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Season Preview: Three questions with Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets

Previewing the upcoming season with the experts - other SB Nation blogs!

2016 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Here at Silver Seven, I’d like to think we know a lot about the Ottawa Senators. Probably far too much. The fact that we know how to pronounce Neckar or giggle when we hear the name Mathieu Chouinard is a little ridiculous. That being said, there’s a lot we don’t know about other teams (as I’ve been told a lot reading the comments of re-posts of my mock expansion draft). So to gear up for the coming season, we’re reaching out to every SB Nation blog to answer three questions about the upcoming season.

We’re kicking things off close to home, with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Managing Editor Scott Wheeler was kind enough to answer provocative questions for the blog of the only team they can really still laugh at their rival team.

1. It's well-known the Leafs are in the middle of a rebuild, and yet they have a lot of solid young pieces already that should be able to jump in and contribute at the NHL level this coming season. What would be considered a successful 2016-17 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

At this point, the Leafs are still in a position where success is secondary to progress in the process. This year, that would probably be considered having three strong full and healthy rookie seasons out of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, as well as a good 60-game campaign out of Frederik Andersen. If the young players can develop in significant minutes, Mike Babcock can develop trust in each of them, and Andersen can reward the Leafs for what they’ve invested in him, it will be another year of steps in the right direction. If the Leafs are going to be competitive, they’ll likely also need Nikita Zaitsev to show them he can play more than 20 minutes a night as a rookie too.

2. What's a reasonable estimate for the number of points Auston Matthews puts up in his rookie season?

Mike Babcock has made it clear that Auston Matthews is going to start on the third line. And while I don’t think that should be the case, or that it will last, usage and linemates will be a major factor in how successful he is — and how successful any rookie is. I don’t think it’s out of the question to expect him to push upwards of 50-60 points. Jack Eichel played more than 19 minutes a night and posted 56 points last year, and Matthews might be the more gifted player. While he’s capable of producing on his own, if Matthews is centring one of James van Riemsdyk, Mitch Marner, or William Nylander all year then I’d expect him to be in the Calder Trophy conversation come season’s end.

3. Moves such as trading two high picks to upgrade Bernier to Andersen, signing Matt Martin, or re-signing Roman Polak don't seem very analytics-based. Are you worried that the voices of people like Dubas and Hunter are being drowned out?

There have definitely been some odd, counter-intuitive to the plan moves. With Andersen, while it’s clear the Leafs wanted a starting goalie, I was surprised by the timing. If the Leafs aren’t going to be good in the first couple of years of his contract, then you’re looking at a trade and a deal that will likely see a their starting goalie in decline during their upwards swing. With Roman Polak, despite it being a more justifiable move because it’s a one year deal, it likely forces the team to put a more talented younger player like Frank Corrado on waivers because they have too many bodies. Again, I’d argue the Leafs are in a position where developing a player like Corrado is of more value than getting half a season worth of Polak and, say, a fourth-round pick at the deadline. Polak’s value at the deadline isn’t going to be what it was the last two years this time around. Then there’s Matt Martin, who I’m sure is a good guy to have in the room but is by no means worth $2.5 million or four years of term. The little deals add up, and fourth liners signed to term rarely live up to their contracts. I’m not one to speculate on the dynamics in a front office, because I don’t know how Kyle Dubas and co. feel about these moves, but it’s on them to own them. Kyle Dubas is as responsible for what happens while he’s an assistant general manager as anyone else is. If he feels strongly about a move, it’s up to him to make his stance clear. I think he has done an excellent job building a skill-first program with the Marlies, but I don’t think he’s immune to the character-first moves we’ve come to know in the hockey world either. In conversations I had with Rich Clune at the end of the year, the former goon stressed that he appreciates the way Dubas understands that there’s more to a team than just its most talented players. That Clune and others continue to be a part of the fold speaks to that. Some of them, Clune included, have worked out. It will be tough to get $10 million out of Martin though.