The Predators and Sharks will kick off the NHL season (in Prague) this week, so it's time to unveil my pick to win this year's NHL Stanley Cup. It will be a familiar selection since my futures pick is the same team I went with last year: the Toronto Maple Leafs (at 10-1 odds (FanDuel)). The Leafs have the best pure goal scorer in the NHL (which probably means in the World). Connor McDavid might still be the best overall player in the game, but nobody can put the puck in the net as frequently and in as many different ways as Toronto's superstar Center, Auston Matthews. The 25-year-old finished last season as the only 60-goal scorer in the league, and he did it in just 73 games. Nobody would be surprised if Matthews led the league again this season and improved on the 60-goal bar. But what about the rest of the team?
The Leafs need to take a serious step forward this season. For six straight years, the Leafs have made the playoffs. And for six straight seasons, they've gone packing after the first round. Another season like that, and they need to seriously consider blowing it up (with the exception of Matthews). One area where the Leafs have already blown it up is in goal. Both of last season's net-minders -- Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek -- are out, and that's not necessarily a bad thing when you consider who they brought in. Toronto got aggressive in the off-season and went after two potentially #1 goalies in Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. While Murray is the more experienced (but still only 28), it's the 25-year-old Russian who is potentially the long-term number one in net -- and don't be surprised if Samsonov is a Vezina Trophy winner one day.
The Leafs also addressed a defense that faltered badly at times last season, bringing in veterans Mark Giordano (trade from Seattle) and Jordie Benn (signed as a free agent). Those two may not be the entire answer this team needs, but they're certainly a start. Head Coach Sheldon Keefe will be back after a 54-win season -- by far his best result as an NHL skipper. If Keefe can get this team to gel and play together like they're capable of -- beyond the regular season -- then they just might be hoisting the Cup at the end. Take the Toronto Maple Leafs at 10-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup. As always, good luck...Al McMordie.