washington Capitals, each perennial challengers for the title. Through October 31, the Leafs have posted a 7-5 record with additional triumphs over the Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings. Most impressively, Toronto is 3-2 on the road this season.

Currently, the Leafs have the second-best scoring rate in the NHL. The young squad has tallied 47 goals this month, just six behind Tampa Bay among the top two most potent offenses in the league.

Related: NHL Power Rankings Week Three

Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) and center Patrick Marleau (12) battle in front of goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period of a game on October 28, 2017 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Philadelphia Flyers won 4-2. (Photo by Nick Turchiaro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A Need for Goalkeeping

Toronto’s goaltender is being cited as the biggest weakness with the team (despite some nifty glove work below). Frederik Andersen has the 12th-worst goals-against average in the NHL at 3.46 among goalies with at least four games played this season. With a substandard .896 save percentage, Anderson has allowed the most goals of any netminder in the NHL.

A total of 38 pucks have got by Andersen this month after falling, 3-2, to the San Jose Sharks Monday night. Those figures are slightly misleading, however, as Andersen is one of just four goalies to appear in as many as 11 games this season, tied for the most in the league.

Despite pulling off this unbelievable glove save, Andersen couldn’t keep the Carolina Hurricanes’ shots from blowing past him in a 6-3 loss on October 26:

“I think we’ve got to play with more pride,” Andersen said following the loss.

Can the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup?

All reports indicate Maple Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock is working hard with his young squad to develop them into a strong contender. Auston Matthews leads the team in goals with eight and points with 15. The team has a total of 10 players with multiple goals this season, which bodes well for its depth. Goals aren’t the problem, it seems, for the Leafs — just keeping them out. ​

The 2016-17 season saw the Maple Leafs make the playoffs for the first time in five years. Despite losing in the first round, the team has plenty to build on. With the off-season additions of veterans Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey, there is potential in this locker room. And while the NHL Playoffs are littered with landmines and little certainty, if the Maple Leafs can stay consistent and improve their defense and goaltending, dreams of hoisting the cup could be realistic.

The franchise is seeking its 14th trophy, second-most in history behind the mighty Montreal Canadiens. But by the time the 2017-18 NHL campaign wraps up, it may be 51 years and counting since the Maple Leafs last brought back the Stanley Cup to Toronto in 1966-67.

 

Written by Drew Farmer / @DrewMFarmer
Special to HockeyClan

 

Main Image: Toronto Maple Leafs’ center Nazem Kadri (43) skates down the bench after scoring his second of the night against the Philadelphia Flyers during 2nd period action at the Air Canada Centre. (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

 

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