BOSTON, MA – APRIL 11: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period of a game against the Boston Bruins in Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 11, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The season is still over two months away, but the Toronto Maple Leafs lines can already be drawn up. In pencil anyway. These predictions assume Mitch Marner signs a contract. One that doesn’t require Kyle Dubas to trade away a player to make room under the NHL salary cap. Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are the two most likely candidates to be moved if Dubas does need to move a contract. Cody Ceci is another potential option, but the Maple Leafs appear to be ready to give Ceci a lot of rope this season.

Here is an early look at what the Toronto Maple Leafs lines with Marner may look like come October.

Toronto Maple Leafs Lines Opening Night Prediction

The Top Two Lines

1A

The Maple Leafs don’t really have just one top-line like many teams in the NHL. They have a 1A and 1B situation. We’ll start with the Auston Matthews line for no particular reason.

It’s pretty much a lock that Matthews will have William Nylander on his right side. Nylander didn’t have a particularly good season last year, scoring only seven times in 54 games. Much of that can be blamed on Nylander waiting until December to sign last season. He missed training camp and could never really find his legs. He’ll be motivated to perform well this season and the Maple Leafs will give him all the tools he needs to do just that… namely Auston Matthews.

Matthews’ left side is a little more unpredictable. There is a rumour that he doesn’t want to play with Kapanen. It’s likely that just isn’t true, but if it’s not Kapanen, then who? One option is Johnsson. Another is the recently signed Ilya Mikheyev. At least according to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. It’s difficult to imagine Mike Babcock putting a rookie with Matthews. Johnsson, and his 20 goals last season seems more likely.

Johnsson – Matthews – Nylander

1B

The other top-line is already set with John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Zach Hyman. The problem is Hyman underwent ACL surgery in April and is expected to miss the first month of the season. His replacement will probably not be finalized until the first day of the regular season. It could end up being a bit of a revolving door as well. Mikheyev could see some time if he wins over Babcock. The most likely candidate is Trevor Moore.

Moore played 25 games for Toronto last season and all seven playoff games. He’s expected to be a bottom-six player this season, but a short stint alongside Tavares and Marner will give Dubas and Babcock a pretty good idea of what they have in Moore.

Moore – Tavares – Marner

The Third Line

Last year, Nazem Kadri was a luxury few teams had. A third line centre coming off back-to-back 30-goal campaigns. Kadri was traded for Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot this summer, opening up a hole in the centre depth to fill a hole on the blue line. Barrie will fit in nicely as a right-handed defenseman and Kerfoot is expected to fill the third-line centre role.

Ian Tulloch of The Athletic (subscription required) outlined that while Kerfoot is probably going to be the third-line centre, he’s not a player with a long history of playing centre. Many of his 157 NHL games have come as a winger. He is an excellent faceoff man (49 percent) which will help solidify his role as a centreman. His defence comes from spending more time with the puck than without it. The best defence is a good offence is a mantra the Maple Leafs seem to be embracing with both arms.

If Kerfoot is going to be expected to play well defensively by spending time in the offensive zone, it’s a good idea to put him with some offensive players. Kapanen could find his niche with Kerfoot scoring off the rush or putting himself in position to be the finisher on a third line with Kerfoot as the setup man.

Once Hyman returns, the left side will likely be filled by Moore, but until then, Kerfoot and Kapanen could play with Nic Petan, Kenny Agostino or Jason Spezza. Spezza is an interesting option here as a veteran who can play up and down the lineup as needed.

Spezza – Kerfoot – Kapanen

The Fourth Line

The fourth line will probably be centred by Spezza, by November, but Petan and Nick Shore will hope to play that role to start the season. Frederik Gauthier can’t completely be written off as the incumbent, but it’s likely he’ll be moved for the cap space, and to speed up the lineup.

Until Hyman returns, the fourth line will likely be a mashup of whomever the Maple Leafs can afford. That’s Petan, Shore, Agostino and Mikheyev.

Agostino – Petan/Shore – Mikheyev

The Defense

For the first time in a long time, the right side of the Maple Leafs defence is set. It’s the left side that will have question marks to open the season with Travis Dermott out until mid-November. Barrie is the big addition to the right side, and will likely pair with Morgan Rielly, although he could wind up with Jake Muzzin to keep the two offensive defencemen, Rielly and Barrie, apart. However, that would mean Ceci is on the top pairing.

Ceci could find new life with a new team, but his career numbers are downright terrible. His career Corsi For is 45.7 percent. If the counter-argument is that he played on a bad Ottawa Senators team (which is true), his relative Corsi For is -3.9. Putting him on the top unit with Rielly should scare everyone. Ben Harpur, who came over in the trade for Ceci, isn’t much better, but could still make the opening night roster.

Justin Holl and Martin Marincin round out the blueline. The three pairs will look considerably better when Dermott returns, but until then, it will probably look something like this.

Rielly – Barrie
Muzzin – Ceci
Marincin/Harpur – Holl

The Goaltenders

The Toronto Maple Leafs lines may have some minor question marks, but the goaltending is set baring a roster addition. Garret Sparks is out, Michael Hutchinson is in as the backup. The Maple Leafs would love to improve the backup position to give Frederik Andersen more nights off, but they just can’t afford it if Marner returns.

Andersen
Hutchinson

Mitch Marner’s Impact On The Toronto Maple Leafs Lines

Marner is the only player the Maple Leafs have left to sign. If he winds up playing for another team, Toronto will have cap space to play with. If Jake Gardiner is still available, they’ll look to re-sign him right away. That will shore up the defence and still leave room to improve the bottom-six depth.

Chances are Marner will sign. If he does, the only question is for how much, and will the Maple Leafs need to move salary to fit Marner in. If they need to move Kapanen or Johnsson, they’ll look to replace one of those players with someone inexpensive either from the UFA market or the Toronto Marlies.

So here’s a recap of the Maple Leafs line combinations:

Johnsson – Matthews – Nylander
Moore – Tavares – Marner
Spezza – Kerfoot – Kapanen
Agostino – Petan/Shore – Mikheyev

Rielly – Barrie
Muzzin – Ceci
Marincin/Harpur – Holl

Andersen
Hutchinson

Embed from Getty Images


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