Despite falling short in seven hard fought games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs, it seems many in the hockey world believe in where the Toronto Maple Leafs are heading. Included within those many are various sportsbooks.
After the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup Sunday night, odds for the 2022-23 Cup winner were released. As expected, the Avalanche enter the offseason as the favorite to repeat. But surprisingly, it is not the Lightning who are favored to come out of the East according to several sportsbooks.
It’s the Maple Leafs who are favored. There are two questions I can come up with after seeing this. Why? And how? We haven’t even started the offseason yet. We need to try to explain why the sportsbooks believe in them.
This Time Was Different
The Maple Leafs played about as well as they could against the two-time defending champs. They even had the Lightning in overtime in Game 6 needing just a single goal to advance to round two for the first time since 2004. They just couldn’t finish it off.
Then in Game 7, they battled but fell 2-1 thanks to a pair of goals from Nick Paul. Again, the harsh reality of another first-round exit hit the Maple Leafs. But this felt different than all the other recent exits. The Lightning noticed it. Many around the hockey world noticed it. On the surface, it seems the Maple Leafs are as close to breaking through as ever.
Their first-round performance against the Lightning has turned some heads. The sportsbooks took notice and now have the Maple Leafs listed as the favorite to come out of the East in 2022-23. It’s not just one place doing this. Here are a few examples of the love being shown.
- PointsBet: +900 (tied with the Lightning for tops in the East)
- DraftKings: +800 (favored in the East)
- BetMGM: +850 (favored in the East)
- OddsShark: +900 (favored in the East)
It’s easy to see why there is optimism surrounding the Maple Leafs. Auston Matthews will be motivated to break his 0-6 playoff record. The defense will start out as good as its been since the mid 2000’s with Mark Giordano coming back and Timothy Liljegren expected to take the next step after agreeing to a two-year contract extension on Monday.
But we still need to do a full stop at this point. This is the Maple Leafs we are talking about here. They have plenty of unknowns they must work through before we know what their team will look like come October.
First and foremost, we do not know who will be their starting goalie yet. Jack Campbell’s status with the team is murky at best. We talked about this the other day and the three teams that make for the most logical destinations should he get to free agency.
I don’t understand how you can make someone the favorite to come out of a conference if the goalie situation isn’t sorted out. Yes Campbell could still come back. But there would have to be a shift of some sort if that were to happen. Perhaps a trade opens up cap space if they want to keep him.
What if they turn to Petr Mrazek as their starter? Would you still favor the Maple Leafs then? Maybe they look at Darcy Kuemper if they can get the right price point. The truth is nobody knows yet how this will play out.
That’s not the only decision facing the Maple Leafs. Ilya Mikheyev, who has a career season in goals and was part of their shutdown line, could be gone too. Who is going to provide the much needed depth to help this team get over the hump in the playoffs? Will they have to depend on a lot of players on ELC’s?
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With so many unknowns, we need to temper our expectations somewhat. While it’s fair to be optimistic about the overall direction, we need to let the offseason play out before we rush to judgment on this team.
Winning the East is a bold prediction at this stage. Teams like the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes are all going to have a say in this. And the defending East champion Lightning aren’t done either.
One good playoff performance in a losing effort shouldn’t be the catalyst to winning a conference if we don’t know the whole story yet. Let these next three weeks or so play out and then let’s see what we have.
At least in the very early going, the Maple Leafs have the backing of the sportsbooks. That only builds expectations even more. But temper those expectations. This story is only starting to write itself.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.