Are the Leafs worth gambling on this early on in the season?

by Clay Kidston

The 2018 Toronto Maple Leafs are currently the favorite to win the NHL’s Stanley Cup in 2019 at +700.

The signing of local superstar John Tavares has propelled the Leafs way up the ladder to the top of the expert rankings. But the favorites to win the cup? I think not.

Toronto, who lost in the first round of the 2018 playoffs to the Boston Bruins, finished tied for third in the NHL last season in scoring at 3.29 goals per game, so scoring wasn’t an issue. The Leafs lost a couple of key players in free agency, as James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak found new homes, but with some good young prospects ready for a full-time role, and the aforementioned Tavares signing, the offense is in good hands.

The defense, however, is a different story. The Leafs didn’t do anything to improve the backend, which is their biggest glaring need. Toronto finished 12th in terms of defense, allowing 2.80 goals per game. On paper, that seems pretty good considering 20 teams finished below them, but goaltender Freddy Andersen stole them multiple games and had a career year, often overshadowing the brutal defense played in front of him. Travis Dermott proved in his limited time in 2018 that he’s ready for a full-time gig, but the Leafs didn’t add anyone substantial to an already average blue-line and their depth will be tested when an injury occurs.

“John Tavares has propelled the Leafs way up the ladder”

There’s multiple teams I’d feel more comfortable putting my money on, especially with better odds. The 2018 Toronto Maple Leafs are definitely a contender, and will be a team to reckon with for many years to come. But I wouldn’t go anywhere near it at +700 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

Teams I like much better? Tampa Bay at +800. Nashville at +1100. Pittsburgh at +1400. And my personal favorite, San Jose at +2500. San Jose has a deep team, offensively, defensively and in net. The addition of Evander Kane gives them an added scorer and some toughness up front, and they re-signed all of their key pieces including Joe Thornton. If Thornton, who has missed most of the last two seasons with knee injuries, can remain healthy heading into the playoffs, look for the Sharks to make a deep run. San Jose also has some cap space to make a quality addition or two at the trade deadline which should help them come playoff time.

The 2018 Toronto Maple Leafs are a good team, but they are a couple pieces away from being a great team, and you need to be great to earn the hardest trophy in all of sports to win, The Stanley Cup.