Will Babcock keep bashing his players? Can Hyman stop falling? And how long can the Old Head keep his spot in goal? Someone had to tackle the hard questions.
The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their highly anticipated 2016-17 season on Thursday with a 7-2 whopping of the Winnipeg Jets and followed it up on Saturday with an 8-5 whopping of the New York Rangers. There are many exciting storylines to look forward to with this young Leafs team, like how many points will the already heroic Auston Matthews rack up or whether or not the young defence can handle the pressure of being a cup contender, but these things are already being written about (by people smarter than me). For that reason, here are five not-so-common questions heading into the Leafs 2016-17 season, and my take on each of them:
1. How many times will Babcock bash his players following a big win?
One of the reasons Babs is one of the best coaches in the NHL is because he is rarely satisfied with the play of his team, encouraging players that there is always room to grow and play better regardless of the result. That's why his postgame bashing following the Leafs first two wins comes as no surprise. Even his take on the freewheeling Leafs that score a lot of goals but allow teams back in games, saying:
"It's kinda funny eh? Nah but it's dumb... We had lots of guys take their turn at turning it over and being silly and doing crazy things."
It's clear that despite a 2-0 start to the season, Babcock is not satisfied with his players and will continue to bash them for their bad play throughout the season even when they're victorious.
How many times throughout the season you ask? I'm taking over twenty.
2. How many times will Zach Hyman fall?
Despite his incredible forechecking ability, for a first-liner Zach Hyman falls a lot. He's not the worst skater in the organization by any means but perhaps due to his high compete level the 25-year-old winger falls on his ass all the time and it's incredibly frustrating to watch (perhaps even more frustrating than seeing him whiff on countless chances set up by Matthews). It's hard to find a stat that demonstrates how many times he falls per game, but my guess is it was around three per game last season. If Hyman wants to remain on the first line with Matthews (as Marleau sneaks up) he will have to fall less and score more. Not a bad start:
3. How many games will Curtis (Old Head) McElhinney start in goal?
The Maple Leafs have improved their backup goaltending depth with the acquisition of Calvin Pickard from the Vegas Golden Knights, leading to questions regarding will backup Frederik Anderson throughout the season, Pickard or McElhinney.
Although McElhinney played decently well for the Leafs last season, going 6-7 with a 2.85 GAA and a .914 Sv% and making one of the biggest saves of the season, the 34-year-old is a below average backup goaltender not getting any better (or younger) who instilled fear into Leafs fans every game he started towards the end of last season when the playoff race was tense.
Pickard, on the other hand, is a relatively young goaltender with high upside. The 25-year-old spent his first three seasons in Colorado, averaging an impressive 2.45 GAA and .927 Sv% in his first two seasons. Although last season was a step backward for him, posting a 2.77 GAA and .914 Sv%, that was largely due to the sad play of the mess of a team in front of him that ended the season 22-56 with a -112 goal differential, good for last in the league.
If Pickard can revert back to the way he played in his first two NHL seasons he will be a huge upgrade over McElhinney, with more room to grow too. The sooner he proves he's a better backup despite not being a veteran presence the better for Leafs fans.
My guess is McElhinney gets under five starts before Pickard gets the call up.
4. Will Lou Lamoriello crack a smile when (technically if) the Maple Leafs win a playoff series?
Lamoriello is the prototypical old-school hockey General Manager. At 74, he is both old in age and in style. Take “Lou’s Rules” for example, his requirement that Leafs players to be clean shaven and have relatively short hair at all times.
Since "Professionalism" is what Lamoriello preaches to his organization, it is no surprise that he tries his very hardest to remain professional through the ups and the downs. He almost cracked a smile when the Leafs beat the Capitals in an overtime thriller last playoffs, but it technically doesn't count.
Will he crack a real smile if (when) the Leafs finally win a playoff series this season? My guess is yes, there is an excited teenager somewhere behind that 74-year-old man facade.
5. Will Auston Matthews ever score again?
Probably not, he's washed up.