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The current Leafs that will still be on the roster when the Leafs turn the corner in 2017-’18...

Watching the Leafs through their first handful of regular-season games, the easiest observation to make is that the team is (predictably) working pretty hard under new coach Mike Babcock. 

Their overall record after seven games and a loss Saturday night in Montreal is not breathtaking, but from commiserating with fellow VLMers here, I don’t have the sense expectations were anything more than modest heading into the season. So the Leafs are probably where most supporters thought they would be.

Regardless, it’s far too early to make any significant pronouncements about where things are going this season. We need to see how the next fifteen or so games unfold first.

That said, I can’t help but jump ahead a little bit, because there is not a great deal to get excited about when it comes to this particular edition of the Maple Leafs.  The roster is filled with NHL players, for sure.  But most are replaceable guys, some toward the end of their careers and other individuals who would be useful contributors on a better team, no doubt.

But by and large, it’s a roster built to get through a season, not one that we can expect to do much as currently constituted. So where do we go from here? 

As we look ahead to a time when the Leafs will have cornerstone players who are not even on the roster yet (perhaps Brown, Nylander, Marner and others), we can start to wonder which current Maple Leafs will still be here when Babcock has the roster he wants—and will expect to be a strong, contending playoff team.

Will Reimer and Bernier be around?  I don’t think both will be.  And if one were to be, I’m guessing it will be Bernier, who I sense the organization still believes has a higher talent level—and performance ceiling—than Reimer.

On defense, it would be a shock if Reilly was anything but a significant building block. He has obvious skills, is a guy who skates so well, sees the ice and makes plays.  He’s a player, and Babcock no doubt already knew that before he got here.

Gardiner is an interesting case.  Is he going to be as good as his boosters suggest? Or will he flatten out, even under Babcock’s prodding, and fall short of fulfilling what seems to be a still promising career on the Leaf blueline?

Rielly will be here for sure.  But beyond that, it may be a completely new defense corps by 2017-’18.

Looking through the roster up front, only one forward jumps out as me, and that’s James van Riemsdyk.  He's still young and was so effective in his early days with the Leafs. He can score, has good hands and can be very effective around the opposition net. Maybe Kadri will be here, too, but it’s also possible that not a single Leaf forward will be here in two years. I still like what Komarov brings and he could be a useful role player when the Leafs are a contending squad.

So there we have it—the surefire current Leafs who will still be in blue and white two seasons from now. It’s a short list that starts and could end with Rielly. Maybe van Riemsdyk, Kadri and Komarov. Perhaps Gardiner. Bernier—that’s a toss-up.

Who do you see on the roster two years from now?


  1. Morgan Rielly for sure
    Jake Gardiner - I think he played pretty well so far, if he can keep this up, why not
    Nazem Kadri - hmm not so sure. He is not playing bad, but he has to put up points.
    Scott Harrington - has a chance, not as a top pairing D, but as a 6th Defender...
    J. Lupul - because they don't find a taker.

    About the goalies:
    J. Reimer - I think, he will be gone.
    J. Bernier - not sure, he has to establish himself as a starter. In my opinion he hasn't done that.


    1. I think we all see Rielly as a keeper, for sure, A. It's not easy to find young defensemen with that kind of vision and instinctive feel for the game.

      It's very hard to project who else will be here two seasons from now!

  2. I know you'd agree it's still too early to get any sort of accurate read on this team, but I'm pretty much in agreement with you on this one. I don't think either goalie will be on the team in two years - neither has shown they're a consistent #1 up to this point. I think both Rielly and Gardiner will be with us - maybe even Hunwick. We can't ship out every forward, but unless one or two start showing some scoring touch, I'd say they're all expendable if the deal is right. Leo is valuable, though I fear last year's concussion from Ovi's cheap hit will permanently affect his play, or shorten his NHL career. I get the feeling this is Kadri's last chance with the Leafs, and I'm not yet convinced he's ever going to live up to his much-ballyhooed "promise". I'd love to have JvR stay, but I'm not sure he will.
    On a side note, when I watch the pre and post game team interviews, I see a bunch of guys who appear to be somewhat befuddled by the changes that have overtaken them. There isn't one player who radiates confidence about how they're being asked to play. (And I'm sure it's difficult to alter a style of "thinking the game" you've been using for your whole career.) I get the sense that we'll have to wait until a number of juniors who've been schooled in Babcock's system make it to the big team before we see any real signs of a winner.

    1. I missed Hunwick. I could see him staying too as he can play a solid smart game.

      You might be right Gerund on the "wait until junior/young guys" make it. But I think a good pro player can adjust. It just takes time. I have read articles where it takes a habit...good or bad.. 6 months to become truly a habitual thing. I think you might be rushing the whole "learn a new culture and new system" thing a little bit yet. I am setting end of January to see what and who actually changes as my personal deadline. Until them I am going to cut them all slack.

    2. If Komarov can be the player he was in his early Leaf days, he can certainly help almost any team, Gerund O'.

      It's tough to know whether Kadri and JVR (or anyone else on the current roster) will thrive under Babcock. As you note, this is a big shift from what current Leaf players have experienced previously here.

  3. Reilly will be the lynchpin.
    JVR will be here.
    I think Phaneuf will still be here as Babcock likes what he can bring when he is put in the right situation and right TOI.
    Goalies.. Bernie could be here in 2 years or there might be someone new. Reimer is gone this year as a UFA.
    Gardiner is a wild card still. Last year I would have said no chance. Now with Babcock and his use of him he might be there.
    Kadri is the same deal a Gardiner.
    Komorov is the type you want around so I agree he will be here.
    I can see Winnik staying here as well as that vet leadership will be needed to help steer the young guys and he likes it in the organization obviously.
    Good point by A. in his post about Harrington. He could turn into a 4 slot dman down the road or a solid 5/6 which is just fine.
    I would add Peter Holland to the list. If nothing else I think he will be a good solid 3rd line centre.

    Amazing how hard it is to prognosticate only 2 years out. I think the biggest wild card is how they all respond to the Babcock way... or don't. And it is too early to tell.

    I really like how Babcock handles the players in the media. He talks positives at every turn at the same time mentioning how they will continue to work with the player to keep building on those positives. In other words, he is saying they are not where we need them yet. But he isn't saying it like too many other coaches have done in the past and just rip on them to the voracious Toronto media. I think that is part of what Babcock meant when he said part of the management/coaches job was to make it "safe' for the players to play in the organization and I like it.

    1. Thanks Pep- as you highlighted, it will continue to be important for Babcock not only to establish high expectations, but also create an environment that is positive for the players here.

      And yes, whether it's Winnik or someone else, a contending team will need experienced leaders to set an example for everyone else.

  4. I think it's a consensus that Reilly isn't going anywhere, he's the only sure bet in this.

    JVR I think will remain. He is not going to be treated like Kessel was, meaning he won't be expected to fulfill a role he isn't suited for. He is a great front of net presence, below-average defensively. Put him and his limitations in a space where he can succeed, and he surely will.

    Reimer will be let go, and head off in search of a fair shot somewhere. Bernier is not guaranteed the keys to the crease, if he cannot handle the #1 job, the Leafs will undoubtedly look elsewhere.

    You know my love for Komarov, and if he stays healthy, he will be here, although he will be back in a more suited for him third-line role.

    I think Gardiner stays, he will work within Babcock's system and he will be alright. I think he tried his best to be coachable under Carlyle and this will be more successful.

    Kadri too, I do like what I see in him for the most part. He still needs to mature some, play hockey and lay off the cheap shots. Unless someone else makes him a free agent offer he can't refuse, I think they keep him.

    Phaneuf, I think this season may be telling. He so far doesn't look much better than last season, he looks like he has lost an edge physically, and if he can't regain that at his age, the Leafs will look to move him.

    The Leafs will look to move Bozak and Lupul or ride out their contracts. They are not part of the future.

    The rest of the bunch collectively are interchangeable parts really. Harrington, Hunwick, Marincin I believe will be given an opportunity to show they are part of a solid group of defensemen moving forward. If they fail to be exceptional, the Leafs will move on from them in favour of newer prospects.

    1. The bottom line seems to be, Pete, that this will be a very different roster in two years, even if they retain a few holdovers. It will be interesting to see who sticks around.

  5. Hi Michael,

    I've got to admit it's hard to watch the Leafs when you know they're going to lose. My guess is that unless they are packaged off in deals, the following will be around at the beginning of the 2017 season: kadri, jvr, komo, holland, bozak (cuz of contract), lupul (same as bozie), phaneuf (same as bozie), hunwick, Harrington, bernier (as 1b), reilly + gardiner. Look for nylander, brown, soshnikov, kapanen, valiev and bibeau to make the jump up from the marlies.


    1. Hi Alex- no question this year's team is a transition roster. It's not built to contend, clearly, and it will be a challenge to win most nights. Your list sounds realistic. The young names you cite are those fans will keep an eye on.

  6. Hi Michael,

    I've been reading but not commenting. We've lost CBC here, might not be able to increase internet and satellite will cost a fortune---Oh! the joys of living in a rural area. I've watched bits and pieces of games (mostly on my son's phone) and rely on you and MLHS to keep me up to date. From what I've heard, no one was impressed with last nights effort so maybe I'm not missing much. When I see how long it takes to learn new systems, I can appreciate what Horachuk went through last season. I quite liked him and thought he was put in an impossible situation.

    Riely is certainly the player to watch this year.
    Hunwick has been solid.
    Gardiner is missed right now and certainly has an impact.
    ( I thought it interesting that Babcock feels he's been over-coached)
    Leo always shows up.
    JVR is very talented but not always engaged. He always s when someone has made him mad.
    Kadri was finally rewarded last night. We all know he plays best when he's "nazty".
    Phaneuf has improved.
    Lupul looks slower.
    I'm not impressed with Parenteau or Grabner.
    Matthias may be interesting and he's still quite young.
    The goalie situation is confusing and seems to be a continuation of 2014. We've seen so much better from both Reimer and Bernier. I can understand James, what with several goalie coaching changes, concussions, lack of playing time and fewer shots than he's ever seen--he's been through a lot in two years. I don't understand Bernier's struggling right now.
    I'd like to see Holland back on a line with Leo. The PK was much better and they'd often get short-handed scoring chances. ( I really like Holland so I hope he figures things out)
    What in the world has happened to the penalty kill? It was steadily improving last season. The players we picked up are supposed to be good PKers. Is it the coach who's handling it? I think the Marlies are much better in this area.
    I really miss Santorelli, I wanted him back and would take him over all of the recent short term deals.

    That's all I've got. I'n not expecting much this season. :)

    1. I appreciate reading through your observations, Colleen. Yes, it's a difficult situation: the Leafs are a team "in between" right now, and closer to not being competitive than being really good, which is a frustrating situation.

  7. Hello Michael,

    Ooof, that's a tough one.

    From the current Leafs roster
    Bozak - contract
    Komarov - plays the Babcock way
    Lupul - contract
    Spaling - plays the Babcock way
    JVR - showing a willingness to play Babcock's way

    Gardiner - Babcock loves his puck moving ability
    Harrington - still young enough to be teachable by Babcock
    Hunwick - steadying veteran presence way cheaper than Phaneuf
    Phaneuf - contract
    Rielly - what can ya say, he's a stud

    Connor Brown - 2nd line RW?
    Freddie Gauthier - 3rd line centre?
    Kasperi Kapanen - 1st line RW?
    Andreas Johnson - 2nd line LW?
    Mitch Marner - 2nd line centre?
    William Nylander - 1st line centre?
    JJ Piccinich - 3rd line RW?
    Nikita Soshnikov - 3rd line LW
    Viktor Loov - 5th/6th d-man
    2016 1st round pick - Auston Matthews?

    Nice Dream/Bad Nightmare?
    Steven Stamkos - very good player, but would be on a VERY BAD contract.

    OK, forgetting the 1st round pick and Stamkos, the opening night line-up for 2017/18 could look like this:

    JVR Nylander Kapanen
    Johnson Marner Brown
    Soshnikov Gauthier Piccinich
    Lupul Spaling Komarov


    Gardiner Phaneuf
    Rielly Hunwick
    Harrington Loov

    Other than in net, this potential line-up actually gives me some hope. A LOT of very good young players with the possibility of one or two more - depending on how the Leafs fare in the 2016 and 2017 drafts.


    1. Your opening night line-up two years out is (as expected!) so different than the current roster configuration, Wayne! This could be a very young but potentially talented squad.

  8. Even a die hard like myself has given up on this season. Last year I was really excited and thought they had finally turned the corner. That feeling was pretty strong until January then it it sort of faded away as the the Leafs proceeded to have probably the worst collapse in NHL history. In hindsight it probably would have been better to have been bad the whole season and win the McDavid sweepstakes.

    This year they are on track for their worst record ever and a chance for Auston Mathews so maybe this year's Leaf embarrassment for a team will at least help in the long term. I am finding it hard to actually watch them now - I hate to see them lose but I know losing is the only way or should I say the only guaranteed way of becoming a legitimate contender. Sure there is drafting, developing and trades and finding diamonds in the rough but there are still no guarantees. I really wanted to see them beat the Habs in both games they played this year and thought they should have won both but when the games were over I just thought ok no problem because in the end we don't want to finish 17th miss the playoffs and another wasted season with no elite level player to help down the road.

    As for players I think Rielly, JVR and Gardiner are the only players they actually need to keep. Not even Kadri because I am finally tired of hearing how he has so much potential but I still haven't really seen anything to get excited about. At least witrh JVR and Gardiner I have seen actual flashes at times.

    Now just imagine Marner, Nylander, Kapenin, Rielly and Gardiner all developing into elite players along with a lottery win and Mathews and to top it off Stamkos decided to become the Lebron of hockey. Then the Leafs would be the team to beat - and who knows it might happen because Tampa is running out of time to lock up Stamkos.

  9. Thanks for posting, Alton. I think we can all see what is happening here- the thing is, it's hard to know if the Leafs will end up like the Oilers have been for the past half dozen seasons (despite having all those high draft picks), or can evolve like the Hawks did when they re-built their roster many years ago.

  10. Hi Michael,

    one name only: Morgan Reilly.

    This roster still needs a massive overhaul. That said I don't think they will be able to trade anybody.
    And the roster is very thin of quality, even if you don't want to be good you need players to fill certain roles, so there may remain some players until 17/18.

    For example, Gardiner and JVR have reasonable contracts, Bozy, Lupul and Dion have contracts including that season, perhaps they do not trade them before for whatever reason.

    I think a lot depends on if they can or want to trade certain players and how the farm develops.
    Babcock said you have to take a job from somebody. So when Nylander and Marner are ready next summer and both will play center right away, you do not need Kadri and Bozak anymore.

    Harrington may be another player to keep but we have enough time to find out.

    There is no way to say how this roster will change over time.

    I don't think they will turn the corner in two years. So much change is neccessary, on every position, that it is impossible to turn the corner in that time span.
    Both goalies, nearly the whole defense and the complete offense needs to be changed.
    There may be success on that way but I don't see constant success for some time.

  11. Hi Michael. Are we still posting on this story?
    Things are getting interesting with Reimer's play and a few well earned wins as the Leafs structure steadily improves. They say it takes about 20 games. I see a confidence in their head coach growing, better spirits on the bench. I'm trying not to wonder what would have happened if we had had Babcock in 2012.
    Another very good article from Quinn MacKeen on MLHS as well.