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Rick Zamperin: Maple Leafs have a lot of new faces, but are they better?

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin during NHL pre-season hockey action against the Buffalo Sabres in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2019.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin during NHL pre-season hockey action against the Buffalo Sabres in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

When the Toronto Maple Leafs open the 2019-20 National Hockey League season on Oct. 2, they will have several new faces in the lineup compared to last year.

Tyson Barrie, Jason Spezza, Alex Kerfoot and Cody Ceci are slated to skate in blue and white against the Ottawa Senators while rookies Ilya Mikheyev and Rasmus Sandin could join them as well.

But are the new-look Leafs better than the club that reached 100 points in 2018-19, or the 105 point plateau from the year prior?

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Let’s start by comparing the new players to the one’s they are replacing.

Barrie, Spezza and Kerfoot are essentially replacing Jake Gardiner, Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri in the lineup, while Ceci takes over for Nikita Zaitsev, and I guess you can say that Mikheyev and Sandin are taking over for Connor Brown and Ron Hainsey.

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On the whole, Toronto should be a little more skilled than last year, which might be scary for other teams to hear, but I’m forecasting a bit of an adjustment period for all the players and coaches. That’s only natural considering the amount of new personalities in the dressing room.

It’s going to take this team a little bit of time to figure each other out, but that’s not to say because they don’t know each other as well as last year’s team might have. It’s still hockey and they all speak the same language on the ice.

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The Leafs still have some warts but I envision this year’s club to be better than last year’s team based on two factors.

No. 1: if Auston Matthews manages to stay healthy for a full season, the Leafs should generate a whole lot more offense. No. 2: having the majority of their core players signed long-term will allow the most important pieces on the team to focus on winning hockey games.

Whether they surpass 100 points, or even 105, the ultimate measure of success will come down to how Toronto performs come playoff time and we won’t find that out until next spring.

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Peterborough Petes forward Nick Robertson signs 3-year deal with Maple Leafs