Three reasons why the Leafs are better now than they were last season

Ben Hodgson
August 1, 2023  (8:56)

Last season, the Leafs finally got over the hump. They won one single playoff round before being unceremoniously beaten to a collective pulp by the Florida Panthers. It wasn't a pretty exit, but progress is progress right? The good news is that the 2023-24 season is almost upon us, but better yet, the Leafs are a better team than the group that ended their 19-year drought, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning to win in round 1 for the first time since 2004.

Looking at the rosters on paper, the Leafs were the much better team than their south Floridian opponents. Florida punched, pummeled and pounded the Leafs into submission. With the additions of Ryan Reaves, Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, the Leafs will be a much more difficult team to push around. Leaf fans have begged for more grit since the beginning of the Matthews era, and after 7 years, they finally got it.
Another issue for the Leafs against the Panthers was the fact that they lost the goaltending battle. Ilya Samsonov was clearly not well after the first round and Joseph Woll had barely gotten any playing time at the NHL level before having the Leafs' playoff hopes dropped onto his shoulders. With Matt Murray out of the way and a full season of playing time ahead for Joe Woll, the Leafs will be better between the pipes when playoff time comes.
Finally, the Leafs have considerably improved their forward depth. With Kerfoot, Bunting, Acciari and O'Reilly's exits, there were concerns at the beginning of the off season regarding the Leafs' forward group. Replacing them with Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi and Ryan Reaves may not impress the charts and numbers guys, but fans that understand the other side of the game can see the value that's been added there. Throw in a *hopefully* healthy Nick Robertson and a full year of rookie sensation Matthew Knies and the Leafs' forward group suddenly looks a lot stronger than it did at this time last year when Kerfoot and Engvall were essentially wasted roster spots.
Listen, I can't see into the future and I'm no expert when it comes to advanced stats and analytical models. Looking at the roster as it stands, I believe the Leafs are not only a better team, but much better equipped to perform when the games count the most - in the playoffs. Call me crazy, call me delusional, but I think this year, the Leafs make a deep run with this group, as all of Reaves, Domi and Klingberg have been on lengthy runs in recent years and know what it takes to really push through and win when it matters. Bertuzzi may not have been there, but the style of game he plays should lead to success in the postseason as well. He certainly wasn't the reason the Panthers beat the Bruins, as he had posted 5 goals and 5 assists for a total of 10 points in 7 games.
I don't think I've been this excited for a Leafs team in the last 15-20 years, if I'm being entirely honest. I can see this group doing some real damage this year and well into the spring and summer.
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Three reasons why the Leafs are better now than they were last season

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