The Toronto Maple Leafs management started their downfall early in the season with a bunch of trades and continued the plan by calling up several young prospects throughout the year.
The reward was finishing in last place in the NHL standings (29-42-11, 69 points) and receiving the best odds, at 20%, to win the 2016 Draft Lottery. Even though the Leafs finished last, that doesn’t mean that they will automatically win the Draft Lottery. The Lottery will determine the top three spots in this year’s draft and not just the top spot, which means Toronto could finish as low as fourth overall in the draft. The Buffalo Sabres finished with the worst record last season, but the Edmonton Oilers, somehow, won the Draft Lottery (again).
The tank started in early February when the Leafs traded captain, Dion Phaneuf, to the Ottawa Senators, and continued at the trade deadline. Toronto traded veterans Shawn Matthias, Daniel Winnik, Roman Polak, Nick Spaling and James Reimer around the trade deadline. The additions to the team included Colin Greening, Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek, Ben Smith, and Connor Carrick. The team also suffered some injuries to James Van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, Stephane Robidas (LTIR), Nathan Horton (LTIR), Matt Hunwick and Leo Komarov. Nazem Kadri also missed some games due to suspension.
Another reason for the bad season was defense during games. The team allowed 2.93 goals against per game, which was 25th in the league. The Leafs also allowed 30.5 shots against per game. Toronto allowed 240 goals against on the season, which was the seventh most allowed in the league. Jonathan Bernier had his struggles this year, but things seemed to turn around when James Reimer was traded and Bernier was named the Leafs number one goalie.
The offense also struggled to put the puck in the back of the net. The injuries to players like JVR, Lupul and Komarov didn’t help either. The Leafs managed to score just 2.34 goals per game played, which ranked 28th or third worst in the league. The team scored a total of 192 goals for making it the third worst offense in the league. The Leafs leading scorer was Nazem Kadri, who finished with 45 total points. The team only had one 20 goal scorer and that was P.A. Parenteau.
The special teams were a tale of two stories. The power play was ranked 29th in the league and scored only 40 goals in 259 opportunities. It didn’t help that the Leafs only scored on 11.8% of its opportunities on the road (15 goals in 127 chances). The penalty kill was the 13th best in the league at 81.6%. The penalty kill unit only allowed 50 power play goals against while being shorthanded 272 times. The Leafs were a better road team killing penalties than at home (77.8%).
The players came out and played hard every night and with effort throughout the season and even beat some playoff bound teams down the stretch. It could be a long-term rebuild in Toronto, but if they way the kids played is any indication of its future then they are in better shape than some other teams that didn’t make the playoffs.